Panasonic ST50 (TX-P65ST50B) 3D Plasma TV Review
Mark Hodgkinson goes the full 12 rounds with Panasonic's Heavyweight mid-range plasma
IntroductionThe model we have for review is the Panasonic P65ST50B 65 inch Full HD 3D Plasma TV with a Freeview HD tuner and full UK specifications. Also available is the Panasonic P42ST50B 42 inch Full HD 3D Plasma TV, the Panasonic P50ST50B 50 inch Full HD 3D Plasma TV and the Panasonic P55ST50B 55 inch Full HD 3D Plasma TV which have not been reviewed here but should offer the same features and a similar performance.
Despite reports just in that Panasonic have had quite a major year-on-year drop in global plasma sales, we’re not panicking that it’s the end for plasma - not yet at least. Given the extremely high quality of the NeoPlasma Generation 15 panels we’ve seen so far in 2012, it doesn’t look like Panasonic are quite ready to bail on PDP technology. In fact we hope there’s a good few years left to refine and improve the existing technology and build upon the solid platform they’ve made for themselves.
So here we are again, with something new from Panasonic - a truly large screen plasma that isn’t their top tier product. The Panasonic TX-P65ST50B will in fact be going toe-to-toe with its own stable-mate, the 65VT50, but at around £1,200 less it will be considerably more in reach for a lot of people. Perhaps a more relevant comparison would be with the Samsung PS64E8000 which has a quoted price of just £300 above the P65ST50. The ST range has had quite a makeover this year and there’s a whole new design and remote, added calibration controls, built-in WiFi, Smart VIERA features as well as the picture improvements Steve Withers noticed in the review of the 50inch version. It’s a lot of screen for the money but can the P65ST50 punch its not inconsiderable weight?
Styling, Connections and MenusDo we really need to say again that Panasonic's ST50 range owes as much to Samsung’s design team as Panasonic's? Probably not but every time we look at them, we’re so strongly reminded of many a TV from the Koreans that it’s impossible to escape the thought. That’s not to say we don’t like the design and we understand the need to appeal on aesthetic grounds, an area where Samsung have apparently been doing very nicely indeed. Panasonic term it the ‘metal and glass design’ which is certainly accurate if not inspired but what they describe as the Crystal Strip, which runs around the outer edges of the bezel, isn’t really crystal – it’s transparent plastic. We like the fact Panasonic have opted for a gun metal approach to the bezel which gives the ST50 some distinction at least and the beast of a base stand is of a similar hue. We probably don’t really need to tell you that for such a monster of a TV you will want two abled bodied persons to assemble (and disassemble) but we occasionally see the odd individual trying it.
Don’t, you could hurt yourself and, even worse, damage the TV!
Come on Panasonic, you could easily have put an extra HDMI port in and given us the (more or less) standard 4 inputs, instead of the 3 side facing ones provided. Furthermore, whilst we’re complaining, given the vastness of the 65ST50 we’re sure you could have recessed them further back. Also sideways facing there are two USB sockets, with USB 1 designated for HDD recording, a headphone socket, a SD card slot and a Common Interface (CI) slot. Running along the bottom, and downward facing, are the legacy composite and component video connections that use breakout adaptors, along with the aerial input, an optical digital out and a LAN socket.
Duplicated from almost every other 2012 Panasonic is the new, and much shinier, remote control which is conveniently backlit as well as being sensibly designed with most of the ‘important’ buttons ergonomically placed for one-handed operation. It does show up greasy fingerprints more readily than the outgoing design so make the kids wear cotton gloves around the house. Not in the box but necessary for testing the 3D aspect are a pair of Panasonic's USB rechargeable TY-ER3D4MU glasses. As we’ve said previously we’re big fans of the new specs with them weighing in at just 26g and being very neutral in tint.
The Menu has five primary sub-menus - Picture, Sound, Network, Timer and Setup but we’re just going to give you a rundown of the picture options here, having given chapter and verse in previous reviews. If menus are your thing, you could always download the manual for a read. We’re not mocking there, it’s what we do!
