Panasonic Viera VT50A
Panasonic sells the VT50A as a 55in and 65in model, although overseas markets also get a 50in panel.
There is some overlap here between the VT50A and ST50A, which comes in 50in, 60in and 65in sizes. For price comparisons, we’ll directly compare the $5999 65in VT50A to the $3999 ST50A. We have heard rumours that Panasonic has run out of stock of the 50in ST50A and is discontinuing the range next month — stay tuned for more news soon.
Panasonic VIERA VT50A: Design and setup
The VIERA VT50A, like the VT30A before it, is the most attractive and modern-looking plasma TV in Panasonic’s range. It’s got a borderless design with no bulky plastic bezel; a single sheet of glass runs across the entire face, with a thin strip of metal running around the edge for contrast.
The plasma display stops around an inch from the edge of the VT50A’s chassis — this is no edge-hugging Samsung Series 8 or LG LM9600 — but the overall design looks sleek, and the black borders help to boost screen contrast.
The stand of the VIERA VT50A doesn’t swivel, so the best option for using this TV in a big room is wall-mounting it on a tilt/swivel mount. A maximum depth of 50mm means the VT50A is thin enough to be attractive, but not as thin as a LED TV.
The Panasonic VT50A leads the field in connection options. Four HDMI ports (a step up from the ST50A’s three) are our go-to inputs, as well as the three USB 2.0 connectors and a SDXC memory card slot. There’s built-in Ethernet and Wi-Fi, Bluetooth for wireless keyboards and mice, digital audio output, and a shared component/composite audio/video jack.
The VT50A comes with two remotes: Panasonic’s standard excellent backlit candybar remote control, and a touch-pad pebble which handles basic volume/channel/power functions alongside a virtual mouse to navigate the VIERA Connect apps and the TV’s Web browser.
Setting up the VT50A is a simple exercise. Panasonic’s stands are simultaneously the best and simplest that are currently on the market — they’re very solid, and hold together with clips and plenty of screws. Once the TV is assembled and power/antenna/network connected, there’s a 5-minute setup process including scanning for digital and/or analogue TV stations, setting up your wired or wireless network, and updating the VIERA Connect Smart TV service. After that, you’re ready to go.
Panasonic VIERA VT50A: Picture quality and performance
Our testing of the VT50A revealed a plasma panel that sits extremely close to the ST50A in picture quality in most situations.
The VIERA VT50A is a better television than the ST50A when it comes to setting up and optimising the picture to suit room conditions and viewing material. It’s got more calibration options in the menu, and has a variety of THX certified presets that are an easy go-to for good picture quality. We chose THX True Cinema as the most accurate mode of the available presets.
With anything but the best Blu-ray video content, the two TV models are effectively identical — after minor calibration, the VT50A displays the same excellent levels of black that we saw on the ST50A. With sharpening turned down completely, brightness slightly lowered, and a slight backing-off of colour in the THX Cinema mode, the VIERA VT50A is one of the best and most accurate TVs out of the box that we’ve tested.
The same is true of the ST50A, though, and in the majority of our downloaded video and DVD quality tests the two TVs are almost indistinguishable. The VT50A comes into its own when it’s fed exclusively with the best quality Blu-ray movies with plenty of colour — Avatar looks better on the VT50A than the ST50A, but the difference in still minor.
The factor responsible for this difference is the VT50A’s Pure Direct 1080P mode, which cuts down on video processing with high quality sources to theoretically increase (or, more specifically, not decrease) the detail visible on-screen. This is most visible in very colourful scenes, with very slightly more detail in super-saturated segments of the screen. Watch Avatar or Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs and you’ll notice Pure Direct 1080P making a slight difference, but watch the colour-washed-out The Dark Knight or Terminator: Salvation and the Pure Direct effect — and the difference between the VT50A and the ST50A — becomes harder to distinguish.
Motion is, again, a very close race between the two sets. In scenes of very fast motion — a fast tracking and panning shot from a BBC F1 race broadcast, for example — the VT50A shows ever so slightly more detail, but the difference is small. The VT50A wins a comprehensive victory when it comes to reproducing 24p Blu-ray video, though, with a more cinematic and flicker-free rendition than the ST50A. 3D is similarly an effectively equal competition — both TVs are excellent at displaying high quality 3D Blu-ray content with minimal or no cross-talk, and both can create faux-3D video from a standard 2D input.
Panasonic VIERA VT50A: Smart TV
The online features of the Panasonic VIERA VT50A, delivered through the VIERA Connect service, are identical to the ST50A — we’d recommend you read the Smart TV section of that review for more information.
Like on the ST50A, the VT50A’s features are acceptable but not great — we’d purchase a stand-alone Smart Blu-ray player from Samsung or LG to add a wider range of features, apps and services.
Panasonic VIERA VT50A: Conclusion
Panasonic’s VIERA VT50A is an extremely high quality television, and while it doesn’t include any novel Smart features like voice or gesture control we think it’s better because of it. The VT50A’s stiffest competition comes from one rung down in the company’s own hierarchy, from the upstart ST50A. The VIERA VT50A doesn’t do too much to distinguish itself from the ST50A, so unless you’re sold by the more comprehensive calibration, the design, or the minor picture quality boosts, we’d think carefully about which TV to choose.
The VIERA VT50A is better than its chief rival, but it’s also significantly more expensive. If you can’t find a ST50A then the VT50A would be our go-to TV for picture quality, but it does come at a large price premium.