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Overview

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.

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Corner detail

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.

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Stand detail

The low-profile matching glossy stand can swivel the panel.

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Side view

At just under 3 inches thick, the ST30 has a thicker profile than many competing LCD and plasma TVs, but it's still plenty flat.

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Back panel inputs

Two of the three HDMI are on the back panel, which is absent a VGA-style PC input.

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Side panel inputs

The side panel gets a third HDMI and two USB ports in addition to an SD card slot.

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Remote control

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."

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Included Wi-Fi dongle

Panasonic includes a Wi-Fi dongle with the ST30, occupying a USB slot but happily allowing you to use a wireless connection with this TV without paying an extra $80 or more for a dongle.

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3D glasses

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.

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Viera Connect market

The Viera Connect market offers a store with a solid selection of free and paid apps.

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Viera Connect home page

We liked the simple layout of the home page, and appreciated that you could customize which apps show up where.

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Main menus

The menu system looks rather primitive compared to that of the competition.

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Pro settings menu

Unfortunately the full adjustments of the Pro settings menus are only available in Custom mode.

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Pro white balance settings

The two-point grayscale control finally includes a green adjustment this year.

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Anti image-retention menu

A couple of settings are designed to prevent and remove image retention, aka burn-in.

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3D settings

Panasonic offers 2D-to-3D conversion among its smattering of 3D settings, but it won't convert streaming video.

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Picture quality

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.

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