While we here at CNET will decry the death of plasma to anyone who will listen, Panasonic has had no choice but to move on. While its plasma TVs were beyond compare by the end, the company's track record has been mixed when it comes to LCD technology. For every excellent budget E60 performer Panasonic has delivered, it seems to haves gone hand-in-hand with high-profile disappointments such as the DT60.
Thankfully, 2014's Panasonic AS530 series is firmly in the good-value camp, with a smart design and decent performance given the affordable price. While it can't possibly compete with the excellent M series from Vizio and its local dimming system, this is still a capable television with an eye-catching look. If you're looking for features, however, it doesn't have anything beyond screen mirroring and smart TV. Specifically, fans of 3D and gamers should look elsewhere.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the TC-50AS530U, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
Panasonic has lagged behind the other companies for many years in terms of design -- only occasionally pulling out slick units such as the Z1 plasma. But now that plasma is essentially dead, it seems the company has been able to redirect its efforts toward making its TVs look more attractive. Indeed, the new AS530 looks very "nice" with a razor-thin black bezel and one of the best skeletal pedestal stands yet.
The remote control is one of the big, friendly wands the company has produced for some time now and it helpfully includes a Netflix shortcut.
The menu system is accessible by the small Menu button in the top left of the remote and features a fairly straightforward set of controls for changing the picture and sound.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology:||LCD||LED backlight:||Edge-lit|
|Cable box control:||No||IR blaster:||N/A|
|3D technology:||N/A||3D glasses included:||No|
|Screen finish:||Semi-matte||Refresh rate:||120Hz|
|Screen mirroring:||Yes||Control via app||Yes|
The AS530 is Panasonic's "mainstream" model but it comes without at least one of the mainstream features you could have expected in the past: 3D. This is becoming a trend amongst TV manufacturers with Vizio jettisoning the technology altogether in 2014.
The television also has Swipe and Share content sharing but you need to use the Panasonic TV Remote 2 app and navigate to your local files, but the process isn't particularly intuitive or well-designed.
In 2014 Panasonic has rebranded its smart TV system as Lifescreen -- a name it had previously used on a giant plasma -- and it unsurprisingly has a "lifestyle" focus. However, the interface is very similar to last year's with a series of welcome pages to choose from. If you're a power user, you'll probably use the full-screen version, though the lifestyle page with notepads and calendars are good for a laugh and a point at least. (Memo to Panasonic: No one wants to use their TV for productivity. NO. ONE.)
Adding apps is a little more frustrating on the Panasonic than on sets from other manufacturers; you'll need to fill out onscreen forms plus set a PIN. Don't try to use the remote -- connect a keyboard or you'll go insane. All of this added security is likely because a) there are porn apps and b) you can buy stuff, like TVs.
Also from the "ever heard of SMS?" files comes the Remote Sharing feature that is supposed to let you share "video memos, messages, and other information" to the Home Screen through the app, but it doesn't yet work. I, for one, won't be holding my breath for when it does.
The choice of apps is fairly comprehensive though and includes most of the ones you could hope for, barring Spotify. The apps are arranged on a grey grid and you can move them around if you wish. It's not a particularly apps interface, especially when compared to flashy, speedy ones like LG's WebOS system. For a full look at the apps offered, check out our big list.
While the E60 offered a plethora of picture settings the successor has been scaled back significantly. Sure, no one can use a 10-point system without expensive equipment and calibrating a budget TV professionally would cost so much as not to be worth it, but these controls were a "nice to have." Also missing are secondary color controls which made it a little difficult to get accurate yellow in particular.
The TV is a little bare-bones in the digital connectivity department, with only two, non-MHL HDMI ports and an optical-out. Even two USB ports seem skimpy given the number of cameras, hard drives, and keyboards modern smart TVs evidently need to operate to their full potential.