Review: Panasonic Viera TX-P42ST30

 
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Published: June 30, 2011 11:00 PM
By Pierre Anzil / Pierre-Jean Alzieu
Translated by: Sam McGeever
Since the start of this year, Panasonic has offered not just two ranges of 3D TVs, but three.  We've already reviewed the VT30 and the GT30 series, but now it's the turn of the ST30, which is even more affordable than its two predecessors.  It seems that one way that Panasonic has kept costs down is by reusing a case from 2010.  Not only does the design fall behind current standards, some other features have been left by the wayside too.

Build Quality and Design

One of the things we really liked about both of the ST30's big brothers was their sleek design, but this new TV just isn't in the same league.  At first sight, the TV looks like it's been shoved into a frame that's lying around unloved for several years, with a thick, bulky exterior measuring 7 cm from front to back.

The only change in the inputs and outputs is the removal of one USB port, leaving two in total.  Otherwise, the four HDMI inputs, Ethernet port, optical audio out and composite and component video remain unchanged.

If you compare the multimedia options to some of Panasonic's competitors, the offerings look pretty slim.  Here, you only get widgets from Facebook, Twitter, Skype and a few other services and an online app store.  Without UPnP, though, there's no way to play video stored on a computer elsewhere on your network.

The alternative is to connect an external storage device to one of the two USB ports and access your photos, music and video that way.  However, Panasonic's media player really can't rival the ones provided by Samsung and LG.  During our tests, we had no joy playing MKV (DivX5), MP4 (MPEG4) or MOV (AVC) files.  A separate external media centre is a much better option.

As is always the case with Panasonic, the remote control is very basic.  The buttons are bulky, have no backlighting and the external case feels very plastic.  It's a shame that the firm hasn't devoted more effort to this aspect.

PF42ST30
The glossy screen picks up reflections

PF42ST30 Inputs and outputs available  at the back (left) and side (right)
PF42ST30
Menu
PF42ST30
Profile





Finally, the problems with a noisy power adaptor that blighted last year's TVs from Panasonic have now largely disappeared.  You can only hear the gentle hum if you mute the sound and get up close to the TV.

Image Quality

Like most of the televisions we see in the lab, the picture produced using the default settings is far too garish.  The easiest way to fix that problem is by switching to Professional mode (rather than the Cinema mode which is better for Home Cinema fans.)


Colour handling in Professional mode: average deltaE: 2.0

Set up that way, the picture quality is close to perfect.  The most demanding users might still notice that dark greys are little too light, despite whites not being bright enough, but apart from this small gripe, we couldn't help but be impressed by such excellent results.  Colour reproduction is accurate with an average deltaE of 2.0, the gamma curve is nice and even, and given that this is a plasma, the viewing angles are very wide!


Average contrast ratio in Professional mode: over 5000:1

But plasma screens do have their weaknesses, and sometimes can struggle with displaying whites.  With contrast turned up to its maximum setting of 60, the ST30 couldn't get above 90 cd/m² for a test card with 35% white and above 130 cd/m² with a 1% test card.  That means that the Professional mode clearly isn't cut out for using on a bright day.  It's much more appropriate for a Home Cinema set up, especially given that the contrast ratio climbs to a stellar 5000:1!

If you are in daylight, we suggest you tweak a few of the settings in Cinema mode,  which produces a brighter picture, without reducing the contrast ratio: it reaches an average of 160 cd/m², again with contrast at 60.  The downside of this approach is that the deltaE slides to 3.3, which means that the colour reproduction is still very good but will not quite be perfect for the most demanding viewers.  Gamma also takes a hit, with the entire greyscale gradient ending up too pale and white not quite bright enough.

Upscaling of SD sources is a little underpowered, leaving a blurry picture.  Turning up the sharpness will give the impression that some of the detail is back.  Native HD content, meanwhile, looks quite simply perfect.

The motion interpolation filter works hard to ensure that moving pictures are perfectly fluid.  Unfortunately, visual artefacts are sometimes visible.  This one small problem doesn't really take away from an excellent quality display.

Ghosting and Input Lag

Responsiveness
 Light
Background
Dark
Background
Average
This graph shows the ghosting time, measured in ms, that the TV takes to entirely remove the previous frame. The shorter the time, the more fluid moving images will appear


We had absolutely no problems connecting a PC, with absolutely no input lag in either Professional or Gaming mode.  That means gamers won't be held back by using this TV instead of a desktop monitor.  The ST30 also has some of the lowest ghosting times of any TV we've ever seen: with an average of just 8.5 ms, we can't see crosstalk being much of a problem in three dimensions.

Image Quality: 3D

As we suspected, the ST30 puts in a great performance in 3D.  Objects really seem to leap out of the screen and there's a great sense of depth of field.  However, there's a little bit of crosstalk—interference between the signals for the left and right eye.  White lines and objects against a dark background are particularly affected, but apart from these specific cases, crosstalk, a phenomenon that's common on LCD TVs, is largely absent here.

Here's what we saw when looking through the glasses (Panasonic ST30 above, Samsung D8000 below):

PF42ST30
PF42ST30

With a perfect result, we shouldn't see any trace of the 'R' frame on the left, and, vice versa, none of the 'L' frame on the right. For the time being, only plasmas from Samsung and Panasonic get this right.

There's not actually all that much 3D content available at the moment, so Panasonic has included a filter that offers 2D-to-3D conversion.  Just like all of the other attempts we've seen, it really can't hope to rival native 3D content.  The results really aren't great and make this feature a little pointless.

If you don't get a free pair of 3D glasses with the GT30, you're not going to get any with the cheaper ST30 either.  That means you can add the cost of buying the whole family 3D glasses to the price of your new TV, and the bill soon mounts up.  We're glad to see that Panasonic offers several sizes, including large, medium and kid's frames.

Audio Quality

There's not much depth to the sound, and the ST30's speakers are so easily saturated that there's little opportunity to really enjoy a film by turning up the volume.  There also really isn't much bass.  A 5.1 speaker system will be a much better bet.

Energy Consumption

We've noticed a real effort from Panasonic this year to reduce the energy consumption on its plasma TVs this year.  On standby, the ST30 only needs the standard bare minimum of 0.1 W, while it needs 180 W while switched on.  Cinema mode takes up more energy, rising to 230 W.  This is one area where LCD TVs have a clear advantage.  For comparison's sake, the recent 46'' version of the Sony NX723 had a consumption of just 77 W.
4/5 Panasonic Viera TX-P42ST30 DigitalVersus 2011-07-01 00:00:00

Pros

  • Great picture in 2D and 3D
  • Excellent contrast ratio: over 5000:1
  • Accurate colours: average deltaE of 2
  • Virtually no crosstalk
  • Very wide viewing angles

Cons

  • Sound quality only just average
  • Glossy screen picks up reflections
  • High energy consumption: 180 W
  • Design beginning to show its age
  • Poor brightness levels in lighter scenes

Conclusion

Like the GT30 before it, the Panasonic ST30 television produces a great quality picture. It's a top choice for home cinema fans with a tight budget.

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