- Very good picture quality
- Good value
- Surprisingly good sound
- You have to work around backlight clouding
- Minor motion flaws
- No 3D or 4K, if that bothers you
Key Features: 50-inch LCD TV with edge LED lighting; Full HD native resolution; My Home Screen smart system; Multimedia playback via DLNA and USB; Affordable price for such a big TV
What is the Panasonic TX-50CS520?
The 50CS520 is a bit of a shock to the system. In a year where pretty much every TV we’ve tested so far has been 4K UHD this and HDR that, and with price tags to make your eyes water, what Panasonic has given us here is a seriously affordable full HD TV. And while it may lack the headline-grabbing innovations and glamour of this year’s flagship TVs, the 50CS520 is in reality exactly the sort of TV that will likely still find its way into many UK living rooms. So let’s hope it still delivers plenty of quality despite the pressure now being applied on the HD market by the arrival of 4K.
Design and Features
The 50CS520 is fairly attractive in a no-nonsense kind of way. Its frame is impressively slim, and the combination of a shiny sliver bottom edge and dark grey for the other sides is appealing. The barely-there stand is easy to put together and subtly enhances the design if you’re not wall-hanging the TV.
The set’s build quality is nothing to write home about – plastic dominates over metal or glass – but it doesn’t look cheap from a viewing distance.
The 50CS520’s connectivity shows more obvious signs of cost cutting, though, as there are only two HDMIs and one USB port when in previous years we’d have expected an extra one of each from a non-budget HD TV. To be fair, though, the CS520s aren’t the top HD series in Panasonic’s new range, and the step-up CS620 models do carry one extra HDMI and USB port if you need them.
The 50CS520’s 50-inch screen is illuminated by edge-mounted LEDs, and while there’s no form of local dimming control (which is perfectly understandable on a £520/$780 50-inch TV) there is a pretty effective adaptive contrast engine that subtly adjusts the general backlight output in response to the image content you’re watching.
The set is capable of emulating a 200Hz motion response too, and employs one of Panasonic’s new Bright Panel Plus screens to deliver a supposed dynamism boost over the equivalent screens from last year.
When it comes to smart features, the 50CS520 is a mixture of good and bad. On the downside it doesn’t get Panasonic’s new Mozilla Firefox OS; that’s saved for TVs notably higher up Panasonic’s range. Instead it gets the same my Home Screen smart system sported by last year’s Panasonic TVs. It has to be said my Home Screen is now looking seriously dated following the advent of Samsung’s Tizen, LG’s webOS and, to a lesser extent, Sony’s Android smart systems.
However, while it may look (and sound, once the ‘robot lady’ voice kicks in!) old-fashioned, ‘my Home Screen’ remains one of the most friendly and, crucially, customisable smart interfaces seen to date. You can even set up different, easy to access home screens for different family members in a hassle-free way – a trick no other smart TV platform has been able to deliver as convincingly.
The 50CS520 also carries the Freetime platform, giving you access to catch up TV services for all the key UK broadcast channels and Freetime’s excellent back- as well as forward-scrolling electronic programme guide for easier discovery of on-demand content. The addition of Freetime (accessed via the Guide button) is particularly welcome in the 50CS520’s case since Panasonic’s my Home Screen platform doesn’t offer catch-up apps for ITV, Channel 4 or Channel 5.
Wrapping up the discussion of the 50CS520’s features is actually something it doesn’t have: 3D. If you want 3D you’ll need to step up to the CS620 series.
Panasonic can usually be relied on to deliver plenty of set up flexibility with its TVs, and the 50CS520 doesn’t disappoint. As well as a solid series of presets, there’s a custom mode from where you can adjust just about anything.
Highlight customisation options include a colour management menu (though rather annoyingly this covers most of the screen while you’re using it, making it hard to see pictures behind); white balance fine tuning; the ability to tweak both the gamma and black expansion elements of the dynamic contrast system; and the inevitable suite of adjustments for the TV’s MPEG and standard noise reduction elements.
There’s a vivid colour setting that AV purists will likely turn off while most other people will likely prefer on, and there’s a 1080p Pixel Direct mode for purer playback of Blu-rays. Helpfully the menus adjust themselves depending on what sort of source content you’re watching when you hit the menu button on the remote.
The most important changes we’d suggest you make are to ramp the backlight way down to below its 20% setting when watching films in dark rooms (for reasons we’ll get into in the picture quality section of the review), the contrast should never be set higher than around its 85% level to keep a lid on picture noise and turn off the NR circuits while watching any decent quality HD material.
In most ways the 50CS520’s pictures are excellent for such an affordable TV, exhibiting the sort of detail, colour richness and contrast that would once have been associated only with pretty high-end HD TVs.
