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Panasonic Viera TC-PG25 review: Panasonic Viera TC-PG25

Panasonic Viera TC-PG25

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
14 min read

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.


Panasonic Viera TC-PG25

The Good

Superb black-level performance; accurate primary colors in THX mode; great color saturation; effective antireflective screen; uses less power than previous 1080p plasmas; VieraCast provides access to select Internet services and improved customization.

The Bad

Last year's Panasonic plasmas lost black-level performance over relatively short periods of time; cannot properly handle 1080p/24 sources; fewer streaming services and apps than the competition; uses more power than LCDs.

The Bottom Line

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.

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).


Basic black is the order of the day for the understated G20/25 series.

Design highlights
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.

The circular base of the swivel stand matches the glossy black of the panel.

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.

The 48Hz option promises 1080p/24 compatibility, but introduces unwatchable flicker.

Streaming media
Netflix Yes (July 2010) YouTube Yes
Amazon Video on Demand Yes Rhapsody No
Vudu video No Pandora Yes
CinemaNow No DLNA compliant No
Blockbuster No USB Photo/Music/Video

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.

VieraCast's streaming selection will be up to 2010 snuff once Netflix arrives in July.

Internet apps
Yahoo widgets No Skype Yes
Vudu apps No Weather Yes
Facebook No News No
Twitter Yes Sports Yes
Photos Picasa Stocks Yes
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."

The interface lets you rearrange and add or remove any of the apps or streaming services.

Picture settings
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.

Panasonic offers a THX-certified picture preset that allows some basic adjustment.

Other features
Power saver mode No Ambient light sensor Yes
Picture-in-picture No On-screen user manual No
Other: Two modes to combat burn-in

Watchers paranoid about burn-in (we aren't) will appreciate the scrolling bar designed to erase it, and the pixel orbiter intended to prevent it in the first place. We'd like to see a brightness-limiting energy-saver mode, as well as an onscreen companion to the thick paper manual.

You can adjust the pixel orbiter or engage a scrolling bar to deal with burn-in, aka "temporary image retention."

HDMI inputs 2 back, 1 side Component video inputs 2 back
Composite video input(s) 1 back, 1 side S-video input(s) 0
VGA-style PC input(s) 1 RF input(s) 1
AV output(s) 0 Digital audio output Optical
USB port 2 side Ethernet (LAN) port Yes
Other: Side SD card slot

Three HDMI inputs total falls one short of most 2010 HDTVs we've tested but should still be plenty for most setups. The SD card slot can handle video, photos, and music, like the USB ports, and the second USB is a nice addition if you use the first for the optional Wi-Fi dongle.

Two HDMI inputs on the back panel might not be enough for elaborate home theaters.

A third HDMI is located on the side. Few TVs have an SD card slot nowadays, but we'll warrant even fewer viewers care.

The TC-PG20/25 delivered excellent overall picture quality. Deep black levels were a strength, color accuracy was very good in THX mode, and the typical uniformity advantages of plasma over LCD--excellent off-angle fidelity, uniform brightness and color across the screen--were in abundant evidence. The main hiccup we encountered was the inability to handle 1080p/24 content properly.

TV settings: Panasonic TC-P50G20

The THX mode was clearly the most accurate before adjustment. It evinced a smooth grayscale that fell within the D65 ballpark (although it was minus-blue overall), decent gamma (2.07 average, versus a target of 2.2) and, unlike last year, plenty of light output (37 ftl) with some headroom for adjustment. Best of all, there was no overt greenish tinge thanks to improved color decoding. We'd love the option to tweak THX further and improve these areas, but the Pro adjust menu, which contains the relevant settings, was inactive in THX mode.

Update June 2, 2010: Based upon reader requests for further testing we have noted a couple of other performance-related issues with the G20/25 series. We don't consider either one significant enough to warrant a ratings reduction, but since neither was evident on 2009 Panasonic plasmas, we feel they deserve mention. The first, fluctuating black levels, is detailed further in the review.

