The ST30 line of TVs slots in beneath the mid-range GT30 models among Panasonic's Viera 3D plasma screen offering.
The main difference between this one and the GT30 is that it makes do with just a Freeview HD tuner rather than also including a Freesat HD one. While it has Internet TV features, it lacks media streaming capabilities from a PC or home network.
User interface and EPG
If there's one area where Panasonic needs to do some work, it's on the user interface elements of its TVs. When you're paying the best part of a grand for a big screen telly you expect it to have modern-looking menus. But the ones on all of Panasonic's current line-up of plasmas, including this model, look like they've been time warped from the 1990s. Next to the slick menus on the likes of Samsung's PS51D8000, they're dreadfully dated.
The menus simply lack the dynamic graphics and colourful icons that we've grown accustomed to on other manufacturers' sets. They're very flat and lifeless and are mostly made up of small graphical icons shown next to white text on a blue background. Nevertheless, it's easy to find your way around.
This model doesn't have the THX certification or ISF calibration tools found on the GT30 and VT30 models. Instead you're left with the usual straightforward controls for stuff like contrast, brightness, colour and sharpness, as well as colour temperature and noise reduction. In the advanced menu you'll find a number of extra controls to allow you to tweak how Panasonic's Intelligent Frame Creation motion processing technology affects the picture.
Unfortunately the dated look of the menu system also extends to the electronic programme guide (EPG). What's worse is that Panasonic is still using the dreaded Guide Plus+ system. The main problem with this is that it reserves screen space on the left-hand side of the display for web-style adverts.
This, in turn, reduces the amount of space available for showing programming data in the EPG. But although the EPG may not look all that attractive, it does show a decent amount of programming data in one go. It's fairly quick to move around using the direction pad on the remote. You can also skip through pages of channels by using the channel up and down buttons.
Digital media and Internet features
This model is a bit weird because although it has an Ethernet port built in, you can't use it to stream digital media across a network from a PC or NAS drive. This is doubly odd, because the set can playback digital media files via both its two USB ports.
File format support is quite good as it'll play a range of video formats including Xvid, DviX and MKV files in both standard and high-definition.
There's an SD card slot, which is primarily designed to let you play 2D and 3D videos or stills captured using Panasonic digital cameras and camcorders.
While the GT30 and VT30 models can record programmes from their Freeview HD tuners directly to drives or memory keys plugged into their USB ports, this feature has been removed from this set. If you've already got a personal video recorder, such as a Sky HD box, this isn't much of a loss.
The TX-P46ST30B may not support media streaming, but thankfully it does include Panasonic's Viera Connect Internet TV platform. This has recently been updated and includes a newer version of the BBC's iPlayer, with a slicker looking interface, a favourites section and better search features. However, the Seek function needs a bit of work as it's difficult to position it at a particular point in a programme.
Panasonic has also added the Aupeo online radio service as well as WealthTV in HD and 3D, just so you can check out how the other half lives in these austere times. These new services join the likes of YouTube and Dailymotion, the Acetrax movie rental services and news and weather offerings such as BBC News, Euronews and Accuweather.
Naturally there are also apps for Facebook and Twitter. There's an app store where you can download and install news apps, services and games. The range of services isn't as comprehensive as on Samsung and LG's latest tellies, but it's still a decent selection that caters for most tastes.
Design and connections
Panasonic's TVs have never exactly been renowned for their lush designs. Unfortunately the TX-P46ST30B is no different in this regard. It actually uses the same design as the previous generation of Panasonic's TVs, rather than the updated styling found on the GT30 and VT30 models.
Unfortunately this means the TX-P46ST30B is rather frumpy in the looks department. It sports a bezel that's thicker than we're used to seeing on the latest plasmas. Panasonic has added an interesting paint effect to this; when it's viewed from a distance it looks slightly ridged, when in fact it's flat. But this doesn't lift the looks out of mediocrity. Next to Samsung's PS51D8000, it appears very staid.
On the plus side, this model does have a sterling line-up of connections. It has four HDMI ports with three of these mounted on the rear panel and one side-mounted for easier access, which is handy when connecting up games consoles or HD video cameras.
The rear panel has a single Scart socket, a set of component inputs, an optical digital audio output and the RF-in for the Freeview HD tuner. There's a USB port on the back and another one on the side panel next to the SD card slot. This model has Ethernet built-in and Wi-Fi is available as an optional USB add-on. However, priced at £82 from the Panasonic online store, it's a pricey extra.
2D picture quality
It may have a more modest price tag than Panasonic's GT30 and VT30 models, but the TX-P46ST30B still has plenty to offer in the picture processing department. It includes the company's excellent V-Real 3D processing system, along with Intelligent Frame Creation Pro and support for 24p Smooth Film. It also shares the same high contrast filter found in the GT30 models, although the VT30 does use a newer and slightly better filter.
Picture performance is top-notch across a range of sources, from standard-definition channels on Freeview to HD movies delivered by a good Blu-ray player. Standard-definition images are upscaled nicely with extra sharpness added in, without making images look overly noisy.
Black levels are very deep. They're not as class-leadingly deep as on the VT30, but they're not that far off and definitely on a par with the more expensive GT30 set. This also helps the set excel when it comes to contrast performance. It handles trickier darker scenes with considerable refinement.
A tiny amount of colour banding creeps in every now and again, where colours seem to step from one gradient to another rather than flowing seamlessly between the two. But on the whole, colours are rich and warm and the TV delivers beautifully natural hues.
3D picture quality
As this is a plasma model it relies on active 3D technology when it steps into the third dimension. Panasonic's active 3D specs are relatively expensive -- they'll set you back between £80 and £100 each. The glasses are not the lightest or most comfortable to wear, but neither are they as heavy and cumbersome as Sony's specs.
Nevertheless, this TV's 3D performance is rather good. As with Panasonic's other plasma models, there's pretty much no cross-talk visible in the 3D images (where the left and right channels are not sufficiently isolated, resulting in image ghosting); this helps 3D images feel more believable.
The sense of depth is good too. Although the glasses do have a dimming effect on the picture, this model's higher than average brightness levels -- by plasma standards -- help to keep colours looking rich and punchy. That said, for families, TVs with passive 3D technology that have cheap 3D glasses -- as used on LG's LED sets -- are probably a better option.
On a lot of today's slimline TVs, the set's sonics seem to be an afterthought. However, Panasonic has put more effort than usual into this aspect of the TV. Its chassis is thicker at the bottom to accommodate larger speakers. As a result, its audio performance is a cut above that of most of the competition.
It produces a good deal more bass, which helps to add a warmer, fatter feel to its sonics. This really helps when it comes to reproducing movie soundtracks. A strong mid-range performance also makes dialogue sound nicely balanced, while even higher frequencies are crisply rendered.
Like most of Samsung's current range of TVs, this one also has the company's V-Audio surround mode. Switching it on expands the stereo image slightly, but perhaps not to the same degree as the virtual surround settings on other manufacturers' sets.
The TX-P46ST30B may not have the most attractive design or the flashiest menu system, but it delivers the goods when it comes to picture quality with both 2D and 3D sources.
If you don't need the extra Freesat HD tuner and DLNA media streaming features of the GT30, but are looking for a set with a similar picture quality, then the TX-P46ST30B is a great option as it currently costs around £300 less.