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Panasonic's 2010 G20/25 plasma has excellent initial picture quality

Panasonic's TC-PG20/25 series offers a highly tempting mix of features, value, and initial picture quality, but long-term black-level performance is still an open question.

Testing on the Panasonic TC-PG20/25 series is still ongoing. Sarah Tew/CNET

A lot has changed since we gave the Panasonic TC-PV10 series our Editors' Choice award last year. The most relevant development 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 capability 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.

"But what about 2010?" you ask. We don't know yet. Panasonic claims that 2010 models, like the TC-PG20/25 series under review here, have modifications that "result in a more gradual change in the Black Level over time." How gradual, and how much of a change, the company won't say, and we won't be able to say ourselves for at least a few months. Rest assured that we are running a long-term test on our sample, and we'll update this review when and if that black level shifts.

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.

Read the full review of the Panasonic TC-PG20/25 series.