Panasonic TX-P42ST50B Plasma TV Review

Black Level

We performed a fresh black level calibration of our Klein Instruments K-10 meter – one of the few calibration devices which can measure black levels as dark as the best Plasma televisions can muster – and then measured a fully black screen from the TX-P42ST50. To our eyes, the black level was definitely something special, so we were happy to see the measurement come in at 0.009 cd/m2, which is an outstanding black level, especially for such an affordable HDTV. We haven’t seen blacks at this level since the high-end VT20 series in 2010. The recently reviewed TX-P65VT30, a top-of-the-line display costing many thousands of pounds, performed similarly well (measuring at 0.011 cd/m2), but we weren’t expecting blacks this deep on a mid-range television with a 3-figure price tag. It’s one of the best HDTVs we’ve ever tested in this regard, tied in second place and only beaten by the considerably more expensive and discontinued Pioneer PDP-LX5090. The Panasonic TX-P42ST50B features the best black level we’re ever seen from an HDTV costing less than £1800.

Measuring displays with incredibly deep blacks can be difficult, and few meters are up to the task. We re-calibrated black on the Klein K-10 several times and re-performed the measurement to double-check, because we’re aware that black level measurements can end up becoming controversial (our advice is to check out an ST50 with your own eyes in a dark environment!) Rest assured, the measurement of 0.009 cd/m2 is legitimate. Additionally, we had our TX-P42ST50 review sample running beside a 2010 Panasonic TX-P42G20 (which we measured at 0.02 cd/m2) and sure enough, the 2012 model appeared significantly darker in this side-by-side comparison.

What’s more, blacks were neutral and colourless, not blueish-purple like an LED LCD TV’s. Because Plasmas don’t work with polarised light like an LCD or LED LCD, the blacks didn’t turn grey when the panel was viewed from the sides; the same jet-black was visible at every seating position in the room.

Unlike the Samsung plasma televisions, the same outstanding black level was retained regardless of the refresh rate. Actually, that’s not strictly true – 60hz measured at 0.011 rather than 0.009, but the increase of 0.002 cd/m2 isn’t noticeable. Both 50hz and 24hz sources returned a measurement of 0.009 cd/m2, which makes sense, since on the they are output by the panel at near-identical refresh rates – 100hz and 96hz respectively.

We then ran the ANSI checkerboard test pattern, which surrounds a black measuring patch with white boxes, to see how well the ST50 can produce deep black and peak white simultaneously. The TX-P42ST50B barely flinched, with the black patch measuring 0.012 cd/m2. As one respected US calibrator has pointed out, the fact that the 2012 Panasonic plasmas produce brighter whites than before (at least at lower APLs) means that the black levels can appear perceptibly darker than they actually are, due to a characteristic of the way we perceive light. This means that star-fields (to use a favourite example) really “pop” on this HDTV.

We checked the Panasonic TX-P42ST50′s ability to consistently display this deep black level during programme content. We specifically looked at scenes in films that have been problematic with previous Panasonic plasma TVs (last year’s had some gamma fluctuation issues which were later fixed with a firmware update). We couldn’t find any fluctuations at all during the many hours of testing, which bodes well, because we found the issues on the 2011 models within a couple of hours of delivery.

Screen Uniformity

Screen uniformity errors – that is, uneven distribution of lightness or colour across the screen – is something that we generally only notice with LCD and LED LCD TVs. Most of the side-lit LED LCDs we’ve reviewed have exhibited severe brightness uniformity errors, due to the way light is scattered across the screen from the LED sources at the edges. Plasma displays are self-illuminating, so uniformity levels of this extent are not a problem with this technology. Last year, though, we commented that while there were no brightness uniformity issues, the first of the 2011 Panasonic Plasmas we reviewed had a subtle green tint visible on some white screens.

As it turned out, some of the units received by end users had a much more severe case of this problem (some of the pictures posted online were some way away from “subtle”), with the effect eventually being dubbed “green splats” by disgruntled owners. One of our review rooms has a store-bought 2011 Panasonic display which exhibits the issue, which we’ve been keeping an eye on.

