There’s no doubt that Panasonic really wants you to buy its 3D TVs. The brand has poured an enormous amount of time and money into revamping the panels in its 2011 3D plasma TVs, and has expanded its 3D range downwards in a bid to make 3D more accessible to the mass market.
It has even gone so far as to use less advanced plasma technology in its non-3D screens, in a bid to tempt you to get 3D in your life even if you’re only really interested in getting quality 2D.
So it is that the non-3D P42S30 we’re looking at today uses last year's NeoPDP plasma panel rather than this year's NeoPlasma design, and doesn’t have Panasonic’s key Infinite Black technology (instead we just get something called ‘Superb Contrast’).
Given how effective both NeoPlasma and Infinite Black have proved in enabling Panasonic to produce class-leading black level performance on other models in its range this year, its absence from the P42S30 raises questions about just how big a picture quality compromise the TV might require us to swallow in return for its low, sub-£500 price.
It doesn’t help assuage our fears that the P42S30 isn’t very glamorous to look at. For the most part it’s just a plain black square, with only its extremely glossy finish and gently rounded bottom corners giving it even a hint of style. Its also chubby compared with most of today’s flat TVs. On the upside, it feels exceptionally well built for such a cheap TV, highlighting the flimsiness of many of today’s ‘size zero’ TV supermodels.
Its connections are solid for such an affordable TV. You only get three HDMIs rather than the four that one or two budget models manage, but you also get a couple of USBs and a LAN port, neither of which are givens at the budget TV level.
Both these multimedia tools have multiple uses. The USBs can be used to either add Wi-Fi via an optional USB dongle, or to play back multimedia video, photo and music files from USB storage drives. The types of file supported are: AVCHD, SD-Video, Motion JPEG (Lumix), MP4 (Xacti), DivXPlusHD, MKV, WMV, JPEG, MP3, AAC and WMA.
The LAN port is there as required support for a built-in Freeview HD tuner (which is itself a good thing to find on such an affordable TV). But it also acts as your hardwired access point to Panasonic’s Viera Connect online service.
We hadn’t necessarily expected Viera Connect to have survived the feature trimming process Panasonic has had to apply to the P42S30, to hit its ultra-aggressive price point. But it’s there, and supplies the now-familiar mix of video streaming services (including the BBC iPlayer, the AceTrax movie rental/purchase service, Eurosport news feeds, YouTube and DailyMotion) and social media tools.