Panasonic Viera TX-P42GT20BRating:
Just when it looked like LCD was about to bury it’s old rival once and for all, gas proved it could show 3D pictures with much less ghosting noise, or crosstalk, than liquid crystal and the world was suddenly interested in plasma again.
The only catch in this resurgence has been size. Panasonic focused initially on screens of 50-inch and 65-inch for its 3D efforts, which was great for people with big bank accounts and bigger rooms, but of little mainstream significance.
Cue the P42VT20B examined elsewhere on this site and the more value-led P42GT20 reviewed here. As their names suggest, both sets boast a much more manageable 42-inch screen. But the ‘G’ in the P42GT20 name and its £300 lower price tag also suggests that some compromises have been made.
Significantly, the GT20 lacks the rather excellent new black level filter sported by the flagship VT20 series. It also lacks a subwoofer in its speaker configuration versus the VT20′s and doesn’t ship with a provided Wi-Fi USB adaptor like the VT20 series does. You can add the latter item, but you have to pay extra for it.
One bit of good news, though, is that the P42GT20 is – for now, at least – shipping with two pairs of 3D glasses.
Just in case you’re happy with 2D, remember that Panasonic also has a range of conventional plasma models. The flagship non-3D models are the V20 series, as represented by the P50V20B and P42V20B. Down from there you get the P50G20B, P46G20 and P42G20, which lack the high contrast filter of the V20 series, have diminished audio power, and don’t carry any supplied Wi-Fi capabilities.
From the G20 series you move down to the S20 range, which uses last year’s NeoPDP screen technology rather than the much more advanced system used in the G20 upwards, and finally there’s the entry-level X20 range, which don’t have full HD panels and don’t use NeoPDP technology.
Panasonic TX-P42GT20: Features
The 3D talents of the P42GT20 are, of course, ‘active’, which is to say they involve showing full HD 3D frames sequentially, rather than reducing image resolution to show two side-by-side frames simultaneously.
The P42GT20 does support such 3D sources, like Sky’s 3D channel and the current breed of 3D games, though: it just converts them to a full HD sequential frame approach for output to Panasonic’s 3D glasses.
The supplied glasses are still Panasonic’s deeply uninspiring original models, which let loads of light in around the lenses, rather than the supposedly much-improved new models starting to hit shops now.
As mentioned earlier, the P42GT20 adds a 2D to 3D conversion system, which represents an abrupt about-face for a company originally adamant that it wouldn’t have any truck with 2D to 3D nonsense.
One final handy 3D improvement carried by the GT20 series is the ability to play 3D camcorder and DivX video from the TV’s multimedia inputs. This feature is apparently addable to the original VT20 models via a firmware update, too.
The multimedia inputs comprise a D-Sub PC input, two USB slots and a LAN port. The three latter sockets enable a variety of functions. You can use one of the USBs, for instance, with one of Panasonic’s optional Wi-Fi dongles. Or you can use them for adding a Buffalo JustStore hard-disk drive that you can record to from the built-in digital tuners. Or you can use them for playing back JPEG, video and music files from USB storage devices.
As for the LAN, it’s there first to satisfy the requirements of its built-in Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners (for yes, it has both). But it also enables you to get files off a networked DLNA PC, or go online with Panasonic’s Viera Cast platform.
This has one of the best interfaces we’ve seen with a TV internet system and its content level is solid enough. There’s no doubt, though, that Samsung and Sony’s online services offer much more content. Also, Philips and, more recently, Sharp, both offer open internet access, which Panasonic does not.
Other connections on the P42GT20 include four HDMIs (built to the 3D-enabled v1.4 spec), and both RF and satellite LNB inputs to support the twin HD tuners.
Heading into the P42GT20′s setup menu, a THX picture preset instantly reveals that the TV has been officially endorsed by the renowned third-party ‘quality assurance’ outfit. Arguably even better is an endorsement from the Imaging Science Foundation, with two Pro picture presets set aside for their engineers to use if you want to pay them to calibrate day and night settings for you.
