Panasonic's 42" model of it's UT50B can be had for under £600 and certainly represents a lot of 'bang for your buck'. It's packed with features and although is a little light on the connections front still presents a good value mid range TV for a measly price. Plasma although is seen as a redundant technology has far many advantages over modern lcd (and led) TVs.
This is the big one as the main advantage of Plasma over LCD (and LED which uses the same technology) is the quality of the image. The first thing that can be said of the UT50B is the colours are phenomenal. Rich and deep blacks and a wide range of colours that you don't get from LCD and LED TVs. Watching this TV in the dark is just a beauty to behold especially when watching fast paced action.
Watching the TV in the daytime is another matter. That's where one of the UT50B's flaws is plainly evident. Plasmas are made of glass in order to contain the gasses inside the unit. The surface of the UT50B is extremely reflective and if your room is VERY bright (and you can't invest in curtains or blinds) then the UT50B isn't for you. However personally I don't see this as an issue as I simply draw the blinds and the issue is resolved. I'd much rather have blinds or a curtain fitted and enjoy the superior quality of this set than invest in pricy and flawed LED/LCD Tvs. Pansonic's more expensive Plasma models come with a film over the glass to reduce glare but this has caused a lot of problems with image uniformity.
Next on to the quality of fast paced images on the TV. To put it lightly the refresh rate on this set is simply phenomenal. The standard out of the box refresh rate is 600hz which is well beyond the measly 100hz (or even 50hz in a lot of cases) that LED/LCD TVs have. But what distinguishes the Panasonic from other Plasmas is its ability to step up the refresh rate up to 2000hz with something Panasonic calls 'Focus Field Drive'. Panasonic doesn't go into much detail how the technology works but what is assured is there is no motion blur and images remain crisp and sharp. Playing Xbox on the TV immediately demonstrates its quality and there is no ghosting that plagues LCD/LED technology.
The first thing that is apparent from the back of the unit is its lack of connectivity options. Only 2 HDMI ports and a lack of VGA connectivity. However 2 USB ports and the option to upgrade to WiFi make up for its shortcomings if only slightly.
The UT50B is a full HD 3D TV meaning that 3D images can be viewed in 1080p in both eyes. Whilst we haven't tested this feature as glasses aren't included with the set Panasonic are offering a promotion for 2 free pairs of glasses for every Plasma bought this year so an update will follow. The UT50B also includes 3D upscaling that means you can watch standard 2D broadcasts (and games) in full 3D which is a nice feature.
'Smart Viera' is the strapline that Panasonic uses to describe its range of intenet TVs. But what makes it so smart? Internet connectivity seems a bit of a gimmick at the moment and although it gives you access to apps such as BBC iPlayer and Facebook it's more of a gimmick than anything else. However with the optional Wireless USB dongle the UT50B can be turned into a fully equiped DLNA media outlet. This means that you can stream direct from your phone/laptop/other DLNA equipped device and enjoy in full screen.
There is no doubt that the UT50B provides the best picture in this price range and beats many sets far in excess of £1000. It does have its shortcomings such as its lack of HDMI ports and highly reflective screen. But if you don't mind drawing the curtains this is the set for you. Especially if you're a gamer as the lack of input lag and motion blur set it on to a winner.
Our rating 4/5
UPDATE 25/11/12: Since writing this review we've had a slight issue with a buzzing noise being emitted from the TV. We've contacted Panasonic's Support Team who are looking into the issue.