Panasonic UT50 (TX-P50UT50B) 3D Plasma TV Review
Time for us to check out Panasonic's entry-level 3D Plasma TV
IntroductionThe model we have for review is the Panasonic TX-P50UT50B 50 inch Full HD 3D Plasma TV with a Freeview HD tuner and full UK specifications. Also available is the Panasonic TX-P42UT50B 42 inch Full HD 3D Plasma TV which has not been reviewed here but should offer the same features and a similar performance.
Panasonic tend to keep their budget ranges a little bit quiet. It’s understandable, why would they want to take the lights away from their higher-end ranges where surely they can make a better margin? In fact, this is the first time we’ve been provided with a sample of the budget UT series by Panasonic so it will be very interesting to see what around £200 less than the asking price of the, already excellent value, ST50 series means in terms of picture quality compromises. The Panasonic TX-P50UT50 possesses the same Generation 15 panel we’ve seen in all their plasmas in 2012 which is proving to be the best domestic screen they’ve built to date but, on paper, lacks any filter to help combat the effects of ambient light degrading contrast performance. It’s also a bit light on the connections front but, other than that, we’re expecting the UT50 to give the higher profile Panasonic’s a decent run for the money which, by default, would make it an extremely strong contender in the budget 3D TV market at large. Let’s see if Panasonic can do budget TVs as well as they do flagship displays…
Styling, Connections and MenusIt may be budget but the Panasonic UT50B certainly isn’t beastly in its appearance. The now familiar metal and glass design (read Samsung ‘inspired’) is again in evidence. The UT50 features a transparent ‘crystal’ (read plastic) strip surrounding the fairly narrow gloss black bezel to the top and sides and a very attractive brushed silver accent to the bottom of the bezel where the infra-red sensor and power indicator lights are located. The stand perhaps most betrays the cost cutting nature of the UT50 and is black, bland and fairly lightweight but it doesn’t really offend once you’ve got the screen mounted upon it.The Panasonic UT50B isn’t really going to make the best choice for those searching for a sleek looking wall mount, it’s about 8.5cm thick and has out facing HDMI connections on the rear of the panel. The fact there’s only 2 HDMI ports is another nod to the budget nature of the TV; we guess they have to differentiate the products somehow but providing only 2 HDMI connections on a 50 inch in this day and age is both downright stingy and not a little irritating for those with multiple sources not channelled through a receiver or processor. Joining the digital video inputs, on the rear connections panel, are legacy SCART, Component and Composite analogue inputs; stereo audio jacks; the aerial connection and a LAN port. On the side is the CAM module interface, a SD card slot, 2 USB ports and the headphone jack.
The UT50 comes with the older style Panasonic remote control but retains, almost exactly, the button layout of the recently reviewed higher tier products. If anything, we prefer the more classic remote slightly, not only for its more matte appearance but also for the fact we (I) find it a touch more comfortable in use for extended periods. Given that the UT50 is capable of running Panasonic’s new Web Browser, you may find that the remote is reasonably convenient, although we’d probably advise the use of a wireless keyboard if you intend to extensively utilise that feature. Not in the box but necessary for testing the 3D aspect we had 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 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 for high quality HD sources, otherwise the display will scale high definition content which will reduce the resolution of the material you are watching. 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 and eliminate image retention, respectively.
The most exciting new items in the Advanced Settings, as far as we’re concerned, are the new calibration controls for the UT range. 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.
FeaturesThe Panasonic TX-P50UT50B is imbued with most of the same Smart features found in the Smart VIERA range in 2012 found in the TVs higher up the food chain. The most noticeable missing item is built-in wi-fi and owners are necessitated to pick up a separate dongle if they wish to connect over a wireless network. For those who are able to hook up a wired LAN connection, connecting to Panasonic’s cloud based VIERA Connect will allow such things as HD video on demand content from the likes of Netflix and BBC iPlayer; Twitter and Facebook Apps plus the varied ‘delights’ of the VIERA Connect Market that has a variety of games and fitness diversions as well as all the on demand applications to download. 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.
Panasonic’s new HTLM5 capable Web 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 PerformanceThe RGB Balance Graph below could almost have been plotted without taking the K-10 to the screen as there was a noticeable green tinge to whites and skin tones, at least noticeable to those accustomed to seeing correctly set up displays. [tip=gamma]Gamma[/tip] tracking was a bit ‘wonky’ resulting in excess luminance in dark areas and the opposite for brighter portions of the picture, only less so.
