Review Price £2,449.00
To date, Panasonic has saved its largest 65in plasma screens (not including the monster 85in, 103in and 152in models reserved for its ‘pro’ wing) for the top tier of its home TV range.
There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but it has meant that Panny’s biggest screens have tended to be rather too expensive for the vast majority of people. Happily Panasonic has decided to address this situation at last by introducing a 65in set to its new mid-range ST50 series - and from what we saw of this TV at Panasonic’s recent Hamburg product convention, you can colour us very excited indeed.
The single most exciting thing about the P65ST50 is its price. Panasonic hopes to have it on sale for as little as... £2,500. Still a hefty chunk of money but barely half the price of the usual 65V series models.
Making this price look even more enticing is the fact that the P65ST50 enjoys the same up-to-the-minute Panasonic plasma panel that’s found in the step-up GT50 and VT50 models; you’re not having to compromise with some previous generation of Panasonic’s plasma designs.
The benefits of this new panel design include improved phosphors that can be driven at lower power levels or produce 30% more brightness at last year’s power levels; reduced pixel ‘after glow’ thanks to it being easier to dissipate the lower charges being fed to each plasma chamber; and perhaps most significantly of all, a brand new ‘2000Hz subfield drive’ system. Previously Panasonic has only been able to deliver a 600Hz subfield drive, which has sometimes meant motion doesn’t look as natural as we would like.
Moving to 2000Hz also has the potential to improve plasma’s traditionally limited colour and greyscale gradations when watching dark 3D scenes.
The P65ST30 carries the latest Smart Viera platform, which can be access via integrated wi-fi (a very welcome improvement over last year’s ‘Viera Connect’ models). We won’t go into detail on the new Smart Viera functions here - not least because there’s still plenty of room for further development in the coming weeks. But it’s fair to say that content levels look set to surge in 2012, with NetFlix, MySpace, and the fun-looking Disney Digital Books among the most notable additions.
The ST50 series doesn’t enjoy the dual-core processors found in the GT50 and VT50 models, meaning you don’t get those higher-spec models’ split-screen multi-tasking Smart TV functionality. The other models also have better black level filters, and 2500Hz sub-field driving.
Panasonic has made a substantial effort with its TV designs for 2012. So it is that the P65ST50 looks much more fetching than most Panasonic TVs thanks to its tasteful grey bezel colour and eye-catching ‘crystal’ finish - a finish which extends slightly beyond the main bezel to create a transparent ‘trim’.
Spending as much time as possible in front of an ST50 given the ‘tricky’ circumstances of the packed Hamburg convention centre, the excitement we’d already started to feel when we heard the set’s £2,500 price merely grew. For even in these less than ideal surroundings, its 2D picture quality looked excellent for its money, with blacks even deeper than those of last year’s NeoPlasma models, and a reduction in the sort of ‘fizzing’ noise during dark scenes that tends to affect plasma technology. It was also obvious in a selection of ‘this year versus last year’ head to heads that the P65ST50’s motion reproduction is much crisper than 2011’s models, and that its pictures are capable of being markedly brighter without negatively impacting power consumption in any way.
The good news continues with 3D viewing to some extent. For while our time spent in the ‘3D booth’ at the convention still had us feeling that plasma could do with retaining a little more brightness when showing active 3D material, brightness levels certainly looked higher than they did on last year’s 3D plasma models, and the boost in the subfield driving circuitry seemed to deliver more shadow detail and gradation in dark scenes. The set also reaffirmed how impressively little Panasonic plasmas suffer with 3D crosstalk.
With Panasonic introducing large-screen LCD TVs in 2012 for the first time, rumours have already started to creep around suggesting that plasma’s days may be numbered. But on the evidence of the P65ST50 seen so far, we’d suggest that you write Panasonic’s still-preferred TV technology off at your peril.