Panasonic's 2011 3D plasma line-up is split into three different series. At the high end there's the flagship VT30 series, next comes the mid-tier , while the ST30 series slots in at the bottom and is the cheapest of the bunch.
We managed to get our mitts on the 50-inch TX-P50ST30B, which is available for around £1,300 online, to see how it stacked up against Panasonic's more expensive plasma offerings.
The most obvious difference between this and the higher-end models is the design. Panasonic's newer designs found on the VT30 and GT30 TVs are a major improvement on last year's models thanks to the narrower bezel and cleaner, more angular look. The ST30 has to make do with the older, more boring design and has a noticeably thicker bezel. It's not exactly ugly, but it does look rather dull and is nowhere near as classy in appearance as LG's plasmas, for example.
On a plus note, Panasonic has made the bottom of the chassis slightly thicker than the middle and top to accommodate larger down-firing speakers. This really helps to improve the set's audio with the result that the ST30 has better mid-range and bass performance than most of its rivals, which is a huge help when it comes to more bombastic movie soundtracks.
While the ST30 does have a Freeview HD tuner, it lacks the freesat HD support of the VT30. Nevertheless, Freeview HD still offers a decent line-up of HD channels, including BBC One HD and ITV HD.
Connection options are pretty generous too, with four HDMI ports, a full-sized Scart socket and a set of component inputs. There are also two USB ports for digital media playback as well as an SD card slot that can be used to view 3D material shot on Panasonic's 3D stills and video cameras.
Online all the time
The rear is also home to an Ethernet port, and you can connect via Wi-Fi if you go for the optional USB Wi-Fi dongle. Once connected to your home network, you can make use of Panasonic's new Viera Connect Internet platform. Previous Panasonic sets lacked proper BBC iPlayer integration -- it was available via the red button when you used the satellite tuner, but not if you only used the Freeview HD tuner. Thankfullyinto the Viera Connect menu.
There are also a number of other services, such as the AceTrax movie on-demand offering as well as Facebook, Twitter and Picasa. The range of content isn't as good as Sony's offering, but we think most people will mainly want it for iPlayer and at least it's properly integrated now.