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Panasonic Viera U50

*Est. $700 to $1,000
Reviewed
October 2012
by ConsumerSearch
Panasonic Viera U50

Pros
  • Excellent blacks
  • Good color
  • Attractive pricing
Cons
  • Bright lighting harms picture quality
  • Few features
  • Very few connections

Bottom Line

For those who want the best picture for the least amount of money, the Panasonic Viera U50 goes to the top of the list. Like most classic plasma TVs, it's not the best choice for well-lit rooms, and you won't get many extra features. But in the right setting, what you see on the screen is hard to beat at any price. Two screen sizes are currently available: the 50-inch TC-P50U50 (*Est. $700) and the 60-inch TC-P60U50 (*Est. $1,000).

Performance

It's a good looker. Most reviewers are floored by just how good a picture the Panasonic U50 can produce at this price. TelevisionInfo.com says its black levels even outstrip those in higher-end Panasonic sets like the TC-P50ST50 (*Est. $1,100 to $2,300). Other experts are more reserved, but say if blacks aren't better, they're as good or nearly so.

Brightness is more reined in than with the best plasma sets, but not tremendously so, especially for dark room viewing. That's exactly where you'll want to watch the U50 because it generally fares poorly under bright lights, which produce lots of glare and washed-out blacks. That's not unusual for plasma TVs, especially budget options like this one. However, Panasonic's higher-end plasmas -- like those in the ST50, GT50 and VT50 series -- feature an Infinite Black filter that makes them look so good, even in well-lit rooms, that they outperform many LED sets in that setting.

Color is more of a mixed bag. On the test bench, several reviewers say color accuracy is technically a little imperfect, but things look very good when viewing actual program material. Screen uniformity and off-angle viewing are both excellent. Power consumption is relatively high, especially compared to an LED TV, and only the 50-inch TC-P50U50 is Energy Star qualified. Sound quality is fine for everyday viewing, but you'll need to add an external home theater system to get a fully satisfying experience from concerts or blockbuster films.

Features

Few features are the trade-off for low price. The U50 is aimed directly at TV buyers who are more interested in solid picture quality and a low price rather than the latest features. You won't find 3D or any sort of streaming, but you can enjoy your own video, music and pictures stored on a USB device or SD memory card.

Design

No frills, few connections. In keeping with its place in the plasma TV pecking order, the U50's design is straightforward and basic black. As CNET says, "nothing to see here." Likewise, the clicker is basic and functional, but not backlit. The set's biggest negative is its very sparse connectivity options -- just two HDMI inputs and a shared composite/component analog video output. That's fine for a basic setup, but could be a problem if you intend to feed a lot of gear to the set without benefit of another device like a home-theater receiver to take on the role of a video switcher.

Value

A great picture for the price -- or any price. Especially under dim lighting conditions, the picture quality of the U50 stands up well, falling short of flagship models by only a small margin and outperforming the best of previous years by many accounts. You do give up some extras such as 3D and streaming, but many owners find that's a trade-off worth making considering the price tag.

Budget-conscious buyers might also be tempted by Panasonic's TC-P50XT50 (*Est. $720), a plasma set that offers 3D and limited Internet streaming for roughly the same price. However, you'll have to settle for a drop in resolution from 1080p to 720p.

image
Panasonic VIERA TC-P50XT50 50-Inch 720p 600Hz HD 3D Plasma TV
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Our Sources

1. CNET

Review credibility: Excellent
Although the Panasonic TC-P50U50 doesn't stand up to bright lighting and features are minimal, CNET is very impressed with its overall picture quality in this extensive, testing-based review. It's called a "superb entry-level plasma TV value."

Review: Panasonic TC-P50U50 Review, David Katzmaier, Aug. 24, 2012

2. TelevisionInfo.com

Review credibility: Excellent
The meticulous testers at TelevisionInfo.com put the 50-inch TC-P50U50 under the microscope and are pleased by what they see. Neikirk says, "If you're in the market for a 'classic plasma' -- 50-inch screen, dim whites, deep blacks -- the P50U50…might be your best choice in 2012."

Review: Panasonic TC-P50U50, Lee Neikirk, May 25, 2012

3. ConsumerReports.org

Review credibility: Excellent
Write-ups here aren't as extensive as those at some other top review sites, but evaluations are testing-based, and sets are rated and ranked. Rankings, however, might be more useful if plasma TVs and LCD/LED sets weren't grouped together. The Panasonic TC-P50U50 is among the many sets reviewed, but only subscribers can see the conclusions.

Review: Panasonic Viera TC-P50U50, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, Not dated

4. PlasmaTV Buying Guide.com

Review credibility: Very Good
Although reports here aren't as polished as what we see from other reviewers, conclusions are based on testing. PlasmaTVBuyingGuide.com isn't as impressed with this set's picture quality as some, but says things can look quite good after calibration and presents some settings for that. Burden adds, "the TC-P50U50 gets things right from a budget perspective."

Review: Panasonic TC-P50U50 Review, Jack Burden, Not dated

5. BestBuy.com

Review credibility: Very Good About 90 satisfied owners weigh in with their impressions of the 50-inch Panasonic TC-P50U50 at BestBuy.com. They give the set 4.5 stars out of 5, and more than 95 percent say they'd recommend the TV to a friend.

Review: Panasonic - 50" Class / Plasma / 1080p / 600Hz / HDTV, Contributors to BestBuy.com, As of October 2012

6. Amazon.com

Review credibility: Very Good
Less than half as many users report in at Amazon.com compared to BestBuy.com, but the pattern of satisfaction is similar. The set earns a rating of 4.2 stars out of 5 here, based on reviews of both the 50- and 60-inch screen sizes.

Review: Panasonic Viera TC-P50U50 50-Inch 1080p Full HD Plasma TV, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of October 2012

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