Panasonic ST30 (TX-P46ST30B) 46 Inch 3D Plasma TV Review
Steve Withers takes a look at Panasonic's new entry level 3D plasma
IntroductionThe TX-P46ST30B represents Panasonic's entry level 3D plasma and as such it shares many of the features found on its bigger brother the 50ST50 which we recently reviewed. It has the same panel incorporating Panasonic's new VIERA NeoPlasma Display technology which uses a faster switching phosphor to improve the phosphor decay time and thus reduce afterglow and minimise crosstalk. It also incorporates the latest version of Panasonic’s Infinite Black Pro filter which is designed to reproduce deep blacks and reduce the impact of ambient light. The P46ST30B also includes Panasonic's revised internet platform VIERA Connect as well as the latest menu system and a revised chassis design. Obviously given its entry level status there are some features missing and unlike the P50GT30B the P46ST30B does not include THX certification or ISF calibration controls. However for someone looking to get on the 3D ladder the P46ST30B might offer a tempting first step - so let's see how it measures up.
The display reviewed is the TX-P46ST30B and the suffix denotes the UK model, although the same model may also be listed by online retailers as the TX-P46ST30E, TX-P46ST30 or TXP46ST30. In addition to the 46” model reviewed here the ST30 is also available in screen sizes of 42” and 50”.
Styling and ConnectionsWhilst Panasonic has redesigned the style of their higher end plasmas the P46ST30B is something of a throw back with a very 2010 look. The bezel has a gloss gun metal grey appearance, much like last year’s models, and within the lacquer is the same ridged illusion that was evident on the D25. The bezel measures 4cm wide at the top and sides and 8cm at the bottom and has slightly rounded corners. Overall the P46ST30B has an attractive design but it lacks some of the flair found on its higher end siblings.
As with all of Panasonic’s 2011 plasmas the overall dimensions of the P46ST30B are very slim, measuring only 3cm deep at the top and increasing to 6cm deep at the bottom which is where the speakers reside. The front of the display is very clean with only the name Panasonic at the bottom centre and some basic controls on the bottom right hand edge. As we have found with all of Panasonic’s 2001 displays the overall build quality is excellent with the back of the chassis made of black metal and the whole display having a very solid feel. The power cable is hard wired to the P46ST30B which is surprising when you consider that the entry level C3 had a detachable kettle style power cable.
The connections are also similar to last year with the majority at the back and a few additional ones at the side. At the back there are three HDMI sockets, one of which is clearly marked as the Audio Return Channel (ARC) and there is also one HDMI socket at the side. Also at the back is a standard aerial socket, a LAN socket if you want to use a cable to connect the P46ST30B to the internet, a SCART connector, a component video input via RCA connectors, an analogue audio in, a digital audio out and a USB socket. At the side there is a CI (Common Interface) slot, a SD card slot, a headphone socket, a composite video in, an analogue audio in and another USB socket. As is often the case the connectors at the back face outwards which might make it difficult to mount the P46ST30B flush with a wall.
The remote control provided with the P46ST30B is exactly the same as the one included with the P50GT30B and whilst not flashy is certainly more than adequate. The remote looks almost identical to last year’s, it even includes a VIERA Cast button rather than VIERA Connect and the main difference is the addition of a dedicated 3D button. As with last year this remote is comfortable to hold and intuitive to use so whilst it might be a bit cheap and plastic it fulfills its purpose.
Since the P46ST30B is the entry level 3D plasma it should comes as no surprise to discover that there are no glasses included; so any user planning on utilising the 3D capability will need to buy some. If you do intend to buy some 3D glasses you can either buy a universal pair such as XpanD’s X103 or buy the 3D glasses made by Panasonic which retail for around £120. Panasonic offer two types, the basic version (TY-EW3D10E) or the rechargeable variety which is available in large (TY-EW3D2LE), medium (TY-EW3D2ME) or small (TY-EW3D2SE). Panasonic also offer a number of other accessories including a WiFi adaptor (DY-WL10E-K), a camera for using with Skype (TY-CC10W) and a frame for wall mounting (TY-WK4P1RW).
Menus and Set UpAs is the case with all of Panasonic’s displays this year setting up the P46ST30B is very straightforward and once you have connected your aerial and switched on it will automatically tune in all the relevant channels, a process that takes a few minutes. The resulting EPG is the standard Panasonic version provided by Gemstar which has a rather gaudy and retro feel that always reminds us of ITVs old Oracle teletext service.
