Panasonic Viera TC-PG20 review: Panasonic Viera TC-PG20

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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.

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7.4 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8

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).


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

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, 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