The sort of picture adjustments that will have helped win the ISF to the P42GT20′s cause include an adequate colour management system and gamma controls. There’s still plenty of room for improvement with these advanced options, it has to be said, but at least it’s a long overdue start along the calibration road by a brand that’s been oddly reluctant to offer such flexibility in the past.
The P42GT20 enjoys ’600Hz’ sub-field drive technology, too, where the plasma cells are pulsed enough times each second to deliver a 600Hz effect (though this shouldn’t be mistaken for a true 600 frames per second image refresh rate).
Then there’s Panasonic’s Vreal Pro 5 processing, working away on just about every picture element not covered by any other processing department; plus there’s Panasonic’s Intelligent Frame Creation Pro system for interpolating extra frames of image data.
Final notable features of the P42GT20 are its extremely wide realistic viewing angle versus LCD TVs and its design, which, with its drab shape and dull colour scheme, is an entirely inappropriate home for the set’s cutting edge technology.
Panasonic TX-P42GT20: Picture quality
Heading straight for the P42GT20′s 3D capabilities, two things are immediately striking, one good, one not so good. The not so good thing is that the immersive impact of 3D seems reduced by the relative smallness of the P42GT20′s screen. This isn’t exactly the TV’s fault, of course, but it’s a point worth raising to anyone who isn’t likely to end up sat very close to his or her TV.
The (very) good thing is the almost complete absence of the dreaded crosstalk interference. This double ghosting phenomenon has damaged if not outright ruined the 3D pictures of all LCD-based 3D TVs we’ve seen, so finding it only appearing rarely and subtly on the P42GT20 is a boon.
In fact, it makes 3D footage look more convincing, crisper (at least where edges of middle to distant objects are concerned), and much less tiring during long-term viewing than on LCD.
The P42GT20′s black level response helps it deliver a well-defined sense of depth and naturalism with 3D footage too, and even the 2D to 3D conversion is fairly impressive. It doesn’t deliver as great a sense of depth as Samsung’s conversion engine, but it makes hardly any depth mistakes, so that it ends up with a convincing, if shallow, 3D effect.
The set doesn’t have everything its own way with 3D, though. With the current generation of glasses pictures lose a really considerable amount of brightness versus their 2D counterparts. This can lead to colours looking slightly muted versus a typical LCD 3D colour palette.
Finally, despite the P42GT20 suffering less resolution loss when showing moving video than any LCD screen, its 3D pictures look a touch soft versus the detailed efforts of most 3D LCD TVs – except for when those LCD screens have their perception of sharpness distractingly dented by crosstalk noise.
The choice is effectively between the brighter, more colour-rich images of 3D LCD TVs and the generally crosstalk-free images of this Panasonic TV.
The P42GT20′s 2D pictures, meanwhile, are very good and slightly disappointing at the same time. Which is to say that they’re very good compared with the majority of flat 42in TVs out there, but noticeably less awesome than the pictures noticed by Panasonic’s V20 and VT20 models previously.
The main reason for this slightly mixed report is the set’s black level response. While the P42GT20 can produce richer, deeper blacks than the vast majority of 42in LCD TVs and doesn’t lose contrast when watched from a wide angle dark areas look slightly greyer than they do with Panasonic’s V and VT20 TV models.
This difference is backed up by sporadic issues with the P42GT20′s colours, at least when watching standard definition. They are not as vivid as the V/VT20 models – or the majority of LCD TVs, come to that – and this occasionally tips colour tones into slightly unnatural territory again when watching standard definition material.
Colours hold up much more credibly when watching high-definition; in fact, with HD they are impressively subtle and believable.
Hi-def 2D pictures are sharp and detailed and while traces of judder sometimes try to diminish the clarity, the impact of this is not as severe as the resolution loss often caused by the response time problems of LCD screens.
You can remove most of the judder with Panasonic’s Intelligent Frame Creation system, but this can throw up a few side effects and leave images looking slightly unnatural, at least when using one of its higher settings.
One other slight niggle is the appearance of some minor fizzing noise during camera pans while watching standard-definition pictures.
