The marketplace Panasonic has created for selling optional apps and even hardware accessories is well-developed and impressively organised too, but we still find the main Viera Connect menus a little cumbersome in their handling of growing lists of content.
Hardcore AV enthusiasts may be a little disappointed by the amount of video calibration aids on offer with the P65ST50; there isn’t a full colour management system, for instance, and the set doesn’t carry the THX endorsement and THX presets carried by the GT50 and VT50 series. But if the P65ST50 delivers out of the box the sort of picture quality we’re hoping for, most people probably won’t feel like the need to tinker with much anyway.
Firing the TV into life initially with a mixture of Sky News HD and the Blu-ray release of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the test room was in serious danger of fusing from the amount of drool dribbling from our agape mouths. This is not, we’ll grant you, a pleasant image. But its viscerality hopefully gives you a tangible sense of just how extraordinary the experience of watching the P65ST50 strutt its stuff can be - especially with films.
The absolute star of the picture quality show, inevitably, is the screen’s exquisite black level response. The P65ST50 arrived on our testbenches directly after Panasonic’s own L55WT50 flagship LCD TV, and ironically it only served to underline the LCD model’s weaknesses where black level reproduction are concerned.
For as well as the P65ST50’s reproduction of black colours looking much deeper and more natural, there’s also absolutely no issue with backlight uniformity at all. Basically, every part of the picture - and we’re talking right down to pixel level - appears to enjoy exactly the right amount of illumination, with no ‘accidental’ lighting anywhere to be seen.
Immaculate black levels
The depth and purity of the black level performance from the P65ST50 feels pretty much in line with if not slightly better than the black level performance of last year’s flagship VT30 Panasonic plasmas. Plus it beats the black level efforts of any LED TV into a cocked hat and even, yes, its blacks appear to get deeper than that of Pioneer’s final released KURO generation.
With such a perfect black to work with, it almost goes without saying that colours look wonderfully nuanced and intensely natural on the P65ST50 - especially as Panasonic largely avoids the slightly green undertones noted with some previous plasma generations.
The extent of the colour nuancing is such, meanwhile, that the P65ST50 also avoids the tendency towards striping when showing colour blends that has tended to be at least a minor problem with many previous plasma screens.
The truly outstanding black level response of the P65ST50 is made all the more incredible by the fact that its pictures are in fact quite a bit brighter than those of the past couple of Panasonic plasma generations, ensuring that bright scenes look unexpectedly punchy and vibrant, while bright bits of predominantly dark images look rich and entirely uncompromised by the darkness around them. This latter trait is pretty much exclusive to plasma, given the technology’s self-emissive pixel nature.
All this and we still haven’t mentioned the incredible, mesmerising sharpness of the P65ST50’s portrayal of HD sources, or the way the clarity isn’t compromised in the slightest when there’s loads of motion to show - a talent the vast majority of LCD TVs would give their souls to match.
The P65ST50 additionally shows the door to LCD technology with its viewing angle, allowing you to watch it from a much wider splay of viewing positions than you can any LCD screen.
At which point we guess we’d better get to the catch. Which is that while brighter than last year’s Panasonic plasmas, the P65ST50 still needs to be watched in a dark or at least ‘light-controlled’ room if you’re going to get the best out of it. This is partly because its brightness still isn’t enough to combat ambient light in the same way most LCD TVs do routinely, but also partly because the screen on the P65ST50 is quite ‘glassy’, and thus reflects bright objects in your room more overtly than a typical LCD TV.
Even the little red LCD ‘standby’ light on a projector we had sat opposite the P65ST50 in our test room was reflected so clearly on the P65ST50 that it became sufficiently aggravating that we had to unplug the projector.
Of course, it’s to some extent a testament to the cinematic majesty of the P65ST50 that we should get so irritated by the appearance of such a small blob of red light over its pictures. But it’s also clear that the brightness and reflectivity issues - and possibly its size!! - arguably make the P65ST50 a better fit for a dedicated movie room than a sun-drenched living room.