Panasonic have revamped their plasma TV line-up this year, dropping a number of models and screen sizes in an effort to streamline their range. Now almost all of Panasonic's 2012 plasma TVs are 3D capable, bar the X50, cementing the format's status as a standard feature and they have introduced a 65" screen size for the ST50 series. In fact of all the models, it's the ST50 that has undergone the most change with a new design and remote, added calibration controls, built-in WiFi, Smart VIERA features and improved black levels. Whilst it would be nice to think that these changes are the result of feedback from our reviews, there is a more obvious reason for the redesign.
Despite Panasonic's position as the pre-eminent manufacturer of plasma TVs, the fact is that Samsung delivered some very impressive plasma models last year and they now shift more units than Panasonic. The ST50 is clearly being positioned as Panasonic's main mid-range display and has been specifically redesigned to go head to head with Samsung. The Korean giant's success is in part due to their fairly aggressive pricing structure but also due to features such as Smart TV, built-in WiFi and calibration controls appearing as standard in their mid-range models. Whilst Panasonic appear to have addressed many of these features, the question is, can the new ST50 deliver the kind of all-round performance that will give Samsung a run for their money?
Styling and Design
The bezel is 3.5cm wide at the top and sides and 4.5cm wide at the bottom and has a glossy gun metal finish with a clear plastic trim. Along the centre bottom of the bezel is the Panasonic logo and to the right of that there is the infra-red receiver for the remote control. On the right hand edge there are some basic controls and the rear of the chassis is made of black metal. The 50" screen itself is obviously made of glass but perhaps thanks to the filter designed to reject ambient light, it wasn't as reflective as some displays and we never had a problem with reflections during daytime viewing. Incredibly, despite having a 50" screen the entire chassis is only 3cm deep, which whilst looking cool, doesn't bode well for the sound quality. The P50ST50B weighs 23kg without its stand and there are the standard fixing points for wall mounting. The stand itself is equally attractive and is square in shape with a brushed metal finish and silver trim. When mounted on the stand, the panel can be swivelled by a 10 degree angle to either side. The design is both contemporary and tasteful, with a solid build quality that gives you the feeling you have bought a high quality product. In fact we have never been big fans of the Samsung 2011 designs; finding the bezel too reflective and the quad foot rather unattractive, so we actually prefer the look of the P50ST50B and if it looks as good when it's on, we're in for a treat.
To accommodate the new sleek proportions, the rear connections have also had something of a make-over. There are no longer any rearward facing connectors which will make wall mounting easier, some of the legacy connectors have been dropped and the composite and component video connections use breakout adaptors. The connections for these breakout adaptors are facing downwards, along with the aerial input, an optical digital out and a LAN socket for those without a wireless network. Facing sideways we have three HDMI inputs (one less than last year) of which HDMI 2 is marked as the Audio Return Channel (ARC) but will only take Stereo back to your AV receiver from anything other than the internal tuner. Also facing sideways 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. All in all a fairly comprehensive set of connections and our only complaint is that the HDMI inputs are just 9cm from the edge, which is far too close if you use heavy duty HDMI cables. This is a common problem with modern TVs and your only choice if you don't want HDMI cables poking out the sides, is to either use right angled adaptors or to stop wasting your money on big thick expensive cables. It is good to see that unlike certain other manufacturers, such as Samsung, the power cable on the P50ST50B uses a three pin plug that can be detached. In fact this is the only connection that faces rearwards but sensibly Panasonic have provided a cable with a right angled connector to aid in wall mounting.
Along with the P50ST50B itself, the remote control has also had something of a face lift. Whilst still made of plastic it has a rather attractive gloss black finish and feels very comfortable in the hand. It is well made, sensibly laid out and has a backlight. All the main buttons are present and correct, including On/Off, Menu, 3D, Inputs, Internet (for VIERA Connect), VIERA Tools (for accessing different media content) and Guide (Electronic Programme Guide). Overall we rather liked the new look remote control and our only complaint was that the glossy finish did rather show up fingerprints.
The P50ST50B does not ship with any 3D glasses, as standard, but frankly almost no TV does these days because 3D is now just regarded as another feature. However, for the purposes of this review, we were able to test out a pair of Panasonic's newest active shutter 3D glasses (TY-ER3D4MU), which have only just been released. These new glasses use RF (radio frequency) rather than IR (infra-red) to sync with the TV and in that sense they are similar to the glasses that Samsung use. A number of the manufacturers are working together to create a standardised pair of active shutter glasses, which is a good idea but you can't help thinking they should have done that from the start. Thanks to the use of RF, the glasses never had any problems syncing to the P50ST50B and we never lost connection once. That's the good news, the bad news is that the P50ST50B doesn't have an IR emitter built into it, so should you have any of Panasonic's three previous generations of glasses lying around, you can't use them with the P50ST50B or any of Panasonic's 2012 TVs for that matter.
