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Customer Review

1,162 of 1,230 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Great PQ, but HORRIBLE (delayed) brightness fluctuations, July 20, 2011
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This review is from: Panasonic VIERA TC-P50ST30 50-Inch 1080p 3D Plasma HDTV (2011 Model) (Electronics)
To preface this I have had 2 P50ST30s (one replacement because of the problems I will talk about below) and Amazon was awesome with the whole return and replacement. One of the best companies I have dealt with. This is a very long review as I would like you to understand what you are buying beforehand.


I was excited when I first set up my TV and took the time to age the phosphors in the TV for 150 hours by running slides (a step that can be skipped but the phosphors degrade in the first 100 hours faster than the rest of it's life). I set up the blu-ray player and after dialing in the settings it looked awesome. Then the brightness fluctuations happened.

The best way I can explain brightness fluctuations ( Fluctuating Brightness or FBr) is will be a leap in lighting. When you have a dark scene the whole picture will darken some to give more detail to a shadowed area. It is necessary to give great picture quality in any plasma. Normally what will happen is that it will gradually fade into darker or lighter, this TV does it all in one step. A drastic comparison would be a pitch black room where you turn a light on vs turning a dimmer light on gradually. What you see on the screen is picture that will switch from dark to lighter. It is most noticeable when you have 2 scenes switching back and forth (think dialogue between 2 characters where it switches between ones face to the other) and one scene is darker than the other. You can easily see this in the movie Hereafter around minute 40.

This problem is exacerbated by a delay in the video processing of the switch between darker scenes and lighter scenes. In almost all video they will have scenes cut and pasted together. When this happens the lighting usually will change for various reasons. When the scenes cut from one to another this TV will take about 0.5-1 second to process the lighting difference to adjust to give more detail to shadowed areas. Given that it does it in one leap as mentioned above, it severely distracts you from watching the movie and enjoying it.

Darker Movies will usually bring out these symptoms to it's max. When I went to watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, I came to the point where I started counting the fluctuations instead of watching the movie. I counted 56 total in one watching. My wife didn't watch HP with me but she commented on it while watching Castle a few times, then more and more on other shows.

The reviews are definitely favorable as it has a great picture quality without doubt. Most professional reviewers mention fluctuating brightness problem, but gloss over it. Why they did I am not sure. It seems that some sets show this dramatically, while others don't. My first one (the one I counted 56 fluctuations on for HP) I would say was very bad compared to a slightly less worse one that I got the second time around. I re watched HP on the second one to see if I could just enjoy the movie, got to the point I started counting again and only counter 32 which were more tame but still easy to spot without even looking for them. To make sure it just wasn't me seeing things because I knew when they were, I made (yes she wasn't to happy about it) her watch Tron with me. We first started Tron in 2d and she saw it some; then I popped in the 3d disc and she was pointing it out in every other scene.

I placed a complaint with US Panasonic as this was unacceptable, trying to explain it the best as I am now. I was walked through changing multiple settings (CATS off, trying all modes, changing contrast and all other settings, using 3 different HDMI cables along with composite and component cables) with nothing relieving the issue. Their response was that this is a feature of the TV and that it was working properly. Some of their exact words in the email I later received were " the picture dimming (fluctuating brightness) is negligible and should be considered within the TV's design specification."

In Spain a gentleman Documented this for Panasonic to prove that something was wrong. If you would like to see how bad this is; there has been a video posted by a member of a great forum for high def junkies that shows this instance (Google " VT30 hereafter " and it will show in the youtube vids) if you would like to see exactly what I am talking about. The TV here was the VT series which is Panasonic's flagship model and cost well over $1,200 of this TV.

Since the posting of the above video Spain got a firmware update to 1.520. The same person posted the exact same scene with the same setup which you can also view by clicking on his name or clicking on it on the right hand side. It eliminates this problem, since then Europe Panasonic have acknowledged that there is something that they are looking into (circumventing saying there is a problem). But US Panasonic calls this a feature that is working as intended. Unlike US Panasonic which I have opened 2 cases with them about this problem, one for both TVs, and just receive it's a feature of the TV which is working properly...

I am hoping that this is heeded as a warning to many as I feel terrible about Amazon being outstanding in it's Customer Service trying to rectify what is obviously not their fault. I am a man that researches any large purchase to the T to try to avoid these problems. I weighed my options and since the professional reviewers either made no mention of this problem or said it was a minor problem; I decided to buy this Panasonic. I post this in hopes that those that do their research won't feel gypped as I do.

If you would like to read more comments a Facebook page was created in hope that it would have an effect as it did with Sony. It is on facebook under "My 2011 Panasonic TV is Defective".