So, how does the 2012 ST50 fare? The same pattern which instantly revealed the “green splats” on the 2011 model (the APL clipping pattern on the AVSHD test disc) does reveal a very slight yellow-green tint in the centre of the panel, but it’s incredibly subtle – we wouldn’t have noticed it if we hadn’t been on the lookout for uniformity issues, and we didn’t find it during actual viewing – although it stands to reason that if it appears with test patterns, the possibility does exist of it being visible. In the case of the 2011 model in our test room, the affected area of the picture would have a slightly coarse, almost “sand-like” effect. This is completely gone on the 2012 TX-P42ST50, indicating that the panel materials have changed; the entire screen appears smooth, albeit with some subtle deviation in greyscale mixing. The other thing to note is that this is content-dependent – the deviation is not static or fixed. A completely white screen appears consistent, whereas a fully white screen with a black portion in the middle reveals the slightly lessened uniformity we described.

On the specific review unit we tested, we were happy with the uniformity. It’s superior to the vast majority of HDTVs on the market, which are LED-sidelit LCDs that tend to perform pretty poorly in this area. Panasonic may be behind Samsung’s plasmas in this regard, but obviously, we’ll be thoroughly checking those for uniformity errors when they come in. We’ll have to wait and see if all batches of the Panasonic ST50s that end up with consumers fare as well.

Motion Resolution

Most Plasma televisions can now resolve around 900 or even the full 1080 lines of a Full HD image during motion. For that reason, we need to talk about not just the motion resolution, but also the quality of the picture in the fast-moving areas. We’re going to talk at some length about this, because this is the biggest improvement compared to previous Panasonic plasmas. If you don’t care for the technicalities and want to skip to the next section, all you need to know that the ST50 performs wonderfully in this area, superior to previous Panasonic plasma TVs.

Last year, we were very impressed with Plasma offerings from Samsung (whose PDP product has been improving in leaps and bounds). Much of our good feelings for those is thanks to their motion quality. Although any Plasma TV currently on the market produces motion that we’d describe as blur-free, Samsung’s 2011 plasma panels demonstrably produced less contouring/posterization when compared to Panasonic’s 2011 models, and also less apparent dithering noise in fast motion areas. (“Contouring” is when parts of the image that should be one continuous, smooth tone break up into distinct bands; on Plasmas this can happen during fast motion).

If we interpret Panasonic’s marketing material correctly, motion quality has been the company’s focus in terms of picture quality this year. The company claims that the Focused Field Drive (present on the European ST50 series in its lesser “2000hz” incarnation rather than the “2500hz” available on the GT50 and VT50 displays – and, interestingly, on the North American ST50 series) is a motion detection and panel driving algorithm which structures the stages of light output from the plasma panel in a way which is both better suited to the specific video being displayed on screen, and better suited to the way in which the human visual system (the eyes and brain) see motion. Full details on this are scant, but our interpretation of the diagrams Panasonic provided us with is that previous plasmas used a fixed, linear light output mode, and the “Focused Field Drive” models use a more intelligent content-adaptive mode.

Although the prototype displays we saw at the Panasonic Convention last month appeared no different to the 2011 models (even when we changed them into their accurate picture modes), now that we have the real released product in our test room, we can see that the motion quality on the Panasonic TX-P42ST50B is significantly improved compared to even last year’s high-end Panasonic Plasmas. When we ran our tried and trusted full-motion test clips from the FPD Benchmark disc, we were impressed at both the motion sharpness (which has never been a problem on any Plasma television we’ve reviewed) and also the quality and cleanness in the moving areas (which seems to be harder to perfect).

