Panasonic TC-PU50 review:

Panasonic TC-PU50

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

Comparison models (details)
Panasonic TC-P50UT50 50-inch plasma
Samsung PN51E550 51-inch plasma
LG 50PM9700 50-inch plasma
Toshiba 50L5200U 50-inch LED
Vizio M3D550KD 55-inch LED

Picture quality
In a word, "Excellent." The U50 earned the same subrating of 8 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.

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration.

Black level: The entry-level U50 is capable of producing as deep a shade of black as any Panasonic plasma we've tested, with the exception of the flagship TC-P65VT50. Its inky-black chops were immediately apparent in the opening sequence from "Tree of Life"; the blackness surrounding the orange illumination was as dark as that of the UT50, and darker than any other TV in the lineup managed, including the Vizio and the Samsung E550. The breathtaking spacescapes at the beginning of chapter 4 provided another example, where the blackness of the void on the two Panasonics made the images pop as on none of the others.

Although the U50 and UT50 couldn't quite match the light output of the other sets in our measurements, the difference was almost impossible to spot in most program material. In brighter areas, like the sheets, shades, and white walls in Jack's bedroom and house (chapter 3), they weren't any dimmer than on the other TVs, either to my eye or to my handheld light meter. Only when the screen turned mostly white, such as when the camera follows Jack's wife upstairs and a white wall occludes a good portion of the screen (12:44) or during a shot of mostly white sky (13:27) did the U50 get dimmer than the Samsung -- and even then the difference was very subtle.

The Panasonics' shadow detail was very good, surpassing the others in the lineup. The face of Mrs. O'Brien kissing young Jack in bed (48:23) had plenty of definition and no murkiness, for example, while the other sets, especially the LEDs, obscured these areas somewhat.

Color accuracy: Despite lackluster grayscale measurements the color of the U50 looked quite good in person, with excellent balance and no "push" toward one primary color or another. The delicate skin tones of Mrs. O'Brien (8:08) looked natural, if a bit too pale and reddish-green compared with the Samsung's. Its saturation, as evinced by the grass in the yard for example, was also slightly less rich than either the Samsung or the Vizio, but still very good. The U50 and UT50 showed almost identical color to my eye.

As with other Panasonic plasmas I also appreciated that black and near-black areas remained neutral and didn't veer into blue or green, like the LEDs in particular did.

Video processing: Unlike the UT50, the U50 couldn't properly reproduce 1080p/24 film cadence when set to its standard (60Hz) mode. Instead, the pan over the Intrepid from "I Am Legend" (my standard cadence test) appeared halting and choppy. I tried the 48Hz mode but as usual it flickered too much for me to tolerate, albeit a bit less than the UT50's 48Hz mode, for some reason.

The U50 lacks a smoothing dejudder mode, which is no great loss in my book, but that means it couldn't match the maximum motion resolution of the UT50 in our tests. No matter -- program material was as blur-free as ever to my eyes.

Bright lighting: The U50's picture quality takes a downward turn as room lighting gets brighter, and is one of the worst TVs we've seen this year at combating ambient lighting. Its screen finish looks gray under moderate lighting, and as a result the image washes out to an even larger extent than the UT50's. It doesn't help that both plasmas can't be "turned up" bright enough to really compensate, nor that both created bright reflections of in-room objects.

The Samsung's screen finish wasn't any better than the U50's, although its post-calibration image was brighter, so that helps. The LG, Vizio, and Toshiba all were significantly better at both preserving black levels and rejecting reflections.

Power consumption: The TC-P50U50 uses about as much juice as its 50-inch plasma brethren, which is more than three times what a typical 55-inch LED TV needs. As usual its Standard picture mode is vanishingly dim, which accounts for the relatively low default power usage. That low default power use is also the reason this TV qualifies for Energy Star 5.3, while 55-inch and larger plasmas do not.

Geek box: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.0031 Good
Avg. gamma 2.028 Average
Near-black x/y (5%) 0.3096/0.3351 Good
Dark gray x/y (20%) 0.3087/0.3294 Average
Bright gray x/y (70%) 0.3184/0.3325 Poor
Before avg. color temp. 6281 Poor
After avg. color temp. 6141 Poor
Red lum. error (de94_L) 0.9902 Good
Green lum. error (de94_L) 0.5101 Good
Blue lum. error (de94_L) 2.3292 Average
Cyan hue x/y 0.2283/0.331 Good
Magenta hue x/y 0.325/0.1583 Good
Yellow hue x/y 0.4245/0.5109 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i Deinterlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 750 Average
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 750 Average

Juice box
Panasonic TC-P50U50 Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power save
Picture on (watts) 125.68 208.27 N/A
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.12 0.19 N/A
Standby (watts) 0.12 0.12 N/A
Cost per year $27.65 $45.75 N/A
Score (considering size) Poor
Score (overall) Poor

Annual energy cost after calibration
Panasonic TC-P50U50 CNET review calibration report

Read more about how we test TVs.

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