A lot has changed since we gave the Panasonic TC-P50V10 our Editors' Choice award last year. The most relevant to the review you're reading now can be summed up with the eminently Google-able phrase "Panasonic black levels." The short story? Testing revealed that 2009 Panasonic plasmas lose their excellent black-level performance--the crucial ability to produce as dark a shade of black as possible--over less than a year of typical use. They become, literally, grayer, and lose the very edge that made them stand above the pack in the first place. As a result we lowered their picture quality scores across the board, and removed that Editors' Choice award.
According to our observations right now--which is the only way we can fairly review any product--the TC-PG20/25 series delivers superb picture quality. Its black level is among the best available today, matching what we measured on new 2009 models and surpassing any other (non-Kuro) plasma we've tested so far. The company has also improved the antiglare screen significantly and fixed THX mode, in addition to revamping its VieraCast Internet service with new content such as Netflix and Pandora. The result is an excellent-performing HDTV with a good blend of features for a highly competitive price. If the history outlined above doesn't deter you, plenty of good reasons exist for choosing this Panasonic plasma. If it does, check back in a few months for an update.
Editors' note, October 19, 2010: The Features rating on this review has been reduced from "8" to "7" to align more properly with other available products, including the new GT25 series. As a result the Overall rating fell from 7.7 to 7.4. Also, after about 2,400 hours the black-level performance of our TC-P50GT20 review sample has risen, but not enough to affect the overall performance score. According to Panasonic it should not increase much further.
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 50-inch TC-P50G20, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in both the TC-PG20 and TC-PG25 series. All have identical specs, and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality. The only difference between the two, according to Panasonic, is the G25's ability to interface with a network camera (see below for details).
|Models in series (details)|
|Panasonic TC-P50G20 (reviewed)||50 inches|
|Panasonic TC-P54G20||54 inches|
|Panasonic TC-P42G25||42 inches|
|Panasonic TC-P46G25||46 inches|
|Panasonic TC-P50G25||50 inches|
|Panasonic TC-P54G25||54 inches|
|Panel depth||3.5 inches||Bezel width||2 inches|
|Single-plane face||No||Swivel stand||Yes|
Panasonic avoided any major style statements with this understated black plasma. The only departure is a subtle horizontal accent strip in the midst of the lower frame, running above the slightly curved bottom edge. The 3.5-inch panel depth is chunkier than the 2010 plasmas of LG and Samsung, but plenty "flat" enough in our book.
|Remote control and menus|
|Remote size (LxW)||9 x 2 inches||Remote screen||N/A|
|Total keys||50||Backlit keys||36|
|Other IR devices controlled||No||RF control of TV||No|
|Shortcut menu||Yes||On-screen explanations||Yes|
The company uses an improved clicker compared to 2009, with more backlit keys and a larger "Menu" button, and we appreciate the well-differentiated layout. Its only downside in our view is an inability to control other gear directly via infrared. The company has updated its blue-and-yellow menus to include onscreen explanations and a persistent navigation column of icons on the left, and as a result they feel more modern and are easier to use than last year, if not quite up to the level of a Sony or Samsung.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||plasma||LED backlight||N/A|
|3D compatible||No||3D glasses included||N/A|
|Screen finish||Glass||Refresh rate(s)||48Hz, 60Hz|
|Dejudder (smooth) processing||No||1080p/24 compatible||No|
|Internet connection||Yes||Wireless HDMI/AV connection||No|
|Other: Optional Wi-Fi dongle (DY-WL10, $99); Optional network camera for G25 series (wired BL-C210, $199; wi-fi BL-C230, $299)|
Panasonic kept the basic feature set nearly the same as the TC-PG10/G15 series last year, reserving step-ups like 3D and flicker-free 1080p/24 compatibility (see Performance) for the significantly more expensive TC-PVT20/25 series. What remains is robust enough, though, especially at this price point.
Options include the same kind of proprietary wi-fi dongle used by Samsung and LG; naturally we'd like to see built-in Wi-Fi (a la Vizio and higher-end Sony sets) but again we're not surprised at its omission. We're also intrigued by the optional network camera, which allows G25 owners relatively cheap in-home monitoring capability. We didn't test either option for this review.
|Netflix||Yes (July 2010)||YouTube||Yes|
|Amazon Video on Demand||Yes||Rhapsody||No|
Just about every TV maker has Netflix, and when Panasonic turns on this feature in July it will join the ranks of "good enough" streaming. We'd still like to see the excellent picture quality of Vudu's HD service, found on many other makers' TVs, available too, but Amazon VOD has solid high-def picture quality in its own right. DLNA won't be missed by most buyers, and it's nice to see Pandora onboard to handle audio duties.
|Other: Customizable VieraCast home page; two German-language news widgets; Skype requires speakerphone accessory (TY-CC10, $169); compatible with USB PC keyboards|
Panasonic's VieraCast system got a face-lift for 2010, adding widgets such as Fox Sports and Twitter, as well as a Skype option (all coming by the end of May 2010). Our favorite change is that the home page can be customized somewhat, allowing you to place the apps and streaming services you want on the first, second, or third page in any of seven slots arranged around the central picture window. Most other TVs' Internet service interfaces, aside from Vizio and Yahoo widgets, don't let you re-arrange content to the same extent.
VieraCast still seems a bit archaic compared to the others, takes over rather than overlays whatever you're watching, and inexplicably lacks a nonbusiness (and non-German) News component, but we do appreciate the well-integrated feel, relatively snappy response time, and the above-average functionality of the custom apps, namely Bloomberg and Weather. We asked for an explanation regarding those two random German apps--Tagesschau, a news service, and Bild.de, with "News, Sport and celebrity gossip from Germany and the world"--but have yet to hear back by press time.
We also like the option of using a USB keyboard, although a couple of older wireless ones we tried (a Logitech MX3200 and a Microsoft Wireless Entertainment Keyboard 7000) didn't interface with the TV. Many other wired or wireless USB keyboards should work, however, and Panasonic told us "Logitech MK700, DiNovo, Logicool, or Microsoft keyboards work well."
|Adjustable picture modes||6||Independent memories per input||Yes|
|Dejudder presets||0||Fine dejudder control||N/A|
|Aspect ratio modes -- HD||5||Aspect ratio modes -- SD||4|
|Color temperature presets||5||Fine color temperature control||4 point|
|Gamma presets||6||Color management system||No|
|Other: THX mode is adjustable; On/Off "Blur reduction" setting|
Panasonic has equipped the TC-PG20/25 series with an array of picture settings that finally places it on a par with other makers' TVs. The Pro Settings menu, available only in the Custom picture mode, offers niceties like a fine color temperature menu (a measly four points is still better than none) and an array of gamma choices, both of which allow tweakers some leeway. We also like that, unlike on LG's so-equipped TVs, Panasonic's THX mode can be adjusted. Said tweakers will also note the new-for-2010 "blur reduction" setting described thusly: "Improves motion picture quality. Additional sub-fields are created to reduce motion blur." See Performance for details.