These are tough times for plasma technology. From one side it’s getting attacked by the latest LED and, soon, OLED screen technology, while on its other flank it’s having to fend off the draconian ramifications of the latest round of energy consumption rules from the EU and parts of America. It’s fair to say, then, that there’s a fair bit of pressure on the shoulders of Panasonic’s first plasma TV of 2012, the 50in P50ST50.
It’s good to find the Panasonic P50ST50 getting off to a decent start courtesy of a rather pleasant design. The bezel’s deep grey colour is distinctive and eye-catching, and its glass-like finish and 6mm or so of transparent outer trim are both very pretty. The chassis is exceptionally robust too, and while its rear depth is a bit more substantial than you get with some edge-LED models, it’s actually more than slim enough to allow you to easily wall-hang the set.
Wall hanging is further supported by the way the set’s AV connections are accessed from the side or below. Rather bizarrely, though, the kettle lead power socket sticks right out of the back of the TV, and although the provided cable is designed to let it hang down at right angles from the rear panel, there’s still a fairly substantial chunk of protruding ‘plug’ for prospective wall hangers to have to work around.
The AV connections are solid rather than scintillating. Our main issue is that you only get three HDMIs when most TVs deliver four these days. But you do get a respectable two USBs for multimedia playback and an Ethernet port for networking the TV to a DLNA-enabled PC or broadband router. What’s more, Panasonic has put right a notable wrong of many of its 2011 TVs by building Wi-Fi into the P50ST50’s chassis. Hallelujah.
The multimedia playback mentioned earlier includes JPEG, AVCHD, SD-Video, MOV, AVI, DivX, MKV, ASF, MP4, FLV, 3GPP, MP3, AAC, WMA, FLAC, PS, and TS file formats (though some of these can only be played when using Windows 7 as a media server). This marks a pleasing growth in Panasonic’s file format support from 2011’s TVs.
We should add too that as well as playing back multimedia files from USB sticks (and, actually, SD cards), you can also record to them from the TV’s built-in Freeview HD tuner.
Key Screen Specs
Turning to the Panasonic P50ST50’s other key specs, the single most important one is that it uses one of Panasonic’s new NeoPlasma panels (TVs lower down the range use previous versions of the technology). This means that the ST50 series models benefit from the latest phopshor and power efficiency improvements - in fact, the ST50 series is reckoned to use 30 per cent less running power than last year’s equivalent models. Even so, though, the screen only bags a ‘C’ rating using the new TV energy grading scale. Panasonic’s recently tested L42ET5 LED TV, by comparison, scored A .
Personally, we don’t have a problem with the P50ST50’s slightly higher power consumption if the result is better picture quality. But it’s a fact we feel duty bound to report.
The P50ST50 boasts ‘2000Hz’ sub-field driving (a big rise from last year’s 600Hz figure) to boost motion reproduction and image stability, as well as enjoying a high contrast filter and a new, improved audio system comprising eight micro speakers firing through a narrow opening across the bottom of the TV.
The P50ST50’s screen enjoys a full HD resolution, naturally, and it’s equally as inevitably equipped with Panasonic’s active 3D technology. It’s a pity you don’t get any active shutter glasses included for free, mind you. After all, the TV isn’t really a 3D TV until you’ve bagged at least one pair of glasses.
Then again, Panasonic would doubtless argue that they’d rather make the P50ST50 as affordable as possible for people who might not care about 3D rather than force everyone to pay for a feature they might not intend to use. And in any case, we've seen the necessary TY-ER3D4ME glasses going for as little as £50 a pair.
While we’re on the subject of the P50ST50’s optional 3D glasses, the pair we obtained for this review are yet another new design. Crucially they use RF technology rather than the previous infra-red system, and they’re considerably lighter than Panasonic’s previous efforts - just 27g. They also thankfully sit lower on your nose than the previous models, handily reducing the need to tilt your head down to watch 3D.