If you can live with its homely design, the excellent picture quality and feature set of the Panasonic TC-PST30 series combine to make it one of the best plasma TV values available.
When Panasonic detailed its 2011 plasma TV lineup at CES this January, we immediately pegged the TC-PST30 as the one model that "might hit the value sweet spot." After putting it through its paces we're going to eliminate the uncertainty from that phrase. The TC-PST30 may lack the THX certification of its more-expensive brother the TC-PGT30, but picture quality between the two is largely a wash, and excellent overall in both cases. Both share identical, well-stocked feature sets, highlighted by improved Internet suites, Wi-Fi dongles, and 3D capability (albeit sans included glasses). The ST30's only major downside, and the reason why some buyers might spring for another model, is pedestrian styling. At each of its six sizes, the Panasonic TC-PST30 series is our early favorite for best plasma TV value of 2011.
The ST30 cuts a chunky, plain appearance among the slim, sleek TVs available today. Panasonic attempts to spice up its thick, glossy black bezel with a subtle area of coloration, but to our eye it looks more like an extended smudge. The TV is understated enough to blend into most room decors, so that's a plus.
We like the remote more than Samsung's thanks to the better button differentiation, but not quite as much as Sony's slicker clicker. We missed having a dedicated Netflix button, and noticed that despite officially renaming its Internet suite for TVs "Viera Connect," the button on the remote still says "Viera Cast."
Und unlike the VT30, the ST30 doesn't any include 3D glasses, although given Samsung's recent move, we wouldn't be surprised if that changed soon.
In the meantime the new 2011 glasses, like the medium-size model /TY-EW3D2MU shown here, are still quite expensive at $179 list per pair. Improvements over the 2010 glasses, model TY-EW3D10, include an on-off switch to make it easier to determine whether they're powered up, a closed design, and significantly lighter weight. We wish they used Bluetooth sync like Samsung's 2011 glasses. On the other hand we appreciate their prior-year backward compatibility; you can use Panasonic's 2011 glasses with the 2010 TVs, and the 2010 glasses with the 2011 TVs.
The Panasonic TC-PST30 showed excellent picture quality overall, overcoming the paucity of adjustable picture controls with deep black levels and very good video processing. Compared to the more expensive GT30, which has THX mode, it actually delivered superior gamma and similar black levels, at the expense of some image brightness and color saturation--enough to earn the two the same performance score (between the two, ignoring price, we give the slight edge to the ST30 for dark-room videophiles due to its better gamma). Compared to the best 2010 plasmas from LG and Samsung, the ST30's somewhat worse color accuracy was a liability, but its deeper black levels make up the difference.