Calibrated ResultsWe were able to make significant improvements to the greyscale with delta Errors below the perceptible level of 3. Gamma tracking was still less than ideal, not something we’d be unduly alarmed about but compared to the sumptuous tones of the GT50 and VT50, a little lacking. In True Cinema mode we were able to get around 114 cd/m2 peak light output, which equates to about 33 fL in old money. Some might consider this insufficient for a bright room but it didn’t give us any issues. Especially as all we could see were reflections in that scenario, in any case.
Picture ProcessingThe performance of the P50UT50B in the video processing tests was generally excellent and exactly what we were expecting given the results of the preceding 2012 Panasonic’s. The SMPTE 133 pattern revealed crisp scaling with very little ringing. The UT50 managed to correctly detect both the 3:2 (NTSC - USA/Japan) and the 2:2 (PAL - European) film cadence, as long as the Clear Cinema function is turned on and also performed well when displaying film material mixed with scrolling video text and correctly displayed the words without blurring or shredding.
Using the Spears and Munsil disc for evaluation, we could see the UT50 is capable of excellent video deinterlacing and of delivering the brightest of whites simultaneously with reference black, indicating the overall quality of the dynamic range. One area where the UT50 didn’t quite match up to the big boys was in its handling of 24p content with the wedge pattern not displaying as smoothly as the pristine performance we saw with both the GT50 and VT50. In real world terms, it might mean a little more contouring to be evident with Blu-ray but we honestly didn’t observe much difference to the higher-end TVs. Remember we’re comparing the UT50 to the absolute top performers here and against other TVs, it holds up well. It’s worth noting that, by default, the interpolation engine (24p Smooth Film) is set to Max with 1080p24 content and works independently to IFC dependent on the signal. Please turn it off.
The new LagTest device has revealed that Panasonic’s 2012 plasma panels have more lag than the preceding 2 year’s ranges at least. With results in the high 40millisecond range compared to below 31ms for the 2010/11 VIERAs. The 50UT50 has actually emerged as the best of the bunch, so far, with a latency of 45.4 milliseconds, which isn’t stellar but we never found it an issue.
Energy ConsumptionThe energy conscious shouldn't baulk too much at averaged calibrated consumption measurements, at 240w in 2D mode and 290 for 3D True Cinema with light output maximised.
Picture Quality – 2DBy far the biggest hindrance to enjoying the Panasonic UT50B’s generally excellent pictures lays in its inability to deal with reflections – it is the proverbial mirror. Any viewing conducted with daytime levels of light will result in most of your room being visible on screen, so if you’ve ever fancied seeing yourself on daytime telly, this is the one for you. We can’t overstate the importance of placing the UT50 in an appropriate viewing environment; ideally it should only be used in a room with very good light control, else the need for good blinds and/or curtains is necessitated. Place it in favourable conditions and this budget Panasonic punches far above its weight and delivers the same glorious images as certainly the ST50 and not far off that of the considerably more costly GT50 and VT50 ranges. Black levels are incredibly impressive (for those interested we measured them at 0.01cd/m2 – in all picture modes – from an ANSI checkerboard pattern putting it on par with the 65ST50 and 42GT50 tested with the same Klein K-10) meaning the beautifully accurate colour palette is done justice with fantastic contrast and dynamic range; again, provided you can see the pictures on offer.
As the Panasonic TX-P50UT50B shares the same base strengths of the other G15 panels, it should come as no real surprise that it is also slightly let down by some of the same quirks, notably with 50Hz material. We did observe some line break up under medium to fast panning; there is evidence of dynamic false contouring (DFC) from time to time, especially in high contrast or very bright scenes and there’s some mild colour banding (posterisation) visible, although much of that is source induced. Both the panning issues and DFC can more or less be eradicated by turning Intelligent Frame Creation (IFC) to its Max setting, where the panel switches to 60Hz operation, but we’d advise against such extreme action as it looks, plainly, awful. Some relief can be found with IFC at Min but we’d advise anyone thinking of investing to go and check the motion handling for themselves as perceptions in this area can vary to quite surprising extents. One thing we did notice a little more with the UT50 was the plasma only phenomena of line bleed, whereby shadow-like extensions of bright objects will trail across the screen. It’s easiest to spot in the menus or with TV/Movie credits where the lines of text will create lines running horizontally to either side but it can sometimes impinge on regular content although it’s not something we’d consider anything like a big deal and nor will many people notice it.
Although, in terms of paragraphs, we’ve so far devoted equal page space to the pros and cons of the UT50B, in terms of picture quality, we feel it only fair that we tip the scales to the side of positivity here. Simply speaking, the Panasonic UT50 is capable of delivering stunning pictures that make a mockery of its lowly pricing. Provided your room is right for it.
