Like MacGyver, plasma TV technology is a true survivor. Just when you think it's done for, back it comes with another trick up its sleeve. Recently, plasma has impressed with its ability to produce 3D images that don't suffer half as badly from crosstalk as LCD sets. But 3D plasmas have so far been pretty pricey. The 42-inch, 1080p Panasonic Viera TX-P42GT20 aims to change that. It's available for around £1,050.
None more dull
Panasonic isn't exactly renowned for its design flair, and the GT20 is dull even by the company's usual standards. The whole of the front is finished in glossy black, with little else to catch the eye. The best that can be said of the design is that it's pretty inconspicuous.
Although its appearance leaves something to be desired, the set isn't lacking when it comes to connections. There are four HDMI 1.4 ports for connecting up your high-definition gear, along with a set of component inputs, two Scart sockets, a VGA connector and composite inputs.
Like many of Panasonic's mid- and high-end sets, the GT20 has both Freeview HD and freesat HD tuners, giving you access to the broadest range of free HD channels.There's also an Ethernet port on the rear of the TV for use with online services such as iPlayer (which is, strangely, only available if you're using the freesat HD tuner) and the Acetrax movies-on-demand service. The TV also has two USB ports that can be used for digital media playback or recording TV shows to an external hard drive.
Set-up's a cinch
Setting up the GT20 is very straightforward. Unlike 3D models from Philips, Panasonic has followed the herd and built the infrared transmitter that controls the 3D glasses into the set, so you don't have to faff about with any additional gear. Tuning both freesat and Freeview channels doesn't take very long either.
But, although the TV's menu system is easy to navigate, the presentation is very drab, especially compared to the menus on TVs from the likes of LG and Sony. Also, the set's electronic programme guides aren't all that hot. For example, they don't retain a thumbnail video of the current channel while the EPG is displayed and, rather annoyingly, the Freeview EPG shows Web-style adverts, which compromises the amount of screen space that can be used. Thankfully, these adverts don't appear on the freesat EPG.
Despite its lower price tag, the GT20 thankfully includes much of the same technology as Panasonic's higher-end VT20 models. The only really significant missing feature is the Infinite Black Pro filter that helps to improve black levels. Instead, the GT20 uses the non-Pro version of this filter. While the difference is noticeable compared to sets with the Pro version, the GT20 still produces deep and inky blacks that put plasma TVs from rival manufacturers in their place.
In fact, this TV's overall 2D picture quality is very impressive. As with most plasma displays, colours are warmer and more natural-looking than on many LCD screens, even if they're not as bright. The TV's deeper black levels and razor-sharp HD performance lend Blu-ray movies a superbly cinematic look too, especially with the True Cinema presets turned on. The presets on this TV are universally excellent, so you shouldn't have to do all that much tweaking to perfect them.
Standard-definition broadcasts from the freesat or Freeview tuners also look surprisingly perky, with minimal artefacts, especially when watching from a normal viewing distance.
But the main selling point of the GT20 is its 3D capability. Initially, Panasonic offered this set with a bundled pair of 3D specs, but it now seems that these aren't included, although you may find some dealers still offering this bundle. Panasonic supplied us with a pair of its new and improved 3D specs that now have enclosed sides to block out ambient light.
Fire up a 3D Blu-ray and the TV automatically switches into 3D mode. If you're using a Sky+HD box or PlayStation 3, you'll have to manually make the switch. Either way, the results are extremely impressive.
Unlike most of the 3D LCD TVs we've seen, the GT20 is virtually free of 3D cross-talk problems, whereby images appear with a slight shadow behind them. As a result, 3D images look rock-solid, impressively sharp and detailed, and, perhaps most importantly, offer a great sense of depth. The lack of cross-talk really helps 3D images to look more natural, which in turn helps the effect to be even more engaging. The 3D in Alice in Wonderland, when Alice first arrives in the dream world, looked especially impressive on this display.
It's also worth noting that the GT20 has one feature not found on VT models: 2D-to-3D conversion. The conversion works better than that on Samsung's UE46C8000, and the results look slightly more natural. But the resulting image doesn't have anywhere near the same impact as true 3D material and, although it's a gimmick worth trying once or twice, you're unlikely to use it much in the long term.
The GT20 lacks the subwoofer found in the VT models and, as a result, the audio from the set is noticeably less bass-heavy. But it holds its own against most LCD screens of this size. As ever, though, it'd be best to twin the TV with a surround-sound set-up for real sonic thrills.
The price difference between the Panasonic Viera TX-P42GT20 and the 42-inch VT20 model is currently around £350. The VT20 certainly has better black levels and, for purists, the premium is probably worth it. But, if you can't quite stretch to the extra £350, we don't think you'll be disappointed with the GT20. It offers impressively cinematic 2D images and some of the best 3D pictures around.
Edited by Charles Kloet