Panasonic TC-PxxST30

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Product Description

The new ST30 series is Panasonic’s reasonably priced, super slim 3D plasma. When Cleveland Plasma was able to get one in for review, I was eager to see the latest high performance plasma from a brand that I have a great deal of respect for.
Chris had a 50ST30 breaking in right beside it’s more expensive brother, the 50VT25. I was pleasantly surprised at the ST30’s streamlined profile; not only is the thickness slashed, but the bezel is nice and trim as well.
The ST30 picks up what I would consider to be an average amount of glare for a plasma; in a moderately lit room, reflections are inevitable but not overly distracting. It’s screen does a commendable job of staying dark with a bit of sunlight in the room, so with a little effort it’s black levels won’t run for cover during the day. However, it’s still not a great match for super bright rooms because it’s light output is moderate compared to many plasmas.

Before calibration:
I began my time with ST30 in it’s most accurate picture mode, Cinema. Standard and Vivid mode looked very unnatural. Other than switching the picture mode, nothing else in the ST30’s picture adjustments was changed for this first round of viewing. 1080i and 1080P/24 HDMI sources were tested.
First up was my trusty DVE restaurant scene. As the picture appeared and the carrots and other colorful food panned across the screen, I initially noticed that the carrots looked somewhat flat and lacking in vibrancy. Panning was smooth, maybe too smooth; but the image looked detailed and clean. Dark objects looked neutral and easily visible; they did not sink down into a black blob as on some TVs. The overall presentation was pleasing, if a bit flat, until the people came into view. At that moment, I saw that the ST30 managed to make flesh tones look a bit pale and purplish at the same time.
After moving on to some other material, I saw some strange shimmering and blockiness in the buildings during the opening seconds of The Dark Knight. These artifacts were distracting, but fortunately they did not last long. Blacks and contrast looked outstanding in moderate ambient light. The picture was grain free, and I was once again impressed with the natural looking shadow details. However, flesh tones didn’t look realistic, and colors like the yellow school bus looked a little pale and muted.
Cinema mode calibrated well, with good overall performance. I noticed strong, full resolution at all scan rates, though the light output was more limited than I expected. I was able to get about 36-37 fL of light output with small measurement windows, which is a good amount for dark rooms. As with some other Panasonic plasmas, shadow detail was slightly exaggerated. Thankfully, that is greatly preferable to the opposite presentation of shadow detail being too dark.
Since light output in Cinema mode would be too low for a bright room, I also calibrated Custom mode to use as a Day mode. Custom has a great variety of advanced adjustments in the user menu. I was able to get slightly more light output from Custom, and combined with the lower gamma, Custom appeared to be a decent choice in situations where Cinema looks too dark. Custom’s Panel Brightness adjustment allows an even brighter picture, though color decoding becomes nonlinear with signal level at the mid and high positions. Only the low setting appeared to allow accurate color, with mid and high making flesh tones look beet red. The picture also had noticeable pumping and instability at the high setting. Because the low Panel Brightness setting limits the light output, Custom ended up being only a little brighter than Cinema.
There was a selection for Motion Smoother on ST30; it was on weak (low) by default. Turning it off made pans look much more realistic and eliminated the shimmering/blocking artifacts. With a 1080P/24 input and Motion Smoother turned off, pans and motion appeared very similar to that of the LG PK550 plasma; in other words, they looked great!
The black level, measured with a Milori Trichromat-1 meter profiled off an i1Pro Spectro, and with a black blanket blocking any ambient light, measured .0135 fL. That’s a moderate number; not as dark as that of the VT25, but better than some other respectable plasmas. I was pleasantly surprised that the black level measured exactly the same with the modified ANSI contrast ratio measurement; that indicates very stable blacks. The modified ANSI contrast resulted in a good measurement of 1981:1.
After switching to my demo material, I was surprised to see that flesh tones still did not look very realistic, since the measurements did not indicate any unusual problems. Though they were improved compared to the out of the box settings, I ended up having to make a fairly strong tint adjustment toward green to eliminate the pesky purplish look. With the final tweak complete, it was time to spend some serious time with the Blu Ray player.

