Throughout 2011, Panasonic's plasma TVs have been the sets to beat - especially where 3D is concerned. But now that we've recently seen a slew of new 3D TVs from other brands, the question of whether Panasonic's sets still hold their own against the newer kids on the block has to be asked.
To find out, we called in Panasonic's TX-P46GT30: the mid-sized model from Panasonic's GT30 range. As a middle-weight contender, it's potentially the perfect option for many mainstream households trying to square financial and space constraints with an understanding that when it comes to 3D TVs, size matters.
Having been surrounded by Samsung TVs recently, it has to be said that the P46GT30's aesthetics look a touch dour. But then, to be fair, almost any TV looks dour compared with Samsung's range, especially its high-end plasmas and LCD models. And once you've gotten over that Panasonic's screen is mostly black and its sculpting mostly straightforward, you can start to appreciate that its bezel is impressively trim for a big plasma TV, and that it's actually phenomenally well-built.
The P46GT30 comfortably holds its own where connections are concerned. Four HDMIs - built to the v1.4 spec, naturally - dominate proceedings, but it's also great to find a trio of USBs for playing back a decently wide variety of video, music and photo file types or for recording to USB HDDs from the HD tuners. Even better, the set provides both LAN and Wi-Fi (via a sadly-not-included USB dongle) facilities for either accessing content stored on a DLNA-enabled PC or Panasonic's Viera Connect service.
At first glance, the version of Viera Connect on the P46GT30 looks like the same old same old. Which is to say you get an unusually easy on the eye interface, but a rather low level of content compared with rival services. And a sense that the interface might struggle to cope with lots more content.
However, we then spotted that the Viera Connect 'Marketplace' box was showing that it had a few new items in it. And exploring this further turned out to be a revelation, as it turned out that it played host to a large amount of new content. Among the highlights were a trio of startlingly well-presented and actually rather playable games from Gameloft: one racing game, one golf game, and card classic Uno.
We were also impressed to find a wealth of new video content from the likes of Viewster, DailyMotion, BBC News, CNBC, EuroNews, and Indian movie channel BigFlix. Plus there's a new shopping section where you can buy a trio of joysticks designed to work with the Gameloft titles, Panasonic's wireless LAN adaptor and Skype TV camera, (expensive) pairs of Panasonic's 3D glasses, and even a couple of USB keyboard options.
In total we found 60 services and apps in the Marketplace (including social networking options such as Skype, Facebook, Twitter and Picasa), which constitutes a real leap forward for Panasonic. And we know for a fact that there are still more - including one that lets you get on a treadmill while the TV shows you any location in the world you fancy courtesy of Google World - still on their way.