The Picture menu contains a choice of Viewing Modes including Dynamic, Normal, Cinema, True Cinema and Game. 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. There is Vivid Colour which boosts the luminance of the colours and C.A.T.S. (Contrast Automatic Tracking System) which is designed to adjust picture contrast according to ambient light in the room 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 in the Picture Menu there are the Advanced Settings where you will find the 16:9 Overscan. It is important to ensure that the 16:9 Overscan function is set to Off and the Aspect Ratio is set to 16:9 for high quality HD sources, otherwise the display will scale high definition content which will reduce the resolution of the material you are watching. Although if you find the odd bit of noise around some broadcast material troubling, it wont do any real damage to engage overscan in that situation. 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/Min/Mid/Max. Then there is the Clear Cinema mode for film cadence detection and the 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.
The most exciting new items in the Advanced Settings, as far as we’re concerned are the new (for the ST range) calibration controls. There is a two point white balance control which allows you to calibrate the greyscale plus, if you use the True Cinema Viewing Mode, a 3-axis 3D CMS.
FeaturesAs we said in the 42GT50 review the new HTML5 Web Browser comes pre-loaded from the VIERA Connect platform, although its three pages down. However you can move items back or forward through the pages should you so choose. The VIERA app store is rapidly filling up with games, ‘lifetstyle’ apps and assorted itmes but, as usual, it’s the video on demand services that steal the show and include Ace Trax, BBC iPlayer and Netflix. Also available is Panasonic’s VIERA 3D World and whilst the content on offer is very limited at the moment, there’s some exclusives in there including NASA Space Shuttle footage and a 2012 Olympics preview. We’d imagine following the Olympics, it will be jam packed with sporting content given that Panasonic are filming over 200 hours of 3D content at London 2012.
The Browser works with reasonable speed but embedded video continues to be hit or miss as to whether it will play. Another notable feature is the pretty robust media player, although some have reported issues getting audio to play on video files, via USB, when connected to an AV Receiver. Thanks to DLNA certification, media can also be played over your home network and a variety of media servers we tried worked nicely, whether we were connected with or without wires. Further features include Skype video calling, provided the TY-CC20W or TY-CC10W HD camera/mic attachment is purchased, and Personal Video Recording (PVR) like capabilities from the internal tuner, where recordings can be set either manually or from the Electronic Program Guide (EPG).
Out of Box MeasurementsHaving established that the True Cinema mode was the closest to the industry standards and optimised Contrast and Brightness to suit the environment, we took the following measurements for greyscale and gamma:
Moving on to the colour gamut performance against the HDTV Rec. 709 standard, and the out of box performance was very good, as demonstrated below:
Calibrated ResultsThe RGB balance graph might not be as flat and tidy as those we achieved with the higher end Panasonics, but more importantly, real world content has lost the green tinge. Side-by-side, a P42GT50 took the edge for its more even tones as a result of the ruler flat gamma tracking but you would need to view them that way to see it, and let’s face it, that doesn’t happen in most people's homes
Picture ProcessingAs with all the Panasonics we’ve seen in 2012 - and to be fair most modern TVs - the P65ST50 coped with standard definition signals well, with all the detail in the SMPTE 133 pattern revealed without haloing. Video deinterlacing tests were handled capably with jaggies only appearing when the line was at an acute angle in the first test on the HQV disc and, in the second test, the motion adaptive deinterlacing was also competent with only slight jaggies appearing on the bottom bar of the three moving bars.
With our Blu-ray player set to 1080i the P65ST50 correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests with 16:9 overscan set to off in the Picture Menu. The P65ST50 is capable of showing up to peak white but clips, even in True Cinema mode, with contrast pushed too high. Not a huge concern, really, but ideally we like to preserve all the signal, even if it's rarely all there. The most common PAL film cadence, 2:2 sometimes caused difficulties with real world material but the NTSC 2:3 cadence detection was flawless. Unsurprisingly, 24p Blu-ray material proved no issue and was displayed without telecine judder or unwanted artefacting, provided 24p Smooth Film was disengaged in the Advanced Settings in the Picture Menu.
