When Panasonic detailed its 2011 plasma TV lineup at CES this January, we immediately pegged the TC-PST30 as the one model that "might hit the value sweet spot." After putting it through its paces we're going to eliminate the uncertainty from that phrase. The TC-PST30 may lack the THX certification of its more-expensive brother the TC-PGT30, but picture quality between the two is largely a wash, and excellent overall in both cases. Both share identical, well-stocked feature sets, highlighted by improved Internet suites, Wi-Fi dongles and 3D capability (albeit sans included glasses). The ST30's only major downside, and the reason why some buyers might spring for another model, is pedestrian styling. At each of its six sizes the Panasonic TC-PST30 series is our early favorite for best plasma TV value of 2011.
Editors' note (September 1, 2011): The reviewed size of this TV is undergoing long-term testing, the results of which don't affect this review but may be interesting nonetheless. Click here for details.
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 50-inch TC-P50ST30, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
|Models in series (details)|
|Panasonic TC-P42ST30||42 inches|
|Panasonic TC-P46ST30||46 inches|
|Panasonic TC-P50ST30 (reviewed)||50 inches|
|Panasonic TC-P55ST30||55 inches|
|Panasonic TC-P60ST30||60 inches|
|Panasonic TC-P65ST30||65 inches|
|Panel depth||2.8 inches||Bezel width||1.75 inches|
|Single-plane face||No||Swivel stand||Yes|
The ST30 cuts a chunky, plain appearance among the slim, sleek TVs available today. Panasonic attempts to spice up its thick, glossy black bezel with a subtle area of coloration, but to our eye it looks more like an extended smudge. The TV is understated enough to blend into most room decors, so that's a plus.
|Remote control and menus|
|Remote size (LxW)||9x2 inches||QWERTY keyboard||No|
|Illuminated keys||31||IR device control||No|
|Menu item explanations||Yes||Onscreen manual||No|
Panasonic's menus and remotes are basically unchanged from 2010. The menu system looks and acts quite a bit less sophisticated than Samsung or Sony, and we didn't appreciate having to scroll through so many pages in the Picture menu. 3D Settings seems misplaced in the Setup menu, and onscreen support beyond basic explanations is nonexistent.
We like the remote more than Samsung's thanks to the better button differentiation, but not quite as much as Sony's slicker clicker. We missed having a dedicated Netflix button, and noticed that despite officially renaming its Internet suite for TVs "Viera Connect," the button on the remote still says "Viera Cast."
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||plasma||LED backlight||N/A|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||No|
|Screen finish||Glass||Internet connection||Wi-Fi adapter|
|Refresh rate(s)||60Hz, 48Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
|Other: Includes Wi-Fi adapter; optional 3D glasses [TY-EW3D2SU (small)/TY-EW3D2MU (medium)/TY-EW3D2LU (large), $179 list each]; optional Skype camera/speakerphone (TY-CC10W) optional network camera (wired BL-C210; $199; Wi-Fi BL-C230, $299)|
The ST30 is missing the THX mode of the GT30, but otherwise their feature sets are pretty much identical. Unlike the step-up VT30 it lacks 96Hz refresh rate but, according to our test, it delivered proper film cadence on 1080p/24 sources anyway. New for 2011 Panasonic has added dejudder processing to its plasmas. See performance for more details.
Panasonic includes a Wi-Fi dongle with the ST30, occupying a USB slot but happily allowing you to use a wireless connection with this TV without paying an extra $80 or more for a dongle. On the downside, and unlike the VT30, it doesn't any include 3D glasses, although given Samsung's recent move, we wouldn't be surprised if that changed soon.
In the meantime the new 2011 glasses are still quite expensive at $179 list per pair. Improvements over the 2010 glasses, model TY-EW3D10, include an on-off switch to make it easier to determine whether they're powered up, a closed design, and significantly lighter weight. We wish they used Bluetooth sync like Samsung's 2011 glasses. On the other hand we appreciate their prior-year backward compatibility; you can use Panasonic's 2011 glasses with the 2010 TVs, and the 2010 glasses with the 2011 TVs.
|Streaming and apps|
|Amazon Instant||Yes||Hulu Plus||No|
|Other: CinemaNow, Dailymotion, Ustream.tv, MLB TV, Fox Sports widget, Napster, Shoutcast, Picasa, numerous games, Withings Wi-Fi body scale; Gameloft games including Asphalt 5 and Golf|
Like Samsung and LG, Panasonic redesigned its Internet suite for 2011 TVs, adding an app store, greatly expanding content offerings and changing the name--it's now Viera Connect for TVs, although the old VieraCast moniker still applies to 2011 Blu-ray players.
Vudu video and Hulu Plus are still missing, and we could nitpick about the absence of Rhapsody since Napster gets a spot, but otherwise the selection is solid. Unfortunately the Netflix interface doesn't allow search and uses the old, horizontal scroll instead of the new tiled layout, but at least you get genres.
Notable apps include Shoutcast for Internet radio and one that works with the $159 Withings Wi-Fi body scale. At CES Panasonic touted Gameloft's Asphalt 5 racing game, a smartphone staple, to show off the platform's capabilities.. It became available mid-April, so we gave it a spin on the ST30. The graphics and gameplay were acceptable in short bursts on the big screen, and definitely a step above most games we've seen on Internet-connected TV platforms. But that's not saying much. There's very little substance to the game, and worse we experienced mild cramping after just one race, due to the awkwardness of using the remote's numeric keypad to steer. Annoyingly you can't modify the controls at all. The game costs $4.99 and requires an SD card to install--it really should be $0.99 at most.
Overall we preferred the layout and simplicity of the Viera Connect interface to Samsung's significantly more ambitious, and more cluttered, Smart Hub. Panasonic seems to enforce a straightforward menu structure and default font in many of its app and widget designs, and as a result using them feels easier and more cohesive. We didn't miss having a web browser or video search capability, and as with last year we liked the ability to arrange and re-order app tiles among the various screens.
On the downside, response times were slower than Samsung's in many cases, but not slow enough to be annoying. We also wish you could activate apps from within the market, as opposed to having to back out to the main Viera Connect interface.
|Adjustable picture modes||5||Fine dejudder control||No|
|Color temperature presets||5||Fine color temperature control||2 points|
|Gamma presets||6||Color management system||No|
Among the five picture modes, you only get the full gamut of picture adjustments, which includes the two-point grayscale control (calibrators rejoice: green is available this year!), gamma and a few others, when you're in the Custom setting. You'll need to input a 1080p/24 source to activate the 24p mode at 48Hz, but due to the flickering we don't recommend it.
Speaking of gamut, we'd like to see a color management system on this TV, but no dice. The two-step Motion Smoother dejudder control is OK, but most dejudder-equipped LCDs offer at least three and/or a custom mode as well.
You do get full picture control with Netflix and other streaming services--the TV basically treats Viera Connect as a separate "input." Panasonic also offers 2D-to-3D conversion among its smattering of 3D settings, but it won't convert streaming video.
|HDMI inputs||2 back, 1 side||Component video inputs||1|
|Composite video input(s)||1||VGA-style PC input(s)||0|
|USB port||2 side||Ethernet (LAN) port||Yes|
|Other: SD card slot on side|