A little background info: starting around 2010, shortly after the first 3D-capable Panasonic PDPs became available, we began mentioning an artefact which we called “fuzzy double images”, which was our only major complaint with the otherwise sharp motion performance. After scouring the technical details provided by Panasonic’s marketing group, we hypothesised that these was caused by Panasonic tweaking the light emission sequence of the panel to make it more 3D-friendly – in other words, in order to reduce 3D crosstalk artefacts, 2D motion quality had taken a slight hit. When we looked back to previous models, we saw that these artefacts had always been present to a lesser extent, but tended to be concealed by phosphor trailing, which was reduced when 3D came along (improving the performance in one area had revealed an underlying shortcoming in another). This eventually appeared on much of (or all of) the 2011 lineup, probably because even the 2D models shared some homogenised 3D-capable parts. For example, one of our motion resolution tests includes black text (the days of the week, typed in both English and Japanese) scrolling across a grey background. On these displays, the words would have a fuzzy shadow of themselves trailing along as the screen moved (“Tuesdayy”). A better real-life example would be the white markings on a football pitch. Although generally not noticeable with most content (and a non-issue for most high quality film transfers, since the noise would blend in with the film grain and essentially become invisible), anything grainless and synthetic, such as fast-moving 2D video games or animation, or pristine digitally-shot films, could reveal it.

The “fuzzy double images” are gone on the ST50. There is a small amount of “fizzling” around details in difficult content if you sit close, but it’s probably safe to say that the motion clarity is now up there with the Samsung Plasmas, which is excellent. We ran the fast motion tests from the FPD Benchmark disc, and were very happy with the fact that only minor motion artefacting was visible – far, far less than an LCD TV would produce, although not directly comparable due to the different technologies. As with even the best Plasma TVs, very small purple and yellow-green trails can sometimes be spotted by eagle-eyed viewers (this is a very mild case of a phenomenon known as phosphor afterglow). Although they can be reduced slightly with the [Intelligent Frame Creation] system, this introduces more severe downsides, and the trails are so small that we can’t imagine anyone would bother using IFC for this purpose.

Taking the silky-smooth 60 frames-per-second 1080p video game Rayman Origins for a spin on the Panasonic TX-P42ST50 confirmed what we’d seen in the test patterns. Although there is still dither noise in the picture during fast movement, the noise is now evenly distributed, and no longer forms identifiable or distracting trails of the characters or environments, meaning that it shouldn’t be hugely visible from a few feet away, and up close will be less distracting. The motion performance reminds us of Samsung’s plasmas, and that’s a very good thing.

In the 2011 Panasonic plasmas, the edge fuzziness we talked about earlier could be greatly alleviated by turning on the [Intelligent Frame Creation] system. This made us wonder if Panasonic were forgetting that video purists (who are arguably more likely to be buying Plasma displays) prefer to avoid these systems, because of the additional motion estimation artefacts they add to the picture (not to mention the hyper-smooth “soap opera” motion effect they add to films). Hearteningly, turning on the “Intelligent Frame Creation” system on the 2012 TX-P42ST50B made essentially no difference to the excellent clarity (as we mentioned, it did reduce the already small phosphor trails a little, but that’s it). In other words, the overall motion quality was at its best even with the panel was running naturally and unassisted, without the help of sometimes troublesome motion interpolation processing.

We also paid attention to motion clarity with 50hz content, and this is where IFC actually did prove quite worthwhile. Some users complain of double image effects during fast motion with 50hz material, which is presumably due to the fact that 50hz video, to avoid flicker, is output by the plasma panel at 100hz – that is, in each screen update, the frame drawing process is completed twice, before the panel emits black for a fraction of a second. This is present, but we found that engaging the “Min” [Intelligent Frame Creation] setting (which seems to provide a nearly unnoticeable amount of motion interpolation) eliminated the double images. We tried this out with films transferred to PAL TV, and confirmed that choosing “Min” did not introduce the unwanted “soap opera effect”, nor did it introduce any obvious “shredding” motion interpolation artefacts. It did, however, improve clarity in, for example, scrolling video-generated credits at the end of most UK TV shows. Try switching IFC between “Off” and “Min” during these to see the improvement. With 50hz input, the Off, Min and Mid [IFC] settings use a panel refresh rate of 100hz, whereas the “Max” option performs an internal conversion to 60hz, which produces smoother gradations, but brings with some mild “soap opera effect” for PAL films, and motion estimation artefacts. Our recommendation is to use “Min” with 50hz material.

