I began my setup of the P55ST50 by choosing the Cinema preset and making tweaks to dial in picture settings as accurately as I could on basic test patterns. The result? Not great: Its picture in that mode — the most accurate of the available presets — had an overly warm, greenish look. Pulling out measurement gear to make further adjustments with the White Balance controls in the Custom preset’s Pro section (not available in Cinema or any other preset save Custom) helped remove the picture’s pea-soup cast, although the lack of any color-management system (CMS) adjustments — something you’ll find on Panasonic’s higher-end THX-certified plasmas — meant there was little I could do to correct for its somewhat inaccurate color points. Another feature found on higher-end Pannys that’s missing from the ST50 line is a 96-Hz display option for watching 24p content on Blu-ray Disc. What you do get is the choice to display 24p with either a 60-Hz or 48-Hz refresh rate, although the fairly serious level of image flicker generated by the 48-Hz setting makes it all but unusable.
Another relatively new setting on Panasonic plasmas is Motion Smoothing, which delivers the same result as the motion-interpolation features found on many LCD TVs: blur reduction with video-sourced images, and judder reduction with film-sourced ones. As with most implementations of this feature, however, it adds an overly smooth “video” effect to movies at all settings, so I’d recommend skipping it altogether.
To watch 3D on the P55ST50, you’ll need to buy the company’s optional $80 TY-ER3D4MU active shutter glasses. Unlike the bulky, uncomfortable, breakable glasses that came with some previous Panasonic 3D TVs, the new eyewear is lightweight and rests relatively comfortably on your head. It can also be recharged by plugging into one of the TV’s USB ports via an included cable, and it syncs up with 3D pictures via Bluetooth, an option that offers greater flexibility than standard IR.
The P55ST50 arrived around the same time as my Game of Thrones: Season 1 Blu-ray box, so for the next few days its screen was awash in pageantry, gore, cruelty, and other medieval goings-on. Post-adjustment, the Panasonic’s crisp detail, strong contrast, and generally good color rendition provided convincing depictions of the warm environment of King’s Landing in the southern part of Westeros, and cool Winterfell in the north. In a scene where the visiting Lannister family gathers at Winterfell for breakfast, the clan’s fair complexions, tinged pink by the crisp northern air, looked entirely natural, and a range of yellow hues could be seen in the golden hair of the family members. And in a shot from a later episode that showed the clan’s encampment with fields in the foreground and forest in the background, the red-hued tents looked properly subdued, while the surrounding grass and foliage came across as a natural-looking green.
Two scenes served to show off the set’s generally excellent contrast. The first was a dramatic shot of the wall outside Castle Black as a group of riders journeyed beyond its confines: As the scene lingered on the massive structure, a range of fine white tones could be seen in its snow-encrusted surface. The second was another scene from the same episode in which Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) asks Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) to serve as the king’s hand. As the old friends conversed in the crypt beneath Winterfell, shadows looked solid and deep, and plenty of detail was visible in their dark, fur-lined cloaks.
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