Aside from the use of RF instead of IR, the new glasses share the same general design as the earlier TY-EW3D3ME glasses and as such they are incredibly light - at 26g - and so comfortable to wear that you quickly forget you've got them on. The glasses themselves have quite large lenses that provide a suitably wide field of view and are very neutral in tint. There is a switch at the top of the frames above the bridge of the nose where you turn on the glasses and, if you need to, you can also switch the glasses to 2D mode. This setting will display just one eye view to both eyes thus allowing you to watch 3D content in 2D if you need to for some reason. The glasses sync automatically once turned on and they will switch off if they don't receive a sync signal for 5 minutes. You can fully charge the glasses in a couple of hours but a 3 minute charge should give you enough battery life to get through a film.
Menus and Set Up
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, as well as the headphone volume control. If you select User mode, there is an Equaliser and there are also controls for the Surround mode, the Auto Gain, the Volume Correction and for setting the distance from the speakers to the wall. There are also controls for setting the Voice Guidance for the visually impaired. Given how thin the P50ST50B is, we weren't expecting the sound to be great and it wasn't. It was good enough for basic television watching and the 24 hour news channels but for anything more critical we strongly recommend using a sound bar or, better still, connecting to an AV amplifier.
Within the Setup sub-menu there are controls for the Eco Navigation, Recording Setup, Link Settings, Child Lock, Display Settings, DivX VOD, System Menu and Other Settings (power settings and USB charging) There is also a new control called Advanced (Calibration), by selecting On you unlock the White Balance control and the Colour Management System in the Advanced Settings of the Picture sub-menu.
Finally there is the Picture sub-menu, which offers a series 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 saturation of the colours and C.A.T.S. (Contrast Automatic Tracking System) which is designed to adjust the Contrast setting from scene to scene in order to boost the contrast ratio numbers, 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.
The most interesting new feature in the Advanced Settings is the inclusion of some calibration controls. First there is a gamma control which allows you to select an appropriate gamma for your viewing conditions. Then there is a two point white balance control which allows you to calibrate the greyscale on the P50ST50B. This is a very useful addition because previously in the ST series, you had to enter the service menu in order to calibrate the greyscale.
The last important menu is the 3D Settings sub-menu where you will find the 2D to 3D Depth control which 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. There is also 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. Finally there is a control for turning off the 3D Signal Message and there are some Safety Precautions
Well, the VIERA Connect internet platform looks basically the same as last year but Panasonic have added a number of new applications to their platform. Obviously the ubiquitous BBC iPlayer is present and correct and of course there's Skype (although you'll need the camera and microphone attachment to use it), as well as Twitter and Facebook. In addition you get BBC News, Euro Sport, YouTube, AceTrax, CineTrailer, Dailymotion, Euronews and new additions like Netflix, where you can watch movies and TV shows on demand. Another addition is the VIERA Connect Market, where you can buy and download additional apps and games, in much the same way that you can from Apple's App Store and Android's Marketplace.
As far as connectivity goes, the P50ST50B is fully DLNA certified which means it can connect with other such devices and stream content over you home network. You can also access content via USB or SD card and from mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. To access content such as photos, music and videos, as well as any recordings on an external HDD or a media server, you just use the VIERA Tools button on the remote. We found sharing content between a tablet device and the P50ST50B to be very easy using Panasonic's 'swiping' technology. Quite simply if something is playing on the tablet, if you hold your finger down and move it upwards, the content will begin playing on the P50ST50B. In terms of file support the P50ST50 is fairly comprehensive and can handle AVCHD, MPEG, DivX HD, WMV, MKV, AVI, MP4, MOV, MP3, AAC, WMA, FLAC, JPEG and MPO, which should cover most people's needs.
Measured Results Out-of-the-BoxWe initially ran the P50ST50B in for about 50 hours before we began taking any measurements and when we checked the different picture modes, we found that True Cinema unsurprisingly proved to be the most accurate. We initially selected a Gamma setting of 2.2 and set the Brightness and Contrast controls to match our viewing environment. We also set the Sharpness control to zero because at this setting the lines on our sharpness test pattern were well defined with no ringing or softness. Finally we ensured that all the special features were turned off.
