Overview

Panasonic has a reputation for producing high-quality plasma televisions, and with its newest models the company has only strengthened this. The new lineup has single-handedly changed the level of quality we now expect from entry-level televisions. The Panasonic TC-P55ST50 is a barnstormer that has redefined the picture quality/value equation, and the TC-P50UT50 is very close behind it. The UT50 is positioned as the value option and misses a couple of features the ST50 has, but it boasts picture quality that's almost as impressive.

So what's missing on the UT50? Two main things: the UT50 doesn't have the ST50's louver filter and so isn't as talented when the lights are on; and it only has three video inputs in total, including two HDMI ports, so if you have lots of outboard gear you may need to trade up to the ST50.

Black levels on the UT50 are the same as the VT30's were when it came out 12 months ago, which is almost unbelievable in such a cheap TV, and while the lack of color controls gives little wiggle room, the picture is still bright and colorful.

Which should you choose between the UT50 and ST50? Do you watch TV with the lights off all the time? I don't, and you probably don't, either, but you might find a $300 savings could be enough incentive to put up with the UT50's slightly reduced picture quality in a lit room. We'd still give the nod to the ST50 since it doesn't require you to pull the shades, but on its own merits the UT50 is an excellent TV.

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Profile

It may only cost a grand or so, but compared with the plasmas of old, the UT50 is quite slim and will hang on a wall without trouble; just make provision for the rear-facing ports.
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Connectivity

Two HDMI ports and one hybrid composite/component input: three measly inputs in total.
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Remote

The remote is easy to use and has a friendly appearance.
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Side ports

The UT50 has two USB ports and an SD card slot.
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Remote in action

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Smart Viera

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Menu

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Stand

The piano-black stand doesn't swivel.
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Design

The UT50 apes several popular manufacturers' models of the past few years, with a black bezel surrounded by a "crystal" shell.
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Picture quality

My colleague David Katzmaier and I had big hopes for the ST50 after the ST30 became our value pick of ST50, but its stellar performance shocked the both of us. Similarly, we expected the UT50 would perform at a similar level to the ST30 series. But no, the UT50 is almost as good as the ST50.

Black levels are still some of the best we've seen outside of an OLED TV, and the UT50 isn't going to make too much of a dent in your checkbook.

The UT50's color fidelity isn't the best, and if you want the intensity that full control can give we'd say pay for the ST50 and use our calibration settings -- trust me, it's worth paying the difference in price. That said, the UT50's colors do look perfectly good when it's not sitting right next to its peers.

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