Cash-strapped fans of Panasonic plasma TVs should probably sit down before we write our next words... All settled? OK. Then here we go: Today we are testing a 50in Panasonic plasma TV that can be yours for just £750. Yes, you read that right: £750. So the P50UT50 could potentially be not only the bargain of the year but also a heaven-sent answer to all your budget home cinema prayers.
With the design wasteland of most of Panasonic’s pre-2012 TVs still fresh in our minds, we’re quite surprised to find that the P50UT50 is by no means ugly despite its extreme affordability. Sure, it doesn’t have any truck with the extremely slim bezels so fashionable these days; its frame is well over an inch across on the top and two side edges, and extends to more like 2in along the bottom edge.
But this black bezel is certainly attractive, thanks to the combination of an extremely glossy finish and the way the see-through ‘top sheet’ is allowed to extend a few millimetres beyond the edge of the main frame. The application of an angled metallic silver strip along the underside of the bottom edge introduces a welcome contrast too.
You get a bit of a budget-based reality check, though, when you investigate its connections. For as well as only providing two HDMIs when most TVs these days provide at least three, the P50UT50 also doesn’t carry built-in Wi-Fi.
Before we get too despondent about this, though, the two HDMIs are built to the v1.4 standard on account of the fact that, impressively for its money, the P50UT50 carries active 3D playback. You don’t get any 3D glasses included for free, but even being ‘3D Ready’ counts as a bonus on a £750 50in plasma TV.
As for the missing Wi-Fi, you can add Wi-Fi by buying one of Panasonic’s optional USB Wi-Fi dongles. Plus, of course, you’ve got a LAN port to give you instant, hardwired access to the P50UT50’s network features - features which include, we’re very pleased to say, not only access to video, music and photo files on DLNA-ready devices but also Panasonic’s Viera Connect online service. Yes, despite its cheapness, the P50UT50 is a bona fide ‘smart TV’.
It extends its multimedia credentials, moreover, by carrying an SD card slot and a pair of USB ports through which you can play AV multimedia files held on USB/SD storage devices.
Please note, though, that the TV doesn’t carry a D-Sub PC input, which puts even more strain on those two HDMIs.
The P50UT50’s specs make for intriguing - and hit and miss - reading. On the upside, it’s a full HD screen boasting an extremely high native contrast ratio of 4,000,000:1. It also enjoys the same 2000Hz Focussed Field drive technology found on Panasonic’s excellent, step-up ST50 plasma models. This should result in reduced judder and, potentially, richer colours and a generally more stable image.
On the downside, the P50UT50 doesn’t get the same cutting-edge Neo Plasma panel design that kicks in on the ST50 (and higher) models in Panasonic’s 2012 TV range. This is a significant downgrade for the UT50 model, and is surely the main reason that the P50UT50 is so affordable. Naturally we’ll be taking a close look at how much of a difference to picture quality the P50UT50’s use of a lower-grade panel makes.
As with all of Panasonic’s plasma TVs this year, the P50UT50 has secured a C grading on the new energy efficiency scale - which obviously doesn’t look very impressive given that most LCD TVs (from the big brands, at least) are bagging As. But we have little doubt that there are plenty of AV enthusiasts out there who would put plasma picture quality above eco concerns when considering their next TV purchase.