Although it requires more than a few picture quality trade-offs, the Panasonic TC-P50X1 delivers the best black-levels-to-dollars ratio of any HDTV we've tested.
Panasonic TC-P50X1 overview
The capability of a TV to reproduce a dark shade of black is the No. 1 criteria for awarding a good picture quality score here at CNET. Often better blacks dictate higher prices, but in the case of Panasonic's newest line of entry-level plasmas, which includes the TC-P50X1, that's not the case. This HDTV reproduces superb blacks and excellent shadow detail, while costing a relative pittance for a big-screen HDTV. Unfortunately, two major problems prevent it from earning higher praise, namely that it suffers from less-than-accurate color and the presence of faint onscreen lines that may be a deal-breaker to sharp-eyed viewers. Nonetheless, the Panasonic TC-P50X1's otherwise commendable picture will appeal to numerous HDTV shoppers.
Including the matching, nonswiveling stand, the TC-P50X1 measures 48 inches wide by 32.4 inches high by 15.3 inches deep and weighs a substantial 79.4 pounds. Sans stand, the panel measures 48 inches wide by 30.3 inches high by 3.8 inches deep and weighs an even 75 pounds.
Connectivity on the TC-P50X1 is adequate, but not extensive, starting with three HDMI inputs, two on the back and a third on the side. Other back-panel connections include two component-video inputs, an AV input with composite and S-Video, and an RF input for cable or antenna. There's also an optical-digital audio output. We would have liked to see a standard analog audio output and, more importantly, a VGA-style PC input, but the latter feature is reserved for step-up models in the company's lineup.
The remote is similar to last year's, but it's not as good. Panasonic's marketing guys got to the button designers, judging from the unnecessarily prominent trio of keys--Viera Link, Viera Tools, and SD Card--that arc above the central cursor control. Each provides direct access to functions we'll warrant most users won't access frequently, and the trio relegates the more important, yet now-tiny, Menu key to a secondary spot near the top of the clicker. We still like the feel of the keys, and appreciate the size, color, and shape differentiation that helps us forget that none of the buttons is illuminated. The remote cannot control other devices via infrared (IR) commands, but it does allow some control of compatible HDMI devices connected to the TV via Viera Link (aka HDMI-CEC).
Deep black levels are the high point of the TC-P50X1's picture quality, and we didn't miss having full 1080p resolution. We did encounter an unusual uniformity problem that will discourage sharp-eyed viewers, as well as a few color accuracy issues, but otherwise the TC-P50X1 performed very well for the price.