Panasonic TC-P50ST30 3D HDTV-First Review

April 3rd, 2011 · 15 Comments · 3D HDTV, Connected TVs, News, Plasma, Review

 

The Panasonic TC-P50ST30 is HD Guru’s first 2011 model test. It’s also the first “second generation” Full HD 3D TV to come our way. This 50-inch 1080p HDTV plasma retails for $1499.95, making it one of the lowest priced 3D TVs in its size class.

Initial Impressions

While we (and others) picked the 2010 VT25 series model as last year’s 3D TV benchmark, Panasonic has improved many aspects of their TV’s performance. The ST models offer new styling, a sleeker form factor, a new “open” Internet platform renamed “Viera Connect,” and a number of plasma panel improvements (we elaborate here).

 

Styling

The 2011 ST series has updated cosmetics to put it at a high tier of mid-price plasma style. Cleaner corners and bottom edge provide a sleeker, more modern appearance. Dark and conservative, we doubt anyone would object to the understated exterior, as it should blend into almost any room decor. The TC-P50ST30 includes a swivel stand.

The ST30, at least compared LED LCDs, doesn’t break any new ground in terms of depth or bezel thickness. The unit measures 2.2 inches depth from top of the set until about an inch from the bottom where the rear bulges another .6 inch bringing the maximum depth to 2.8 inches. By comparison last year’s TC-P50GT25 measured 3.5 inches deep.

Connectivity

The plasma includes a side mounted SD card slot (for videos and photos), two USB connectors and one HDMI input. The rear features two more HDMI inputs (sadly one less than last year), a LAN (Internet) connector, one component video input and one composite video input (both with associated L/R audio inputs). There is also an F-type antenna input and an optical digital audio output. Panasonic includes a Wi-Fi USB dongle for wireless Internet connectivity.

Remote

The remote control is largely a carry-over from the 2010 3D models. The one major change is a new “3D” button.  This gives access to manual 3D format selection (the set has auto-detection too). Also new for 2011 is a 3D effect adjustments that allows users manual control over perceived depth. For our tests we left this in the default position, finding this satisfactory, as it presumably would be with properly authored 3D content. Overall we found the remote comfortable with large, easy to press buttons.

Features

We were pleasantly surprised at the expanded features within this entry level 3D model. The ST30, in addition to new Internet streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix offers expanded array of applications including current and promised upcoming games and services.  Panasonic includes Skype video calling with its optional  video camera/microphone , the ability to view 3D video content via an SD card (not tested) and more user calibration controls than with last year’s non 3D S series, including the ability to fine tune gray scale (with proper know-how and test equipment). The ST30 comes with a new anti-reflective filter that does an effective job attenuating overhead sources of light such as a ceiling fixture. Like any other TV we recommend to avoid uncovered windows or lamps opposite the TV screen.

Panasonic includes many picture adjustments. A new one is “Motion Smooth” which ads frame insertion to make filmed images have fluid motion. Like the motion estimation/motion compensation (ME/MC) circuits found in all 120 Hz and higher refresh LCDs and LED LCDs, it makes film based material appear as a video source. While we prefer the circuit set to the “off” position (default is “weak” mode), there is a benefit in the form of a reduction of phosphor lag, seen as a green trailing edge using our FPD motion test disc. We were unable to find any normal TV content during our evaluations that produced lag in the “off” position.

Other picture adjustments include C.A.T.S. which uses a light sensor to change image brightness based on ambient room lighting changes. Automatically changing image brightness is maddening by its very nature and recommend the “off” position. Black extension, AGC and Contour Emphasis controls (located under the “Pro” settings menu) manipulate the image to make the dark areas darker while the AGC and Contour  make lighter picture areas brighter. We recommend the “Off” settings (0 for the AGC).

Under the Advanced Picture settings are “Black Level” which makes dark details to become too black in the dark setting, we recommend “light” mode; and 24p “Direct In” which allows viewing a 24Hz source (i.e. Blu-ray movie with a player that offers 24Hz output) at 48 Hz. Like in prior years we see flicker at 48Hz and therefore don’t recommend this setting.

Operation

The ST30 has five picture modes (Vivid, Standard, Game, Cinema and Custom). The TC-P50ST30 Panasonic has Energy Star 4.0 certification, so if you choose “Home” when you turn it on for the first time, the TV is set to the Standard picture mode We found it set too dark at the factory default (50) and increased the contrast control to achieve acceptable brightness. Regardless, we used the “Custom” mode for our evaluations as it is the only mode that allows adjustment of all the picture controls.   The showroom “Vivid” mode provides the brightest image (at the expense of accuracy) coming in at a factory default of 47.04 ft lamberts.

Post picture calibration in the Custom mode the image a very adequate 37.11 ft. lamberts, fine for most room ambient light conditions.