UPDATE 7/26 : Various Panasonic emails have said that there will be an announcement this Wednesday 7/27. Also a A reliable higher up in Panasonic NA has said that there is a FW that will be aimed at fixing "panel dimming" very soon (this term has a different meaning then Fluctuating Brightness, but all other FW fixes in Europe that fixed the FBr were released to fix another problem). This could or could not be a fix to the above problems, but hopefully putting 2 and 2 together means we will be getting a FW fix this Wednesday. Whether this is a fix to the above problems or not remains to be seen. Since I published this report it has been confirmed that all European models are now shipped with the Firmware that fixes FBr, while here in NA it hasn't been addressed. Here is to hoping for a statement Wednesday.

*UPDATE* 8/6/11 : First there has been no true announcement from Panasonic NA as of yet. But after getting all the data collected and sent forward to the engineers (yes many people that owned the TV put in this work), the engineers were able to replicate the problem. Since then there is now a patch. This is not a Firmware update, instead it changes other "software" in the TV like the EEPROM. Since it is not strictly a Firmware update they cannot simply have your tv download it from the internet like normal. It REQUIRES, at least as of right now, a tech to come out to install it on your TV.

Note that this fix has been confirmed to be loaded on TVs coming from the factory now. When this change occurred I cannot tell you neither can anyone that you can talk to, so please do not hound amazon, Panasonic or any other retailer. I assume the earliest we will see TVs with this update will be very late July produced TVs if not August. If you decide to buy a TV from Amazon please just allow them to come out and patch the TV instead of sending it back. If you send it back Amazon has to eat the shipping and this is one company that tries it's hardest to help the customer. So please do not make them eat the cost or else they WILL eventually have to change the policies they have. It may take a few weeks to get the rep out, butit is worth it to allow amazon to keep its very lax and customer happiness driven CS.

Now onto the results :

I have had this patch on my TVs for 2 days now. I compiled a list of FBr material that was bad during the data collection phase before we passed this on to the Panasonic Engineers so I had a list prepared to test this afterward to see if it was fixed or not. Running through 20 of the worst scenes over 6 movies (Harry Potter Deathly Hallows 1, Tron, Casino Royale, Hereafter, Battlefield LA). In these movies I saw not 1 noticeable FBr ( I say noticeable because FBr is in the driving mechanism of this TV). I noticed only 1 instance of a small FBr in the movie The Rite, but it was under extreme circumstances (dark background to near white background with a shadowed face in a scene change). Besides that I also watched some streamed video (Master Chef, True Blood, Band of Brothers etc) and got the same results of no FBr. Gaming (Fallout 3, Dragon Age Origins and Gears of War 2) was also the same, no FBr.

Overall it fixed the problem almost completely, if not completely. This patch surpassed my expectations and Panasonic owned up and fixed a glaring problem. There have been 3 forum users that have this fix and posted about it. They all report the same thing.

If you have purchased this TV or any other Panasonic NA ST30, GT30 or VT30 and have the problems mentioned above please call 1-800-973-4390. This is Panasonic Concierge and this is the number that was requested to call by the engineers. Tell them you have Fluctuating Brightness. Low end techs have been sent a memo regarding this. Many are now receiving emails to set up appointments.

Because of this fix I have amended my score of the TV. For this price this TV is amazing. I reserved 5 stars for the Pioneer Kuro (the gold standard), 4 1/2 stars for the VT series and dk8000. This TV 4 stars is an undervaluation, but it is all I can do on here. Honestly it would be 4.25 taking into account the above TVs superiority. I cannot express how happy I am with this TV now that it is fixed.

****UPDATE 8/22/11****
They have a limited amount of panasonic qualified techs that can install the update via SD card and will NOT give out the SD card for local non-panasonic techs to install as it has proprietary software on it. To alleviate the problem they send a new a-board to local techs that has the patch preloaded. The tech can then come out and install the new a-board under warranty claim (all free to you).

It is a simple procedure and only takes 15 minutes. This a-board replacement doesn't void any warranty as it is done by Panasonic under Panasonic's warranty by a qualified tech.

*WARNING* the a-board swap AND the SD patch will wipe your calibration and the ISF day/night mode (ISF day/night is only available if you have the TV calibrated and the tech turns it on in the Service menu), if you had one done. If you decide to do either of the fixes I would suggest buying a backup program (like controlcal) to save your settings. You can then reload them after the patch. It has been noted by calibrators that after either of the fixes that you will get close to the same results with the old calibration, but they say you will need a touchup to gray scale and colors to be as accurate as possible.

From good sources it has been said that any August build TVs should have the fix pre-installed. Unfortunately the build date isn't on the outside of the box in the US. There is another way to check if it has been factory installed though. The 3-6 numbers in the serial number designate whether it has been fixed or not. These 4 numbers need to be 1215 or higher for the fix to be pre-installed. It will look like : xx1215xxxxxx .

Again if you order from Amazon, or any other online type store, they have no direct control on what comes out of the warehouse and you CANNOT request that it is an August build as they have no control on what goes out. If you want to be sure of what you get, you should buy local and specifically state you will only buy it if it meets those criteria.

