In our opinion, Panasonic released the best TV in 2010, the G10, but unfortunately its victory was soured by controversy over user complaints of a sudden increase in the brightness levels. To us as owners of the G series, we believe the Australian models were affected as there was a measurable change, but the issue was pretty much a storm in a teacup. Despite the slight lack of contrast, the TV remains impressive to this day.
Just as the G series managed to out-trump the more expensive V series last year, it seems history is repeating itself with Panasonic's latest TV.
Panasonic televisions tend to tread on the polite side of design, and so to see something emerge from the newest carton that's not piano black is a welcome change. The V20 features a silver-coloured plastic bezel whose colouring extends to the swivel stand. It's a little thinner than last year's G series, which may be important to you if you're looking to mount it on a wall.
The remote control is a familiar one: chunky, friendly and, though vaguely quirky, it is easy to use.
Connectivity has been a focus of Panasonic's set-top boxes for a number of years and with the 2010 range the feature has spread to a significant number of TVs s well. The V20 sports all of the features a modern, "smart" TV should have. These include wired and wireless internet connectivity with DLNA and video-on-demand, Twitter access, Skype calls (with the addition of a AU$150 camera) and a USB recorder.
The TV boasts a screen with a "glassless" front with a louvre structure, which not only eliminates reflections off-axis but gives the set a dynamic contrast of 5,000,000:1. While this impressive number is a relative indication of black levels one should take it with a grain of salt. Further picture enhancements include a 600Hz sub-field drive and a 1080-line moving picture resolution, which mean movement should be crisp and without ghosting artefacts.
Connectivity is helped along with four HDMI ports, two USB slots, two components, four AV inputs and a VGA connector.
The V series available in Australia is based on the G series, which is sold in the US and elsewhere. Why no V series here? We haven't been able to get a definitive answer from Panasonic, but we would hazard that the 2010 range has been designed to appeal to the bargain hunter with models such as the X20 and S20 making for the bulk of offerings.
As we've already alluded to, the V series is a serious performer, and was able to outdo its big brother VT20 in all but the "most important" test: black levels. The VT20 was a little better here, but only just.
We've recently upgraded our synthetic tests to the tougher HQV 2.0 test discs, and the results were a little hit-and-miss, especially when measured against the signal processing kings: Sony. Noise was well handled with images boasting defined edges and a lack of blocking. But the set wasn't as successful with jaggies, and this is something that carried through to watching the off-air tuner. White lines and text tended to glisten, and this seems to be a Panasonic trait. While it may clean jaggies up, it's not in the same league as image processing king Sony.
This tendency for sloppy image-handling extended to DVD playback, which, while it performed much better than the VT20, was unable to clean up a 576i image from our King Kong test disc. But in other areas — detail, colour uniformity and black levels — it is the master, and if the Sony HX800 wasn't so darned good we would be hoisting the Pana on our shoulders instead.
But as with most native 1080p screens its talents lie with high-definition content. Mission Impossible III may not be the best movie around but it's good at sorting the short pants from the trousers. The intro to the bridge scene was smooth and despite the TV's poor showing at the jaggies test earlier it actually performed quite well here — the railings were solid and free of moire. The screen also did a good job of cleaning up the noise inherent in the sky shots while also maintaining facial detail in close-ups. Switching to the night-time shots, black levels were also deep and the picture had ample amounts of contrast.
Sound quality was also acceptable and while not stunningly crystal clear dialogue was easily intelligible. Explosions had heft and you could hear the chaos going in a complex scene such as the MI3 bridge attack.
Aside from the VT20, this is Panasonic's most feature complete yet, and using the Viera Cast function was straightforward. It may not be as attractive as Sony's XMB or LG's NetCast, it is configurable so you can place the app "tiles" anywhere you wish.
We tested the AU$150 Skype camera and found it blended seamlessly with the application — even if the app itself wasn't that responsive. Additionally, YouTube worked as well as you could expect but the Twitter app wouldn't. Even if it did work, we don't know anyone who would rather tweet from a TV when they could more easily use a smartphone instead.
Like the VT20 the TV lets you hook up a USB hard drive and use it as a PVR, albeit a handicapped one. You can't use it to schedule recordings — only record current programs, and the "rewind live TV" controls are a bit screwy. They use the D-pad instead of the dedicated playback (Play, REW, FFW) controls on the remote.
With the increasing prevalence of "LED" TVs it seems that plasma's dominance is no longer assured. While the V20 and VT20 are superior to 90 per cent of the models on the market they are no longer "the best". But if you're a fan of plasma's key strengths — unrivalled viewing angles, deep black levels, truer colours — then this TV is still AU$1000 cheaper than the equivalent Sony TV and sports an older, "proven" technology.