After calibration:

The ST30 looked very good with any demo material I threw it’s way. By this time, the sun had set, and the room was quite dark. The images had good contrast, and there was now a good sense of depth. I looked for signs of floating blacks and the dirty screen effect and found nothing. The image was stable and clean, with no contouring. Shadow detail looked neutral and easily visible. The image was open and easy on the eyes, with pure whites. If anything, the overall presentation leaned a bit toward the cool side. Color was good, though not terribly vibrant, in most scenes. However, depending on scene lighting, I would sometimes get a feeling that flesh tones were a little greenish or a little violet. Yellows still appeared muted, though only by a miniscule degree.
Panasonic TC-P50VT25 (FW 3.5) vs. Panasonic TC-P50ST30

Of course, with a VT25 sitting right beside the ST30, I made the inevitable comparison both before and after calibration. The displays were fed by a high quality HDMI distribution amplifier.
Moderate room lighting
Glare: similar, but VT25’s glare is a little more filtered/subdued and has a slightly more purple tint.
Screen washout (power off): very close, but ST30’s screen remains slightly darker.
Buzzing: slightly more audible from VT25, though not enough to be concerned about.
Source: 1080i and 1080P/24 from DVE and The Dark Knight Blu Rays.

Before calibration: VT25 THX mode, ST30 Cinema mode, all factory default settings for chosen mode
DVE restaurant 1080i: VT25 color more vibrant; carrots look more real on VT25. Pans and movement much more fluid on ST30, possibly too smooth; VT25 pans look choppy in comparison. Fleshtones too purplish on ST30, and a little too ruddy on VT25; VT25 looks more pleasant and natural with fleshtones. VT25 has slightly more pop and depth in this mostly bright scene. Whites look a little bluish on VT25, a little more correct on ST30. VT25 has stronger overall color. ST30 has slightly more shadow detail; dark objects in the picture are slightly more visible and defined. Overall preference for VT25 because of it’s better fleshtones and vibrancy.
The Dark Knight 1080i: ST30 has some strange, very brief shimmering panning artifacts in buildings during opening scene. Pans again look choppier on VT25. Dark objects look more neutral on ST30; slightly purplish on VT25. VT25 had more depth and pop, and colors look much more exciting, though slightly exaggerated. Most colors are more realistic and natural on VT25 except for very dark objects, whose color looks more neutral on ST30. Yellow school bus looks slightly pale on ST30. Blacks and contrast look a bit better on the ST30, most likely because it’s screen washes out slightly less in moderate room light.
DVE montage 1080i: again some shimmering movement artifacts in ST30, even though it’s pans look smoother overall than the VT25. Slight false contouring visible in clouds on VT25; looks like white clouds have a slight green “layer”, and subtle gradiations in bright clouds have a layered look on the VT25. Only shows up in certain scenes; not all scenes with clouds. ST30 is free of this artifact.
DVE restaurant 1080P/24: most comments for 1080i apply. Pans look a little too smooth on ST30. Pans look more choppy on VT25, but more like film. VT25 bright objects look slightly highlighted, though overall it’s depth, vibrancy, and fleshtones are superior.
The Dark Knight 1080P/24: most comments for 1080i apply. Again occasional shimmering and blocky spurts in ST30, visible in panned buildings. ST30 has a mild “soap opera” look, with pans looking a little too smoothed out; not as bad as a typical LCD, but enough to take away some of the feel of film. Overall, VT25 looks far more natural.

After calibration (VT25 THX 96Hz, ST30 cinema, both calibrated to 36 fL, room mostly dark):
There is a selection for motion smoother on ST30; it was on weak. Turning it off eliminates soap opera effect and shimmering/blocking artifacts. Interestingly, motion is still slightly smoother with 1080P/24 on ST30 than on VT25 with 96Hz mode on. Motion with 1080i is similar.
Restaurant 1080P/24 (Blu Ray): Colors now close, but VT25 is still a bit richer and the ST30’s color looks a little less vibrant. Shadow detail looked slightly more neutral toned on ST30. However, the ST30’s color was a bit variable; guy on left looked a little yellowish, while woman on right did not look yellow enough. Very slight. Overall preference for VT25 due to slightly more natural color.
Montage 1080P/24 (Blu Ray): Clouds look a tiny bit discolored at times on VT25. Sometimes violet, sometimes I see a greenish false contour. Contouring was most noticeable on scene with helicopter in midair with clouds on right and building on left. ST30’s fleshtones lack a bit of yellow compared to VT25. Blacks are slightly darker on VT25. Overall preference is a toss-up. Slightly prefer fleshtones and blacks on VT25, but prefer shadow detail and more natural clouds/whites on ST30.
Dark Knight 1080P/24 (Blu Ray): Slightly more earthy-toned presentation from VT25. Remarkably similar overall, with just a tiny edge in shadow detail for the ST30. Shadow detail a tiny bit bluish on VT25. VT25 appears just a bit brighter at times- probably due to different gamma. More evidence of color and fleshtone variability on ST30- some faces in certain scenes look more violet, and some look more yellowish. Blacks slightly darker on VT25. Overall slight preference for VT25.
Overall I was happy with the ST30, especially considering how well it compared with the excellent VT25. It surprised me that these two sets looked much more alike than different, with mostly subtle differences dominating my viewing notes. Thanks Panasonic!

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