The first of Panasonic's 2011 3D TVs have arrived, as part of the ST30 Series. This is the company's entry-level line of 3D-capable plasmas, and it includes screen sizes of 65, 60, 55, 50, 46, and 42 inches (as of this writing, the 65- and 60-inchers are not yet available). We have not performed a hands-on review of the TC-P55ST30, but here is an overview of its features. This 55-inch, 1080p 3D plasma requires the use of active-shutter 3D glasses (sold separately, $150 to $180 apiece) to view 3D content; the sync transmitter that allows the glasses to sync with the TV is integrated into the TV's front panel. The TC-P55ST30 supports 2D-to-3D conversion, which generates a 3D effect from standard 2D content.
The TC-P55ST30 lacks the THX certification that will be offered in the step-up GT30 and VT30 3D models, but this TV does use 600Hz Sub-field Drive to improve motion resolution, as well as the Infinite Black 2 panel that's designed to reduce ambient-light reflections and improve black-level performance. The TC-P55ST30 is wireless-ready, with the addition of an included USB adapter, and it offers access to the new VIERA Connect Web platform, which combines the features of the previous VIERA Cast system (Netflix, Amazon VOD, YouTube, Skype, etc.) with a new apps-based service and a redesigned interface. The new platform adds CinemaNow, Hulu Plus, Facebook, MLB TV, and more. The TC-P55ST30 also supports DLNA media streaming and has a 3D Image Viewer for viewing personal photos and movies that are shot in 3D.
The connection panel includes three HDMI inputs (one is located on the side panel for easy access), plus one component video input and one RF input to access the internal ATSC and Clear-QAM tuners. There's no PC (D-sub 15-pin) input. On the side panel, you'll find two USB ports and an SD card reader that support media playback. The USB ports also support the addition of a keyboard, WiFi adapter, and/or Web camera for use with the Skype application. You can also use the back-panel Ethernet port for a wired network connection. The TC-P55ST30 lacks a control port like RS-232 for integration into an advanced control system.
The TC-P55ST30 includes a solid assortment of picture adjustments, beginning with five picture modes, five color-temperature presets, noise reduction, and a C.A.T.S. feature that automatically adjusts the panel brightness based on ambient light. The Pro setup menu offers gamma adjustment (six presets), panel brightness (three presets), two color spaces (wide/normal), and the ability to adjust the white balance through RGB high and RGB low controls. You don't get the more precise white balance adjustment and color management found in some higher-end TVs. The TC-P55ST30 offers a 24p Direct In mode, which lets you dictate whether to output 24p film content at 60 Hz (which involves 3:2 pulldown) or 48 Hz (which involves 2:2 pulldown and produces less judder). There's also a new Motion Smoother function (off/weak/strong) that uses frame interpolation to produce smoother motion with film sources. The TV includes several features to prevent or counteract the effects of short-term image retention, including a pixel orbiter, a scrolling bar, and the option to use gray sidebars instead of black. The TC-P55ST30 has five aspect-ratio options, and you can configure it to display a 1080i/1080p image with no overscan.
As a 3D TV, the TC-P55ST30 includes a special 3D setup menu that offers a few more options than we saw in last year's 3D models. By default, the TV is configured to automatically detect and display 3D content, or you can manually choose between multiple 3D formats (native, frame sequential 3D, frame sequential 2D, side by side 3D, side by side 2D, top and bottom 3D, top and bottom 2D, and 2D to 3D). You can now adjust the depth of the 3D image, while a separate control specifically allows you to adjust the depth of the image when converting 2D to 3D. There's also a left/right swap and a diagonal line filter.
The audio setup menu includes bass, treble, and balance controls, as well as bass boost, a basic surround mode, an A.I Sound function that equalizes volume level across all channels and inputs, and a volume leveler that deals specifically with the external inputs.
The ECO menu includes options to turn off the TV when no signal is present or no activity occurs for a designated time period.
Read about the high points and the low points of the TC-P55ST30 on Page 2.
• The TC-P55ST30 supports 3D playback and offers 2D-to-3D conversion.
• The TV offers a wired or optional wireless network connection.
• VIERA Connect adds more Web services than the previous VIERA Cast system, and the TV supports DLNA streaming.
• You can attach a USB keyboard for faster text input in VIERA Connect.
• Plasma TVs generally have better viewing angles and motion resolution than LCDs.
• Panasonic has added a smooth mode to reduce film judder.
• The TC-P55ST30 can display personal photos and movies shot in 3D
• The active 3D glasses are not included and will cost you $150 to $180 each.
• The TV only has three HDMI inputs and no PC connection.
• The number of picture adjustments is solid but not as good as you'll find in some higher-end TVs.
Competition and Comparison
Compare the Panasonic TC-P55ST30 with its competition by reading the reviews for the Toshiba 55WX800U, Samsung PN58C8000, Panasonic TC-P50GT25, and Sony KDL-55HX800. Learn more about 3D HDTVs by visiting our 3D HDTV section.
With an MSRP of $1,799.95, the new TC-P55ST30 is a very good value in the large-screen 3D category--especially compared with similarly sized LED/LCD models. This plasma TV might not offer quite the performance that you'll find in Panasonic's higher-end 3D lines, but it boasts a solid array of features, including VIERA Connect, DLNA streaming, WiFi-readiness, Skype capability, and more. If you plan to actually watch 3D content, don't forget to factor in the cost of 3D glasses for you and your family. Even if you don't plan to utilize the 3D feature just yet, the TC-P55ST30 is worth considering for anyone who wants a larger-screen panel with plenty of Web features for a reasonable price.