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.
|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.
If you want to plug your Wii or even an old VCR in then the Panasonic comes with a hybrid component/composite port.
Internet capability is courtesy of an Ethernet port and onboard Wi-Fi.
The AS530 could be seen as the spiritual successor to Panasonic E60 because even though they differ on key picture quality points the end result is about the same. More importantly the TV was able to keep up with the Sony KDL-W800B in most aspects except color. While on paper the Sony has a much better black-level score, in use they were on a par, with the Panasonic capable of darker black bars during movies -- important for creating a greater sense of contrast. Color, on the other hand, was mostly good except for red and yellow, which were slightly "out" compared with the other televisions in my lineup.
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.
For a TV that lacks local dimming the Panasonic well among its peers for black levels, though shadow detail could be a little better. I loaded up our test PlayStation 3 unit with some dark films and found that the Panasonic was equal to the Sony and Samsung for blacks depending on the scene.
Shadow detail was good to middling, and during "Driver" (Chapter 7, 35:09), the titular character sits at a table with a lamp overhead. On all televisions but the TCL you can make out the baseboard on the wall and the table legs. However the Panasonic wasn't as clear as its rivals Sony and Vizio, with some some obfuscation of fine detail.
Switching to the "Harry Potter" hilltop scene, there was plenty of detail in the crowd, with the robes of the dark lord showing definition and 3D depth. In addition the Panasonic had darker black bars in this scene than both the Sony W800B and Samsung H6350, which added to the perception of contrast.
Color saturation of the Panasonic is very good and skin tones in particular appear natural and not overblown. But put on a movie with red and yellow palettes, such as "Samsara," and the differences between this and the other TVs will appear. From the ceremonial headwear of the monks to the gold hues of the buddha statues, the yellows of the Samsung were not as vivid as on our reference Panasonic ST60 and Vizio M series televisions. In addition, pure reds were a small touch purple, something that couldn't be seen on anything bar the TCL; that TV was just flat-out bad.
The Panasonic was an OK performer when it came to video processing duties, for while it failed the 1080i test pattern with excessive strobing (meaning lost fine detail) it passed all of the others. The 24P test was passed with a lack of judder caused by pull-down error, and the TV was able to get a full 1080 lines of resolution using the Strong motion picture setting.
If you're a gamer looking to find a responsive set then the AS530 is definitely not for you. There is no dedicated game mode on this TV and as a result it turned out a fairly average lag time of 52.4ms of lag. Sets like the Sony W800B have less than half of this and go for a similar price.
Despite being an edge-lit set, the blacks of the AS530 were very uniform with no bright backlight leaks apparent to spoil dark scenes. When viewed off-axis the television managed to hold its color and black levels better than most and would make this TV suitable if you have a wide space or lots of people watching at once.
When watched in bright light, the AS530 put in a sterling performance with deep contrast -- it didn't suffer the blue-black problem you sometimes see on other sets under lights -- and saturated colors. The screen features a matte coating and was as successful as the other assembled sets at rejecting reflections.
If there's a better candidate for recommending you buy an external sound bar than this TV I'd love to hear about it. The Panasonic has very poor sound quality, especially with music. The telly features no bass response whatsoever and was really quiet at half-volume. On our test track, Nick Cave sounded like he was at the end of a tunnel with rolled-up piece of cupboard at his lips, but this was still preferable to the ST60, which had an overly "farty" bass. The Panasonic's rival Sony had better sound with more presence, but it was just a little bit flatulent in the bass regions.
No bass, and no treble either meant the breaking of glass in our test "Mission: Impossible" scene was a little less than "smashing." By contrast the Sony exhibited more midrange detail and so more ambience. The Panasonic seemed a little too hemmed in, though at least speech was still intelligible.
|GEEK BOX: Test||Result||Score|
|Black luminance (0%)||0.015||Average|
|Avg. gamma (10-100%)||2.15||Good|
|Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)||2.130||Good|
|Dark gray error (20%)||1.663||Good|
|Bright gray error (70%)||1.639||Good|
|Avg. color error||1.494||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|1080i De-interlacing (film)||Fail||Poor|
|Motion resolution (max)||1080||Good|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||320||Poor|
|Input lag (Game mode)||52.4||Average|