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The state of 3D Blu-ray today

Beginning with the bad first, it's essential to point out that as of today, there are no Full HD 3D Blu-ray discs for sale on the market. Monsters vs. Aliens is available as part of a bundle with Samsung's 3D packages, but buyers of Panasonic's offerings will only be able to enjoy an included promotional test disc that offers a sampling of high quality 3D imagery (packaged inside the box with the BDT300). It remains unclear as to exactly which titles -- and when -- will be available for off-the-shelf sale. Additionally, the Panasonic 3D TV is currently only offered in a 50" model, with larger 54", 58", and 65" variations scheduled for release at a later date.

The TC-P50VT20

Fortunately, everything else about this equipment and the 3D technology -- based off of less than a week with it in-home and only sampled in 3D with the included promotional disc -- proves an exceptionally pleasurable experience. The 67-pound (with attached pedestal) 50" plasma boasts a wide range of external connection options and internal picture adjustment settings to achieve a top-flight home theater viewing experience. Boasting a collection of three HDMI, two component, one RCA, one RF (coaxial), and one PC inputs and a single digital audio out jack on the rear of the set; and two USB ports, one each HDMI and RCA inputs, and an SD-card slot on the set's left edge (that also houses channel and volume controls, menu selection buttons, as well as a power on-off button), there are no shortage of inputs and additional goodies to enhance the connectivity and functionality of the television. Within the set's menu, there are six primary options, most of which include a slew of additional user-adjustable tweaks. The meat-and-potatoes of the options, the picture quality adjustment selections, include four basic pre-set picture modes -- "Vivid," "Standard," "THX" (relabeled "Cinema" in 3D mode), and "Game," -- with a fifth option labeled "Custom" meant for users to input their own set of adjustments (though each label is user-adjustable to some degree) for generalized parameters such as contrast, brightness, color, tint, and sharpness, as well as more advanced options such as color temperature, video noise reduction, and black level. There are also several options through which to calibrate the set's 3D settings, most of which revolve around ensuring the glasses work with the television. This plasma also includes Panasonic's "VieraCast" network connectivity option which will work wirelessly with a currently-unreleased USB dongle and the player's built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. The set also comes with a functional but not exceptional remote control; the buttons are suitably large, the unit is fairly lightweight, and most buttons briefly illuminate with a red light by the press of the "light" button located directly under the power button.

The TC-P50VT20's rear connections

The TC-P50VT20's side connections and buttons

The DMP-BDT300

Anyone familiar with Panasonic's previous line of Blu-ray players will immediately find themselves in a comfort zone with the BDT300. Sporting the generalized Panasonic Blu-ray remote control, a pull-open front tray on the player, an easy-to-read display, a host of connection options on the back, and a familiar setup menu, the player is easy to work and get going within minutes of taking it out of the box. Externally, this 3D Blu-ray player features a pair of HDMI outputs (more on that below in the "Connections" paragraph), component and RCA outputs, coaxial and optical audio outputs, analog audio outputs for 7.1- channel surround sound, an ethernet port, and a USB port for use with the included wireless USB LAN adaptor. Like the television, the BDT300 comes equipped with Panasonic's "VieraCast" functionality. Note that the player is bundled only with a fairly useless set of RCA cables (no "High Speed" HDMI cable is included) and no 3D glasses. The player does include, however, the Panasonic Full HD 3D sample Blu-ray disc (see "3D Testing" below).

The BDT300's dual HDMI outputs

The BDT300's additional A/V outputs

The Glasses

Another potential stumbling block. Panasonic warns users several times not wear the included 3D glasses as sunglasses, but considering how unstylish and bulky these things are, it's hard to imagine anyone mistakingly wearing them to opening day at PNC Park. The glasses are what they are and what they need to be; stylish no but functional yes, the included eyewear (one pair with the 3D TV, nothing with the 3D Blu-ray player, and spare glasses going for about $150 each) gets the job done but proves a bit unwieldy and slightly uncomfortable due in large part to their heft after extended viewing. Each pair of glasses (both the included pair with the 3D TV and separately-purchased units) come with a hard plastic storage case, two attachable/detachable nosepiece options, and an optional head strap for 3D viewers that find the glasses falling from their face. The 3D effect works in both a lighted and darkened room, but considering that the glasses don't encompass one's entire peripheral vision, a darkened room is preferable so one need not to worry about other lighted information around the corners. The glasses are powered by a coin-shaped lithium battery in the eyewear frame, found opposite the power button that must be held down for about a second to turn the glasses on and off. Perhaps someday 3D viewing will be possible without the need for eyewear, but there's no doubt that 3D glasses will, over time, become smaller, lighter, sleeker, and more comfortable. Maybe one day they'll even double as sunglasses, but until then, here's hoping that future, lighter models will be compatible with older 3D TV sets.


Here's another potential deal-breaker, but one that need not worry the 3D customer; Full HD 3D is sometimes said to require "HDMI 1.4" connectivity. However, new HDMI standards dictate that any HDMI cable labeled as "High Speed" will work to provide 3D content. Does that still mean that buyers interested in upgrading to 3D Blu-ray need to shell out several hundred more dollars on a new receiver? With Panasonic's solution, the answer is fortunately "no." While owners will need to make sure they're connecting a "High Speed" HDMI cable for use between the 3D Blu-ray player and the 3D HDTV, the BDT300 actually houses a pair of HDMI outputs. The second -- labeled HDMI (SUB) -- when set to "V.OFF" in the player's "HDMI Connection" submenu will output only audio through to the receiver and allow for FullHD 3D video to be sent via the HDMI "High Speed" cable connected between the player and the television, all without the costly upgrade to a new "3D" receiver.

