Panasonic's P42ST30 sits below the top of the rangeand mid-tier models in the company's current line-up of 3D plasma TVs, but above the recently announced UT30. It boasts many of the same features of the higher-end sets in the range, but lacks a Freesat HD tuner and media streaming capabilities. It is, however, available for a relatively low asking price of £600 online, which is around £200 less than the GT30 model.
User interface and EPG
While the likes of LG and Samsung have done a lot of work to make the user interfaces on their TVs look as appealing as possible by using lots of neat animations, lashings of colour and cute icons, Panasonic is sadly yet to follow suit. In comparison to its Korean rivals, the menu system on this TV looks very bland.
For the most part the menus are quite static and boring, with the result that they feel out of step with most of the newer TVs on the market at the moment. Panasonic has added some icons in the main menu for the picture, sound, timer and set-up options, but the rest of the menus are predominantly rendered just as white text against a blue or black background.
On the plus side, the menu structure is logically laid out and easy to find your way around. And while this model lacks the ISF calibration tools and THX certification of the GT30 and VT30 models, there are still plenty of tweaking options available in the picture menu. Along with the usual brightness, contrast and colour controls, you'll also find numerous settings for the 3D features as well as the Intelligent Frame Creation modes.
This model does have a Freeview HD tuner, but lacks the Freesat HD tuner you get on the two higher end models. Like the menu presentation, the set's Freeview HD EPG also looks quite drab and dreary.
As with Panasonic's other models it uses the dreaded GuidePlus+ system. The main annoyance we have with this system is that it reserves space on the left-hand side of the guide for Web-style adverts. This compromises the amount of screen real-estate available for showing programming info. The large font Panasonic has used for programming info does, however, make it easily readable from across a room, and the EPG is responsive, so it's quick to jump to what's coming up on different channels.
Digital media and Internet features
When it comes to Internet and media playback features, this set is a mixed bag. The Ethernet port on the rear means that you do get access to Panasonic's VieraConnect system, which now includes BBC iPlayer alongside other useful services such as YouTube, AceTrax and Daily Motion.
There are also a number of news and information services including Accuweather and Euronews, and there are mini apps for social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Picasa. All in all, it's a decent line-up of features, if not quite as impressively presented as Sony, LG or Samsung's offerings.
The set also has twin USB ports and an SD Card slot. The SD card slot lets you view 2D and 3D pictures and video shot on Panasonic cameras and camcorders, while the two USB ports support playback of a range of digital media formats including JPEG pictures, MP3 music files and movies in Xvid, DivX and MKV format.
Sadly, though, despite the presence of the Ethernet port, this model doesn’t support any network streaming, so you can’t stream files from PCs or DLNA servers across a network.
Also, unlike the VT30 and GT30 models, this set doesn't support USB recording from the onboard Freeview HD tuner. If you've already got a PVR, such as Sky HD, you're probably not going to miss this feature, as it's more of a handy extra than something that's advanced enough to negate the need for a secondary box, but it's still worth mentioning.
Design and connections
Whereas the GT30 and VT30 models have an updated, more appealing design, the ST30 relies on the same design that graced last year's Panasonic's models. The ST30 suffers on the aesthetic front as a result, because the design is rather lacklustre and, dare we say it, boring.