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Panasonic TX-P42GT50 review

TV & AVReviews
9/10
, 11 Nov 2012Reviews
Panasonic TX-P42GT50 review
Best Buy

LED-backlit LCD televisions currently dominate the market, but some home cinema purists still insist that plasma is the only choice if you’re serious about picture quality. Sure, LED-backlit LCD sets have made up ground in recent years with increasingly plasma-like pictures, but in terms of contrast and motion handling, plasma still reaches the parts that LCD TVs can’t.

Panasonic offers a generous selection of ‘NeoPlasma’ TVs, spread across four ranges. The GT50 range from which this set hails sits just below the flagship VT50 series and above the ST50 range. At £1,200 it’s not exactly cheap, but knowing Panasonic that money is likely to get you shedloads of features and high-falutin’ picture tech. Let’s dive in…

Design and connections

With a lack of jaw-dropping flourishes, the TX-P42GT50 won’t make you go weak at the knees, but it won’t put your living room to shame either. It’s an attractive, modern-looking TV with a lovely silver trim around the outer edge, contrasted beautifully by a glossy black bezel (which, it must be said, is thicker than we’re used to).

But what’s most notable about the set is its outstanding build quality. Having tested a few light, plasticky budget LED-backlit sets recently it’s really satisfying to feel the weighty, solid craftsmanship of this TV.

As expected, connectivity is excellent. Along the side are four HDMI inputs, three USB ports and an SD card slot for multimedia support, and a headphone jack.

Also on the back are more downward-facing sockets, including optical digital audio output, SCART and component video inputs (both via supplied adapter cables) and an Ethernet port to hook up to your home network and stream content from Viera Connect or your own servers. Those with Wi-Fi won’t need Ethernet though, as there’s a built-in Wi-Fi adapter. A Common Interface slot, plus RF and LNB inputs for the built-in Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners complete the line-up.

Just one thing to note – the mains lead socket is outward facing and requires a special right angled cable, but even with that connected it might still interfere with any wall-mounting dreams you might be harbouring.

Features

The most eye-catching feature is Viera Connect, which offers an excellent range of online services. They include BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Netflix, Eurosport, Acetrax, Facebook, Twitter and more. The selection isn’t quite as generous as Samsung's or Sony’s selection, and we’d like to have seen ITV Player, 4OD and Demand 5, but all things considered this a decent selection that should keep you entertained when there’s nowt worth watching on TV.

You’ll also find Skype video-calling and a web browser, plus the set’s DLNA certification lets you stream video, music and photos from networked servers. There’s even a Viera Control app that you can install on iOS or Android devices and operate the TV.

The active 3D set is equipped with Panasonic’s 2,500Hz Focused Field Drive technology, which takes advantage of plasma’s near-instantaneous light emission and effectively increases the refresh rate to 2,500 times a second to keep motion blur and judder to a minimum.

It uses a Full HD Infinite Black Pro panel as opposed to the Infinite Black Ultra panel on the step-up VT50 series. This keeps external light at bay and prevents light loss in the panel cells in order to keep blacks looking deep and dark (the quoted contrast ratio is a mind-blowing 5,500,000:1, and that’s native, not ‘dynamic’).

And to keep those images looking ship-shape, the GT50 is rubber-stamped by both the Imaging Science Foundation and THX, bringing a staggeringly detailed range of picture tweaks and several presets, including THX 3D modes (both for in-the-dark cinema use and for a brightly-lit room) and two ISF Pro modes. The ISF settings make it possible for a professional ISF engineer to calibrate your set properly.

For media playback, the GT50 supports a wide range of formats, including AVCHD, DivX HD, WMV, MKV, AVI, MP4, MOV, MP3, AAC, WMA, FLAC, JPEG and MPO. You can also record TV programmes onto a USB hard disk. There’s also built-in Bluetooth for keyboards.

The only disappointment concerning the feature list is that you don’t get any 3D glasses in the box, which could add a hefty premium to the price.

Operation

Panasonic has a knack for smart, practical and unfussy onscreen presentation, which it demonstrates again here. Sure, the main and setup menus lack the pizzazz of some rival GUIs yet their logical structure and no-nonsense presentation make the set a complete breeze to operate.

The Freeview EPG is also excellent, organising the programmes into a clear, digestible grid and peppering the screen with handy shortcuts. The info banner offers a comprehensive array of information.

On the downside, Viera Connect’s layout feels impractical – the apps are displayed over several pages, which means you have to flick through several screens to find ones at the very back. It’s a real chore. Packing it all into a single screen like Samsung's Smart Hub is a much friendlier approach.

But back to the good stuff and the set’s dual-core processing allows for what Panasonic describes as ‘multitasking’, which means you can access the online content while browsing the EPG, for example, without any real drop in operating speed.