The second manifests as a faint buzzing noise that becomes louder as light output increases. In most cases it remained quieter than the clicking of the hard drive in our DVR, but in some scenes, especially where a bright light flashed on and off on the screen, it was more noticeable. Since we often watch with relatively low light output, we didn't notice the noise until a reader pointed it out, so we definitely don't consider it a deal-breaker. Nevertheless, the G20/25 is louder than most TVs we've tested, so the sensitive-of-ear should audition this plasma in person, preferably in a quiet room with a bright picture, before taking the plunge. The noise emitted by the Panasonic TC-PVT20/25, though audible as well if you listen hard, is significantly quieter.

We tried calibrating the Custom mode, which does allow tweaks to the Pro adjust menu, but while we were able to improve the grayscale compared to THX, other areas of picture quality--namely gamma, color decoding and primary/secondary color accuracy--were significantly worse. In the past, such as on the V10 last year, our adjustments in Custom yielded very good gamma results, but not this time around.

THX was still better overall than Custom, so we used it, with some tiny tweaks, for our evaluation. We checked out the Blu-ray of Invictus, with the comparison lineup below, for our main image quality tests.

Comparison models (details)
LG 50PK750 50-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-P50V10 50-inch plasma
Samsung PN50B650 50-inch plasma
LG 47LE8500 47-inch full array local dimming LED
Samsung UN55C8000 55-inch edge-lit local dimming LED
Pioneer PRO-111FD (reference) 50-inch plasma

Black level: Our nearly new TC-PG20/25 sample performed extremely well in this area, with the kind of deep, inky blacks we've come to expect from the company's plasma TVs. It lagged behind the Pioneer and the LG LE8500 in this area, but outperformed the others, including the slightly-aged V10 from last year. The differences were most visible in dark scenes, such as the shot down the road outside Mandela's house at the 40 minute mark. The black of a leather jacket, the night sky, the shadows under the trees and the letterbox bars appeared just a bit inkier than on the V10 and both of the Samsungs, and a good deal deeper than the LG PK750 plasma. In brighter scenes the differences between the various displays' black levels narrowed significantly, as usual, although they were still visible in the letterbox bars.

We measured a black level of 0.001 footlamberts (ftl) for the Pioneer and LG LH8500, 0.007 on the G20/25, 0.016 for the V10 (at about 1,200 hours), 0.018 for the Samsung B650, and 0.024 for the LG PK750. We ran the G20/25 for about 100 hours after we received it and that measurement didn't shift. If behavior from the 2009 models is any indication, we don't expect any change for at least a few hundred hours (typical TV use is 1,900 hours/year), but if/when we measure one, we'll update this review.

Details in shadows on the G20/25 series appeared a bit less natural than on some of the sets in our lineup. We attribute this issue to the TV's lighter gamma in dark areas, which made the shaded bush alongside Mandela's wall, and the shadowed faces of Pienaar and Nerine in Chapter 15, for example, a bit brighter than on the Pioneer or the LG LE8500. This wasn't a major issue however, and shadows and near-dark areas still looked realistic overall, mainly owing to the G20/25's deep blacks.

Like some Panasonic plasma models we've seen in past years, the G20/25 also evinced fluctuating black levels in some circumstances. Test patterns revealed a sudden brightening of "black" when the average picture brightness rose above a certain level (namely when a 100% window pattern was displayed; the 95% and lower window patterns did not cause the brightening). We looked for evidence of this brightening in program material, such as dark areas of brighter scenes from Invictus (Chapter 1) and I Am Legend (Chapter 4) and while there seemed to be some fluctuation, it wasn't as obvious as in test patterns. Other material might reveal the fluctuation more obviously, but in scenes we watched the G20/25 maintained a stable-enough black that we don't consider this a serious-enough issue to change our overall rating. The TC-PVT20/25 we tested did not evince any such fluctuation.

Color accuracy: In THX mode the G20/25 performed very well in this area, although due to its less-than-perfect grayscale it still fell a bit short of our reference display and a couple of the others in our lineup (including the V10 and the PK750). We noticed skin tones, like the faces of Pienaar's family in Chapter 9, seemed very slightly paler and shifted toward green, although not nearly to the extent we saw on last year's THX mode, for example. The light blue shirt of Mr. Pienaar and the red couch cushion exhibited a similar slight shift. We'd be hard-pressed to notice the difference without the benefit of a side-by-side a comparison, however.

