After the Panasonic TC-P50ST30 became our value pick of last year, my colleague David Katzmaier and I had big hopes for the ST50 series, but its stellar performance still shocked the both of us. Similarly, we expected the UT50 to perform about the same as the ST30 series. But no; the UT50 is almost as good as the ST50.
Black levels are among the best we've seen on any plasma, and the deepest for the money bar none. Color fidelity is a notch below reference-quality but still superb. That said, we recommend that videophiles pay for the ST50 and use our calibration settings -- it's worth the difference in price.
Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the UT50 review and to read more about how this TV’s picture controls worked during calibration.
|Comparison models (details)|
|Panasonic TC-P50ST30||50-inch plasma|
|Panasonic TC-P55ST50||55-inch plasma|
|Samsung PN60E8000||60-inch plasma|
|LG 47G2||47-inch edge-lit LCD|
Black level: If you paid good money for a Panasonic VT30 or a Samsung PND8000 last year, it's time to look away. Don't worry, we'll let you know when it's safe.
The UT50 has black levels that are incredibly deep, and the fact it does it so cheaply is flabbergasting. When viewed side by side in a black room there is very little to separate the UT50 from the ST50 and the Samsung PNE8000. The UT50 didn't go as deep as either one, but it was nearly impossible to tell the black areas, like letterbox bars, apart.
Details in shadows were also very good, if a tiny bit lighter on the UT50 than on the ST50. The UT50 clearly beat the Samsung in this area, however, and overall gamma was excellent.
Despite the white-balance problem brought about by a lack of calibration controls, the UT50 wasn't susceptible to off-color blacks as can be a problem with LCDs.
OK, owners of (non-Kuro) flagship plasma TVs of yesteryear, you can look now.
Color accuracy: Though the white-balance response looks terrible on paper, the UT50's colors were reasonably accurate when compared with the ST50. While it lacked the ST50's eye-popping saturation, skin tones looked very good, and despite straining my eyeballs to see differences in shadows and skies -- where inaccurate secondary colors and low-level discoloration are most noticeable -- the TV held firm.
Video processing: The Panasonic proved to be just as capable as the Samsung E8000 when it came to processing disparate sources such as satellite TV and Blu-ray movies. The TV was able to properly decode the film test on our HQV disk without jaggies, and the flyby of the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier (pre-Space Shuttle) in "I Am Legend" showed proper film cadence in 60Hz mode. As usual, you should avoid flicker-prone 48Hz mode at all costs.
Bright lighting: While the ST50 is an excellent performer in a bright room thanks to its Infinite Black Pro filter, the UT50's lack of that filter means it doesn't perform well. The image is watchable but blacks dissolve into mush with little detail. If you have a well-lit room and seldom watch in the dark you're better off opting for the ST50.
There is one useful side effect of the UT50's lack of a louver filter though, and this applies if you are a gamer. The ST50 rejects light from above, and hence isn't viewable if you're standing up over it, which is something you would do if you're playing a Wii game or other game that requires you to stand. With the Kinect this isn't that much of an issue because the sensor won't work if you're so close you can see the back of the TV, but Wii games and Rock Band would be easier to play on the UT50.
3D: Hailed as an instant classic of 3D cinema -- though in my opinion a terribly slow kid's movie -- "Hugo" proves an excellent tester for televisions due to its use of extreme depths and high contrast.
At the 5.00 mark, for example, our hero Hugo walks towards the toy master's table to try and steal a mechanical mouse. This scene proves difficult for some TVs as his outstretched hand is highly contrasted against the dark table and his head is very far forward on the 3D axis. Sadly, the Panasonic wasn't able to reproduce the scene without doubling the image, and the ST50 showed exactly the same problem. In comparison, the passive system of the LG G2 television was able to reproduce this perfectly without any crosstalk.
In 2012, we have decided to present readers with power usage information only for plasmas and high-end televisions. Given their similarities, the UT50's power usage was akin to the ST50's, with a 210.81W reading. It's higher than an LCD for sure, but won't use as much electricity in a year as your fridge.
|GEEK BOX: Test||Result||Score|
|Black luminance (0%)||0.0037||Good|
|Near-black x/y (5%)||0.311/0.3418||Good|
|Dark gray x/y (20%)||0.3057/0.3273||Poor|
|Bright gray x/y (70%)||0.3156/0.3293||Good|
|Before avg. color temp.||6423.1051||Good|
|After avg. color temp.||6424.25||Good|
|Red lum. error (de94_L)||5.3826||Poor|
|Green lum. error (de94_L)||4.1297||Poor|
|Blue lum. error (de94_L)||3.0454||Poor|
|Cyan hue x/y||0.2291/0.3288||Good|
|Magenta hue x/y||0.3209/0.1556||Good|
|Yellow hue x/y||0.4245/0.5054||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|1080i De-interlacing (film)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||1200||Good|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||750||Average|