The remote offers Panasonic’s usual mix of large rubbery buttons and clear-as-day labelling. The layout is generally sensible too, although the placement of direction pad and menu controls towards the top – away from the volume and programme keys – means you have to shuffle your hand up and down a bit more than you might hope. On the plus side there’s a backlight and direct access keys for important functions. Some of Panasonic’s flagship sets come with a second touchpad remote, but the 42GT50 doesn’t.

Performance

Panasonic has an exemplary track record when it comes to plasma, setting new benchmarks year after year in terms of contrast and black level. I’m pleased to say that the 42GT50 continues this trend. Its pictures are sensational, achieving levels of richness and depth that LED-backlit LCD sets – and the majority of other plasmas for that matter – can only dream of.

Watching Blu-ray movies brings out the very best in the GT50. The gloomy action of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 looks effortlessly cinematic on this set, with black areas of the picture looking deep and solid. Any mist or backlight problems are instantly exposed by this film’s relentless murkiness, but the GT50 emphatically side-steps any such problems – simply sit back and let yourself get lost in the set’s clean, deep and entrancing pictures.

But there’s a deftness and authority about its shadow detail handling that makes murky scenes easy to watch, whether you’re sat in a darkened room or have the lights on. That’s testament to the light-sapping skills of that Infinite Black Pro panel – the levels of depth and punchiness it reaches really are remarkable.

This superb contrast foundation allows colours to really shine. Bright kids’ movies like Monsters Vs Aliens blaze from the screen with boldly saturated hues that never look garish or unnatural.

But switch to a live action flick and the set has no trouble displaying skin tones with the required degree of subtlety. Faces look realistic and gentle blends are smoothly reproduced, with 24,576 steps of gradation preventing the nasty banding effect that can affect plasma pictures. It’s dazzling stuff.

The 2,500Hz Focused Field does a fabulous job with motion, making even the most energetic action seem stable and composed. There’s virtually zero motion blur or resolution loss, no matter how busy things get.

And it’s almost a given but the GT50’s detail handling is staggeringly good. The Full HD panel picks out every last scrap of detail, which is lent extra punch by the superb contrast level.

Switch to 3D and you’ll get more of the same spellbinding pictures, only this time they’re enhanced by the brilliantly realised stereoscopic effect. These pin-sharp 3D images look stunning, helped no end by their almost complete freedom from crosstalk – a compelling aspect of Panasonic’s plasmas since 3D technology was first introduced.

Finally HD pictures from the built-in Freeview tuner look fantastic, imbued with exquisite detail and emphatic edge clarity, while standard def channels don’t let the side down.

Sound

Listening to a few movies through the set’s speakers, bass output is predictably anaemic due to the set’s skinny dimensions, but there’s enough solidity in the midrange and crispness in the high frequencies to keep TV shows and movies sounding enjoyable. It doesn’t start to strain at loud volumes either, which is always a bonus.

Verdict

The TX-P42GT50 is a magnificent TV, offering the stunning picture quality we’ve come to expect from Panasonic’s plasmas. Its contrast level and black depth put even the best LED-backlit LCD sets to shame, backed up by razor-sharp detail, smooth motion, dazzling colours and entrancing 3D images.

It also boasts some superb features, including Viera Connect, DLNA media streaming, Freeview and Freesat tuners plus THX/ISF picture calibration, which could be the clincher for movie enthusiasts.

That said, it’s fairly expensive for a 42in set – a fact compounded by the lack of 3D glasses – and Viera Connect still needs a little work on its content and presentation to bring it up to the level of Samsung and Sony’s online portals. But only a fool would let these things stand between them and one of the finest 42in TVs on the market.

Manufacturer and model

Panasonic TX-P42GT50

Screen size (inches)

42

Resolution

1,920 x 1,080

Backlight technology

N/A

Picture engine

N/A

Digital tuner

Freeview HD & Freesat HD

3D ready

Yes

3D technology

Active

3D glasses supplied

No

2D-to-3D conversion

Yes

Wi-Fi

Yes

Online content

Viera Connect

DLNA streaming

Yes

Smartphone control

Yes

Contrast ratio

5,500,000:1

Brightness

Not given

Refresh rate

2500Hz Focused Field Drive

Speaker power

18W

Energy efficiency class

C

Dimensions (with stand, W x H x D)

993 x 653 x 320 mm

Dimensions (without stand, W x H x D)

993 x 603 x 47mm

HDMI

4

Component

1

Composite

1

SCART

1

Digital audio output

1 (optical)

PC input

1

USB

3

SD card slot

Yes

Ethernet

Yes

CI slot

Yes

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