We’ve spent a good deal of very enjoyable time this year with Panasonic’s high-end plasma TVs. By which we mean any sets that use the brand’s latest NeoPlasma technology (anything from the ST50 series upwards).
But with most experts predicting dire economic straits for the Post Olympics world, it’s a sad fact that not everyone will be able to afford one of Panasonic’s NeoPlasma superstars. So it’s time we turned our sights a bit lower, to Panasonic’s entry-level X50 plasma range - as represented today by the 42in P42X50.
The first thing to say about this TV is that we’ve found it selling online for just £365 - a remarkable price for a 42in Panasonic plasma. Inevitably, though, this price does come with some significant - albeit hardly unexpected - strings attached. For starters, the X50 series is the only one in Panasonic’s 2012 range that doesn’t carry any Smart functionality. So there’s no BBC iPlayer, no Acetrax, no Netflix, no Twitter and so on.
Also, it’s the only plasma range from Panasonic this year that doesn’t feature any 3D capabilities. And it’s additionally the only 42in TV in Panasonic’s 2012 plasma series that doesn’t boast a native full HD resolution. Instead you get 1024x768 - a blast from the past that uses a ‘stretched’ plasma cell design to convert the apparent 4:3 aspect ratio to the now-standard 16:9 shape.
Let’s be quite clear about all this, though. While we will undoubtedly miss some if not all of these features, especially the new NeoPlasma panel technology, even a feature-light Panasonic plasma has the potential to be a great TV, especially for cash-strapped movie fans.
In looking for what the P42X50 does have in feature terms, it’s got Panasonic’s now fairly standard 600Hz sub-field driving for enhanced motion and colour reproduction. It also claims a spectacularly high (for its level of the market) contrast ratio of 3,500,000:1, despite not having any of Panasonic’s latest black filtering technology. What’s more, this contrast ratio is native, meaning that unlike the contrast ratio figures quoted for LCD TVs, the P42X50’s picture doesn’t require it to drastically reduce brightness levels when attempting to produce a convincing black level.
This has the potential to be hugely significant at the budget end of the market, where backlight inconsistencies and a general lack of black level depth are extremely common failings.
Our eye is also drawn on the P42X50’s specification sheet to a response time figure of just 0.001ms. This is vastly faster than the sort of response times you get with LCD TVs, where it’s still common for budget sets to measure 6-8ms. What this means in practical picture quality terms is that the P42X50 should suffer far less with resolution loss and smearing over moving objects.
Turning to the P42X50’s connections, they’re hit and miss. The biggest disappointment is the presence of just two HDMIs when even on a really cheap TV we’d ideally have liked to find at least three. Also unusual in this day and age is the lack of a D-Sub PC connection. But you do get both a USB port and an SD card slot capable of playing multimedia video, photo and music files of the following formats: AVCHD, SD-Video, MotionJPEG, MP4, DivX HD, WMV, MKV, AVI, MP3, AAC, WMA, and JPEG.
There’s a LAN port too, despite the lack of any Smart TV functionality. But it turns out that this does not give you connectivity with a DLNA PC; it’s just there as mandatory support for an integrated Freeview HD tuner. Oh well - maybe we should be grateful for £365 that the set even has an HD tuner!