Intelligent Frame Creation (IFC), the name given to frame interpolation when not from a 24p source, showed a little noticeable artefacting, even when set to minimum although but given the (slight) issue with handling motion at 50Hz, we can see the need. We’ll discuss the 50Hz problems in the Picture Quality section but we wouldn’t want to engage it any higher and the 24p Smooth Film settings are best left off all together
Gaming PerformanceAs with the P42GT50, gaming lag was actually higher than expected when measured with our new LagTest device and came in at 47.9 milliseconds in Game mode. Other modes were quite a bit higher so the competitive gamer might just find themselves compromised by the ST50’s latency. It was good enough for most of our single player exploits but noticeably less responsive than a 2010 Panasonic we have here and some adjustment was needed.
Energy ConsumptionAs we would expect from a leviathan such as the P65ST50 we got much higher than normal readings but, considering the size, very respectable ones. In the calibrated True Cinema 2D mode the P65ST50 was taking an averaged 290W and in 3D 370wW Please bear in mind due to the nature of PDP technology consumption varies greatly, dependent on the brightness of on-screen content.
Picture Quality – 2DOnce we’d rid ourselves of the slight green tinge that were particularly noticeable on skintones, the Panasonic 65ST50 treated us to more or less the same wonderful pictures delivered by the GT50 and VT50. Although the superior filter in the VT certainly gives it the edge in terms of the appearance of black, even in a dimly lit room, if you turn the lights completely off, there would likely be very little to choose between the two. As with the P42GT50 just reviewed, we took a measurement of 0.01cd.m2 on a full black screen and ANSI checkerboard pattern with a Klein K-10. Remember, despite the accuracy of the equipment the measurements aren’t supposed to be definitive, but considering the GT50 and ST50 were measured in the same environment with the same kit, probably can be taken that they are equals in that regard. For reference, Steve couldn’t get a reliable measure on a full black screen, even with the Klein, with it fluctuating between 0.005 and 0.009 cd/m2 on the ANSI pattern with the 55VT50. That’s an awful long way of saying the P65ST50 possesses fantastic contrast potential! Dynamic range is also excellent even if the P65ST50 can’t quite hang on to the full range of colours when displaying its deepest blacks as the GT50 and VT50 can. We’re nit-picking really but the choosiest of videophiles like to know these things.
One thing that we would like Panasonic to change in the ST range is the inclusion of another accurate mode to give a little more flexibility, just a simple True Cinema 1/2 combination would be great and allow the storing of set ups for bright and darker viewing conditions. As is the case now, users will need to go in and make multiple adjustments to achieve punchy pictures for both day and night viewing. If it was a one off adjustment, it would be no trouble, but as it is most will end up putting up with flat images in brighter rooms rather than be constantly altering Contrast, Colour and Gamma, as a minimum. Speaking of daytime use, the 65ST50 is capped at 103cd/m2 in True Cinema mode which, whilst enough for us most of the time, might be prohibitive to others. That the 65 inch ST50 is far more heavily capped than the 50 inch model we reviewed is, no doubt, in relation to EU power consumption regulations.
Perhaps it’s a result of the larger screen size but the ‘traditional’ issue with object edges breaking up and multiplying seemed more prominent than the GT50 and VT50 we’ve had in for testing. Watching the FA Cup final on a 65inch TV is nothing to grumble about really, but we did find ourselves sometimes distracted. The only sure-fire way of eliminating it was by putting IFC at Max but then you risk seeing the singular ball turning in to 5 as it gets hoofed down the field. In terms of dynamic false contouring, it’s there but it’s more a case of having to go look for it than it smacking you around the chops with this year’s Panasonic’s. Most will likely never see it.