If this is the improvement that the “2000hz” FFD system brings, then we look forward to seeing if the “2500hz” variant on the GT50 and VT50 models is really that much better still.

Standard Definition

The same high quality upconverting processes from the 2011 models appear to be present on the Panasonic TX-P42ST50. Panasonic’s marketing material promises improvements in diagonal interpolation (jaggies concealment), but we couldn’t see any evidence of it on the ST50, which produced the same good performance as before, leading us to wonder if it’s reserved for the higher-end models.

Scaling is excellent, as it has been on Panasonic plasmas since 2010, ensuring the video remains fully detailed and crisp. It’s not as impressive as Samsung’s nonlinear edge adaptive scaling system, but it’s more than good enough given how poor a lot of SD content looks, anyway.

BBC News

Panasonic have also fixed the bug we encountered on the 2011 models, whereby the Film Mode detection system would stop working if the user changed aspect ratio or entered and exited 3D mode. This meant that some slight jaggedness could sometimes appear when watching film material from SD sources. That’s good news if you watch standard definition films from a standard definition source (non-upscaling DVD player, or SD cable or satellite decoder). Just remember to turn on [Clear Cinema] (for UK models) or [Film Cadence Detection] (for the continental European versions) to gain this slight improvement in quality.

3D Resolution (added 25 March 2012)

We started our 3D tests by checking out resolution in 3D mode. Panasonic promotes its displays as “Full HD 3D”, although we’ve found that in reality, it’s not quite that simple. As usual, on our own custom-made 3D resolution test chart, the vertical resolution area appears as a single grey blur, when it would ideally show as individually identifiable black and grey lines. This is still better than last year’s ST30, which showed the area as a flickering black and white box, though. But, on other test patterns, the lines do appear. What’s going on?

It turns out that the level of detail shown in 3D depends on the brightness of the lines – and we could, in fact, achieve full resolution in this area by raising the [Brightness] control (because that makes the grey in our own test pattern closer to white). We just did this for test purposes, of course, and don’t recommend anyone watches a picture with milky-grey blacks!

This means that the Panasonic 3D Plasmas represent a strange case whereby SOME shades in the picture are represented with full resolution, and others aren’t. Are some of the Plasma display’s sub-fields being drawn at half precision in order to avoid crosstalk? Or does the answer lie with power consumption: on the TX-P50VT20, the only case of a Panasonic Plasma we’ve seen that resolved full 3D resolution, we measured 3D power consumption at 333 watts, but this had dropped to 248 watts a year later in the same-sized TX-P50VT30.

This can actually be seen in action in the TV’s own menus (albeit not as easily as with test patterns). With the 3D mode engaged, step close to the screen and press MENU on the remote. You’ll see that when they aren’t selected, the light-grey bars indicating the level of adjustment (for the settings such as Contrast, Brightness etc.) have a sharp horizontal edge, but a slightly blurrier transition at their top and bottom, that very subtly quivers up and down. Now select one of the options and you’ll notice that, now that the white-grey bar has become a brighter white, the box becomes sharp and rock-solid.

How does all this pixel-peeping relate to the sharpness of real world 3D content? Fortunately, the 3D picture could never be described as blurry, but is slightly moreso than 2D. Eagle-eyed viewers can also expect to see some jaggedness during moving diagonal objects, and other highly detailed areas of the picture, since the resolution of a Full HD 3D 1080p source is greater than the panel can display. A good real-life example is the TV news scenes from Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, which have a faint interlaced pattern laid on top (example at 1:11:16). In the 3D mode, this displays with moiré because of the resolution limit.

