Panasonic TC-P55UT50 Review

55" 3D Plasma TV

Aggressively calibrating this TV is one of the keys to unlocking its potential for a great picture. Dont wimp out and settle for a slight modification off the Cinema Picture Mode settings. It's too dim and not dialed in! Features are stout in the TCP55UT50 with active 3D and Viera Connect Smart TV options. The set is also better looking than we expected.
Panasonic TC-P50UT50
This shot from the Blu-Ray of The Fifth Element shows lots of picture depth from the UT50 and good clarity

Strengths:

  • High end feature set (Smart TV, Wifi and 3D)
  • Smooth picture performance and up-conversion from 480
  • High Def performance with fast action is no problem with 2500Hz equivalent sub field drive
  • Shadow detail from Infinite Black 2 Panel
  • Appearance, built quality good for price level
  • Value and Price
  • Better for Bright Rooms than other plasma brands once calibrated
  • Light throughput/extra brightness once calibrated

Weaknesses:

  • Motion artifacts a little more pronounced
  • Difficult calibration caused by unstable colors/No 10pt. White balance
  • Background visual noise, graininess
  • Blacks not as saturated as top tier
  • Speaker/Sound Quality Volume good, but hollow effect

The UT50 is set apart from the ST50 by not having the new Infinite Black Pro plasma panel. It still has a good picture but black levels and contrst aren't quite as strong as the higher-tier Panasonic plasma televisions.

Picture and Viewing Feaures Rating: 8.8/10

One large recommendation with the TC-P55UT50 plasma from Panasonic is to follow our calibrated picture settings exactly. This TVs color has lots of horse power, but it is constrained and restricted and has to be unleashed. The 55UT50 does not contain the THX certification of the GT50 series nor have those settings available. The given Cinema, and Standard picture modes that come preset will look dull, dim, and muted compared to our settings.

The Vivid picture mode setting overblown with false edges and unrealistic color. The Standard setting is set to qualify Panasonic for energy stars and the attached Energy Usage label and is dim. Of the available preset picture mode options the Cinema setting option is best, but take the time a go to the Pro Settings menu (under Custom Mode only) and follow our settings. One other key to a great picture on this TV is to turn off the Motion Smoother (directions below under features – menu section).

Once calibrated the color performance on this TV will surprise you. It's not far off the top models in rendition, and blacks come through plenty saturated. Standard definition programming looks very good on this TV. It does a very nice job of maintaining color rendition even with lower signals and the aspect ratio adjustments for proper sizing are also stellar.

This shot from the DVD of The 3 Amigoes shows very good up-conversion of standard definition signals on the UT50

There are some motion artifacts to contend with as with all Panasonic Plasma TVs for the past 10 years, but overall this TV still delivers a very sound picture. The advantage of perfect side angle viewing and a smooth uniform picture over LED TVs puts it up there very high in picture to value ratio.

Black levels are good – not great while dark shadow detail is a strong point as usual with Panasonic Plasma.

Another of the features included is the 2500 Focus Field Drive which is the new motion smoothing processing that is included on the very top models. It also has 24p cinema playback in 48hz for smoothing out those movies.

Side Angle Viewing:

While LED televisions make incremental improvements in this area plasma still gives viewers the same picture quality all the way out ot the very edge of viewable area. The UT50 has excellent side angle viewing.

3D Performance

Even without the Infinite Black Pro panel the TC-P55UT50 does well with 3-D content. There is plenty of depth to the image and color performance is good. The immersion level of 3-D on the UT50 is excellent for a value oriented 3-D plasma television. 2-D to 3-D conversion is included on the set and worth a look more now than ever. The technology has come a long way from a couple years ago when we did not care at all for it. Now, I can see using it from time to time depending on the movie or programming though the 3-D depth effect is about 40% of what a 3D program that was filmed in 3-D would be.


This shot from the Blu-Ray 3D of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs shows punchy color after calibration

Features Rating: 8.5/10

Internet Applications and Connectivity Wifi Included

The Viera Connect Market for Apps

The UT50 has the basic Viera Connect suite with streaming video from Netflix, Hulu and more and also has apps like Youtube and Pandora as well as sports, news and weather. There is also a social Media options platform. The great thing about Panasonic's Viera Connect suite compared to others is that it is stored in the cloud and there is much faster loading than the other brands. There arent that many great Apps outside the premium Apps that everyone uses, but it has plenty of those with a few additions like WSJ Live, Vimeo, Vudu HD movies, SnagFilms, Bigflix VOD, and Daily Motion (videos). Most of the Apps have a price ($4.99) and some are even after a monthly fee (.99 a month). Though some of the Apps are free to download, there is more than likely some later fee associated.

I can somewhat understand why Panasonic loads even the lower end of its lineup with its Viera Connect options. Many of the paid Apps are rather pricey costing $5.99 or so and many even have the gall to request a monthly fee of .99 cents.

For a full run down on our review of Panasonic's Viera Connect click here.

Sound Quality Disappointing

While we were initially excited about Panasonic's commitment to improving speaker quality through the new 3D Real Surround system, we were disappointed by the actual results. Last years speaks were better before the change. In fact, we though Panasonic had some of the best sound quality until this change. When we reviewed the 3D surround system at CES it seemed to do a great job of “lifting” the sound to the center of the screen. Unfortunately, it did not transfer to the test room as sound was hollow and tunnel-esque while there was pleny of volume. So it wasnt all bad.

Appearance and Design

While sound quality was disappointing, design was better than expected. The UT50 has a solid feel and construction. It also has a slimmer black bezel than last year at around an inch wide with an acrylic see -through edge. Depth is not as bad as we thought it would be either at 2.6”. It's not a sleek sexy design but it's pretty good, the only drawback being a fairly cheap looking stand.

Menu and Remote Function

Panasonic's menu system is fairly easy to use. There are few flaws such as having to hit the return button a lot during calibration rather than giving the user the option to just scroll down to the next setting (during 2pt. White balance adjustment for instance). It's fairly simple for the most part. The remote is also adequate with a special button for 3D at the top and also a dedicated Inernet button.

The blue overlay menu flows down the left half of the screen and is very fast to use. It's a practical, well laid out design. Some controls are hidden (probably with the intent to protect the average consumer from changing them). Unfortunately one of those controls is the Motion Smoother feature which you will want to change to the Off position due to the soap opera effect it produces by eliminating natural depth and background blur.

To turn off click the menu button/picture/scroll down to Advanced Settings/click on/scroll down to Smooth Motion/turn off. The remote is also adequate with a special button for 3D at the top and also a dedicated Inernet button.

Value Rating: 9.6/10

Value is what the UT50 series is all about. With the right picture settings and calibration, you'll get a great picture with great features. Dont forget that 3D glasses are not included so add that to the tab. Panasonic's are relatively expensive but universal active 3D glasses should work. Retailers sell the 55UT50 for around $1200. It's interesting that the other plasma manufacturers do not sell a 55” plasma. So it's hard to imaging LED TVs even in this ball park. Indeed they are not. The LG 55LM6200 sells for about $300 to $400 more and that's the 5th tier model! Another competitor might be the Samsung UN55ES6100 which is also about $300 dearer.

Overall Rating: 9/10