With all user settings completed we began our test and viewing evaluations.

 

Standard Definition

We ran through our standard test regime beginning with the HQV standard defintion DVD tests for signal processing via the 30’s sole composite video input.

The TC-P50ST30 passed all tests (vertical detail, jaggies, waving flag jaggies, picture detail, video noise reduction, motion adaptive noise reduction, 3:2 pulldown detection and filmed content that’s mixed with video titles). The only fails were of a few of the multi-rate film cadence, such as Vari-Cam, an insignificant failure as these formats are generally limited to news gathering and animation, which by their nature are low resolution.

We found the noise reduction very effective (an improvement over last year’s models), and could not see any picture degradation using it, thereby we recommend the maximum setting. We were pleasantly surprised to find that Panasonic provides separate memory settings for on-line streaming content as well as for each picture mode and input. Too bad none of the on-line movie services such as Amazon Video on Demand offer streaming of test signals. We will continue to fine tune the streaming user settings and plan to publish them if and when we can nail them down.

High Definition

Checking the HQV Blu-ray test disc, the TC-P50ST30 passed all tests (noise reduction, deinterlacing with and without motion, jaggies and 3:2 pulldown detection). However, please note “Auto” film detect mode produced unwanted noise in the test signal. Changing the film detect mode to “On” produced a noise free passing grade.

Our FPD motion resolution test confirmed full 1080 line (per picture height) motion resolution.

Color was quite accurate with color points very close to the HD Rec. 709 standard (noted in parentheses)

Red  x .624 y .324 (x.64 y.33)

Green x.303 y .603 (x .30 y.60)

Blu x .151 y.058 (x.15 y.06).

 

Minimum illumination (the brightness of black) comes in at .008 ft lamberts, quite dark especially for the TC-PST30s price. We never observed fluctuating blacks (also called floating blacks); though we speculate the activation of one of the “black level” settings mentioned above could produce the effect. We will post our picture settings shortly.

Out of the box color temperature in the Warm 2 setting came in at 6059K (x.321 y.336) at 20 IRE and 6075K (x .320, y 3.44) at 80 IRE. Post calibration measurements were excellent at 6588K (x.311, y.330) at 20 IRE and 6488K (x .313, y.329) at 80 IRE.

Power consumption using the industry standard IEC test disc came in at 210 watts using the calibrated settings. While this is far than energy consumption than an LED LCD which typical measure around 100 watts calibrated, keep in mind they cost far more than this Panasonic, making it doubtful you will realize a net savings over the life of the TV.

3D

Panasonic made a number of changes for 2011 3D plasma to improve 3D performance. We are still working on obtaining 3D test patterns to quantify results; in the meantime we must rely solely on observations of our 3D content which include DirecTV channels N3D, ESPN3D, 3Net and a growing library of Blu-ray discs.

We found the TC-ST30s 3D performance the best we have seen to date. Crosstalk, the big 3D bugaboo seen as ghost images, was completely absent from every piece of content we sampled. We tried to find a scene that is crosstalk prone on other 3D TVs, including the church against the sky in Monsters versus Aliens and the speed skating competition from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics (both have dark foreground against a light background) but we never once observed it. There is no screen flicker either. We also sampled Panasonic’s new rechargeable 3D glasses along with the legacy 2010 models. We saw no difference in the image quality, however the new glasses are lighter, more comfortable and rest closer to the face, better isolating one from ambient room light.

 

Final Thoughts

The TC-P50ST30 sets a new value/performance proposition for large screen HDTV.  Currently priced at under $1200 (link) it costs hundreds of dollars less than an entry level 46″ 120 Hz 3D LED LCD while providing better image quality and wider viewing angles. If you are looking for a big screen TV that’s about as future proof as you can buy today — thanks to updateable Internet apps and 3D capability — the TC-P50ST30 should be the short list of HDTVs you consider. HD Guru awards the TC-P50ST30 a ♥♥♥♥ (out of 5) hearts rating.

 

 

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15 Comments so far ↓

  • Daniel

    I really do not see how that could happen. Even if paused, the screen saver will kick in eventually from the tv if not from the disk player. How do you know it was burn in? How do you know it wasnt just temporary IR? Were you viewing it immediately after the subtitles were displayed? If so then I believe that’s called phosphorescence, and disappears in a very short time. 2010 panny plasmas do not have IR issues outside what is considered normal.

