You might think that a good TV has to boast a resolution of 1080p. After all, adverts and tech journalists have been telling you for ages that you must have a 'Full HD' television if you don't want people to laugh at you.
The truth is that 1080p is brilliant, but far from essential. If you're looking to save money but still want an impressively large TV, why not consider a 720p panel, but go for a slightly larger screen size? Panasonic thinks people might choose to go down this route, so its 50-inch Viera TX-P50X10B plasma TV, at a price of around £900, is designed for bargain hunters who want to fill their room with television.
Despite its low cost, the TX-P50X10B is actually a very stylish-looking TV. In fact, when we got it out of the box, we thought it was a more expensive model. There is nothing about it that screams 'budget', and anyone putting one in their house is likely to be able to fool visitors into thinking it's a much more expensive TV.
There are clues to this TV's budget heritage though. For a start, the stickers that festoon the TV when you unpack it keep quiet on the display resolution. After some digging, we managed to find out that this screen has a 1,366x768-pixel resolution. You'll also notice that, at the rear, there is only a single pair of HDMI sockets, with a third on the side of the TV. Fewer HDMI inputs are a sure sign that some cost-cutting has taken place.
In terms of other connectivity, you get a pair of Scart inputs, component video in and RCA audio jacks for stereo input and output. There's no digital audio output -- another indication of cost-saving. On the side, you'll find VGA -- a more sensible position for this socket, frankly -- and analogue S-Video and composite inputs. There's also an SD card reader here, for viewing photos on your TV.
We were pleased to see that the front of the TV features a proper off switch. Apart from that, there isn't much to break up the design. The speakers are located underneath the TV, so fire downwards. That's good from a design perspective, but we usually have our doubts about the performance of such speakers.
The Panasonic remote hasn't changed significantly since the last time we reviewed one of the company's TVs. We have no complaints about the remote's style, though -- it's comfortable to hold and the buttons are laid out logically.
The TX-P50X10B is light on amazing special features. It's a good, solid TV though, and we were especially taken with the simple-to-use menu system.
Plenty of thought has been put into the process of setting up the TV for first use. As soon as you plug the TV in, you're presented with the tuning screen, which hunts around for all the analogue and digital TV channels. After you've tuned everything in -- a process that takes about 5 minutes -- the TV will ask if it's in a shop or a home. The purpose of this is to set the TV to the appropriate brightness and contrast level. We always welcome settings like this, because there's nothing worse than a TV that comes set up for a bright shop environment.
Panasonic keeps its menu systems wonderfully simple. There aren't thousands of individual settings to tweak for each picture element. Some might think that's slightly limiting, but bear in mind that this is an entry-level TV, aimed at people who want to simplicity.
The TX-P50X10B also has some good Viera Link functionality, including the option to 'pause live TV', which can trigger recording on a Panasonic DVD recorder. That's handy if you've got all-Panasonic kit. Luckily, Viera Link can also talk to non-Panasonic equipment. For example, our Onkyo AV receiver was happy to accept orders from the TV. When we pressed the volume up/down key on the TV remote, the amp adjusted its volume (the TV mutes itself automatically when it detects an external amp).
There is also a single, convenient button to switch off any linking, or, in the case of an AV receiver, switch back to using the TV's speakers.
Let's start with sound quality. As we mentioned earlier, the TX-P50X10B has downwards-firing speakers. There wasn't any noticeable problem with the audio quality as a result of this. Dialogue from a selection of TV channels and material was decent enough. We weren't crazy about the overall sound quality though. In particular, music sounded weak, and we'd avoid watching action movies on this TV like the plague. We also noticed that, on HD movies with Dolby TrueHD, the TV lacked the power to deliver audio loudly enough. Such movies also sounded spongy.
That said, built-in speakers are rarely any good and we always advise that people invest in an external sound system. Trust us: if you're a film fan, you'll get much more out of the movie experience with good sound.
Freeview picture quality was good -- plenty of detail was recovered from the picture, and colours seemed fairly accurate. The TV also managed to do a good job of reducing the appearance of macro blocking and mosquito noise -- a side effect of over-compressed MPEG-2. In short, if you watch plenty of Freeview, this TV won't disappoint.
Looking at our HD DVD of Serenity, we were once again impressed. At the start of the movie, when the Universal logo and the spaceships appear, we noted excellent blacks. Close inspection of the halos around the sun did indicate that there was some solarising on bright objects. This is a plasma trait that's pretty much disappeared on more expensive TVs, but, on this budget model, the results are visible. It's not anything to worry about, however, and, at normal viewing distances, you won't notice it.
There were times when we noticed that the Panasonic Viera TX-P50X10B's picture looked less detailed than 1080p sets we've tested. That said, most people simply won't be able to tell. Panasonic has produced a sturdy, well-priced TV that offers plenty of value for money and looks the part too. If you can afford it, go for a 1080p television, but, if you're on a budget, the TX-P50X10B will suit you perfectly.
Edited by Charles Kloet