The 42-inch, 1080p Viera TX-P42S20B sits at the lower end of Panasonic's NeoPDP range of plasma TVs. It still has one of the company's high-end panels, though, offering great black levels and incredible response times. Apart from a built-in Freeview HD tuner, the TV is largely free from the sort of extra features seen on higher-end models, making it ideal for people who care about actual picture quality, rather than flashy extras.
The TX-P42S20B is available now for around £770.
Freeview HD happiness
As with some of Panasonic's other TVs, the TX-P42S20B has a built-in Freeview HD tuner, but doesn't make a massive fuss about it. In fact, unless you've checked the Panasonic Web site, or actually pay attention to signs in shops, you might never know that the TV can get free, over-the-air high-definition channels.
The TV makes as little fuss about tuning into these HD channels as the box does about the feature in general. All you do is turn on the TV, let it automatically tune itself, and tell it you're in a house, not a shop. Then you're away. Telling the TV you're in a house is important, because it makes the picture less gaudy, and much more suitable for home use.
Viera Cast off
Panasonic hasn't opted to include its Viera Cast system in this TV. If you don't know what we're talking about, then you probably won't care about its omission.
If you are saddened by the lack of Panasonic's IPTV and widgets interface, then at least you can take solace in the fact that Freeview HD will probably get access to the BBC's iPlayer at some point. It's also possible that Channel 4 and ITV will launch their own catch-up TV services on the platform at some point in the future.
The TX-P42S20B is also fitted with an HDMI 1.4 socket. On this TV, it serves no purpose other than offering an audio return channel. This is actually a really useful feature, but you'll need an AV receiver that's compatible with HDMI 1.4 before you can make use of it.
If you have all of the equipment, this feature will allow your TV to send audio, via HDMI, to a surround-sound decoder. This is especially useful for HD channels, which transmit Dolby Digital 5.1. On a 'normal' TV, sending this audio would require an optical or coaxial audio output, as well as an extra cable to clutter up your lounge.
With a 3D TV, HDMI 1.4 also allows the TV to detect when a 3D signal is being sent, and allow the screen to display it properly. But this TV isn't a 3D-ready model, so the benefits of HDMI 1.4 begin and end with the audio return channel.
HD is pretty as a picture
There's one downside about the arrival of HD on Freeview. It makes standard-definition channels look like a dog's dinner. But that's hardly Panasonic's fault, and, to give the TV credit, it does a good job with a pretty dreadful picture, offering a decent amount of detail and reasonable colours.
Switch to BBC HD, ITV HD or 4HD and your eyes will almost certainly be delighted by what they see. Be aware, though, that, of those channels, BBC HD is the only one on which you're guaranteed HD all the time. We watched some HD election coverage on the TV, and were truly blown away by the sharpness of the picture. Children's TV also gets a wonderful boost too, because of the vivid colour that HD brings. We just wish there was more HD on UK screens.
Hooray for Blu-ray
If Freeview HD looks good, Blu-ray looks mind-blowing. We loved District 9 in 1080p on this TV. We opted to turn off the 24-frames-per-second smoothing mode -- to get the most cinema-like picture -- and that resulted in a small but bearable amount of judder. With the smoothing feature turned on, the picture looks much more fluid, but somehow loses some of the authenticity of film. It really comes down to individual preference, though, and we encourage you to play with the settings to get the best set-up for you.