The setup of the VIERA Connect internet platform was also very straightforward and in this case we used a LAN cable connected to the P46ST30B, although you could just as easily use a WiFi dongle, if you have one available. Once set up VIERA Connect allows you access to a number of internet functions including Facebook, BBC iPlayer, Skype, Youtube, Eurosport, Acetrax, Cinetrailer, Twitter, Euronews, Picasa and Bloomberg, with more being added all the time. There are also games available as well as the Viera Market where you can buy additional content. We found VIERA Connect to be very responsive and easy to navigate and whilst it isn’t quite the same as having a full internet browser it certainly shows the potential of smart TV.
The P46ST30B includes Panasonic’s updated menu system for 2011 and overall we are very impressed with the new design. The new look has a much more modern feel to it and gone are the blocky graphics and primary colours of the old menu to be replaced with more subtle colours and a semi transparent grey background. The menu system is also very responsive, easy to read and intuitive to navigate. The menu has four primary sub-menus Picture, Sound, Timer and Setup. The Sound sub-menu has three modes - Speech, Music and User - and allows control over various aspects of the display’s built-in sound including the bass, treble and balance and the headphone volume control. Within the Timer sub-menu are controls for the Timer Programming, Off Timer and Auto Standby.
Within the Setup sub-menu there are controls for the Eco Navigation, Link Settings, Child Lock, Display Settings, Network Setup, DivX VOD, System Menu and Other Settings(power settings and USB charging).
The final sub-menu is Picture which offers a series of Viewing Modes including Dynamic, Normal, Cinema, True Cinema, Game and Photo. This sub-menu also includes all the usual picture controls such as Contrast for adjusting the luminance of the video signal, Brightness for adjusting the black level, Colour control and Sharpness. The C.A.T.S. (Contrast Automatic Tracking System) is designed to adjust the Contrast setting from scene to scene in order to boost the contrast ratio numbers but this can cause fluctuations in the image and is best left off. Finally there is a P-NR (Noise Reduction) function that is designed to reduce compression artefacts but we found this control to be of no real benefit so turned it off.
Also within the Picture sub-menu there are the Advance Settings where you will find the previously mentioned 16:9 Overscan. It is important to ensure that the 16:9 Overscan function is set to Off, otherwise the display will scale high definition content which will reduce the resolution of the material you are watching. There is also a control for Intelligent Frame Creation or 24p Smooth Film (when the content is encoded at 24p) which can be set to Off/Mid/Max. Panasonic has finally included a Clear Cinema mode for film cadence detection and there is a Resolution Enhancer control which is essentially another sharpness control and is best left off. Finally the Side Panel control increases or decreases the brightness of the side panels, whilst the Pixel Orbiter and Scrolling Bar functions are designed to reduce image retention.
Within the 3D Settings sub-menu there is a 2D to 3D Depth control allows you to select the 3D image depth on 2D to 3D conversion as well as a 3D Adjustment for controlling the depth on actual 3D material. There is a control called Picture Sequence which reverses the 3D image and an Edge Smoother function that is presumably designed to work with lower resolution side-by-side material. Finally there is a 3D Detection mode that when on will automatically detect the 3D signal (frame sequential, side-by-side or top and bottom) and display it correctly.
Measured Results Out of the BoxFor these tests we used the True Cinema mode which seemed to provide the best out-of-the-box setting and appears to be Panasonic's approximation of a THX setting. Since the review sample was brand new we ran the panel in for over 50 hours before actually taking any measurements. Before taking any measurements we checked the Brightness, Contrast and Sharpness controls and turned all the special features off.
As the graph shows the out-of-the-box greyscale is actually quite good and certainly from about 50IRE up to 100 the DeltaE (errors) are less than 3 which is very good. There are some slightly larger errors around 30IRE where blue is about 10% above the target and red and green about 5% below and this can be seen as slight discolouration on a stair step greyscale pattern. The gamma curve is measuring a little low at 2.0, especially below 50IRE and we would prefer to see a curve closer to 2.4 but overall this is a reasonable performance for a preset.
As can be seen on the CIE chart the Colour Gamut is reasonably accurate although there are some large errors, especially in red. The Colour Temp. is actually quite good thanks to the reasonably accurate greyscale with the colour of white measuring close to D65. However there are luminance (brightness) errors in the three primary colours, especially red as well as the secondary colour of magenta. The colours are also oversaturated in the three primaries and there is a large error in the hue of red. Whilst the overall performance isn't too far away from the industry standard of Rec.709 the errors are large enough to be seen by the eye.
Calibrated ResultsUnfortunately the P46ST30B doesn't have any isf controls or even a basic white balance control which makes further improvements to the greyscale performance impossible. This is a shame because given the reasonable accurate starting point, a reference greyscale would have been easy to achieve.