The noise-free precision of the 50CS520’s rendering of HD content really is especially stand out. We say this, too, despite coming to the 50CS520 on the back of a long stream of 4K UHD screens. Every last detail in an HD source is lovingly reproduced, with not so much as a hint of such potential noise issues as edge enhancement, over-enthusiastic grain, moire shimmering noise or over-stressed bright highlights.
Contributing greatly to the exceptional sense of clarity and detail n the 50CS520’s full HD pictures is extremely impressive colour handling for such an affordable 50-inch TV. Panasonic’s screen manages to delineate a range and subtlety of colour tone that far exceeds what you might realistically have expected for its money. So deft is the colour and detail handling, in fact, that the 50CS520 delivers a sense of depth and space with certain shots that leaves pictures looking almost three dimensional – a trick usually reserved for 4K UHD TVs.
The fact that the 50CS520’s pictures are able to contain such punchy and subtle colours even after you’ve ramped the backlight setting down heavily – as suggested in the Setup section – for dark-room viewing is a testament to perhaps our favourite thing about the 50CS520’s pictures: their black levels.
Black level response was a thorn in the side of Panasonic’s 2014 TV range, but now that Panasonic has decided to ditch low-contrast IPS panel designs from its 2015 UK TV range, even the relatively humble 50CS520 produces black colours that enjoy a depth, richness and – with the backlight set below 20 – relative freedom from greyness that would normally only be found on a much more expensive TV.
What’s especially great about this is that pictures still manage to look engagingly intense even after you’ve taken the backlight to below its 20 level – a fact which also helps the 50CS520 retain decent colour accuracy even with very dark tones.
While the 50CS520 is capable of hitting really quite inky blacks, though, it does suffer slightly with backlight clouding in its corners. It’s the need to counter this issue that requires the backlight to be set below 20 for dark-room viewing.
It is, of course, a shame that the backlight has to be reduced so far because of the clouding problem, as it leaves you with images that may not be bright enough for some people’s tastes (though we suspect serious film fans in dark rooms will have no problem with the brightness given the qualities of just about every other aspect of the 50CS520’s pictures). It also means that small amounts of shadow detail can get crushed out of dark areas.
Another issue with the 50CS520’s pictures is some evidence of judder and resolution loss when showing moving objects. However, with the contrast set up sensibly the resolution loss doesn’t tip over into serious amounts of blurring, and there’s actually something quite attractive about the straightforward, natural look of the 50CS520’s relatively processing-light images.
Our last niggle is that the set’s generally excellent colours look noticeably less natural and balanced while watching standard definition content – or if you’re running the TV brightly to combat a light room environment. Though you can improve this situation by making sure the Vivid Colour feature is turned off.
It really isn’t fair to the 50CS520 to finish this section of the review on a negative, though. For while inevitably Panasonic’s HD set isn’t perfect, there are clear signs that Panasonic has lavished some real love on it. In other words, it is by no means just some throw-away product Panasonic has slapped together while it focusses on the exploding 4K market.
The 50CS520 sounds far better than we would have expected considering its skinny frame and plasticky build.
It’s capable of going pretty loud and delivering a large, detailed soundstage without the speakers succumbing to phutting noise or starting to suffer with mid-range compression. Voices sound clear at all times while also enjoying nicely rounded tones and always appearing accurately positioned in the image. There’s even a pretty expansive dynamic range that combines plenty of harshness-free treble detail at one end with a satisfying amount of rumble at the other.
Other things to consider
Good quality but affordable big-screen TVs like the 50CS520 clearly have potentially massive appeal as gaming monitors. Happily the 50CS520 underlines its gaming potential admirably by suffering only around 30ms of input lag – so long as you keep most of its image processing circuitry switched off.
The only other couple of points worth covering here are the inclusion on the 50CS520’s remote control of a direct access Netflix button, and the fact that while clean and friendly, the my Home Screen interface – and some of the Freetime functionality – can sometimes be a little sluggish to load and navigate.
Should I buy a Panasonic TX-50CS520?
In what’s going to become a phrase common to all of our HD TV reviews this year, you need to ask yourself how bothered you are by the impending 4K UHD revolution. Because if you do think you are now or might soon be excited by it, then there perhaps isn’t much point buying an HD TV now unless you can’t afford anything else or you’re thinking you could upgrade again in a year or two’s time.
Taken on its own merits, though, the 50CS520 is a very accomplished HD TV indeed that’s a massive leap forward in picture quality from the majority of Panasonic’s affordable TVs of last year.
With so many outstanding 4K and even HDR TVs coming our way already this year, we couldn’t help but fear that the first of 2015’s HD TVs would just end up feeling dull and outdated. Fortunately the 50CS520 is good enough to escape that fate comfortably, combining great colour, contrast and sharpness to deliver genuine HD thrills at a price that would have been unthinkable in the pre-4K age.
Scores In Detail
- Design : 8/10
- Image Quality : 8/10
- Smart TV : 8/10
- Sound Quality : 8/10
- Value : 9/10