With the Panasonic P50ST50 also delivering on plasma’s usual advantage when it comes to viewing angles, there’s really only one serious complaint that can be levelled at its 2D pictures: a relative lack of brightness versus your average LED picture. Even using the set’s Dynamic picture preset (which isn’t actually something we’d recommend for 2D viewing) pictures can look somewhat muted if you’re watching them in a sun-drenched/harshly lit room.
In a relatively dark room, though, the lack of brightness becomes a complete non-issue. Indeed, the exceptional depth of the screen’s black level response together with the screen’s ability to show bright and dark image elements simultaneously means images look startlingly dynamic in relatively low light conditions.
One much smaller issue with the P50ST50’s pictures finds skin tones occasionally and briefly - very briefly - breaking up into fizzing noise if they’re passing quickly across the screen. But as well as being largely limited to standard def viewing, this flaw comes and goes so quickly that it’s almost subliminal.
3D picture quality
Moving to 3D, the P50ST50 also shows serious - and timely, given how much better some 3D LCD TVs have become - signs of improvement. Crosstalk has reduced from "already low" to practically non-existent, for starters. But also notable is how there are fewer issues with colour banding during dark scenes thanks, most likely, to the "2000Hz" system. There’s still a little more banding during, say, the lanterns at night sequence in Chapter 8 of Tangled than you would get with a high quality LED 3D screen, but for the most part we were too busy soaking up the good stuff to notice the minor banding flaws.
Also much improved is the brightness and punch of Panasonic’s plasma 3D images. Admittedly the new glasses still knock out more brightness than arguably any other 3D goggles we can think of, but using the set’s dynamic mode (with colours slightly reined in) the sense of brightness sacrifice when shifting from 2D to 3D isn’t so bad as it was last year, and what you’re watching still looks engaging and dynamic.
Motion is handled better in 3D on the P50ST50 too than it was on last year’s ST30 series, with less judder and greater clarity - whether you employ the ‘24p Smooth Film’ processing (which becomes available when watching Blu-rays) or not.
Even using the Dynamic 3D picture preset it’s undeniable that recent 3D pictures from Samsung and LG look a fair bit brighter than those of the P50ST50. But the set’s impressive and consistent black levels during 3D viewing, high levels of detail from 3D Blu-rays and the absence of crosstalk provide ample compensation. Just try, again, to watch 3D films in relatively dark circumstances.
Considering the Panasonic P50ST50 as a gaming screen, so long as you treat it with a little care in its initial few dozen hours of use regarding image retention, it’s a very good display indeed. Using its special Game preset, its contrast-rich pictures work superbly with the likes of the Gears of War and Uncharted titles. Plasma’s freedom from image blur is refreshing too, while input lag measured only around 35ms, which isn’t high enough to significantly damage your gaming performance.
Turning finally to the P50ST50’s audio, it’s actually a touch disappointing. To be fair, its lack of bass and inability to really open up when the going gets tough are common in the flat TV world. But all the talk of a new type of audio system on the P50ST50 had got us hoping for more. Ah well.
The Panasonic P50ST50's in many ways outstanding pictures deliver a salutary reminder in these LED-dominated times of why plasma was first invented. It also reminds us why, for us, a top-notch plasma TV continues to produce the most natural and certainly most cinematic pictures the TV world has to offer.