Calibrated ResultsAs was mentioned in the main body of the review, the P50ST50B now has a two point white balance control and a colour management system included in the user menus. So given the excellent starting point that we had from the out-of-the-box settings, we would expect to be able to achieve a reference performance using these controls.
As the CIE chart shows, after calibrating with the CMS we were able to produce a reference colour performance with errors that were less than one. The industry standard of Rec.709 is represented by the triangle and as you can see all six colours are hitting their correct coordinates. Once again Panasonic are to be congratulated for including a CMS on the P50ST50B.
Video ProcessingThe performance of the P50ST50B in the video processing tests was excellent overall. Using both the PAL and NTSC HQV benchmark discs the detail and resolution test was reproduced correctly, with the P50ST50B scaling the full 576i and 480i images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. The P50ST50B 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 P50ST50B 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 P50ST50B 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. The P50ST50B also performed well when displaying film material mixed with scrolling video text and correctly displayed the words without blurring or shredding. The P50ST50B performed extremely well in most of the tests on the HQV Blu-ray using high definition content and with the player set to 1080i the display correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests and showed very good scaling and filtering performance as well as excellent resolution enhancement. The P50ST50B also had no problems in showing video text overlaid on film based material.
The motion handling on the P50ST50B was excellent and using the FPD benchmark disc, the full 1080 lines of resolution were visible on the moving tests. For this reason there is no need to engage the Intelligent Frame Creation function, even when watching fast paced sports content. When watching film based content you should always have the IFC function off, unless you want it to look like video. For the same reason you need to ensure that the 24p Smooth Film function is also turned off when watching 24p material. This year Panasonic have added a min setting as well as a mid and max setting to both the IFC and 24p Smooth Film functions but we really could not see any affect from using the min setting. In fact even using the torturous scaling and motion patterns on the Spears and Munsil test disc we couldn't detect any artefacts. Whatever the effect of the min setting, it is clearly subtle, so we just left both functions off as they just weren't needed.
We also used the Spears and Munsil disc to check the headroom performance of the P50ST50B 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 PerformanceThere's always a danger that added processing can result in a higher input lag but just like last year, the P50ST50 had a measured input lag of only 16ms in Game mode, which is excellent. However, the subsequent review of the P65ST50 used a new approach to measuring input lag and this gave a result of 48ms which raises doubts about the earlier measurement. Anyone serious gamers looking for a TV might want to take this into account.
Energy ConsumptionPanasonic have claimed that they made a 30% saving in power consumption with their 2012 plasma TV but rather than pass this saving on in the form of lower energy consumption, they have kept that the same and used the additional power to boost the brightness. Well the measured power consumption numbers would certainly corroborate this, with the energy efficiency in True Cinema mode being the same as last year. We measured 47 watts, 69 watts and 132 watts using 0, 50 and 100 IRE windows and when viewing normal material the power consumption averaged 150 watts, whilst in standby mode the P50ST50 used less than 1 watt.
2D Picture Quality
When we moved on to high definition content, the P50ST50B really stepped up a gear and delivered some really accurate images. With 1080i broadcasts over Freeview, the P50ST50B was able to reproduce the images with no artefacts or motion issues, resulting in some really lovely high definition images. Once we moved on to Blu-ray discs at 1080p/24 the results were just jaw dropping, with incredibly natural, judder free and detailed looking images. In fact the pictures were very clean and reasonably free of PWM noise, leaving the images with a wonderful film-like quality.
The P50ST50B uses Panasonic's latest G15 NeoPlasma panel and the manufacturer claims the combination of the Infinite Black Pro filter and advances in pre-discharge control have resulted in improved black levels. The P50ST50B also has 12,286 steps of gradation and as a result images certainly were largely free of any unwanted banding. The P50ST50B also has Panasonic's new 2,000Hz Focused Field Drive, although it should be noted that the GT50 and VT50 have 2,500Hz Focused Field Drives. Panasonic have been a little vague on how the Focused Field Drive actually works but it appears that whilst the plasma still has a 600Hz Sub-Field Drive, there is additional processing designed to improve motion handling. This certainly seemed to be the case and as mentioned in the detailed test section, the motion handling on the P50ST50B was excellent.
Without doubt though, the area that impressed us the most was the black levels on the P50ST50B, which were genuinely impressive. Panasonic have been making great strides in this area over the last two years and it would seem that their displays are now approaching the kind of blacks previously only seen on the Kuro. Whilst the Kuro still has the edge, the blacks on the P50ST50B were some of the best we've seen from a current display and certainly comparable to last year's VT30 but at a fraction of the cost. The Infinite Black Pro filter appeared to work very well, rejecting ambient light in the room to ensure great blacks during daytime viewing. However it was when all the lights were out that the P50ST50B really showed its true colour, or colour, because the blacks were deep and inky. Despite this there was no crush in these blacks, leaving plenty of detail in the shadows and giving the images a very impressive level of contrast.
