Will the Panasonic ST50 be the best TV value ever?

The Panasonic ST50 is an upgrade to one of our favorite TVs of 2011 and promises better features and performance.

We don't have an image of the ST50 yet, so here's a filler close-up of the ST30. We'll update when we can. Sarah Tew/CNET

In 2011, Panasonic's ST30 was our favorite TV priced at less than $1,000 and perhaps the best value of any TV we've ever reviewed, demonstrating top-of-its-class performance for the money.

But all good things must come to an end, and the ST30 is moving aside for the ST50.

The ST50 sits in the middle of Panasonic's 2012 range with four sizes starting at 50 inches and includes most of the goodies found in the more-expensive GT50 and VT50 televisions. It's the least-expensive to boast the "Infinite Black Pro" panel, which, if last year in any indication, delivers improved black level performance compared with step-down models like the UT50.

Panasonic also lists a "new louver filter" (to aid in bright-room picture quality) and a 2500 FFD (Focused Field Drive) among the ST50's step-ups compared with the UT50. The FFD is said to be a 0.25sf drive technology, designed to improve motion resolution, previously only available in professional monitors.

The ST50 includes Panasonic's smart TV system, called Viera Connect. New for 2012 it incorporates a Web browser (though it misses a Magic Motion-like controller like LG has) and on-board Wi-Fi. The redesigned IPTV interface now appears as a sidebar as opposed to last year's full-screen menus. The TV also comes with DLNA streaming and, interestingly, Bluetooth. Extra connectivity is served by three HDMI connections (one fewer than many competitors), and two USB ports.

Panasonic says it is expanding its Viera Connect system to a cloud-based architecture, rather than feed each new app to TVs in an update, in order to accommodate an "unlimited number of apps". Current apps include Netflix, Amazon VOD, You Tube, Pandora, Twitter and Facebook, Bloomberg News, AP, Wall Street Journal, Accuweather, Skype, Wealth TV, CinemaNow, Hulu Plus, and sports apps Fox Sports, MLB, NBA, NHL, and MLS2.

The TV features an active 3D and a 2D-to-3D converter that works with Panasonic's new lightweight glasses. The number of glasses shipped with the TV is yet to be determined, although Samsung's decision to include two pairs with most of its 2012 TVs might influence the eventual decision.

All of Panasonic's 2012 plasmas, from the top all the way down to the entry-level U50, feature the company's Neo PDP plasma panel technology with additional tweaks over last year's models. All have an Infinite Black Filter that Panasonic says offers "improved external light shading, improved clarity and improved light transmittance." The panels also have faster switching phosphor panel on the 3D models.

This year, Panasonic's HDMI-CEC implementation will add support for networked video camera control via the TV interface, which the company suggests is "ideal for monitoring of a home/nursery".

While Panasonic has yet to announce pricing on the ST50 series we can't imagine there would be much of a change from last year; the 50-inch ST30 debuted at $1,499 MSRP and fell to $900 during the 2011 holiday season.

Panasonic TC-PST50 series features:

  • Plasma TV
  • 3D compatible
  • 2D-to-3D conversion
  • Infinite Black Pro Panel
  • Faster-switching phosphor panel
  • Cloud-based Viera Connect Internet suite
  • Web browser
  • Built-in Wi-Fi

Panasonic TC-PST50 series models:

  • TC-P50ST50, 50-inch, March 2012, pricing TBD
  • TC-P55ST50, 55-inch, March 2012, pricing TBD
  • TC-P60ST50, 60-inch, March 2012, pricing TBD
  • TC-P65ST50, 65-inch, March 2012, pricing TBD

 

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