There seems to be an ever decreasing number of manufacturers creating plasma TVs -- most have now shifted their focus towards LCD sets. But Panasonic isn't giving up on the technology, as the 42-inch Viera TX-P42G15 shows. With its 1080p resolution, on-board freesat HD tuner and Internet widgets, it boasts an impressive line-up of features, although, at £1,000, it's not exactly cheap.
The TX-P42G15 may not be the most handsome set we've ever clapped eyes on, but the combination of its glossy black bezel and silver stand means it's not exactly an eyesore either. In fact, its slightly understated styling will help it sit well in pretty much any room.
One of the set's big benefits is the sheer range of channels it's capable of delivering without the need for a subscription. This is because it's got both Freeview and freesat HD tuners built in, with the latter giving you access to hi-def services from both the BBC and ITV. There's also a decent range of connectors for hooking up external gear like Blu-ray players and games consoles, including four HDMI ports, a set of component plugs and two RGB-enabled Scart sockets.
As well as the terrestrial and satellite tuners, the TV also features Panasonic's Viera Tools and Viera Cast technologies. The first of these allows you to view photos and videos either from SD cards or across a home network from a PC or network drive. Viera Cast is a set of Internet widgets that provides you with a TV-friendly interface for services like Picasa and YouTube, as well as Web content from Eurosport. It may sound rather gimmicky, but it works really well. In particular, the YouTube widget manages to make videos look impressive even when they're blown all the way up to fill the 42-inch screen.
None more black
Of course, none of this would matter if the picture quality wasn't up-to-scratch, but the TX-P42G15 also excels in this area. Panasonic has kitted it out with one of its latest NeoPDP panels and twinned this with its impressive Vreal Pro 4 processing engine.
Panasonic claims the big benefit of its NeoPDP technology is that it helps the panel produces not only more light output, but also deeper blacks, while at the same time improving response times and creating smoother motion control. These are bold claims, but they're largely backed up by the TX-P42G15's excellent performance.
The set really is exceptionally bright for a plasma TV, to the extent that, at times, it almost looks as bright as an LCD screen. Importantly, this extra brightness doesn't compromise the TV's black levels -- the set is still capable of producing exceptionally deep blacks. Also, while we weren't initially blown away by the TX-P42G15's colour response, we found, after some tinkering, that this was largely to do with the TV's rather mute presets. Dive into the picture menu to give them a quick tweak, and you'll be rewarded with colours and skin tones that are beautifully rich and natural.
As with all HD tellies, especially 1080p models, you need to feed the TX-P42G15 a good HD signal to get the best out of it. Flick over to BBC HD on this set's freesat tuner and you can't help but be impressed. Not only is the picture incredibly sharp, but motion is extremely smooth and fluid. The 600Hz processing really does help this set to keep even the fastest-tracking shots looking smooth and natural, with little noticeable judder.
Flat-panel tellies are never the best when it comes to delivering booming audio, but the TX-P42G15 does a fairly decent job. It produces crisp and clear dialogue, while still being able to muster up enough bass to convincingly handle explosions and car crashes in action movies.
It's not the cheapest set around, but the Panasonic Viera TX-P42G15 really delivers in terms of picture quality and the sheer number of features it offers. As such, we think it more than justifies its price tag. If you're seeking a premium plasma TV, it should be at the top of your shopping list.
Edited by Charles Kloet