Panasonic's hit rate with plasma is the envy of just about every manufacturer other than Pioneer. And now, with the latter's recent announcement that it is dropping flatscreens, the path to pre-eminence in this field is suddenly wide open. The TX-P50X10B is Panasonic's latest entry-level enormo screen.
It might take you back, as it did us, to discover that a set of this size is merely HD Ready, rather than full HD. Fifty inches just seems too big for anything less than 1080p these days, particularly with Blu-ray gaining ground on DVD, satellite broadcasts in the ascendancy and hi-def terrestrial broadcasting waiting in the wings.
Without 1080p you are left wondering at whom, exactly, this set is aimed. Video enthusiasts, after all, won't be interested in a screen that won't do Blu-ray full justice, while anyone on a budget is still likely to balk at spending a grand on a telly.
The no-frills motif continues throughout the rest of the spec sheet with three HDMIs where four might have been anticipated. There's no digital output of any sort to route the Freeview audio through an external amp and no evidence of any variant of the manufacturers awesomely powerful V-real picture processing system. This results in a set that might have passed for pretty loaded a few years ago, but now seems positively primitive.
Panasonic had user-friendliness nailed a long time ago and using this set is the usual doddle. The remote, while not as attractive as those issued with the company's flashier sets, is logically laid out and clearly labelled and the graphical user system is attractive and intuitive. The lack of fancy image processing electronics means that, beyond the usual parameters, there isn't much to get to grips with, and there's nothing in there for even the most technophobic to fear.
The words 'Panasonic' and 'plasma', when applied to a television are usually followed by others like 'superb' and a generous sprinkling of stars. So it's a surprise and a shame to report that the P50X10B is a bit of a let-down.
HD Ready only
The main, most glaringly conspicuous point loser is HD Ready 1,366 x 768-pixel resolution. Perhaps we've been spoiled by exposure to too many 1080p sets, but mere HD-readiness just doesn't seem to cut it any more on panels of this magnitude.
Freeview, as is so often the case, looks hideously grubby, but it's during DVD performance that the cracks really start to appear. Fine detail is poor and the background of shots dissolves into indistinct fuzz far too early for our liking. Motion is also slightly stuttery and camera pans cause anything straight or hard-edged in the frame to wobble and drag.
High definition, meanwhile, is just an exercise in frustration: you know the detail is there, but the set isn't capable of displaying it all, and you wind up with something that is a bit better than standard definition, but not sufficiently so to inspire an overwhelming urge to spend £1,000.
Colours, generally speaking, are very good and fans of plasma's more muted, and arguably more natural tendencies, compared to LCD, will enjoy the TX-P50X10B's palette. Blacks are also rewardingly deep and you can watch this set in near or total blackout conditions without losing any depth.
The overall experience isn't bad, per se, it just doesn't stand up that well against other (admittedly mostly more expensive) televisions in the supersize bracket.
Audio, given the set's video shortcomings, is really neither here nor there. If you're satisfied with the set's video performance, you're probably going to settle for the rather underwhelming sonic capabilities on offer. Which isn't to say it's bad, but rather that it's about what you'd expect from a stripped-down flatscreen at the affordable end of a company's oeuvre.
Not enough pixels
A grand really isn't much for such a vast television, but we're still not entirely convinced the TX-P50X10B is an astute investment. The main, overarching problem with it is its meagre resolution.
The firmer a hold Blu-ray and HD broadcasts get on the popular imagination, the less point there will be in sets that are simply large as an end in itself. Or, to put it another way, there's no point having all that screen area upon which to view high-definition when it's only able to display a fraction of the picture data being fed into it.
Sure, hi-def does look good when viewed from a distance, but what, then, is the point in having a massive set in the first place? You might just as well buy a higher-spec, smaller set and sit closer to it.