Minor niggles aside, for around £2,500 the P65ST50 is delivering truly large screen pictures of an extremely high quality with a price-tag that would have been unthinkable even five years ago. The only ‘problem’ we foresee for Panasonic is that it’s so good that it might take away sales from their 65inch VT50.
Picture Quality - 3DIf there were some minor differences between the ranges in terms of the 2D performance, there were none that we could discern in 3D. In fact, we found the ST more immersive but that’s undoubtedly as a result of the gargantuan screen size. For comfortable 3D viewing, we’d recommend a seating distance of over 9 feet, else you might find yourself feeling a little queasy. Once seated correctly, owners will be treated to 3D pictures that are deep, standout (when required) and crosstalk free. Under high contrast scenes, the resolution seems to dip a little bit, with a resulting increase in crosstalk but in real world terms it bothered us very little and the bright panel, almost tint free glasses and smooth motion more than made up for it. As always, those susceptible to seeing flicker are advised to demo thoroughly before buying.
- Excellent black levels
- Impressive contrast ratio and dynamic range
- Very good out-of-the-box colour accuracy
- Reference colour gamut after calibration
- Super 3D performance
- VIERA Connect is plentiful in content
- Good calibration controls
- Built-in WiFi and Freeview HD
- Some 50Hz break-up with fast pans
- Occasional dynamic false contouring
- Lack of flexible picture options
- Only 3 HDMI Inputs
- Gaming Lag is a bit high
Panasonic ST50 (TX-P65ST50B) 3D Plasma TV Review
The Panasonic TX-P65ST50B is a tremendous amount of screen real estate for the asking price but, not only that, it delivers big in all the areas in which Panasonic’s typically excel – deep black levels, excellent contrast and accurate colours. Had it not been for the 64inch Samsung E8000 lurking just around the corner, the P65ST50 would have undoubtedly been awarded Best Buy status. As it is, Panasonic will have to ‘make do’ with a well earned Highly Recommended badge. At around £2,500 and with a summer of top class sport ahead, we can see many a punter being tempted by the big screen delights that the P65ST50 provides. And we couldn’t blame them.
We’ll forgive Panasonic borrowing the ST50’s styling from a certain prominent Korean manufacturer's design books and at least they’ve gone with a charcoal colour scheme to give it distinction. We don’t really find the fact they’ve skimped on the HDMI inputs in providing only three quite so excusable, however, and considering the size of the panel, they surely didn’t need placing so close to the edge of the bezel. The remote is as easy to use as the menus and we never found ourselves seeking out important menu options in obscure places. The Viera Connect platform goes from strength to strength and offers a good mixture of video on demand content, games and applications. The new HTML5 web browser now comes loaded from the off and it’s certainly the best one we’ve tried in a TV so far, even if it’s a long way from being a replacement to your usual browsing device.
Picture quality is excellent, thanks in large part to the superb black levels and contrast allied with the convincing colour palette. We do wish there was at least one more accurate picture mode aboard the P65ST50 as it makes having set-ups for both day and night viewing environments either cumbersome or a compromise. The only real niggles to the picture came in the shape of those traditional Panasonic weaknesses with 50Hz content, edge break up and dynamic false contouring but at least the latter is definitely showing signs of being beaten into retreat by the new FFD technology. The 3D picture quality is just as pleasing as the 2D and the 65ST50 delivers deep and enveloping images; but don’t sit too close or you’ll think you’re falling in to the screen. Video processing was of the calibre we’ve come to recently expect from Panasonic, i.e. excellent, but gaming lag is higher than first thought, at nearly 48milliseconds. It’s not going to put off most people but for those competitive gamers out there who want to do it on the big screen, the P65ST50 may not be the best choice.
All in all, the Panasonic 65ST50 is as brilliant as it is big. The question is, can you squeeze one in?
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £2,699.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level9
3D Picture Quality8
Ease Of Use8
Value for Money8
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