In CNET's lists of the best 2012 televisions, no lineup dominates like Panasonic's plasmas. No matter whether you pay $700 for a U50 or $3,700 for a VT50, our tests and observations have demonstrated that models across the entire range are the televisions to buy at their respective prices. But cracks had to appear somewhere, and in the Panasonic X5, they have. This is the only Panasonic plasma I don't recommend. In fact, much like many of the company's LCD and LED TVs, I encourage you to actively avoid it.
The X5 smacks of an effort to simply fill in a price point, and quality has ultimately suffered. While there are no features to speak of -- this is to be expected at the entry level -- it's the picture quality that lets it down. Black levels are fairly average, but shadow detail would be good if shadows weren't so green. There is a green cast to everything that makes skin tones in particular look very sickly. This TV is unfortunately the opposite of accurate -- if you only watch rain forest documentaries, it might be fine, but for everyone else this is a pretty disappointing TV compared with other cheap alternatives like the Samsung PNE450.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 50-inch Panasonic TC-P50X5, but this review also applies to the 42-inch screen size. The two sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
The Panasonic X5 follows the family line pretty closely in terms of design. The only difference between it and the U50 is the lack of a silver strip along the bottom. Otherwise what you get is a TV with a glossy black bezel and a rectangular, nonswiveling stand. If you're wall-mounting the TV, you may notice it is noticeably thicker than its competition -- 3 inches versus 2.5 for the LG PA4500, for example.
The remote control that ships with the unit is a good size and reasonably ergonomic with enlarged volume and channel buttons.
The menu system may look like the typical Panasonic offering but with one major flaw -- the first option in the Picture submenu is "Reset to defaults," and it's incredibly easy to accidentally click. I did so seven or more so times during calibration, resetting all my changes to zero, and found it infuriating.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||Plasma||LED backlight||N/A|
|Smart TV||No||Internet connection||No|
|3D technology||N/A||3D glasses included||No|
|Refresh rate(s)||60Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||No|
|Other: SD card slot|
The X5 is Panasonic's cheapest TV and doesn't have any of what I'd consider "modern" features like smart TV or even 3D. This is a 720p set, as most of the entry-level plasmas are, and so features a resolution of 1,024x768 pixels. The TV also has a 600Hz subfield drive, and while most plasmas have it these days, I bring it up in the absence of any other significant features.
However, Panasonic is one of the few companies to include an SD card slot on its TVs, and does so here, to make it easy to look at photos and videos from cameras.
Picture settings: Want to make a dirt-cheap plasma TV? You gotta make cuts somewhere, and in the case of Panasonic, it's in the number of advanced picture controls. Though you get a lot of presets -- including a Game mode -- there is no way for calibrators such as ourselves to correct any grievous problems with color or grayscale. In the case of this TV, that's an issue given its poor initial color; in addition, Samsung and LG do offer advanced color controls on their low-end plasmas.
Connectivity: The TV includes a bare minimum of inputs: two HDMI ports, a shared component/composite port, and a USB input.
After hogging the headlines of our plasma TV reviews all year, the company's luck had to end somehere, and that's here. When summing up a TV's picture quality the two most important elements are black levels and color. When a TV isn't able to compete on those two things, it doesn't really matter how good its picture processor is, or how many features it has. The Panasonic, unfortunately, is mediocre. After good performance from the U50 I was curious to see how deep the rabbit hole went, and it seems in this case not that far -- it's more of a pothole here in Panasonic's "X" series.
While competing companies have been able to engineer good value-for-money televisions at a sub-$500 price, this is seemingly beyond Panasonic's capabilities. The X5 is a cheap TV and it performs like one, but that's no longer good enough. Black levels were passable and shadow detail was good, but the TV's main problem can be summed up in one word: green. Green skin tones and green shadows. No, it doesn't look like the old CRT screens when they died (all green, all the time!), this is a more insidious green cast to objects. No matter its other attributes, this issue alone was enough to spoil the X5's picture.
Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV’s picture controls worked during calibration.