3D Content (added 25 March 2012)

We were overall very happy with the TX-P42ST50′s performance with 3D content, in spite of the fact that it hasn’t yet reached 2D picture quality levels. Real world testing and are custom-built test patterns confirmed that it can display ALL flavours of 3D content without any motion judder or without any unwanted motion interpolation (although that’s always an option if it is in fact wanted, since [Intelligent Frame Creation] and [24p Smooth Film] are both usable in 3D). The refresh rate is fully selectable between “Auto”, “100hz” and “120hz”, to accomodate for fluorescent room lighting which can strobe when viewed through the active shutter glasses. This should be left at “Auto”; which means that the panel will always output the content at a multiple of the input rate (eg 24hz out at 96hz, 50hz out at 100hz). Forcing the “100hz” or “120hz” settings forces the frame rate of all content to be internally converted by the TV. If you do this with [Intelligent Frame Creation] turned off, it uses a frame-blending method, which results in ghosted images. If you have problems with your room lighting when viewed through the glasses, then we strongly recommend turning the lights off! If you absolutely have to force the 100hz or 120hz settings, though, then turn [Intelligent Frame Creation] on for a much better frame rate conversion.

The newly designed TY-ER3D4ME model glasses that Panasonic provided us with (the ST50 doesn’t come with any in the box) are lighter and more comfortable than ever, and feature a Micro-USB port and cable, meaning that they can be connected to any USB device (a laptop, many smart-phone wall chargers, or even the TV itself). 3D content looked great on the TX-P42ST50, with an addictive level of depth. Crosstalk barely ever reared its head, only being visible on some black-on-white areas (we always use the lead character’s silver hair in the 3D cartoon Monsters versus Aliens as an example). Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs remains our favourite animated 3D disc, and thanks to the fact that the [Contrast] control can be raised to increase panel light output, we were, for the first time, NOT finding ourselves complaining that the image was dim. We absolutely don’t feel that image accuracy has to be sacrificed in order to obtain a bright enough image during 3D calibration – with [Contrast] raised (which has an essentially invisible effect on white details, but a noticeable increase in light output), there’s no need. We had no complaints about brightness at all, even if it’s still a little dimmer than 2D.

Every year, we become a little wearied with 3D, because the picture quality is still lower (on every HDTV) than it is with 2D. But each year, after receiving the first of a new generation of displays, calibrating it, and noticing the improvements, we’re reminded of the fact that the extra depth is really something. The biggest problem is the lack of content…

High Definition

Things are better for home entertainment than they’ve ever been before. Advances in solid-state telecine technology mean that decades’ worth of film material can be transferred to digital video, capturing a colossal amount of the detail, colour and dynamic range present on the original film – putting an end to the days where films on video had to be lesser abstractions of their original selves. Fully-digital cinema cameras that can compete on a roughly even playing field with the almighty celluloid are gaining momentum. And, we finally have a home HD delivery system – Blu-ray – that, when done well, can give us nearly all of the quality seen from a £70,000+ studio tape deck.

Of course, all of this expensive and (hopefully) meticulous creation goes to waste if the most critical part of the chain – the display device – isn’t holding up its end of the bargain. The Panasonic TX-P42ST50 is the best example of a display we’ve seen lately that absolutely does. We know from measurements and observations with test patterns that the Panasonic consumer plasmas do not achieve entirely accurate gamma tracking, and with a 4-figure broadcast monitor as a comparison, we’d probably be able to spot this. But, to our critical eyes, we couldn’t do anything but love the images the TX-P42ST50B was putting out. There is almost nothing we could find to dislike, other than a small amount of remaining posterization which is occasionally visible with certain combinations of colour and brightness (this decreased the higher we ramped up the [24p Smooth Film] option, but of course, this’ll solve the minor posterization annoyance and give you video-like motion instead). Setup permitting, 1080p content is reproduced without any apparent tinkering or revisionism; there is no film grain or noise reduction processing to reduce detail (unless the user elects to turn it on), and the colours manage to be both natural and vibrant at the same time, thanks to the accurate picture and outstanding contrast performance.

Pirates of The Caribbean

The most surprising part of all is the black level. We weren’t expecting one of the company’s cheaper 3D-capable models to produce a better black level than last year’s most expensive one. This incredibly important aspect of picture quality doesn’t just do wonders for dark, night-time scenes: it increases the apparent vibrancy of everything on the panel. The “Infinite Black Pro” screen filter means that much of this vibrancy is retained in a lit viewing environment; that is to say, the excellent black level is mostly retained during daytime viewing.

