Panasonic TX-P50S20B review

4.5 out of 5
£900

For

High-def detail, contrast, fluid pictures, audio, price

Against

User interface, limited media playback

Unless you’re after a 3DTV or simply must have a super-flat (and super-expensive) LED-lit LCD TV, the £900-or-so that buys this 50-inch plasma represents a fabulous deal. On price-per-inch this Panasonic can’t be beaten. Full HD and fitted with a Freeview HD tuner, this flagship of Panasonic’s mid-range S20 Series can’t complete with LED-backlit LCD TVs in terms of depth; it’s 93mm is no match for the 33.9mm of something like the Samsung UE55C9000, but the latter does cost just shy of £5,000.

Although it doesn’t do 3D, the TX-P50S20B puts up a successful defence against its LED-backlit competitors. Perhaps its key skill is speed; whereas LCD panels boast response times of around 5 milliseconds – something that causes image lag and a loss of high-def resolution - the TX-P50S20B natively achieves just 0.001 milliseconds.

That’s thanks to what Panasonic calls its 600Hz sub-field drive technology, but more importantly, the innate skill of a plasma panel, and it is immediately obvious that the TX-P50S20B is free of blur if you hook-up a console.

Put in Cinema mode the effects of this speed are even more impressive. The TX-P50S20B cleverly converts motion into data and flashes-up each image for a fraction less time. The effect is a cleaner image with no retention, something that makes Blu-ray visuals a real treat.

Intelligent Frame Creation is another slice of tech on board the TX-P50S20B that impresses, though it’s not as refined as on some brand’s TVs. It’s effective enough at removing judder from Blu-ray discs, but we noticed some flicker around moving objects.

There’s some excellent upscaling going on inside the TX-P50S20B that makes the non-HD channels thoroughly watchable on this 50-inch screen - no mean feat - while the detail extracted from the likes of BBC One HD and ITV 1 HD is impressive.

Audio is a step-up from a 32-inch TV, but the more powerful speakers struggle to create anything other than a wider sense of stereo and a touch more bass.

Unfortunately the user interface employed by Panasonic isn’t the flashiest around, but it does the trick and includes a few nice touches like input labelling and a separate control for headphone volume.

The S20 Series also sees the introduction of Viera Tools, which gives direct access to photos (JPG) and videos (DivX-encoded AVI files only) stored on a SD card placed in the TV’s side-loading slot. The feature also presents a “pause live TV” feature, though that only comes into play if you’ve a Panasonic DIGA recorder attached.

At least DivX files are handled because otherwise the TX-P50S20B’s compatibility with digital media files is extremely limited.

This isn’t Panasonic’s finest plasma; contrast levels, while good, never achieve total black. For that you’ll need to inspect the brand’s G20 and V20 Series, which use slightly newer Neo PDP panels (the one inside the TX-P50S20B in basically unchanged since 2009). But for the money, the cinematic goodness on offer here makes for an unbeatable deal if you’ve your heart set on a 50-inch screen. 

Verdict

If you’re after as big a screen as you can get your hands on for as little outlay as possible the TX-P50S20B is the perfect candidate. A Freeview HD tuner is normally essential at this size, and though it’s included here to devastating effect, such is the quality of the upscaling that SD channels look thoroughly watchable.