  • Hernán

    What about image retention? 2010 Panasonic PDPs had awful image retention! Yesterday I saw a 50″ VT25 with burnt subtitles shadows

  • Joe Scucci

    When you said you tested the 50ST30 model on DIRECTV channels N3D, ESPN3D, 3Net, did you say that because those are the only 3D channels available on DIRECTV or because all three of those channels actually showed fine?
    (for those that dont know, ESPN3D on DIRECTV is the only channel shown in 720p Side-by-Side instead of the 1080 standard).
    Most 3D tvs are not capable of displaying 720pSbS.
    I will only buy it if it shows ESPN3D, even though there is hardly ever anything on there right now. please let me know.

  • Daniel

    I, as well as several others I have talked to, find no motion handling probems on our st30 sets.

    I still havent tried it out, but several people report a beautiful, relatively crosstalk-free picture in 3d.

    So far this review is more consistent with what users I have talked to have experienced themselves.

  • Bob Stone

    My thanks to Daniel for pointing out that Televisioninfo.com did, in fact, test a US model and not a European model as the HD GURU incorrectly stated.

    There are substantial differences in the tests done here and those at Televisioninfo.com. Anyone can see that there are significant differences in the reporting about motion handling, 3D and overall brightness. It is almost like two different HDTVs were tested

  • Daniel

    I do not doubt your findings. However, I do find it discouraging to find such large differences in picture quality seem to exist among units of the same model.

  • Daniel

    I have confirmed that the televisioninfo.com review was of a North American model, not of a 50hz European model. Their unit was a loaner provided by the U.S. panasonic division.

    There are some very large discrepancies between these two reviews concerning motion handling and 3d crosstalk.

    I note your remark and stand corrected. As for the differences, it is our editorial policy not to comment on other reviews. We stand by our findings.

    HD Guru

  • Andrew D. Smith

    But the real question is when you guys receive the VT models for testing?

  • Daniel

    What is the manufacturing month of your test unit, february or march?

    Thanks for the great review.

    ~Daniel

    February 2011

  • Bob Stone

    Thanks for altering me that Televisioninfo.com was testing a non-USA set and the motion artifacts they saw are likely due to the 50HZ refresh rate used elsewhere in the world.

    However, the main thrust of my comments were about brightness and I remain frustrated that while reviewers endlessly discuss black levels, which are often negated in the real world by ambient light, they pay virtually no attention to peak white output. If there is an Achilles heal to plasma display technology it is peak white output in my opinion.

    I own two Panasonic Plasmas. I’m pleased with them yet occasionally I really wish for a bit more light output. When I think about upgrading them I wish I could learn more about a new model’s screen brightness yet this topic is largely ignored in reviews.

    The HD GURU says “The real question: is the screen brightness fine for almost all “real” home viewing and the answer is yes.”

    While that comment is reassuring I’d like to see some hard core testing of brightness and better understand the HD GURU’s criteria and testing methods for this important perimeter

    The HD GURU (in the comments section) vaguely refers to a prior article about this. The only one I could find was one about store lighting versus typical home lighting. It did not address specifically anything about screen brightness.

    What I can tell you is if my room is blacked out and I sit very close to my 58″ plasma (7.5′) – I’m more than satisfied with the brightness of my 2008 Panasonic plasma. But when I sit farther back (10′) and turn on a few room lights – I’m not.

    I’d suggest the later case is more typical and the former case better replicates the testing environment. That, in essence, is my frustration with an otherwise excellent review.

    I’m very thankful for the excellent reviews the HD GURU provides but I really wish peak brightness was better investigated and discussed.

    My thanks.

  • Chris T

    HD guys, I would love to see your settings prior to buying this set. My room has no lighting issues.
    Best,
    Chris

  • Aaron

    What are the calibration settings (#’s) used for optimal viewing for this set? I just bought it two days ago and am having some issues that I haven’t been able to figure out.

  • Robert Zohn

    Great review Gary. Much of your findings confirm our evalueation we did in our store.

    Thanks for all you do!

    -Robert Zohn

  • David

    Bob, you should be aware some of those problems are only on the 50hz (european) sets.

    There are no motion problems on the US versions of the ST30.

    David,

    Thanks for the comment. As you pointed out Tvinfo is a non-US website and tests foreign models. All 50Hz TV require different signal processing and comparing the test results of the two is an apple/oranges affair.

    HD Guru

  • Bob Stone

    This same HDTV received a less than enthusiastic review at televisioninfo.com.

    Peak brightness, a perennial problem with plasmas, was measured at only 29.4 ft/l (101 cd/m2) for a small window and of course that drops as larger white areas are displayed.

    They also found the motion artifacts troubling.

    We always test brightness using a window pattern, regardless of TV technology and yes a full white raster pattern would be darker on any phosphor driven display (such as a CRT). We believe tests procedures must be consistent regardless of screen technology.

    The real question: is the screen brightness fine for almost all “real” home viewing and the answer is yes. We based our answer on our measurements of TV room ambient light levels in a number of homes for a prior article.

    HD Guru

    HD Guru

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