Pirates of The Caribbean 2

We had a look at the old, but nonetheless excellent Blu-ray Disc of the second Pirates of the Caribbean film, and found ourselves completely sucked in by the picture. Jumping between the calibrated “True Cinema” mode (with our colour corrections dialed in) and the “Cinema” mode made the benefit of calibration obvious. The non-accurate mode wasn’t bad, but it featured oversaturated greens and cyans, and a slight green tint that worked against flesh tones.

Pirates of The Caribbean 3

A side note about [24p Smooth Film]: in addition to the “Off” option which we elected to use, there are three processing settings: Min, Mid and Max. We couldn’t see “Min” doing anything at all, and we even ran our completely brutal motion interpolation tests (designed to sniff out TVs which apply unwanted motion smoothing), which “Min” passed with flying colours, indicating that it doesn’t actually seem to do anything. “Mid” produces smoothed video-like “soap opera” motion, and “Max” does the same, but at a different panel refresh rate, and presumably with more intensity.

A note for the die-hard videophiles

One of the most critical things we test for in an HDTV is the ability to reproduce full detail in the Luma (brightness) component of a video signal, which holds much of the picture’s detail. We tend to use the Spears & Munsil test disc to check for resolution limitations or quirks. The edge of the Luma Multiburst pattern here includes pixel-thin white and black lines in both horizontal and vertical directions: the finest details that a 1080p TV can possibly reproduce. On the Panasonic TX-P42ST50B, these are clean and crisp, as they should be.

We then moved on, as usual, to the following Luma Zone Plate pattern, which is an entire screen filled with concentric circles (a bit like a dart-board). This test pattern tends to reveal manufacturers’ attempts at unwanted picture sharpening or “detail enhancement”. The TX-P42ST50 surprised us here; even with the [Sharpness] control at 0, we noticed a subtle, but visible “four-leaf clover” shape in the middle of the pattern. It’s not like Panasonic to introduce undefeatable picture enhancements, and we couldn’t see any with actual programme content, so there is perhaps another explanation: Plasma displays sometimes produce strange artefacts when faced with high-frequency resolution test signals (the image tends to get noisier and rougher, with lessened gradation). This leads us to believe that this strange artefact is the result of the panel drive mechanism and is not image “enhancement” tinkering by the video processor chip.

Again, we didn’t notice anything untoward during actual viewing on the TX-P42ST50 (only with the zone plate pattern), suggesting that if Panasonic IS applying some sort of selective texture sharpening, it is much more careful and much more subtle than linear systems which sharpen edges indiscriminately throughout the picture. The more expensive GT50 and ST50 series models are set to feature a “1080p Pure Direct” mode, which should be free of any such processing, so we’ll find out for sure when we review those. Once again, though, we didn’t notice any edge enhancement issues with actual video or PC desktop content on the TX-P42ST50B, and if we had, we’d have come down on it like a ton of bricks.

Console Gaming

We were a little worried that the much-touted new motion-driving algorithms in the 2012 Panasonic Plasmas would slow down responsiveness and result in immersion-killing input lag. Fortunately, gaming performance is excellent, clocking in at just 16ms in the “Game” mode – one of the smallest results we’ve ever measured, and consistent with the rest of Panasonic’s non-top-end HDTVs (the more expensive models tend to have a little bit more lag).

Interestingly, the “Game” mode still benefits from the improved motion quality that we talked about earlier, but selecting it temporarily blacks the panel out, indicating a speed-optimised drive mode. One thing to mention for completeness: unlike previous Panasonic plasmas, the “Game” picture mode is 60hz-centric. This makes sense, since nearly all games (even now in Europe) are output in 60hz. Users should take care not to select the “Game” mode with 24p Blu-ray material, because it introduces obvious motion stutter, coarse gradation, and skipped frames. We can’t think why anyone would do this, but be careful.

As a result of the qualities we discussed in relation to film material earlier, the ultra-low input lag, and the very high motion clarity and quality, gaming was a blast on the Panasonic TX-P42ST50. The only complaints we envisage regarding it could be from users who are very sensitive to phosphor trailing (we noticed some mild red trailing with certain colour combinations), and users who find that the high motion clarity of a Plasma TV reveals judder due to the low frame rate of most current-generation console games (30fps).

