Panasonic Viera TH-P50ST50A
The Panasonic Viera TH-P50ST50A 3D Plasma TV delivers a smooth 2D picture, decent 3D and reasonable networking for a sub-$2000 price.
Rich picture performance in 2D
Quite good 3D
Good tablet/phone integration
Not the brightest picture
Colour has slight warm-brown bias
Panasonic's plasma still provides one of the best pictures out there. And even today, each plasma dollar seems to provide more square centimetres of screen area than each LCD dollar. The 127cm screen packs the usual 1920x1080 pixels, and 3D is delivered using the active system. The eyewear (one pair of glasses is included) is synced to the TV using 2.4GHz band RF. That avoids line-of-sight problems, and interference with IF remote-control operation.
The panel is quite thin, at 45mm over most of its area. The area around the picture isn't the thinnest, though, coming in at 36mm at top and sides, so it lacks that thin bezel elegance. A neat swivel stand provides some day-to-day flexibility.
Connections are provided for composite and component analog video, plus there are three HDMI inputs and two USB sockets. There's an Ethernet socket, along with built-in Wi-Fi. You can use one of the USB sockets to plug in a hard disk drive to record and time shift live TV.
Panasonic plasma TVs generally provide glorious picture quality, and the new 2012 range has preserved this legacy. Smooth processing results in a clean, yet detailed, picture. Full free-to-air HD and SD TV are both presented essentially as well as is possible, and with a good Blu-ray disc, the results are magnificent.
Except for two things. The default brightness of the image just hovers on the edge of being a tad too dull — just on the edge. I suspect that Panasonic has been doing some balancing here, reducing the brightness a bit so there are plenty of stars on the Energy Consumption Label. This shows 5.5 stars, which our measurements confirm.
Even with our room lights out, the picture did not punch out quite as much as we expected it to.
The other thing was that the colour did not seem absolutely accurate, leaning a little towards a slight warm-brown bias. This actually made it nicer to watch, giving it a rich glow. But we doubt that it's the highest in picture accuracy.
With 3D, the results were impressive. Panasonic has basically eliminated black ghosting or crosstalk (in which darker objects over light backgrounds have ghosts), which deals with the bulk of the problem. However, it wasn't so good with white crosstalk (light objects on dark backgrounds). This was visible from time to time in actual program material, but was reasonably well controlled, and not too obtrusive. Nonetheless, it could be seen.
The static test pattern showed close enough to zero breakthrough for black objects in front of white, but a nasty 40 per cent for white objects in front of black.
It's amazing that with figures like these, it still works at all.
The network connectivity was reasonably complete. This is implemented as "Viera Apps", and you can download more — most or all are currently free — from the Viera App store, which is accessible through the TV. There are even a bunch of games on there.
With a lot of consumer electronics, access to network features is so sluggish as to make said features worthless, but this TV was reasonably snappy. Even the web browser — definitely a cut-down version — brought up pages quickly and accurately.
Controlling such functions can also be a pain. The Panasonic Viera remote-control app for Android/iOS eased the pain of this quite a bit, offering cursor control and keyboard text entry.
It also acted as a DLNA server, allowing the TV to display photos and videos from your mobile device on its screen. The DLNA function also works with more conventional network sources, and supports music, as well.
Other Viera apps provide access to BigPond movies, ABC iView and so on; social-media interaction (including Facebook and Twitter); and the use of Skype (if you cough up AU$129 for an optional Skype camera/microphone).
There's not much left to want here, but the screen organisation of all of these features isn't as inviting to use as those of some of the other brands. There are basically eight or fewer selections available per page. But you can edit these screens to have your most-used items closer to the front page.
Nonetheless, it's hard to go past the Panasonic Viera TH-P50ST50A when it comes to a smooth and enticing 2D picture, and good-quality full-resolution 3D.