The Panasonic P50ST50 is adequately rather than exhaustively equipped with picture calibration aids. Activate an Advanced picture menu and you get White Balance and Gamma adjustments, alongside more standard adjustments including multiple power levels for Panasonic’s Intelligent Frame Creation system, a Clear Cinema option that improves vertical resolution for movies, and an optional Pixel Orbiter for combating screen burn (not that this once common plasma problem has been a big deal on recent Panasonic plasma generations, mind you).
The last feature to look at is the P50ST50’s online ‘Smart’ functionality. We’ve covered this in some depth in recent reviews of the Panasonic L42ET5 and L37E5, but briefly the highlights of the service are Netflix, the BBC iPlayer, AceTrax, Twitter, Eurosport, Skype (though you need an optional extra camera for this) and Fetch TV.
The infrastructure behind the Viera Connect service seems stable and fast, the system already carries some surprisingly high quality games, and there’s potential galore in both the interface and the service’s ability to handle lots of content. In fact, Panasonic has clearly been busy adding content - especially, happily, video content - in the past few weeks. The only catch, really, is that the main app interface remains rather cumbersome.
Settling down to watch the P50ST50 is like meeting up with an old friend. Only the improvements introduced by the new NeoPlasma panel are such that the old friend in question is last year’s step-up GT30 or maybe even flagship VT30 range, rather than the equivalent ST30s.
Particularly gratifying is the P50ST50’s terrific black level response. For as well as delivering deeper black colours than any edge and the majority of direct LED sets, it’s a treat to find absolutely none of the problems with brightness inconsistency you get to some extent on nearly all LED-driven TVs. Here dark scenes look beautifully rich and perfectly uniform right into all four corners of the screen.
Also impressive is the way plasma’s self-emissive technology allows bright colours and light whites to share the screen with deep blacks without the image’s general brightness levels needing to be compromised. This additionally means that shadow detail levels look excellent.
Alongside - and partly thanks to - the outstanding black level performance of the P50ST50, colour handling is excellent. Tones look effortlessly natural for the most part, yet there’s also markedly more punch to the colour palette than there was on last year’s ST30 models.
Subtle colour blends and tonal shifts in 2D mode appear for the most part without striping or blotching too, meaning that you get a fulsome display of all the fine detailing and clarity available from high quality HD sources.
Also much-improved from last year’s ST30 range is the Panasonic P50ST50’s motion handling. Even without any motion processing options active, the image seems much less prone to judder. But if you do want to smooth things out further, you can use the lowest setting for the Intelligent Frame Creation system while suffering hardly any unwanted side effects.
Compared with most LCD TVs, moreover, the clarity of the P50ST50’s motion can be considered little sort of exemplary.
HD pictures look exceptionally sharp and detailed, but just as crucially, the TV does a pleasing job of upscaling standard definition sources too. Even a fairly average-quality Freeview standard def channel looks reasonably sharp, at the same time that noise levels are kept reasonably well in check. There are a few colour issues with standard definition, where colours look a touch unbalanced; reds and oranges, in particular, can appear rather ‘blown’. But this issue can be at least reduced via some fairly basic adjustments to the TV’s colour settings.