The TX-P42ST50B does not reproduce full colour details (4:4:4) from sources which support it (in other words, PCs and games consoles). Panasonic has promised that this feature is present on the higher-end GT50 and VT50 models, though, so ultra-picky videophile gamers would be advised to hang on a little longer for our tests of those. Personally, the chroma sub-sampling didn’t bother us.

Image retention wasn’t a big issue with the TX-P42ST50; we did leave the HDTV running on the BBC News channel for several hours at a time, leaving us with a BBC-branded Plasma television. Running the “Scrolling Bar” cleared the retention up fairly quickly.

Online Features (added March 25, 2012)

Panasonic has expanded the VIERA Connect online service, which is accessed by pressing a large “Internet” button on the remote. Preinstalled apps include BBC News, Euronews, Netflix, FetchTV, Skype, Facebook and Twitter, and more (including a web browser) are downloadable. None of the film services are at the level of Blu-ray quality, in fact many are sub-Freeview and sub-DVD quality, although that’s not the TV’s fault.

Conclusion

The first of the 2012 Panasonic lineup that we’ve analysed, the TX-P42ST50, is an outstanding Plasma TV which sets a high bar for the GT50 and VT50 series still to come. Its deep blacks are not just the best we’ve ever measured at this price point, they’re some of the best we’ve ever seen, full stop: the contrast performance shown by the ST50 is the closest thing we have today to a large-screen, affordable OLED display. The new “2000hz Focused Field Drive” has brought about a visible decrease in fuzzy dithering artefacts during fast motion scenes. As it did last year, the “Infinite Black Pro” screen coating affords the picture a beautifully lucid appearance, managing to make images glossy while somehow keeping screen reflections to a bare minimum. The extensive picture setup controls allow the already very good “True Cinema” picture mode to be taken to a near-perfect level of accuracy.

Update for 3D review (March 25, 2012): We were very happy with the overall picture quality in 3D mode, too, where the Panasonic TX-P42ST50 could be set up to put out a much brighter 3D image than we’re used to seeing from a Plasma. Out of the box, 3D images were tinted blue, and due to the lack of widespread 3D calibration, most of them will stay that way (unless you copy the calibrated 3D settings we’ve posted on our forum, which should produce an improvement despite not being specific to each individual TV and glasses). As usual for Panasonic displays, motion rendition in 3D was perfect, with absolutely no stuttering in any type of content. Images are as free from crosstalk, as they’ve always been from the company’s plasmas – especially important for high quality 3D viewing. 3D image quality is still behind 2D, though, with an unusual resolution limit producing subtle jaggedness in some areas, and lessened gradation resulting in a noisier picture with less graceful transitions between colours and shades.

It’s a rare case of an HDTV which we’d recommend to just about anyone. Film lovers will appreciate the judder-free reproduction of 24fps content from Blu-ray, and the natural and accurate reproduction of colours and grey shades. Video gamers can enjoy very low input lag and ultra-crisp motion rendition, which only a Plasma television can provide simultaneously. What’s more, the motion, as we discussed at length, is more artefact-free than ever before. And everyone will appreciate the ST50′s incredibly deep black level, which, unlike an LED LCD or LCD display, is achieved naturally, without sacrificing brightness.

The only down-sides we noticed with its 2D image quality included some very mild posterisation during motion, as well as some very subtle screen non-uniformity (which we only observed with certain test patterns). The only people we’d not recommend it to are users who, for whatever reason, simply don’t like Plasma display technology, or users who live in sun-drenched rooms with huge windows (the anti-reflective panel coating does work wonders, but the gigantic amounts of light that an LCD-based display can pump out are still a better match for fighting off lots of sunlight). This year, we were beginning to wonder if Panasonic would forfeit their #1 spot in the Plasma market by allowing competitors to catch up, and we’ll reserve judgment until we see what other brands can do (something we look forward to doing). However, it’s going to take a hell of a lot to beat this.

Highly Recommended

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