3D Testing

The 3D HDTV and the 3D Blu-ray player look good on paper (and in person), but how do they fare when the lights go down and the movie starts up? No doubt many have, by now, sampled what 3D is all about on the Best Buy showroom floor, and while a decent enough presentation, there's nothing quite like viewing in a more controlled environment, taking the time to learn the controls, tweak the components, and enjoy the 3D demo disc and a larger sampling of 2D Blu-ray materials at one's own leisure. The included 3D sample disc features four primary "High Quality Picture Contents" presented in 1080p Full HD 3D -- Funny Furry Friends; Rome, The Eternal City; Grand Canyon; and the Astro Boy trailer -- and seven additional "Fun Contents" clips: Drag Racing, Motocross, Canadian Nature, Mexico City, Coral Wonderland, Mexico's Mariachi, and Game, the last being a very basic and very short demonstration of a 3D racing game with crude graphics but a spectacular dimensional feel. Each clip is painfully short, lasting between about 90 seconds and three minutes in length.

Each clip is astounding in its own right; all demonstrate exceptionally good coloring with vibrant hues galore in Rome and breathtakingly natural shades of green and gray in Canadian Nature. Fine detail in rock faces, clothing, puppy fur, dirt paths, and vegetation all rival some of the best imagery yet seen on Blu-ray. The image can get just a touch soft around the edges, however. As to the sense of depth created by the 3D effect, it is, in a word, "extraordinary." While there's some sense of objects "jumping out of the screen" in every video segment, the true strength of the 3D effect lies not in gimmicky "poke the audience" routines but rather in the awe-inspiring sense of depth the images achieve. It's easy to see and get a realistic feel for distance between objects, and it often seems as if there's a good amount of space between the front of the television screen and a cluster of trees, for example. It's like looking out a window in Canadian Nature or standing in front of several circus performers in another segment. Grand Canyon offers perhaps the best moment in the set; water seems to splash straight onto the viewer, resulting in residual droplets of water that seem to be dripping off the lenses of the 3D glasses. Between all the segments, viewers will see a bit of everything, save for actual Full HD 3D live-action movie content. The included Astro Boy trailer is subjectively the least impressive clip; that's not to say that it isn't a wonderful 3D experience in its own right or that actual films such as Ice Age or Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs or even Astro Boy won't look great in 3D, it just lacks quite the same amount of dimension seen in the other segments.

Most importantly, and unlike older "anaglyph" 3D images (the ones that require the flimsy red and cyan glasses), there's only a trace of "ghosting" to be found here. It's practically nonexistent, but there nevertheless for the eagle-eyed viewer that may pick up on a slight shadow around the edge of an object. Nevertheless, the effect is virtually seamless in every sample, and will likely only get better as the technology is refined in the coming years. There's also at least one instance of transparency in Grand Canyon where a man's leg may be seen while he's walking behind a tree, but again, it's easily the exception rather than the rule.

2D Testing

Most early adopters of 3D technology are going to have to survive on 2D Blu-ray content until the studios begin releasing 3D titles on a regular basis, and fortunately, the potent Panasonic 3D-equipped duo produces incredible visuals, reinforcing the best picture quality and showcasing the warts on some of the lesser transfers. Several 2D titles were tested; the sampling of discs included high-quality Blu-ray film transfers (Star Trek, An Education, Armored), lesser-quality Blu-ray releases (The Arrival, "Breaking Bad: Season One"), hand-drawn style animation (The Princess and the Frog), a computer-animated title (Cars), a black-and-white film (Dr. Strangelove), and a particularly grainy film (Predator). The 3D HDTV handled all the 2D Blu-ray material thrown at it superbly; while it only reinforced the plastic texture of The Arrival, it brought out the finest detail in Armored, delivered on the wonderfully intricate blacks in Star Trek, and displayed Predator's heavy grain structure nicely. Colors are exceptionally rendered across the board, whether the steely gray and dark look of Armored, the blue-gray tone of An Education, or the bright shades that practically pop off the screen in Cars.


Both currently exclusive to Best Buy, the TC-P50VT20 (retail $2499) and the DMP-BDT300 (retail $399) make for a potent combination for home Blu-ray viewing, and while 3D content isn't yet readily available (or available at all at the moment), those in the market for a new television and player would be wise to consider these future-proof models from Panasonic. They deliver a practically seamless Full HD 3D Blu-ray experience (though again with the Panasonic test disc as the only frame of reference) and exceptional 2D Blu-ray picture quality. It's difficult to envision a future where 3D hasn't caught on for home viewing. Panasonic definitely has a leg up on the competition with the quality of their Viera Plasma and the wonderful BDT300, and the technology is just too good -- even in this very first wave of products -- not to take advantage of. It's still a 2D world, but 3D has a place in it, and if the included sample disc is any indication, even travelogue and nature-oriented discs may become a big hit with 3D; they look absolutely phenomenal and one can only imagine a trip to the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Egypt, or the Glaciers of Alaska in Full HD 3D., index News of business criminal law politics soccer sports celebrity lifestyle video images in the world and the world today.

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First Look: Panasonic's 3D Blu-ray Player and 3D HDTV
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