Here at AVForums we aren't big on measuring black levels because we often find the numbers spurious but since people will undoubtedly ask here they are. Using a 0IRE window we measured calibrated black at 0.008 cd/m2 on our Klein K-10 and we also measured black at 0.011 cd/m2 using an ANSI checkerboard. In both cases these are excellent results but at these low light levels there may be inaccuracies in the measurements, even when using a K-10. Panasonic claim to have boosted the brightness on their plasmas this year and whilst the P50ST50B was certainly brighter in its calibrated mode, it still struggled to get above 90 cd/m2 and was thus robbed of some of its dynamic range. However this is a minor quibble and overall the P50ST50B produced an absolutely superb image.
Panasonic have come under a great deal of criticism over the last two years, some of it justified and some of it unwarranted but it would appear they have been trying to address any problems that have surfaced. As far as floating blacks are concerned, that would appear to have been addressed last year and we never saw any instances of the problem on the P50ST50B. The same is true of fluctuating brightness, a problem that appeared on some last year's Panasonics but was not seen once on the P50ST50B. We used test patterns to check the uniformity of the screen itself and that was very good and there was no sign of the dreaded green 'blobs' that were reported on some of last year's Panasonic plasmas. We obviously cannot give 100% assurances that this will stay the same over time. We also had absolutely no problems with image retention, even when we left static test screens up for a prolonged period of time during calibration. Like all plasmas however, if you do subject a panel to static images over a long time and in bright picture modes, IR can be an issue.
Of course, the P50ST50 isn't perfect and you can't expect a mass produced consumer product to be anything of the sort, but any issues were minor. There was still some occasional posterisation and the odd phosphor trail but that is just a limitation of the technology. The same goes for flicker which some people might notice but we only saw occasionally with bright static test patterns. However, the biggest problem with Panasonic plasmas over the last two years has been an issue that is often referred to as the 50Hz bug. The problem, which only manifests on 50Hz material and is therefore not just a limitation of plasma technology in general, is best described as breakup or fringing on the edges of moving objects. We have been able to identify this problem using a zone plate test at 60Hz, 50Hz and 24p and observing the edges of the moving circle. Whilst we could still see the problem on the P50ST50B when doing this test, with actual material it was far less obvious. In fact the majority of the time we didn't see it at all, but every now and then it would manifest around the edges of a moving object or camera pan. Now before everyone starts getting on their high horse, we generally didn't notice any problems with 50Hz material, unless we went looking for it, and it certainly didn't detract from the fantastic images being produced by the P50ST50B. With 60Hz material there was no sign of the bug.
3D Picture Quality
The newly designed RF glasses also seem to add to the experience and thanks to their being so light we often forgot we were wearing them. However, the glasses are still large enough to go over regular glasses and we didn’t find ourselves being distracted by flicker or loss of sync. Whilst a screen size of 50" is probably the limit for a great 3D experience, the immersive nature of the experience was also improved by the general lack of crosstalk which meant we never found ourselves being drawn out of the movie. There were very occasional instances of crosstalk but 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 was especially obvious when playing fast moving 3D games, although they can often contribute their own set of problems through poor implementation from the developers.
The P50ST50B allows you to select different picture modes when watching 3D material and we found that True Cinema again offered a reasonably accurate out-of-the-box setting. There is a dedicated 3D menu that allows users to customise their 3D experience and there are separate settings for the calibration controls which means you can also calibrate the 3D picture mode. When it comes to calibrating 3D settings, there tends to be a trade-off between accuracy and brightness. If you calibrate the greyscale and colour gamut accurately for 3D, the resulting image is often too dim and for a 3D image to have impact it needs a degree of brightness. Often the best approach is to sacrifice a degree of accuracy for a brighter image and this is what the True Cinema mode appeared to do, striking a good balance between the picture accuracy and the overall brightness of the 3D images.
The 3D images produced by the P50ST50B were excellent, with well defined depth and a sense of solidity to the objects on screen.
Whether the 3D content was provided by a frame sequential Blu-ray, a side-by-side TV broadcast or a 3D game, the P50ST50 was able to detect and correctly display the 3D images. The P50ST50B includes a 2D to 3D conversion function but whilst this worked to a degree, it remains nothing more than a gimmick feature that is best avoided. Overall however, when it comes to native 3D content, the P50ST50B is another winner from Panasonic that can deliver a wonderfully engaging 3D experience.