Primary and secondary color accuracy was excellent, as evinced by the green of the grass and trees around the white players' field in Chapter 1, for example. The TV's deep black levels and solid color decoding contributed to some of the most saturated, punchy colors in our lineup. We also appreciated that black areas stayed a relatively neutral color on the G20/25, as opposed to veering into blue as we saw on the Samsung LCD and the PK750, for example.

Video processing: Panasonic makes a lot of marketing hay out of its 600Hz subfield drive, but as we observed last year, its benefits (much like the antiblurring effects of 120Hz, 240Hz etc LCDs) are exceedingly difficult to discern. When we engaged the Blur reduction setting, our motion resolution test showed that the G20/25 was delivering all 1080 lines of the source. When we turned off the control, the result dipped down to somewhere between 700-800 lines. Although the difference between the two settings was impossible for us to see outside of specialized test patterns, there's no obvious reason not to turn the control on--it introduced no negative effects we could see.

As we noted above the G20/25 series is not blessed with the 96Hz refresh rate found on the step-up VT20/25 models, so as we observed with Panasonic's predecessor plasmas from 2009, the G models cannot properly handle 1080p/24 sources. We confirmed this with our favorite scene for such a test, the flyover of the Intrepid from "I Am Legend," where we observed the characteristic stuttering motion of 2:3 pull-down (as opposed to the correct cadence of film we observed on the V10) when the G20/25 was set to its default 60Hz mode under "24p direct in." Switching to the other option, 48Hz, caused the display to flicker significantly and become essentially unwatchable, especially in brighter scenes.

In our 1080i deinterlacing test, it's worth noting that the G20/G25 only passed in film mode when we chose the "on" position for the 3:2 pull-down control. When the control was set to the default "Auto" position, the TV failed.

Bright lighting: Panasonic has improved its antireflective screen quite a bit compared to 2009, and the difference was clearly visible by comparing the G20/25 to the V10 in a well-lit room. The screen preserved black levels better and further reduced the brightness of reflections, such as the faces of viewers or even lamps caught in the screen. It beat the LG models in both of these areas, although it wasn't as good as the Pioneer. Compared to the Samsungs, the G20/25's screen did a better job reducing reflections, but didn't preserve black levels nearly as well.

Standard-definition: The 2010 G series is one of the worst standard-def performers we've tested recently. It didn't quite resolve all of the horizontal detail of the DVD format, and the shots of the stone bridge and grass appeared a bit soft. Jaggies in moving diagonal lines and a waving American flag were more prevalent on the G20/25 than on the Samsung or LG plasmas. Noise reduction was also less effective; in the Panasonic's strongest setting, we still saw motes and video noise in low-quality shots of skies and sunsets. The TV passed the 2:3 pull-down test in "On" mode, but the default "Auto" was again ineffective.

PC: Via analog VGA the TC-PG20/25 accepted a maximum input signal of 1,366x768, which is disappointing for a 1080p TV. Text in that resolution looked relatively soft, and we missed having an autoadjust function to fill the screen properly, but after some tweaking it looked passable. Via HDMI the TV handled every line of a 1,920x1,080 source with no edge enhancement or softness and excellent overall quality.

Geek box
Before color temp (20/80) 6495/6176 Good
After color temp N/A  
Before grayscale variation 294 Good
After grayscale variation N/A  
Color of red (x/y) 0.642/0.33 Good
Color of green 0.302/0.6 Good
Color of blue 0.15/0.058 Good
Overscan 0.0% Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Yes Poor
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps Pass Good
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Pass Good

Power consumption: We did not test the power consumption of this size in the Panasonic TC-PG20/25 series series, but we did test a 50-inch model. For more information, refer to the review of the Panasonic TC-P50G20. How we test TVs


Panasonic Viera TC-PG25

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 8