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2010 was the year plasma fought back. The arrival of 3D and plasma's demonstrable superiority at showing it suddenly saw the elder statesman of the flat TV game elbowing its upstart LCD rival out of the commercial spotlight for the first time in ages.
Given that it was Panasonic's 3D TVs in particular that drove this plasma resurrection, it's fair to say we're pretty pumped at the arrival on our test benches of Panasonic's first 2011 3D plasma TV, the 50in TX-P50GT30.
As dedicated followers of TV model numbers (!) will doubtless realise, the P50GT30 sits squarely in the middle of Panasonic's 2011 3D plasma range, replacing last year's well-received and top-selling GT20 series. This means it won't offer the nth degree of picture performance you might expect with the upcoming flagship VT30 series, with its extra, high-contrast filter. But the GT30 series certainly does benefit from numerous other improvements to Panasonic's core plasma technology (now dubbed NeoPlasma).
We'll get into these improvements later, but first we have a minor miracle to report: namely that Panasonic has actually wrapped the P50GT30 in a stylish body! We've been harping on for years now about the seemingly willful drabness of Panasonic's TVs, so it's massively pleasing to find the P50GT30 looking slim, sporting a fetching metallic finish for front and back, and even adding a bit of pizzazz in the form of a silver metallic trim round the inner and outer edges of the bezel, and a gentle blend from near-black into grey for the central third of the TV's bottom edge. Good grief. Where will it all end? Polkadots and leather?
Turning our attentions to the P50GT30's connections, our spirits are further boosted by the wide array of options Panasonic has placed at your disposal. Four HDMIs, three USBs, a LAN port, a Freesat HD LNB input alongside the more expected Freeview HD input, a D-Sub PC port, an SD card slot... Really, the set covers all the bases and more that you could reasonably expect. Especially as it's a mid-range TV, not a flagship model.
The USBs have triple functionality moreover, delivering Wi-Fi via a (sadly not included) dongle; recording the HD tuners to powered USB HDDs; and, of course, playing back most of the video, photo and music formats that matter. The SD slot offers an alternative means of playing photos, from the growing number of SD-based digital cameras out there.
The LAN port, meanwhile, delivers access to files stored on a networked DLNA PC, as well as providing a pipeline to Panasonic's new Viera Connect service. This applies a more overtly smartphone sensibility to last year's Viera Cast system, complete with an app store and the facility to organise to suit yourself the apps you choose to download.
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