LED-backlit HDTVs are all the rage lately, but the plasma panel continues to stick around. Standing tall among plasma-producing HDTV manufacturers is Panasonic, whose $1,499.99 (direct) Panasonic TC-P50ST30 is an affordable, feature-packed 50-inch plasma 3D HDTV with a great picture. While it has its share of flaws, the Panasonic TC-P50ST30 is a good choice if you want a big screen at a reasonable price, aren’t hung up on low power consumption, and can live with only three HDMI ports.
Panasonic TC-P50ST30 Design and Features
The TC-P50ST30 shares a similar minimalist design aesthetic as the good-looking LED-backlit Sony Bravia KDL-46EX720 ($1,599.99, 4 stars). The HDTV’s bezel is slightly curved, smooth, glossy black with few flourishes, distinguished by only a metallic Panasonic logo and a status light on the bottom edge of the bezel. It’s a simple look that emphasizes the screen, not the frame, and it serves the HDTV very well. The base is a simple, swiveling, glossy black rectangle that securely holds the screen in place with little wobble.
Panasonic TC-P50ST30 View SlideshowSee all (7) slides
The various ports are spread out between the left side and back of the set. On the left, there’s an HDMI input, two USB ports, and an SD card reader, a convenient way to share your photos and videos without transferring them off of your camera. The back panel holds two HDMI inputs, composite and component video inputs, an optical audio output, an antenna/cable input, and an Ethernet jack. Most HDTVs of this size have at least four HDMI ports, so seeing only three here is disappointing. If you want to plug in your cable box, media streamer box, video game system, and Blu-ray player, you’re going to have to either switch out cables occasionally, invest in an HDMI switch, or downgrade at least one of those devices to component video. On the right edge of the HDTV, you’ll find a few basic control buttons, including Channel Up/Down, Volume Up/Down, Power, and Menu.
Like many of today’s HDTVs, the TC-P50ST30 integrates a modest pair of stereo speakers. Two 10-watt drivers pump out decent sound that’s loud enough, but a home theater soundbar or dedicated surround system would be a good investment if you want the best aural experience from your movies and video games.
Panasonic TC-P50ST30 Specifications
- Screen Size
- 50 inches
- Plasma, HDTV
- Aspect Ratio
- Panasonic TC-P50ST30 Speakers Included
- Stand Supplied?
The 9-inch remote is large and comfortable, with big, well-arranged buttons equipped with a fairly bright red backlight. The navigation pad is the centerpiece of the remote, flanked by Menu, Vieracast, and Viera Tools buttons, plus smaller Sub Menu, Return, and four-color buttons. Above the pad are nine quick-feature and utility buttons for Power, Light, 3D, Closed Captioning, SAP, Input, Exit, Viera Link, and the HDTV’s Game mode. The standard Volume/Channel, number pad, and playback control buttons all sit below the navigation pad. It’s a well-thought-out remote that felt intuitive under my large thumbs.
Panasonic HDTVs typically come with a wide selection of Web apps via its Viera Cast service, and the TC-P50ST30 is no exception. But, here, you’ll need to either run an Ethernet cable or purchase an optional Wi-Fi adapter to hook the set up to your network. The TV comes with several common apps, including YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Video On-Demand, and Pandora Internet Radio, and you can download even more through the Viera Market. While there are a few premium, for-pay video game downloads, the Market is full of free and useful apps centered around sports, weather, news, TV, and general entertainment. It stands alongside Sony’s Bravia interface as one of the broadest libraries of Web apps available on HDTVs.
On one hand, the TC-P50ST30 is a 3D HDTV for only $1,500. On the other hand, Panasonic’s active shutter 3D glasses are among the most expensive available, retailing for $149.95 a pair. If you want to watch 3D with your family of four, be prepared to see the total cost of the HDTV shoot up past $2,000. A passive 3D screen, like the 47-inch LG Infinia 47LW5600 ($1,699.99, 4.5 stars), offers just as good an experience for a lot less. That set ships with four pairs of passive 3D glasses, and additional pairs are inexpensive.
Panasonic TC-P50ST30 Performance
We test HDTVs using a Chroma Meter and DisplayMate benchmarking software, and according to our tests, the TC-P50ST30 performs well. While it doesn’t get nearly as bright as LED-backlit LCD HDTVs, pumping out only 105.96 cd/m2 from a fully illuminated screen, compared with the whopping 310.72 cd/m2 put out by the Vizio XVT3D650SV ($3,699.99, 4 stars) LCD set, it reaches very low black levels. We measured black levels as dark as 0.03 cd/m2, for an excellent contrast ratio of 1:3532. Colors were very accurate, varying only slightly from the ideal measurements. These are great numbers for any HDTV, but they don’t quite reach the peaks (and 0.01 cd/m2black levels) of the Editors’ Choice LCD HDTV, the LG Infinia 47LW5600. While plasma HDTVs have historically been recognized as capable of reaching deeper, darker black levels than LCD HDTVs, recent LCD models like the KDL-46EX720 and 47LW6500 have reached and even surpassed the standards set by plasma screens.
Plasma HDTVs generally consume much more electricity than same-size LCDs, and the P50ST30 follows suit. We measured the Panasonic TC-P50ST30 power consumption while playing Avatar, and it averaged 280 watts. That’s nearly twice as much power as the 65-inch Vizio XVT3D650SV, a much larger LED-backlit model. At the national average cost of 11.55 cents per kWh, that adds up to $0.16 per day and a total of $59.02 per year, if you watch five hours of television a day.
On paper, the Panasonic TC-P50ST30 looks like a good big-screen HDTV deal. It’s 3D-capable, well-equipped with Web apps, and gives you a large 50-inch screen for $1,500. Under the surface, it’s still a decent deal, as long as you don’t want to use the 3D. With expensive glasses you must purchase, there are less-expensive 3D options out there. If you’re willing to compromise a few inches on size and a hundred or two dollars on price, instead consider the Editors’ Choice Sony Bravia KDL-46EX720 or LG Infinia 47LW6500. The former costs only a little more than the Panasonic plasma and offers a better overall picture, and the latter not only reaches deeper black levels than the Panasonic TC-P50ST30, but uses passive 3D with much cheaper, readily available glasses (and includes four pairs for the price).