Those with champagne tastes but only a beer budget should take a serious look at the Panasonic TC-P50XT50. Picture quality is exemplary for the price, and that includes extras such as Internet streaming and active-shutter 3D. The 720p resolution might be a deal-killer for some, but it shouldn't be for many. At present, a 50-inch screen is the only size available.
Does resolution matter? Of course it does, and this 720p set is competing in a marketplace where the de facto standard has become 1080p. In addition, ultra-resolution sets -- at ultra-high prices -- are on their way. However, 720p is still high-def, and what some broadcasters use. Many experts point out that at typical seating distances, the resolution difference -- the amount of detail you can actually see -- between a 720p set and a 1080p set can be invisible to the human eye.
With that rather big caveat out of the way, what you can see on the screen of the TC-P50XT50 is very, very good. Black levels are subjectively deep and color accuracy is objectively near perfect. A narrow contrast ratio means whites don't get particularly bright. That could be an issue in a well-lit space where the picture may appear dim, but you don't want to use this set in that kind of setting anyway because the screen is very reflective. Like many plasmas, the viewing angle is wide and screen uniformity is a nonissue. Power consumption is low for a plasma, and this set is Energy Star qualified.
Feature-packed, but lots of qualifiers. Unlike many value offerings, the Panasonic TC-P50XT50 doesn't scrimp on the headline features of Internet streaming and 3D. However, the company does pinch a few pennies when implementing them, so they're a little less useful than they might have been.
Rather than load in the full Viera Connect platform, Panasonic limits that to streaming movie and video apps from just a handful of providers including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant, Vudu and CinemaNow. The set includes DLNA compatibility for streaming content from a personal computer, but if there's no convenient hardwired Ethernet connection nearby, you'll need to spend extra for a wireless adapter because Wi-Fi isn't built in.
On the 3D front, the TC-P50XT50 delivers using active-shutter technology. The effect is generally convincing but suffers from ghosting, a common complaint that bothers some viewers more than others. If you want to see 3D, however, you'll need to budget extra for every pair of glasses you purchase. Panasonic doesn't include any in the box and its glasses will set you back $50 per pair, but you can use glasses from other makers, some of which cost as little as $20 each.
Pedestrian, but not unpleasant. The TC-P50XT50 looks exactly like what it is, a TV with the standard black plastic bezel and black pedestal stand. Connectivity is limited, with just two HDMI inputs and a shared component/composite analog one. One nice extra is an input for an SD memory card for playing back movies and music, and displaying photos. There are also two USB inputs, although one will be lost to a Wi-Fi adapter if you need to add that accessory. The remote doesn't break new ground, but is easy to use.
A lot of TV for not a lot of money. Yes, it has a few warts, but the TC-P50XT50 has a lot going for it, as well -- including one of the best images you can get for anywhere near its price.
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Review credibility: Excellent
TelevisionInfo.com says the 50-inch Panasonic TC-P50XT50 looks like a good deal on paper, and calls it a good deal, period, after testing is complete. Performance is "surprisingly powerful," and both of the "must have" features of 3D and Internet streaming are on board, although perhaps not perfectly executed.
Review: Panasonic Viera TC-P50XT50, Lee Neikirk, Sept. 18, 2012
Review credibility: Excellent
ConsumerReports.org subjects the 50-inch TC-P50XT50 to its usual battery of tests. Discussion is far shorter than what's typically seen at technology reviewers, but there's enough to explain where the set succeeds and fails. The site's opinions are available only to subscribers.
Review: Panasonic Viera TC-P50XT50, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, Not dated