The fix is easy enough to get that you should feel comfortable ordering this product. Don't order this product and expect a 1215. Instead order this product expecting to have the tech come out. You may get a set pre 1215 that has no FBr as about 50% of the people report that they have no problem without the patch or you may get a 1215 build, but you should go into it expecting what you will most likely get. Then anything else is a bonus. If you don't feel good about buying the TV and possibly getting a FBr one then I suggest not buying from online stores.

To those outside of the US. Panasonic divisions are completely separate as they use different components, different firmware etc so this fix is for US only. The US division is sharing this info with EU, Canada, Australia etc to try to get this problem fixed with those TVs also. The other countries are still in the beginning stages so don't expect them to be exactly where the US is as the other countries have to test, document, confirm, create a fix (using different components/software mean they just can't copy/paste the US fix to theirs) and then test the fix. I cannot give you an update on outside of US, but I would suggest that you make your voice heard by opening tickets and speaking out about the problem.

Lastly for those that do have the TV or those that are willing to buy the TV and get the fix after. Call up Panasonic Concierge at 1-800-973-4390 . Allow them to walk you through the steps they have and try them as it is possible that it could fix your problem. If they walk you through that and you still see the FBr they should have received info on how to push it to the next level. To make sure here is the Document that they can look up regarding this issue :

Service Hint ('A' Board replacement to fix the 'brightness fluctuation" in the ST30/GT30/VT30).

A majority of this info is me simply condensing what many others have done to get this in place. Thanks go to the great people of especially 3 in particular, D-Nice for his initial findings and universal knowledge; AVjunkie and Gotchaa who helped consolidate/voice our problems to the techs.
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Tracked by 26 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 122 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 30, 2011 7:05:10 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 30, 2011 7:05:57 PM PDT
J. Moffitt says:
@jimmienoman, I'm looking to purchase the TV. Did anything ever happen with the firmware upgrade on 7/27? I am interested to see if they fixed the problem before I get the TV.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 5, 2011 9:42:58 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Aug 5, 2011 9:43:26 AM PDT]

Posted on Aug 5, 2011 9:43:55 AM PDT
The Source says:
Really good review. You made your case clearly. Thank you.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 6, 2011 9:18:03 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 6, 2011 9:23:01 AM PDT
jimmienoman says:
Sorry I took a while to update it as I was working with Panasonic and I have now updated it to this point. To answer your question directly, no. No official press release or Firmware release has been made, but there was behind the scene action on 7/27. To view what has been done please scroll to the end of my post and you will see another update.
I just updated it on 8/6 so hopefully it will be posted soon

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 8, 2011 11:57:12 AM PDT
Bryan says:
Thank you so much for your updates. I've been researching the ST30 series for a while as a second HDTV for my man cave, we have a KURO in living room, and the fluctuating brightness issue has been a constant worry for me. Good to see Panasonic concierge service providing repairs. Appreciate your diligent updates.

Posted on Aug 9, 2011 8:01:31 AM PDT
jimmienoman says:
I have tried to change my score due to the reasons posted in the update. For some reason the score isn't updated but my post is. To reiterate, This TV is now a solid 4.25 stars. I would give the VT and samsung 59+dk7/dk8 series a 4.6 and the KURO a 5 star. This TV is obviously not top of the line so I think 5 stars as over rating it. But if you are strictly talking about this range of TVs (middle ground TVs that aren't too expensive) this TV would be 5 stars.

I believe this TV is the most bang for the buck you can get this year by a long shot. It would be a closer race if the Samsung 51" TVs didn't have much higher blacks then their 59"/64" counterparts.

Posted on Aug 19, 2011 9:04:50 AM PDT
t says:
Another review from different customer says to cover the photo eye on front. That maybe this sensor is deffective and tv cant tell whether it is light or dark in your room.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 19, 2011 10:32:45 AM PDT
jimmienoman says:
No. He is talking about the CATS sensor. This is a function that changes the lighting of the tv in accordance with ambient lighting in the room. They semi fixed a problem with the CATS sensor malfunctioning in firmware 2.070.

Even before this firmware came out you could easily rule out the CATS malfunction by simply turning it off in the user menu (which I stated I had done).

For those that kept the CATS on the workaround beforethe fix was to tape off about 80% of the sensor. But I think the cats sensor isn't well conceived so I don't use mine at all.

Also panasonic has acknowledged this problem with FBr completely separate from the CATS sensor malfunctioning.

I have one more update to add but right now I am on my iPhone and would be a pain to type out on it. So look for another update in the next few days. Btw my set is still amazing and FBr free (will go in depth later).

Posted on Aug 20, 2011 10:24:03 AM PDT
Ernie Mink says:
So I want to buy this tv with ALL the fixes and patches applied FIRST. Can I do that and what is the updated model number?

Posted on Aug 22, 2011 8:30:54 AM PDT
Excellent review and your follow-ups are truly appreciated. If anyone knows how to determine the manufacture date - before purchase - it would be great if they could add that info in a reply to this review.
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