Panasonic VIERA WT50A 3D LED TV
For the first time, Panasonic’s top VIERA uses a LED panel
Panasonic has traditionally pushed its VIERA plasmas as the best of the best, but this year marks a big shift for the Japanese manufacturer — it’s winding down plasma production and moving towards more efficient and environmentally friendly LED TVs.
- Excellent power consumption figures
- Great detail from Blu-ray video
- Excellent brightness and contrast
- Can’t beat plasma black levels
- High price
Panasonic’s touting the WT50A as its best television, and in some ways that’s true - it’s definitely the best design we’ve seen, and is very efficient. It’s not the picture quality superstar that the VT50A and ST50A plasmas are, though, even though it’s able to show good detail from high quality content.
Price$ 2,849.00 (AUD)
Although the plasmas aren’t dead yet, the WT50A LED is the first Panasonic TV we’ve seen that’s intended to rival them with features, picture quality and design.
Panasonic VIERA WT50A: Design and setup
Panasonic doesn’t have the most illustrious history when it comes to television design — it’s definitely no Samsung or Sony, with a string of relatively thick-bezeled plasmas and LCDs with largely interchangeable plastic finishes.
The has brought the line-up kicking and screaming into the new decade, but we’re genuinely impressed with the design and the build quality of the WT50A. The crescent stand is constructed of thick, strong plastic, and the finish is an attractive silver.
The black bezel that surrounds the LCD screen, hiding the edge LED lights, is around a centimetre thick on all sides. There’s also a translucent strip (with Panasonic logo) that runs below the lower bezel. The rest of the TV is taken up by the display, which is somewhat reflective but not debilitatingly so — the screen will still act as a mirror for any bright light sources that are directly in front of it though, so we’d recommend heavy curtains on any windows in your viewing area.
The Panasonic VIERA WT50A matches the VT50A for video input connection options, as befits a premium TV. Four HDMI ports, three USB 3.0 inputs, a shared composite/component break-out, analog VGA for PC use, digital audio output, Ethernet network and integrated Wi-Fi — everything you’d expect to find is here. Like other high-end Panasonics, the WT50A has integrated Bluetooth which can be used to connect wireless keyboards and mice to help with the Web browser and integrated social media features.
Setting up the WT50A is easy. The stand is simple and secures well — we’ve already praised Panasonic for this in the VT50A review — and everything fits together easily. Once you’ve got the TV assembled, and have connected power and antenna cables, the initial power-on setup procedure prompts you to scan for digital and/or analogue TV channels, and to connect the TV to a wired or wireless network. After that — a total procedure of around three minutes if you’re quick to hit the Next button — you’re ready to go.
Panasonic VIERA WT50A: Picture quality and performance
We tested the Panasonic VIERA WT50A with Samsung BD-E5900 and Panasonic DMR-PWT520 Blu-ray players, playing The Dark Knight, Terminator: Salvation, Avatar 3D and Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 3D. We also ran some synthetic geometry and picture quality tests using the Spears & Munsil High Definition Benchmark Blu-ray.
You can buy the VIERA WT50A in 47in and 55in sizes. Part of Panasonic’s move from plasma to LED is possible because of the newfound availability of larger LED-backlit LCD screens, so we’re surprised that there are no models larger than 55in available.
The VIERA WT50A performs in the same league as other high-end, edge-lit LED TVs like the Samsung Series 8 and the LG LM8600. It’s got excellent picture quality generally, which can be best seen when you’re feeding it with the best possible quality video.
Avatar flatters the Panasonic WT50A, with the mid-movie jungle scenes incredibly vibrant with extreme levels of colour detail in the True Cinema preset, which is the best default mode available. In fact, the majority of the preset settings and video options in True Cinema are as good as the TV gets — while still remaining bright enough to look good in a well-lit room, the TV has a wide dynamic range with plenty of highlight and shadow detail,
The opening space scene of the Avatar movie, along with night-time in The Dark Knight, does expose the one technical weakness of the VIERA WT50A. When there’s a lot of bright content on-screen, the dynamic backlight adjustment does tend to accomodate this and leave some black areas looking slightly too bright and slightly grey.
This is a minor complaint, though #&8212; it’s largely unnoticeable during regular viewing, and is only detrimental in specific scenes like the rolling end credits of movies. This is also a problem that’s not specific to the WT50A — it occurs on almost all LED and LCD TVs. Outright black levels are where the WT50A is weakest, like most LEDs. It’s handily traded off against the excellent detail resolution, vibrant colour and good default settings in True Cinema mode.
Since this particular VIERA is a LED TV, it’s better suited to bright viewing environments than a plasma. It’s able to produce an exceptionally bright picture while still maintaining reasonable black level performance — if you’ve got an especially well-lit living room or office space, for example, we’d recommend the WT50A alongside the LG LM9600 and Samsung Series 8 as some of the best TVs you could buy.
The WT50A does an excellent job of upscaling lower-resolution content alongside its 1080p Blu-ray forte. We tested half a dozen videos in 480p and 720p resolutions and found they were among the best we’ve seen on a large, modern screen — no detail is lost and some smart contextual sharpening does a good job of making years-old DVDs look more attractive than they deserve.
3D is similar to Panasonic's other 2012 VIERAs. It's much improved over previous models, with only a small amount of cross-talk visible in the fastest-moving and most difficult scenes. The bundled glasses are lighter and less distracting, although they still pick up flicker from overhead fluorescent lights (as all active 3D systems will).
Power consumption isn’t something we generally test with televisions, beyond expecting plasmas to consume considerably more energy than LED TVs of a comparable size. We dug out the power meter for the VIERA WT50A though, and found that its average power usage hovered around the 80W mark in our True Cinema preset. This is a seriously low figure — our three-year-old Pioneer KURO benchmark TV can hit 500W at times. If you’re looking for an efficient TV, looking exclusively at LEDs is a smart choice, but the Panasonic WT50A is well deserving of its high seven-star energy rating.
Panasonic VIERA WT50A: VIERA Connect
Our observations from the VIERA ST50A, VIERA VT50A and DMR-PWT520 hold true here - Panasonic’s VIERA Connect Internet service is good, with easy navigation and the best video on demand services (ABC iView, YouTube). It’s just not as good as competing Smart TV services from Samsung and LG, and to a lesser extent Sony.
For a full run-down of the VIERA WT50A’s Smart TV features, hit the links above.
Panasonic VIERA WT50A: Conclusion
Panasonic has certainly taken strides forwards into the LED TV space with the WT50A. It’s got excellent picture quality bar one minor problem in the high black level, and the design and features are up there with other high-end models from competing brands.
We think the biggest competion for the WT50A will come from within Panasonic, with the company’s excellent 2012 VIERA plasmas still our top pick for this year.
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