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Panasonic's Viera TX-P50VT20B is one of our favourite TVs and bagged our Editors' Choice Award back in May. Since the Viera TX-P42V20B is based on much the same technology, we were expecting big things from this 1080p plasma set. There is an important difference between the two tellies, however. This model lacks the VT20's 3D support, but this is acknowledged in its lower price tag of £1,200.
At a time when almost every TV that turns up on our doorstep has a glossy black finish, it's refreshing to see Panasonic move away from the norm with the V20. Instead of black, it's got a metallic-grey finish that looks quite fetching. As with many of Panasonic's current sets, the rest of the design could best be described as understated, and at worst, downright boring. Panasonic definitely seems to be falling behind the likes of Samsung and LG when it comes to styling. Nevertheless, what it lacks in style it makes up for in build quality. The set does feel remarkably solid.
It's no slacker when it comes to connectivity, either. There are four HDMI ports as well as a set of component inputs, so you won't be stuck for sockets when hooking up your high-definition kit. Naturally, there's a VGA port for connecting a PC or laptop as well as two Scart sockets.
For digital-media playback, Panasonic has equipped the set with two USB ports, an SD card slot and an Ethernet socket. If you hook a USB drive up to one of the USB ports, you can use it to record broadcasts from the on-board tuners. Like other Panasonic sets that boast this feature, however, it's very fussy about which drives it supports and wouldn't work with the models we tried. On a plus note, Panasonic includes a Wi-Fi dongle with the TV, rather than forcing you to buy one as an optional extra.
Hooking the set up to your network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet gives you access to Panasonic's VieraCast Internet features. The range of services available is actually quite good. It includes the Acetrax video-on-demand rental services, Skype (you can connect a webcam to the USB port), Twitter, YouTube and Daily Motion. You can also access a beta version of the BBC iPlayer service via the red button if you're using the freesat HD tuner. Unfortunately (and bizarrely), this function isn't available with Freeview yet.
Of course, what's really important is the set's picture quality, and this is where the Panasonic V20 delivers in spades. For starters, the TV's presets are actually very usable. This has long been the case with Panasonic's sets, and means any required tweaking will be relatively minor. The V20's black levels are absolutely superb and definitely in the top tier of any sets out there at the moment. This is perhaps not surprising given that the TV uses the same Infinite Black Pro technology found in the VT20. These deep black levels help the TV to produce remarkably contrastive and cinematic images, making Blu-ray movies an absolute pleasure to watch.
Although colours may not be as punchy as on some LED sets, they're incredibly natural-looking and avoid the old problem associated with plasmas of reds taking on a slightly orange look. Here, reds really are red, and this extra colour accuracy helps to produce more even and convincing skin tones.
The TV also delivers impressive levels of detail. Razor-sharp HD picture quality is a given when you've got a Freeview HD and freesat HD tuner, but the set also drags out impressive levels of detail from standard-definition sources such as Freeview channels and pictures fed from a DVD player.
As with most flat-screen TVs, the V20's audio is passable rather than outstanding. Its on-board processing does a decent job of expanding the apparent width of the stereo image, but this makes the bass sound a little flabbier and less-focused than it should. Still, it does have better bass response than most slimline LED sets, which perhaps isn't surprising, since the V20's chassis is considerably deeper at 85mm.
With the Viera TX-P42V20B, Panasonic has created a superb TV that produces some of the most cinematic images you'll find outside your local movie theatre. The excellent Internet features and presence of Freeview HD and freesat HD tuners only sweeten the deal. Our only minor niggle is that, perhaps next time, Panasonic could improve on the rather stale styling of the chassis.
Edited by Emma Bayly