The Panasonic P50ST50 gets off to a fine start by managing to be both slimmer and more glamorous than you'd usually expect a Panasonic plasma TV to be. It's decently well connected too, including all the options you need to put the TV at the heart of a modern multimedia home.
You can play most sorts of multimedia files from USB flash drives or SD cards, stream in from a DLNA PC, or delve into either Panasonic's ring-fenced Viera Connect online service or other pages of the world wide web via a built-in browser.
What really makes the Panasonic P50ST50 special, though, is its picture quality, since Panasonic's latest plasma panel design produces contrast and clarity to die for. The set works best in relatively dark rooms, but aside from this it's an unmitigated success.
With a pretty aggressive price point by plasma TV standards, it's remarkable how much picture quality Panasonic has been able to eke out of the Panasonic P50ST50. As a serious 50-inch movie machine it's pretty much unbeatable for its money, but it's also no slouch with normal TV fare. Its multimedia facilities are good too, while its online service is blossoming into one of the most well-rounded and well-focused systems around.
The set's pictures lose a bit of punch if they have a lot of ambient light to contend with, and it's time for Panasonic to have a rethink about the remote control it ships with its smart TVs. A few more video services on Viera Connect wouldn't go amiss either - especially LoveFilm. Other than that, all we can think of is some very low-level dotting noise over skin tones from time to time.
LCD TVs might be getting better and better every year, but the Panasonic P50ST50 shows that plasma isn't resting on its laurels either. In fact, if you're remotely into movies, its wonderfully contrast-rich, finely detailed and gorgeously nuanced pictures are simply unbeatable at the £1,200/$1,400 price level.
This will be reason enough in itself for many people to buy a Panasonic P50ST50, but if you add to the equation its fine multimedia tools and increasingly comprehensive online services, it starts to look nigh on irresistible.
If you can cope with a 4-inch drop in size, the Sony 46HX853 offers the best picture quality the LCD TV world has to offer right now. Stand out talents include stellar black levels (though still not quite as good as those of the Panasonic P50ST50) alongside excellent brightness (better than that of the Panasonic P50ST50) and colour handling. With an aggressive price tag to boot, this set could prove to be a turning point in Sony's TV fortunes.
If you like to combine good picture quality with incredible space-saving designs, meanwhile, LG, Panasonic and Samsung all have sets to tempt you. The Panasonic L47DT50 looks gorgeous and performs well without hitting quite the same punchy heights as the best of its rivals.
Samsung has the 46ES8000 for you to think about, with its brilliantly aggressive pictures, stunning design and groundbreaking control and online features to tempt you. It's considerably more expensive, though, despite being four inches smaller.
As for LG, the closest model in terms of price and range position is the 47LM670T. This again features a dazzling 'no bezel' design, very bright and colourful images, and a huge array of online content, but it lacks the contrast and motion clarity of the Panasonic P50ST50.