Panasonic TX-P50ST30

Whether or not you’ve been impressed by 3D enough to have it at home, would you seriously consider buying a big, expensive TV that couldn't flirt with the third dimension at all?

Panasonic has taken this quandary of modern times, and thus designed a plasma to suit. Measuring 50-inches in the diagonal and boasting online features galore, the ST30 doesn't come with any 3D glasses.

Optional extras

That explains the low price, then. Unfortunately the 3D glasses needed for this active shutter 3D plasma screen cost north of £100. The add-ons don't stop there, either. Despite the inclusion of Viera Connect, an enticing mix of on-demand fare from YouTube, BBC iPlayer, Acetrax, Viewster - and even a selection of games – the ST30 has only a wired option for connecting-up to a broadband router.

A WiFi dongle is available for lodging at one of the set’s two USB slots, but that’ll cost you another £70-or-so. Oh, and did we mention Skype? To satiate your desire to make video – in HD, no less - calls to friends will cost another £100+ for a Panasonic-made kit.

Happily, you can say a great big ‘no thanks’ to all of this frippery and enjoy an increasingly rare breed of TV; a cut-down, bare bones, and rather brilliant plasma from a big brand, which does what it needs to - and a little more besides - for a reasonable price.

Strong in all the right places

Core duties are completed with the minimum of fuss. For starters, there’s a Freeview HD tuner that seems essential on a Full HD screen as big as this. It's not got a very attractive EPG in tow, but it works fast and simple recordings can be made to a hard disk over USB.

While watching we did wonder if, indeed, a tuner sporting those paltry few HD channels is strictly necessary, for the ST30 upscales standards definition very well. Detail drops, of course, but some resolution enhancer circuitry manages to smooth jagged edges and keeps the picture noise to an absolute minimum.

2D Blu-ray also shines, and though we’re not convinced it matches-up to a similar-sized LCD TV in terms of crystal clarity, there’s a smoothness and rosy colour palette that could only come from a good quality plasma. Contrast is good, for sure, though Panaosnic’s GT30 and VT30 plasmas do better; shadow detail can be on the low side, though there’s no arguing about the deepness of those blacks.

Optional 3D is solid

Over to 3D and the ST30 also does a sterling job. It may be an optional add-on, but there’s no way part of its fee isn't going towards making sure 3D is up to spec, should you choose to make use of it.

It’s not always comfortable to watch; fast action sequences can cause headaches as picture elements whizz around your eyes and cause flicker. Judder is also more apparent than on 2D, but for most Avatar we had few problems – and the panoramic shots around Pandora were gorgeous. Donning those specs deepens black levels a tad too far for our liking, but colours fly from the screen, without the brightness problems of most LCD TVs.

Sounds fine

Audio is nothing special, but when is it ever on a flat TV? But Viera Connect most definitely is. It’s one of our favourite smart TV hubs now it’s got BBC iPlayer built-in, and though it does have a ‘euro’ feel to some of its apps, we can see a bright future for Viera Connect. Better looking than rival platforms and faster to respond to the remote - not to mention the Viera Remote smartphone app - all it needs is Lovefilm and more VOD-based services to succeed. And we love its expanding marketplace that comes complete with paid-for games like Asphalt 5.

All awesome stuff, but there are some disappointing omissions. Some will hate losing a Freesat HD tuner when compared to higher-ranking, pricer Panasonics, others the plain chassis design, or the 3D/WiFi/Skype accessories.

What we disliked most was the lack of DLNA networking. We managed to play a host of video files from a USB stick shoved in the ST30’s back connections panel, including MKV and AVI types, but it’s not possible to have them stream from a PC or Mac. That expensive WiFi dongle is purely for Viera Connect, then. It’s a corner cut too far or on otherwise well judged attempt.

Verdict

If you can't decide if 3D is for you or not, Panasonic’s latest giant plasma is the ideal starting point. While you save up for 3D specs, the ST30 will wow you with colourful, and sharp images from Blu-ray, Freeview HD and digital files via USB.

It lacks the finery of pricier plasmas from Panasonic, and the cost of accessories can mount up, but as it stands this is a good value plasma that will be an upgrade far enough for many living rooms after a cinema-like experience.