Weighing up all the pros and cons of the P42GT20′s pictures, though, the balance lies very strongly in favour of the pros.
Panasonic TX-P42GT20: Sound, value and ease of use
Compared to the extra potency afforded to Panasonic’s VT20 plasma TVs by their use of an additional bass speaker, the P42GT20′s bass-light delivery is a disappointment.
Considered in isolation, though, the sound is decent. There’s enough space in the midrange to leave a good audio mix sounding clear and engaging, and slightly more bass than you’d usually hear on a modern 42in TV. The biggest disappointment is a slight shortage of treble information.
The value aspect of the P42GT20 depends very much on whether Panasonic decides to keep its ‘two free sets of glasses’ promotion going. With the glasses included as they are at the time of writing, £1,500 doesn’t look too much for such a strong performer with 2D and, especially, 3D.
Take the glasses away, though, and suddenly you’re looking at having to add £200 to the £1,500 asking price if you want to watch 3D. And that puts the P42GT20 only £100 shy of the impressive P42VT20, which not only has two pairs of glasses included as standard, but also provides a free Wi-Fi LAN adaptor and happens to produce even better pictures.
Ease of use
Some things about the P42GT20′s operating system are excellent. Its remote control does a good job for the most part of handling the TV’s many functions, a rather tucked away main menu button notwithstanding.
The onscreen menus are also effective in organisational terms, with reasonable ‘layering’ of features to help shelter technophobes from anything that might send their brains into meltdown. They’re rather dull and dated in their presentation, though.
Our two biggest bones of contention with the P42GT20, however, concern its 3D features and electronic programme guides. The 3D menus seem rather fiddly – a process not helped by the fact that there’s no dedicated 3D button on the remote control. And the EPGs fail to impress thanks to not retaining video or audio of the channel you were watching when you pressed the EPG button, and by cluttering up the Freeview one with some annoyingly large adverts.
Panasonic TX-P42GT20: Verdict
The P42GT20 starts out with more of a whimper than a bang, thanks to a characteristically dull design. But tucked within that uninspiring chassis are plenty of tricks to keep a cinephile happy.
The set’s connections are plentiful in both AV and multimedia terms, and include DLNA and online support. The set is also fully endorsed by both THX and the ISF, on account both of its potential image quality and the reasonably extensive suite of picture adjustments it carries.
Where the P42GT20 really deserves to attract buying attention, though, is with its 3D performance. It does a much better job of suppressing dreaded crosstalk noise than most LCD TVs, thereby becoming, almost by default, one of the most outstanding 3D TVs available.
One or two issues with 2D viewing suggest that you should consider spending more on Panasonic’s superior P42VT20 if you can afford it, but this is undoubtedly another superb plasma that underlines the technology’s current 3D advantage.
The ability of Panasonic’s 3D plasma sets to keep a firm lid on crosstalk noise continues to shine through with the P42GT20. The set also has plenty of black level talents and looks great with hi-def 2D material. The level of connectivity and multimedia support is also good, as is its carriage of both Freeview HD and Freesat HD and it’s got a decent suite of calibration aids.
Standard-definition pictures suffer a few colour tone issues and some dot noise during camera pans and 3D pictures don’t look as bright and colourful as they can on LCD TVs. The types of USB HDDs supported for video recording are very limited and there’s room for improvement with the set’s 3D and EPG interfaces. Finally, the price will start to look a bit high if Panasonic withdraws its promotion of bundling two pairs of glasses free with the P42GT20.
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- Good black level response
- Decent 2D to 3D conversion
- Good price for a 3D TV
- Contrast not as good as the VT20 series
- One or two colour tone issues
- 3D images lack punch
There’s no doubt that the P42GT20 marks a definite step down in
quality from the sensational P42VT20. So much so where standard
definition is concerned, at least, that the extra £300 for the
higher-spec model is we’ll worth finding if standard def material still
takes up plenty of your viewing time.
If £1,500 is definitely the top end of what you can afford, however,
then there’s also no doubt that the P42GT20 produces the finest 3D
performance yet seen at that price level, as well as a very good hi-def
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