Panasonic TC-PU50 review: Panasonic TC-PU50

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MSRP: $1,099.99

The Good The inexpensive Panasonic TC-PU50 series in its superb picture quality surpasses many TVs costing hundreds more. Its black levels can get as deep as any but those of the very best plasma TVs. Color is accurate, off-angle viewing and uniformity are perfect, and its Cinema picture setting requires very little tweaking for optimal quality. There's a rare SD card slot for photo viewing.

The Bad The TC-PU50 washes out in bright room lighting, and it can't get as bright in its most accurate picture mode as some plasmas this size. It has just two HDMI inputs. It also uses significantly more power than a like-sized LCD or LED TV.

The Bottom Line A low price, excellent picture quality, and bare-bones features make the Panasonic TC-PU50 series a superb entry-level plasma TV value.

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8.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 5
  • Performance 8
  • Value 9

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-PU50 series is a throwback. A bona fide Dumb TV, the U50 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 want more choices in size, you should consider stepping up to something like the ST50. But if you just want the best no-frills plasma TV for the best price, look no further.

Editors' Note: Originally Panasonic offered only one screen size, 50 inches, but the company has since added a second at 60 inches. This review had been modified to reflect that addition.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 50-inch Panasonic TC-P50U50, but this review also applies to the 60-inch size in the series. Both have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.

Models in series (details)
Panasonic TC-P50U50 (reviewed) 50 inches
Panasonic TC-P60U50 60 inches

Nothing to see here. The no-nonsense TC-PU50 series comes one uniform color: basic glossy black. The frame around the screen is medium-thick and the same width on all sides, with a subtle bottom lip and a thin accent strip of silver. The glossy black pedestal stand is low-profile and does not swivel.

The remote is similarly basic, with button groups that are well-differentiated by size and placement if not color. There's no backlighting. I liked the clicker well enough, although the volume and channel keys seem a bit large relative to the cursor control. I also noticed that the menus, spare and functional, loaded slightly more sluggishly than on the TC-P50UT50 -- but you'll use them infrequently, so it hardly matters.

Key TV features
Display technology Plasma LED backlight N/A
Screen finish Glossy Remote Standard
Smart TV Yes, No Internet connection Wired, Built-in Wi-Fi
3D technology N/A 3D glasses included N/A
Refresh rate(s) 60Hz, 48Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing Yes, No
DLNA-compliant No USB Photo/Music/Video

I could spend a lot of time enumerating the many options this TV doesn't have, but it's easier to list its few features. The main one is 1080p resolution, which accounts for the fact that its price is almost identical to that of the Smart TV- and 3D-compatible, yet only 720p, TC-P50XT50. Resolution also appears to be the main difference between the U50 and the even-cheaper 720p TC-PX5 series.

The more expensive UT50 includes Smart TV, 3D, 1080p resolution, and dejudder (smoothing) among its main step-ups above the U50 being reviewed here, as well as a couple of relatively minor picture quality advantages (see below).

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). You can also play music and videos loaded on an SD card, and the USB port can handle music, photos, and videos too.

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. There is a token 48Hz mode for 1080p/24 Blu-rays, but it causes flicker so it's basically useless.

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