Although the P46ST30B doesn't include a CMS using the Colour control we were able to make some improvements to the accuracy of the colour gamut. By decreasing the Colour control we were able to reduce some of the oversaturation in colour and reduce some brightness in luminance. The overall DeltaE is now below 3 for all colours except red which is actually not bad and the luminance errors were also quite low. There is still some oversaturation in blue, magenta and yellow and a large error in the hue of red but despite this the performance was actually quite good for what is essentially an out-of-the-box measurement.
Video ProcessingThe performance of the P46ST30B in the video processing tests was excellent overall, with just a couple of minor issues. Using both the PAL and NTSC HQV benchmark discs the SMPTE colour bar test was reproduced correctly, with the ST30B scaling the full 576i and 480i images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. The P46ST30B also scored very highly in the jaggies tests on both discs as well as performing very well on the diagonal interpolation test, with two of the three moving bars appearing smooth and only the bottom most extreme bar showing very slight jaggies. The P46ST30B also had no problems in resolving all the fine brickwork in the detail tests on both the PAL and NTSC discs, as well as correctly displaying the waving flag footage.
The P46ST30B managed to correctly detect 3:2 (NTSC - USA/Japan) film cadence as long as the Clear Cinema function is on, however it struggled to detect 2:2 (PAL - European) cadence. It took the P46ST30B nearly 3 seconds to lock onto 2:2 cadence at 50Hz and it completely failed to lock onto 2:2 at 30fps. The P46ST30B performed well when displaying film material mixed with scrolling video text and correctly displayed the words without blurring or shredding.
The P46ST30B performed extremely well in most of the tests on the HQV Blu-ray using high definition content. With the player set to 1080i the display correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests with the exception of 2:2 cadence and showed very good scaling and filtering performance as well as excellent resolution enhancement. The P46ST30B also had no problems in showing video text overlaid on film based material.
When watching film based material it is important to ensure that the Intelligent Frame Creation function is left off, unless you want it to look like video and for the same reason you need to ensure that the 24p Smooth Film function is also turned off when watching 24p material. Using the Spears and Munsil test disc we checked the headroom performance of the P46ST30B which was very good, correctly reproducing from reference white (video level 235) up to peak white (video level 255) and showing picture information down to reference black (video level 17).
Gaming PerformanceThe P46ST30B has a measured input lag of 16ms in Game mode which is very impressive and a lot faster than the 25 to 30ms measured on the P50GT30B. It is quite often the case that the cheaper entry level displays have lower input lags when compared to the higher end models and at 16ms the P46ST30B should keep even the most demanding gamer happy.
Energy ConsumptionThe P46ST30B proved to be very energy efficient for a plasma and in the True Cinema mode it measured 47 watts, 69 watts and 132 watts using 0, 50 and 100 IRE windows. When viewing normal material in a calibrated mode the power consumption averaged 150 watts but this was on the full screen as opposed to an IRE window and in standby mode it used less than 1 watt.
Picture Quality - 2DIn True Cinema mode the P46ST30B was able to produce a very nice image with a reasonably accurate greyscale and colour gamut. It is a shame that there aren’t better calibration controls but this didn’t really detract from the viewing experience. Thanks to the impressive scaling and deinterlacing standard definition material looked very good, especially from DVDs and with Freeview broadcasts any poor images were the result of compression rather than any failure on the part of the P46ST30B.
Things were even better with high definition material and the P46ST30B was able to produce some wonderfully accurate, detailed and colourful image. Freeview HD broadcasts looked especially nice, although unfortunately more detailed images did make it easier to spot the 50Hz bug on fast moving objects and fast camera pans. This, of course, was not a problem with Blu-rays encoded at 24p and the resulting smooth, judder free images were excellent. The combination of the higher resolution and reasonably accurate image along with the excellent blacks and dynamic range also helped to create a very film like experience.
The P46ST30B uses the same updated Infinite Black Pro filter as the P50GT30B and as a result the black levels were excellent. The filter was able to reduce screen reflections and produce impressively deep blacks - even with ambient light. The dynamic range was also impressive and coupled with good shadow detail resulted in a very pleasing image. The only problem with this updated filter is that it reduces the vertical viewing angle but viewers are free to sit anywhere on the horizontal plane.
There was a lot of discussion last year about 'floating blacks', which occurred whilst displaying very dark content on the screen. The ABL (Automatic Brightness Limiting) circuity would raise the luminance of the entire picture when an object appeared on screen that raised the Average Panel Luminance (APL) level beyond a certain threshold. The reason for inclusion of the feature is power related but at least in some of the 2010 sets was implemented over aggresively leading to some quite dramatic fluctuations. Thankfully this does not appear to be a problem anymore due to a change in the way the panels are driven. Whilst scenes of very low APL are no longer affected by brightness fluctuations, it seems that those with a mid-range APL are. On the P46ST30B this effect was particulalry prominent when something bright white appeared on screen where the screen would lower the luminance of the brighter elements of the image and then go back up again. These fluctuations in brightness were more noticeable when the display was brand new and only happened very occasionally once we had run the display in for 50 hours.