- Very impressive black levels
- Superb contrast ratio and dynamic range
- Lack of PWM noise and clean looking images
- Excellent greyscale out-of-the-box
- Reference greyscale when calibrated
- Excellent colour gamut out-of-the-box
- Reference colour gamut when calibrated
- Added calibration controls
- Reference level 3D playback
- Minimal crosstalk
- Excellent video processing
- Excellent motion resolution
- Built-in WiFi and Freeview HD
- VIERA Connect is impressive
- Well designed menus and remote control
- Attractive design and excellent build quality
- Subtle instances of 50Hz break-up with fast pans
- Occasional posterisation and line bleed
- HDMI connections too close to edge of the screen
- Some users may suffer from image flicker
Panasonic ST50 (TX-P50ST50B) 50 Inch 3D Plasma TV Review
The remote control has also had a facelift with a new glossy black plastic design that looks rather nice, even if it is prone to fingerprints. All the necessary buttons are present and correct and laid out sensibly, resulting in a remote that is comfortable to hold and easy to use. The P50ST50 doesn't come with any 3D glasses but it works with Panasonic's new RF active shutter glasses. The good news is that the new glasses are excellent and thanks to the use of RF don't lose sync. The bad news is that there is no IR emitter in the P50ST50B, so you can’t use any of Panasonic's old IR glasses with it. The menu system is very similar to last year, but this is no bad thing as it is well designed, responsive and sensibly laid out. The really good news is that the P50ST50B now includes two point white balance control and a colour management system in the user menus.
Whilst the out-of-the-box performance in True Cinema mode was surprisingly accurate, thanks to the inclusion of the white balance control and colour management system, we were able to calibrate a reference performance in terms of greyscale and colour gamut. Once you added in the excellent video processing and motion handling and the results were impressive with standard definition content and absolutely superb with high definition content. However, the area where the P50ST50B really excelled was in terms of black levels, producing some of the best blacks we have seen. In fact, considering how much the P50ST50 costs, the black levels were quite remarkable and gave the entire image a wonderful level of contrast without sacrificing shadow detail. The dynamic range was also impressive, thanks in part to the additional brightness in the panels this year.
There were no problems with floating blacks or brightness pops and we used test patterns to check the uniformity of the screen itself, which was very good with no signs of the dreaded green 'blobs' that were reported on some of last year's Panasonic plasmas. We also had absolutely no problems with image retention and whilst there was still some occasional posterisation and the odd phosphor trail, that's just a limitation of the technology. The same goes for flicker which some people might notice but we only saw occasionally with bright static test patterns. Whilst could still occasionally see evidence of the 50Hz bug, we generally didn't notice unless we went looking for it, and it certainly didn't detract from the fantastic images being produced by the P50ST50B.
The 3D images of the P50ST50B were excellent, with well defined depth and a sense of solidity to the objects on screen. Whether the 3D content was provided by a frame sequential Blu-ray, a side-by-side TV broadcast or a 3D game, the P50ST50 was able to detect and correctly display the 3D images. There is a dedicated 3D menu for users to customise their 3D experience and the 3D picture modes can be calibrated separately from the 2D modes, although True Cinema seemed to offer the best comprise in 3D. Overall, when it comes to native 3D content, the P50ST50B is another winner from Panasonic that can deliver a wonderfully engaging 3D experience.
The P50ST50B has Freeview HD obviously but it also has built-in WiFi which makes accessing your home network fairly easy. You can also connect a HDD via USB and use the programming timer in the menu system to record and store programming. The P50ST50 is DLNA certified which means it can connect with other such devices and stream content over your home network. You can also access content via USB or SD card and from mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Whilst the VIERA Connect internet platform looks basically the same as last year, Panasonic have added a number of new applications to their platform and their VIERA Connect Market. We also tried out the VIERA Remote app which was easy to connect and simple to use, providing an effective way of controlling and communicating with the P50ST50B.
The Panasonic P50ST50B is an absolutely fantastic mid-range plasma, offering an impressive level of image accuracy and some of the best blacks we have seen, especially at such a competitive price point. The 2D and 3D performance were both excellent and the level of features and Smart TV functionality were very comprehensive. If you're in the market for a new TV then you owe it to yourself to demo the Panasonic P50ST50B - Highly Recommended.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level
3D Picture Quality
Ease Of Use
Value for Money
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.