Panasonic adds Skype, Netflix to new 2010 plasma TVs

The Panasonic TC-PG25 series of plasma TVs offers an upgraded selection of VieraCast services that includes Skype video calling and Netflix streaming.

A rash of new content offerings is coming to Panasonic's VieraCast service. Panasonic

The big hype for Panasonic's plasma lineup revolves around the company's 3D-compatible TC-PVT25 series , but for shoppers satisfied to see their TV shows in the traditional number of dimensions, there's the TC-PG25 series and its doppelganger, the TC-PG20 series. According to Panasonic's media kit, the two sets are basically identical--the only differences are minor cosmetic touches and the ability of the G25 to control a networked camera--so we'll address them both here.

Panasonic's most visible improvement between those older "G" plasmas and the new ones is the inclusion of shiny new interactive services. Currently the company's VieraCast service offers Amazon Video on Demand, YouTube, Picasa, Bloomberg news, and weather; however, for 2010 it will also get Netflix streaming, the capability to place and receive video phone calls via Skype ( more information ; external speaker/camera required), and access to Pandora, Twitter, and Fox Sports news. The selection brings VieraCast into the same league as the extensive interactive offerings from LG and Sony. Unfortunately for owners of 2008 and 2009 VieraCast TVs, Netflix and Skype will not be added to their televisions.

Sarah Tew/CNET

To make all that content easier to access, the TV includes a pair of USB ports that can connect to an optional Wi-Fi dongle or, in a first and welcome option among interactive TVs we've seen, an external keyboard.

But if you're a die-hard plasma TV fan, you could care less about all that interactive junk. You want to know whether Panasonic has improved the picture quality. We can't fully address that question until we review one, but the demo we saw looked promising, at least in terms of black levels.

The new models, like the 2009 G10's, also have a THX mode, although it remains to be seen whether it still imparts the yellowish-/greenish tinge we've seen on previous Panasonic THX displays. They don't include the 1080p/24-friendly 96Hz refresh rate found on the VT25, however, instead sticking with the same 48Hz refresh rate option found on the current G10 models (which we recommend turning off). See the review of the Panasonic TC-PG10 series for details.

One final note: As just about every other HDTV announced at the show, plasma or LCD, all of the Panasonic plasmas qualify for Energy Star 4.0 . On one hand, we do expect them to use less juice than last year's sets; but on the other, we're skeptical of any program that fails to differentiate between a 54-inch plasma and an LED-based LCD. Once again, we'll have to wait for a review sample to get the full scoop.

Panasonic TC-PG25/TC-PG20 series step-up features:

  • Infinite Black panel (5,000,000:1 native contrast ratio)
  • THX certified
  • VieraCast interactive suite adds Netflix, Pandora, Twitter, and Fox Sports to previous content
  • Skype video calling
  • Optional Wi-Fi connection
  • VGA-style PC input
  • Two USB ports
  • Image viewer handles video as well as photos
  • (Both series identical but for cosmetics and compatibility with the network camera)

Panasonic TC-PG25 series models:

  • Panasonic Viera TC-P54G25: 54-inch (March/April, $1999.95)
  • Panasonic Viera TC-P50G25: 50-inch (March/April, $1499.95)
  • Panasonic Viera TC-P46G25: 46-inch (March/April, $1399.95)
  • Panasonic Viera TC-P42G25: 42-inch (March/April, $1199.95)

Panasonic TC-PG20 series models:

  • Panasonic Viera TC-P54G20: 54-inch (March/April, $TBD)
  • Panasonic Viera TC-P50G20: 50-inch (March/April, $TBD)

Check out the complete rundown of Panasonic's 2010 plasma lineup.

 

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