The Panasonic TX-P50VT65 arrives with an awful lot of baggage. After all, it's got the weight of Panasonic's long and venerable heritage in the plasma TV world to support, at the same time many people seem happy to predict that plasma's very existence as a TV format is coming to an end. Plus Samsung recently put the cat among the pigeons by releasing easily its finest plasma television to date in the shape of the Samsung PS64F8500.
The Panasonic TX-P50VT65 carries all this pressure as it if were the easiest thing in the world, however. It sets about winning hearts and minds right away with its brilliantly attractive and straightforward My Home Screen interface, which does a great job of making the TV's many content sources more accessible and personalised.
The Panasonic TX-P50VT65's real star turn, though, is its performance, since its truly stunning, contrast-rich pictures join with some formidable audio to deliver a spectacularly cinematic experience. It's a home cinema fan's dream.
The TV isn't totally perfect. There's some minor double edging with swift horizontal motion, and you can't drive the screen especially bright without some green speckling noise kicking in. But so long as you can dim the lights for when you really want to use the Panasonic TX-P50VT65 in anger, it's yet another stellar turn for Panasonic's redoubtable plasma technology.
The Panasonic TX-P50VT65's black level performance is unprecedented, and most other aspects of its pictures are stellar too. Joining these outstanding pictures is an exceptionally robust audio performance, and despite the TV's sophistication it's made easy to use by Panasonic's excellent My Home Screen interface.
You can't drive pictures especially brightly or else dither noise sets in, and there's minor double edging during some motion reproduction. Also you only get three HDMI connections, the touchpad remote option isn't much cop, and a few more premium quality video streaming services on Viera Connect would be appreciated.
Despite the arrival of some intense competition this year, Panasonic has risen to the challenge with this new high-end plasma TV, delivering what for our money are the most cinematic 50-inch pictures we've seen.
The Panasonic TX-P50VT65's contrast performance is particularly incredible, but it's joined by some exceptional colour subtlety and naturalism, and some outstanding sharpness and clarity. Front-firing speakers serve up a superior audio performance too, and the television's smart TV interface is brilliantly friendly.
People with especially bright living rooms might possibly want to think about a high-end LCD TV or one of Samsung's F8500 models instead. But for film fans who can control their light levels, the Panasonic TX-P50VT65 is nothing short of a masterpiece.
The most direct rival for the Panasonic TX-P50VT65 is Samsung's PS51F8500. This delivers the remarkable twin benefit of an excellent black level response and the highest brightness levels yet seen from a plasma TV. The Samsung PS51F8500 is thus arguably a better option than the Panasonic TX-P50VT65 if you're looking for a TV to go into a very bright environment.
However, the Samsung PS51F8500's black levels aren't quite as deep as those of the Panasonic TX-P50VT65, and Samsung's push for extra brightness means there's sometimes quite a lot of green dither noise to contend with.
If you'd prefer an LCD panel, your best option in performance terms is the 55-inch Sony 55W905A. This delivers the deepest black levels you can find in the LCD world, together with outstandingly rich colours, great sharpness and a potent long duct audio system.
While its pictures can look more dynamic than those of the Panasonic TX-P50VT65 and thus can better survive an assault from an extremely bright room environment, its black levels aren't as consistent as those of the Panasonic, and its smart TV interface is a little off the pace too.