Count Panasonic as a plasma stalwart, as they’ve introduced no less than five plasma TV model ranges for 2011, including three tiers of 3D 1080p models. Their ST30-series 3D plasma sets, consisting of six models with screen sizes from 42” up to 65”, are designed for those who want to have the 3D experience, but aren’t looking to blow their budgets.
Equipped with Internet app functionality, which includes access to a number of subscription TV and movie streaming providers, the 50” ST30 model tested here isn’t a stripped-down set, as it’s equipped with wireless Wi-Fi (via a USB adapter), and has numerous other Internet apps.
Consider this HDTV if: You’re after an affordable 3D plasma TV that delivers solid performance and is equipped with Wi-Fi for movie and TV show streaming via the Internet
Look elsewhere if: You’re looking for a 3D TV that can provide a suitably bright picture for daytime viewing in a high ambient light environment, as the ST30’s maximum picture brightness is somewhat limited.
Ratings (relative to comparably-priced 3D plasma HDTVs)
• Overall picture quality (HD): 8
• Features: 7
• Connectivity: 7
• User interface: 7
• Value: 8
Panasonic now calls their Internet app function VIERA Connect (although the remote that ships with the TV still has the older VIERA Cast button labeling), and the ST30 comes equipped with a wireless Wi-Fi adapter that can plug into either of the two available USB ports directly, or connect via the supplied USB stand/connector. The external stand connector might come in handy if the set is installed in a wall unit with numerous other components, as placing the adapter further away from a battery of electronics might improve streaming quality. The app package includes a number of streaming subscription services, including Amazon OnDemand, Netflix and CinemaNow.
Panasonic was one of the very first out of the gate with 3D plasma TVs last spring, and their association with Avatar director James Cameron, a 3D evangelist if ever there was one, continues via a cross-promotion that includes the availability of a 3D combo pack ($360) which includes two pairs of rechargeable 3D glasses and a 3D Blu-ray of Avatar, which won’t be available for general release until sometime next year. The ST30 doesn’t ship with 3D glasses, unlike some competitive models.
The ST30 is equipped with an SD memory card slot, and is able to display 3D still images and 3D content from a 3D camcorder (Panasonic offers 3D digital cameras and 3D digital camcorders that use the SD memory card format). The set also features 2D-3D upconversion, but compared to a full-on 3D presentation, the upconverted 3D effect is much milder, and is far less immersive.
There are two HDMI inputs on the rear panel, with a third on the side panel, as well as component and composite inputs. Two USB ports are provided on the side input panel, along with an RJ-45 LAN port around back. The side input panel also sports the SD memory card slot. There’s an optical digital audio output for connection to an external home theater audio system, but there’s no analog audio output, which precludes connection to typical desktop audio systems.
On Screen Display
The ST30 sports Panasonic’s latest VIERA Connect design, which features bright graphics and large windows for the various internet apps, and includes a window at center screen for watching TV content while browsing through the apps. The main OSD fills fully two thirds of the screen with clear text, and is semi-transparent to the displayed image behind it.
Although the ST30 series is targeted to the value-conscious buyer, Panasonic equips the set with quite a good remote control, which features “aviation” style red backlighting. The important controls, including volume and channel, are large and centered in the keypad, and the numeric keypad features large buttons with clear nomenclature. The cursor keypad has large buttons for accessing the operating menu, the VIERA Connect apps and VIERA Tools functions.
Although Panasonic’s marketing materials suggest otherwise, the remote’s transport function keys (play, stop, pause, etc.) didn’t work with a new Panasonic 3D Blu-ray player (DMP-BDP210P) that was used during testing.