Panasonic TC-P50ST30 3D Plasma HDTV Page 3
I noticed that foreground details were very slightly desaturated by a bright white background. I only saw this once or twice, and it was so subtle that I only mention it because I otherwise found so little to criticize in the ST30.
In terms of black level and shadow detail, the ST30 did very well. The darkest scenes in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World were impressive. And the star field that opens Stargate: Continuum displayed a density of stars, from the dimmest to the brightest, that often escapes lesser sets. That star field was also less affected than on most sets when the bright white title pops up over it. In addition, shadow detail was exceptional.
We still had our review sample of last year's top-of-the-line TC-P50VT25 on hand, so a comparison between that and the ST30 was clearly irresistible. There was only time for a 2D face-off, but one thing was clear: In terms of picture quality, the ST30 was neither better nor worse than the VT25 in any respect save one: The VT25 had better blacks—0.008 ft-L on the ST30 versus 0.004 ft-L on the VT25. The visible difference on a full black field was subtle but unmistakable. This was disappointing, as we were hoping for steadily increasing improvement in Panasonic's already very good black levels. The ST30's overall performance is still near the current state of the art for plasma, which can still beat the usable black-level performance of most LCDs. But note the word "current" in the last sentence. Even the best black-level measurement turned in by current flat panels is still well short of our gold standard: the 0.001 ft-L measured on the last generation of the now long-discontinued Pioneer Kuros.
I performed a full 3D calibration on the ST30. Like all sets in our experience, the brightness and color were somewhat muted in 3D. But in its Custom mode, those weren't major concerns. In particular, the ST30 is an outstanding 2D set that sacrifices nothing in its 3D quiver apart from the higher 3D brightness that a few LCD sets offer. I sometimes question whether 3D in and of itself is worthwhile if we have to sacrifice the brighter, punchier images we're used to seeing in 2D, as is typically the case. But this time, the 3D color appeared to leave nothing on the table. 3D can be addictive when done right, as it is here.
The ST30 produced no obvious 3D ghosting. Both Avatar and A Christmas Carol have exhibited serious ghosting on some active-glasses sets, but not here. The near total lack of this phenomenon may well be a major factor in this set's crisp, vivid 3D performance. I say "near total lack" because there's no way of knowing if this or that piece of some as-yet-unseen 3D material will conjure up an unwelcome apparition or two. But thanks to plasma's naturally fast response time, not to mention the faster phosphors Panasonic introduced with last year's first generation of 3D sets, I didn't find ghosting to be an issue here.
As with virtually all plasmas, this one exhibits the sort of off-axis performance that no LCD can match, which was true for both 2D and 3D. The color and 3D effects held up solidly as far off center as anyone would care to sit—at least 45 degrees. Sit beyond that, and parallax takes over (with an increasingly trapezoidal image), even as the basic picture quality remains virtually unchanged. Nor was head tilt ever an issue in 3D, as it is in LCD sets.
About that 2D-to-3D conversion mode. It provided a modest degree of depth to 2D material, but as I've said before, if I'm going to sacrifice brightness for 3D, I prefer the real thing.
Conclusion The ST30 series offers the best value by far among Panasonic's 2011 3D plasmas. Detail, color, blacks, and shadow detail are all excellent, even without THX certification. The G30 offers a few perks, such as slightly spiffier aesthetics, more cable clearance for a wall mount, an additional HDMI input, a PC input, and THX certification, but none of that is worth an extra $400 in my view. If you want 3D on a budget—or even if you only want the best 2D performance you can find without spending an arm and a leg—I can't think of a better way to go.