The Panasonic TC-P55ST50 may be the best value in an HDTV on the market today. There, you can stop reading now.
OK, you want more? Over the last couple of years we’ve seen some positive and dramatic developments in the HDTV market; LED-based LCDs have mostly replaced CCFL; 3D is available on all but the cheapest models; Sharp Elite TVs proved that some people will pay a lot more for a better picture (a much better picture); and Samsung and LG showed that the way we control our TVs can be completely re-thought. All the while that was happening, Panasonic kept making solid-performing plasma TVs. Each year the company moved its top picture technology downstream into more models. And that’s where we find the ST50 plasma TVs.
The ST50 comes below the GT50 and VT50 lines, and above the UT50 line, so it’s two rungs down from Panasonic’s best TVs. Still, for some crazy reason, the company has loaded it up with most of the things that make the better TVs good and nearly all of the things that last year’s top-line TVs featured. For starters, the ST50 is based on a G15 NeoPlasma panel (same as the GT50 and VT50 modes) and uses an Infinite Black Pro panel filter (same as the GT50 model). The major difference comes from the shades of gradation—the ST50 includes about 12,000 shades of gradation, while the GT50 and VT50 offer more than 24,000 shades of gradation. Think of shades of gradation as the number of different shades you get between black and white. The bigger the number, the smoother the image will be.
It does lack some things present on the more expensive modes, such as a dual-core processor, a few video processing tweaks and a THX mode. Those omissions will be small for most viewers, but videophiles and people less concerned with paying the extra $1,000 may want to look closer at the two upper tiers. For everyone else, the ST50 will be an outstanding TV for the living room.
Inputs on the ST50 are sufficient. You get three HDMI ports (one with ARC), two USB (which most people will use to charge their 3D glasses), the standard suite of analog jacks (which most people only use for their Wii system), an SD card slot and a digital audio (optical) output. There’s an Ethernet port, but Wi-Fi is also built in. The jacks are mostly easy to access when on the stand. The stand assembles easily and keeps the TV stable (I’ve seen some TVs that wobbled on flimsy stands).
The remote for the ST50 is a basic wand style remote with little innovation. There’s really not much to say about it, except it works well, but if you have much of a home theater system, consider upgrading to a universal remote. This TV offers no special voice, gesture or other control options (aside from the iOS app).
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.