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Panasonic TC-P50U50 [pictures]

A low price, excellent picture quality, and bare-bones features make the Panasonic TC-P50U50 a superb entry-level plasma TV value.

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David Katzmaier
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1 of 13 Sarah Tew/CNET

Overview

In a year when dual-core TVs vaunt voice control, touch-pad remotes, gesture recognition, app stores, and often mediocre picture quality, the Panasonic TC-P50U50 is a throwback. A bona fide Dumb TV, the U50 comes in only one size -- 50 inches, take it or leave it, bub -- and couldn't launch an app or sync with 3D glasses to save its life. If you're like me and consider those extras largely unnecessary in a television, you'll find a lot to like here.

No, Panasonic's cheapest 1080p plasma TV can't match the picture quality of its more expensive linemates, but it trounces any TV I've seen in its price range. Exceedingly deep black levels and accurate color, along with plasma's hallmark perfect uniformity and off-angle viewing, combine for 2D bliss in medium-dark to dark rooms.

It doesn't do as well with the lights turned up, however, so if you can spare the money, or just want a larger size, you should consider stepping up. But if you just want the best 1080p 50-inch TV for the best price, look no further.

Read the full review of the Panasonic TC-P50U50.

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Corner detail

The no-nonsense TC-P50U50 comes one uniform color: basic glossy black.
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Corner detail

The frame around the screen is medium-thick and the same width on all sides.
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Stand detail

The only accents are a subtle bottom lip and a thin accent strip of silver. The glossy black pedestal stand is low-profile and does not swivel.
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Side view

At 3.3 inches deep the U50 still qualifies as a flat-panel.
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Remote detail

The remote is similarly basic, with button groups that are well-differentiated by size and placement if not color. There's no backlighting.
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Remote in-hand

I liked the clicker well enough, although the volume and channel keys seem a bit large relative to the cursor control.
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Input selection

Perhaps this TV's Achilles heel is its lonely pair of HDMI jacks.
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Inputs

If you have more than two HDMI sources, for example a cable box, game console, and anything else, you may want to consider another TV. Or you could pair the U50 with an HDMI switch (they're cheap) or AV receiver -- it's a bit more of a hassle, but using a good universal remote can make the experience seamless.

Additional jacks of note are one component-video/composite video input, one USB port, and one SD card slot. Worth noting at this price level is the SD card slot, which makes it easy to view photos from digital cameras on the big screen (Panasonic is the only TV maker to commonly include such a slot).

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Media playback

You can play music, photos, and video from an SD card or USB stick.
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Picture settings

Even the sparsest picture-settings suites from LG and Samsung go beyond what the U50 has. It lacks even a 2-point grayscale control and offers just the basics for everything else.
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Image retention menu

Like most plasmas the U50 has provisions to address image retention, aka burn-in.
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Picture quality

In a word, "Excellent." The U50 earned the same subrating of 8 that we awarded to its step-up brother the UT50, putting it in rarefied company no other TV in its price range can approach. Color and black levels were as good as the UT50's, although its video processing and bright-room picture were worse. Those two issues provide very good reasons to invest in models like the Panasonic TC-P55ST50 or Samsung PN60E6500 plasmas or, for the plasma-averse, one of the better LEDs.

Read the full review of the Panasonic TC-P50U50.

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