Design & Features
Body And Soul
Panasonic is one who prefers to play it safe in the design department. And by that, we mean a tried-and-tested formula of simple outlines and less flamboyant looks. The VT30S continues that tradition with a black bezel covered by a single sheet of toughened of glass. There's a silver lining, literally, which lines the panel's edges to help break the monotony of the set's all-black frame. And as one might expect from a full glass surface, the glossy screen is significantly reflective under brighter conditions. Panasonic has yet to top Samsung's slim records, but the 37mm-deep panel is visibly thinner than the VT20S. Unfortunately, the TV's relative thinness is marred by the bulky speaker housing below. Given the VT30S' expensive looks, Panasonic's choice of a plastic base instead of a glass-top stand is rather baffling too. The VT30S swivels but is restricted by a small swiveling angle of 15 degrees in both directions. Terrestrial and digital broadcasts are also nicely catered for by this set's analog and DVB-T tuners.
For connectivity, Panasonic seems to have taken the Koreans' cue in that all AV ports are now either orientated downwards or sideways. Observably, the previous VT20S model had back-facing slots which wasn't conducive for wall-mounts. The VT30S owns four HDMI 1.4 inputs, three USB slots, and an SD card slot which is almost like a customary item for Panasonic. Supported playback formats and CODECs via the SD card and USB include MPEG4, MKV, DivX Plus HD and WMV. All HDMI slots are aligned by the side, which is a plus, with ARC integrated on the second input. Besides storage drives, this Viera's versatile USB ports can also be used in tandem with a keyboard, Skype camera or the bundled Wi-Fi adapter. At the analog end, we found two composite ports and a single component input. However, they will require a breakout cable, much like Samsung's recent HDTV offerings. We didn't notice any changes with the bundled remote. Panasonic has retained the same bulky wand design with a dedicated number pad, plus additional controls for connected Viera Link equipment over HDMI. The Internet button launches Viera Connect, but don't ask us why it wasn't labelled accordingly (it's a mystery perhaps only Panasonic can solve).
Viera Connect and More
Panasonic might have changed the name of their Smart TV platform from "Viera Cast" to "Viera Connect", but we observed that its interface remains practically untouched. The same eight large app windows still surround a central "screen", one which displays content from the active channel or AV source. To navigate from page to page, you'll have to select the More or Back arrows. This can be an annoyance if you have numerous apps to contend with. We did notice, however, that more apps are now available on its once-sparse Viera Market app store. Categories include Featured, Video and Movie, Music, Games, Social Networking, News and Lifestyle, plus Health and Fitness. We were unable to load the Facebook app for some reason, although we'll give Panasonic's YouTube application the thumbs up for its usability and responsiveness. There are a couple of interesting entries as well, such as Red Karaoke which offers a mix of free and payable songs. One of our favorite selections is the free Internet radio service, ShoutCast. With an impressive collection of music genres from numerous stations, this was an app we'd typically leave on when we are busy with other tasks.
In terms of picture presets, the VT30S has eight to select from, and that includes Dynamic, Normal, THX, Cinema, Game, Photo, Professional1, and Professional2. The Pro1 and Pro2 selections are advanced ISFccc modes, but you might want to note that the TV's screen-burn prevention feature, Pixel Orbiter, is unavailable in THX mode.