As with all the other Panasonic plasmas this year the P46ST30B does suffer from the 50Hz bug which results in red, green and blue ghosting around fast moving objects or during fast camera pans. This problem has been especially noticeable during football broadcasts but it can be seen in other content. This problem is however only minor and most of the time people won’t even notice it but given the attention that it has received on the forums we feel it is important to point it out.
There were reports last year of some people seeing flicker with Panasonic plasmas and whilst this was true it was rarely, if ever, seen when watching actual viewing material. There is no doubt that some people will be more susceptible than others but we were only really aware of it if we looked at the display from the corner of our eye. As we have come to expect from Panasonic plasmas there was very little PWM noise and in fact the images the P46ST30B were very sharp and detailed. There was a little posterisation which is a common problem with plasmas and shouldn't be confused with the 50Hz bug. However the amount of posterisation was minimal and certainly didn't detract from an otherwise superb image. Another common problem with plasmas is buzz or noise produced by the display and as with all plasmas the P46ST30B did make a very slight buzzing noise but you could only hear it if you held your head close to the display. Finally, although all plasmas suffer from image retention to some degree or another, the P46ST30B was largely free of this and we only noticed it a couple times in over a week's worth of viewing.
Picture Quality - 3DAs we have come to expect from Panasonic the 3D performance of the P46ST30B was excellent with Full HD 3D in particular looking very impressive. Panasonic’s use of high speed drive technology, high speed illumination and fast decay phosphors has clearly paid dividends in terms of both handling motion and crosstalk. The newly designed glasses also seem to add to the performance and we didn’t find ourselves being distracted by flicker or loss of sync as we had on other 3D displays.
With a screen size of 46" the P46ST30B might best be suited for 3D gaming because it is a little small for creating a truly immersive 3D experience, any smaller and is more like looking through a window. However the 3D experience was improved by the general lack of crosstalk which meant we never found ourselves being drawn out of the movie. Whilst there were occasional instances of crosstalk, you really had to look for them and they were never distracting. The display was able to handle fast movement without ghosting or artefacts which is especially important when playing fast moving 3D games.
- Excellent black levels
- Impressive contrast ratio and dynamic range
- Lack of PWM noise and clean looking images
- Very good video processing including 3:2 film cadence detection
- Impressive 3D performance
- Instances of crosstalk are limited
- Redesigned menu is a big improvement
- Attractive design and excellent build quality
- Excellent internet capability
- Freeview HD built-in
- Very low input lag in Game mode
- Display of 50Hz material is still a problem
- Occasional instances of brightness fluctuation
- Some users may see flicker from the image
- No basic white balance or CMS controls
- HDMI inputs could be better positioned
- Still unable to correctly detect 2:2 film cadence
- Design of EPG could be better and adverts are annoying
- No 3D glasses included and extra glasses are expensive
Panasonic ST30 (TX-P46ST30B) 46 Inch 3D Plasma TV Review
The TX-P46ST30B represents a very attractive prospect for anyone thinking of taking those first steps into the world of 3D displays. Its Infinite Black Pro filter results in excellent blacks with plenty of shadow detail and an impressive dynamic range. The new VIERA NeoPlasma Display technology reduces afterglow and minimises crosstalk which results in a superb 3D experience. The response time was excellent with an input lag of only 16ms, making the P46ST30B a particularly good choice for gamers. Whilst the P46ST30B doesn't have THX certification or ISF calibration controls the True Cinema picture mode was reasonably accurate and coupled with the very capable video processing produced a very pleasing image with both standard and high definition content. However despite this we would have preferred a more comprehensive set of calibration controls, especially at this price point.
There are other minor issues with the P46ST30B such as the ongoing problems with 50Hz material and the occasional instances of brightness fluctuation and image retention but these were rare and didn’t detract from the overall performance. The P46ST30B is reasonably free of PWM noise but as with last year’s Panasonic plasmas there is some minor posterisation and banding visible. It is good to see that a Panasonic display is now capable of detecting 3:2 cadence but the P46ST30B still struggled with 2:2 content.
However minor niggles aside, the TX-P46ST30 is a wonderful all round performer and we would certainly recommend demoing it, especially if you are a gamer or interested in getting your first taste of 3D.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,299.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level9
3D Picture Quality8
Ease Of Use7
Value for Money7
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