Hands On: Panasonic 55-inch ST50 Plasma TV

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Last year's best features trickled down into this model


Oct. 09, 2012 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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).

Panasonic’s smart TV platform, called Viera Connect, includes the usual assortment of audio, video, news and other odds and ends widgets. There’s also a web browser, but navigating around the web with the remote is clumsy (it’s a little easier with Panasonic’s iPhone app).  Viera Connect works a bit differently than other TV’s online features—the entire system is cloud-based, so loading can take a bit longer than with TVs from Samsung or LG, but you also don’t have to put up with annoying update downloads every so often. If Panasonic wants to tweak the way it looks or change some widgets, then they do it at the cloud level without bothering you.

Picture setting are not as robust as on the upper level Panasonic TVs. There are custom settings, but no ISF or THX modes. On the other hand, this makes calibration pretty simple, and it won’t take long to get the TV looking near perfect.

This not the best-looking TV I’ve seen all year, but it’s definitely the best-looking one I’ve seen at this price, and for the price, you get very good blacks, excellent color saturation and a bright picture that holds up well even in a moderately bright room. Blu-ray movies and high-definition TV programming looked great. The TV includes a video feature for upgrading web-based content, though I thought Netflix content looked only fair—dark scenes especially suffered from a lot of macro blocking, but that’s more the fault of the content than the TV.

3D content also looked good with no crosstalk. The TV uses the active shutter method, which requires more expensive glasses than passive TVs (about $80 from Panasonic), so if you’re interested in 3D you’ll need to shell out more money. If that’s a factor for you, and you have a large family, then an LG LED TV with passive glasses may be your better choice.

Overall, this TV offers the best combination of performance and features for a moderate price.

Panasonic TC-P55ST50 Plasma TV
$1,296

• Progressive Full HD 3D
• 2500 FFD
• Infinite Black Pro Panel
• VIERA Connect Wi-Fi built-in with Web Browser
• 3D Real Sound with 8 train Speakers
• VIERA remote App Support
• Glass and Metal Design



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