With LCD TVs making such large leaps forward over the past 12 months, the arrival of the first screen from Panasonic’s 2010 plasma TV range is a source of as much trepidation as celebration. Especially as some of last year’s Panasonic plasmas left me feeling just a little cold, if I’m honest. Will the 37in TX-P37X20B show that plasma is keeping up with the LCD/LED joneses, or will it look like yesterday’s news?
The first thing to say about the P37X20B is that it’s impressively cheap for a 37in plasma TV; £550 would look fair even a few months after launch, but the TV is going for that already, despite only being available for a few days.
The next thing that catches my eye is the set’s design - though not necessarily for the right reasons. For while its finish looks marginally more opulent than that of last year’s Panny plasmas, thanks to a touch more gloss, the sculpting remains fundamentally unimaginative, and the lack of any metal trim or subtle colours to alleviate the full-on blackness is a shame.
The P37X20B sits right at the bottom of Panasonic’s new plasma range. And this lowly positioning is evident to some extent in its connections. For instance, you only get three HDMIs when many screens now are doing four. Though interestingly, one of these HDMIs is a 1.4 rather than the usual 1.3 grade, meaning it carries Audio Return Channel support.
There’s no Ethernet port for DLNA functionality or connecting to Panasonic’s VieraCast online service, though, nor is there a USB port for playing files from a USB stick. Even more startlingly there’s no D-Sub PC input, meaning you’ll have to use one of the three HDMIs for computer connection. Naturally this makes the provision of just three HDMIs potentially all the more troublesome.
The set isn’t a complete multimedia washout though, for it does cling to an SD card slot through which you can play JPEG still photos or AVCHD video files. This slot can take SDXC cards, too. To be honest, though, if I’d been Panasonic and I’d had to choose between a USB and an SD card slot on my new entry-level TV, I would personally have gone the USB route, due to the fact that USB storage sticks are so much more portable and practical for shifting between devices than tiny SD cards.
As you’d expect with a 37in plasma TV, the P37X20B doesn’t manage to fit in to its relatively small frame a Full HD resolution of plasma cells; instead it goes for Panasonic’s unusual 1,024 x 720 pixel count - a set up that delivers a widescreen aspect ratio because Panasonic uses a horizontally elongated plasma cell structure designed to improve colour balance.
Some of you will doubtless be immediately put off the P37X20B because it doesn’t have a Full HD picture. But if that’s you, just bear in mind that many times I’ve found video processing and a TV’s core engine to be far more important to image sharpness than mere resolution.
The TV’s native contrast, meanwhile, is rated at 2,000,000:1, a figure that looks stupendously good against the black level claims of rival LCD TVs - though only about average by today’s high and mighty plasma standards.
Other features of note include 100Hz processing which doubles the PAL refresh rate for enhanced motion, colours and image stability, and the introduction of Panasonic’s latest VReal 5 picture processing engine.
However, crucially the P37X20B does not use one of Panasonic’s NeoPDP panel designs. This means it won’t benefit from the high brightness/low running power advantages of NeoPDP, or the new filter/discharge gas/phosphor/redesigned plasma cell structure improvements made for 2010’s upcoming NeoPDP range (which kicks in at the G20 range).