A topic that seems to be gaining some discussion on our forums is the subject of screen uniformity. Some of last year’s range exhibited the dreaded ‘green splodge’ but this year’s potential cause célèbre appears to be panel banding, something we more readily associate with LED TVs. Nobody knows for certain what causes it – speculatively it’s either an imperfection from where the filter is bonded to the glass or actual roll marks from when the glass was produced – but it manifests as faint vertical lines down the screen and usually to the edges. The review sample UT50 was almost totally perfect in this regard but if we scrutinised very very carefully, then we could just make out a thin line down the right hand side, very occasionally. It was certainly not something that intruded on day to day viewing and had it been my own personal purchase, I wouldn’t have considered returning it for a minute.
These are mass produced consumer TVs hitting frankly ridiculous price-points and will never be perfect. If we put this UT50 forward to an LED TV owner, that has been troubled by uniformity issues with their TV, as a potential one to return for those reasons, we wouldn’t be surprised to have our faces roundly laughed at. We’re not saying it’s not an issue for some and that there won’t be more severe examples but the Panasonic’s we’ve seen this year have all had excellent uniformity and we’d include this sample in that category.
Picture Quality – 3DWe wont carp on about the reflectivity issues after this, we promise, but what was said before with regards to the 2D performance counts equally with the 3D, if not more so. So, with that in mind, we’re happy to say the UT50 provided the same compelling 3D experience as what went before; meaning 3D pictures pop out when needed, possess the appropriate depth and are relatively crosstalk free. As with the other G15’s, under high contrast scenes the resolution takes a bit of a hit with a resulting increase in crosstalk but in real world terms it doesn’t really matter and the bright panel, almost tint free glasses and smooth motion more than make amends. Those that suffer with flicker induced by the active shutter eyewear are unlikely to find the UT50 any better than any other non-passive 3DTV in that regard so, as ever, a demo would be advised for those wishing to utilise this feature.
- Fabulous black levels
- Excellent contrast
- Very accurate colours
- Price is extremely appealing
- Lots of features
- 3D is excellent
- Highly reflective panel
- Lingering 50Hz problems
- Only 2 HDMI ports
- Input lag could be lower
Panasonic UT50 (TX-P50UT50B) 3D Plasma TV Review
If you can accommodate the Panasonic TX-P50UT50B in the right habitat and you don’t need more than a couple of HDMI inputs, it will pay back its relatively meagre asking price with rich dividends. The UT50 maintains the black levels and contrast performance found in the higher-end Generation 15 Panasonics but only if it’s not facing a light source where its highly reflective panel can, and will, ruin all the good work. If your requirements are for late evening/night time viewing only, then grab yourself a bargain, otherwise its worth spending the extra for a better filter and some anti-reflective coating. When all’s said and done, there’s no doubting the raw performance of the Panasonic UT50B is hugely impressive for this sector of the market. Recommended.
From the front the Panasonic UT50 looks the part; the silver accent to the bottom of the bezel looks good and the ‘crystal’ strip surrounding the gloss black top and sides achieves the contemporary look Panasonic have been striving for. It’s unfortunate there are only 2 HDMI ports to the rear, however, and we think it’s probably a cut too far in their attempts to achieve clear product differentials. In this day and age, 2 digital video connections is below the minimum requirement. Although we certainly weren’t unhappy with another of the cost saving measures, in the shape of the old school Panasonic remote control in the box, it’s just as good as the lustrous new controller of the costlier Panasonics. It was also great to see a decent calibration suite provided in the Menus and with it we were able to achieve superb results.
Once we’d calibrated out the fairly noticeable green tinge the UT50 was looking splendid and the stunning contrast, lifelike palette and generally excellent motion handling combined to provide staggering pictures, particularly when the price-tag is considered. Were it not for the Panasonic plasmas continued frailties in dealing with certain scenarios in 50Hz content, they would be approaching uncatchable in comparison to current consumer display technology. Perhaps plasma senses the icy breath of OLED at its back and is making one last charge before the legislators throttle its potential through yet more energy consumption restraints? Whatever, if it is a moribund technology, then it’s sure not going out quietly, indeed the Panasonic UT50 cocks a snook - in terms of sheer picture quality – at many a LED TV costing substantially more. The 3D performance wasn’t half bad either and only the odd bit of crosstalk in challenging high contrast scenes takes anything away from the immersion. Gamers will find the UT50 a little more responsive than the more expensive 2012 Panasonics but the trend is still an upward one, in terms of latency, from the last couple of years, at least. The energy conscious should baulk too much at averaged calibrated consumption measured at 240w in 2D mode and 290 for 3D.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £899.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level8
3D Picture Quality8
Ease Of Use8
Value for Money8
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