The Viera range has long been the pinnacle of flat-screen style, but with this eighth generation model, it's also the pinnacle of features and performance. It would still fit into the most stylish, minimalist of homes whether it's hung up the wall or sat on its optional glass cabinet. But now it can also court the technological elite thanks to its high-definition capability and integrated Freeview tuner.
At around £2,000 online, the Viera may well be expensive, but you're buying a TV that's been crafted with loving care. The image quality is startlingly good -- anyone who had written plasma off should be pleasantly surprised by the colour and contrast depth of this brand-new panel. The colours are so rich they look like they're dripping off the screen, while the detail levels are strong even from standard definition sources. LCDs with 37- and even 40-inch screens are available for less money, but if you want a super-stylish plasma with amazing colour reproduction, this Viera will take some beating.
This Viera is the epitome of understated cool, with a slick black frame surrounding the main panel. There are a few logos around the edge of the screen but they do little to spoil the minimalist design, and the minuscule perforations down the side mean the speakers are barely noticeable. Our test model came with a glass cabinet stand, which costs about £200 more than the desktop stand, but it looks amazing in either configuration and gleaned plenty of admiring glances in an office that's well used to seeing high-end TVs roll in and out.
Connectivity is excellent on this plasma, spanning all upcoming standards while catering for all current inputs. There's only one HDMI connector (many new TVs are shipping with two), but you can connect a second high-definition source via the component inputs (the Xbox 360 or a DVD player, for example). The VGA input is perfect for accommodating a media centre PC or laptop, but if you want to show off your holiday snaps you can plug your SD card straight in to the front of the TV.
Let's not get carried away though -- the only HD source available at the time of writing is the Xbox 360. Chances are you'll be wanting to use standard definition sources for a while yet, and the Viera is well specified in this area. There are three Scart inputs (two RGB) on the rear, and considering that there's a Freeview tuner in the TV itself, this allocation should be more than enough. The television accomodates more temporary sources (a camcorder or games console, for example) by including S-Video and composite inputs on the front of the TV underneath a panel.
The menu system and remote control are both immaculately designed, which gives you the feeling that the entire package has been designed with huge attention to detail. The setup procedure for both analogue and digital takes a matter of minutes, and the electronic programme guide supports the full 7-day schedule broadcast by Freeview. The remote control also supports Panasonic DVD players and recorders, and the record button has even been tucked under a flap so you don't knock it by accident.