At the beginning of 2009, Pioneer announced it was pulling out of plasma production, and as a result many of its engineers migrated across to Panasonic. Eighteen months later, the Panasonic VT20 is the first television that incorporates the know-how gained through making one of the best TVs ever made: the.
Panasonic has taken a different tack for the design of its V and VT series televisions. Where in previous years the company has opted for simple piano-black finishes here it’s broken out of the corral with something different. While the V series features a brushed aluminium look, the VT20 boasts a faintly metallic and dark brown bezel. Not the greatest colour in the world, metallic brown, but the effect is subtle and sophisticated.
The TV is quite slim and light too thanks to the lack of an external glass layer, in fact at 27.5kg it's managed to reduce the weight on theby a whole 9kg! The unit is solidly built as you’d expect and features a stippled swivel stand that makes it more comfortable to view the screen in other parts of the room.
The remote control is nothing special and is based on Panasonic’s years-old design, but at least the centrally-based "Viera Tools" button is actually useful now as it brings up an OSD menu including 3D settings. You’ll still need to hit the smaller "Menu" button to access other TV settings though.
In September 2009, Panasonic was very excited about Avatar and its potential to sell 3D gear. And the TV it used to show a 3D trailer of the movie? A prototype of the VT20. So, as you can imagine, Panasonic is quite chuffed with its 3D system. The TV comes with a single pair of glasses, but if you want more than this they cost AU$199 each. Ouch.
The TV ships with a copy of Ice Age 3 and Coraline in 3D. Rumours are that Panasonic has an exclusive for the Avatar 3D Blu-ray and will start shipping it with its TVs later in the year.
The VT20 features all the usual 3D modes (side-by-side, top-bottom) and will also convert 3D material (such as the World Cup final) back to 2D, which could be useful if you have more people than 3D glasses. However, this is a feature we desperately want for other, non-3D TVs.
If you're not interested in 3D then the TV caters for you too. The "glassless" waffle front means there are fewer reflections when watching this TV and there is a better off-axis response as well. The TV comes with a 1080p moving picture resolution, which means sharper movement, has a high "5,000,000:1" dynamic contrast and has been certified by THX.
The TV also comes with two USB ports that can playback media files such as AVCHD, DivX HD, SD-Video, JPEG, MP3 and AAC, and can also record free-to-air content with the addition of a USB drive.
As with other TVs released this year, the Panasonic features IPTV under the name of "Viera Cast" with access to YouTube and Bloomberg, with local content "coming soon". You can Skype your buddies (with the addition of the AU$150 camera) and also access Twitter and Picasa.
At CNET Australia we’re big fans of plasma technology, but think that this year LCD is nudging its way ahead. Given the Panasonic’s heritage we feel duty-bound to give the VT20 a high rating almost by proxy: "It’s based on the Kuro? Automatic five stars." But the truth of it is that things have changed drastically in the TV landscape in the past 18 months. After much hand-wringing, we're sorry to say plasma is.
After using the VT20 for a while we have to admit some mixed feelings for it. It’s great in well-lit rooms (a first for a plasma) and is even better in a darkened home theatre. Pictures are sharp, blacks are deep and detail is as sharp as you’d expect from the current leader in plasma technology. But in some respects it’s not as good as.