Regular readers will know that Panasonic’s new G20 plasma series has been on my mind for quite a while now. It impressed me at various shows and press launches and its shadow has hung heavily over the two previous decent but not jaw-dropping 2010 Panasonic plasma TVs I’ve tested. Basically, alongside Panasonic’s upcoming VT20 3D plasmas, the G20 series is the one I’ve been waiting for.
There are a number of reasons why the G20 series seems so appealing. For starters, it’s the first TV in the UK with not one but two HD tuners: one for Freeview HD, and one for Freesat HD. Second, it’s the first Panasonic plasma TV we’ve seen to feature the 2010 version of the brand’s NeoPDP technology. Third, it’s the first TV from Panasonic to support recording to USB HDD. Finally and perhaps best of all, it delivers all this for surprisingly little money; we’ve found the 42in P42G20B model going for a little over £800, which compares very handily with all the LED-lit and top-end CCFL LCD TVs currently vying for your World Cup attention.
We’ll get into some of the P42G20B‘s star attractions in more detail presently, but first, I can’t help but feel disappointed by just how bland the P42G20B looks. It’s a touch glossier and more robust than Panasonic’s equivalent 2009 models, I guess, but its drab, unimaginative lines continue to lag painfully behind the TV designs of Samsung, LG and Philips - to name but three. To dress such a cutting-edge product so plainly feels almost criminal.
Things perk up a bit with the P42G20B’s connections, at least. For instance, of the more than adequate four HDMIs, one is a v1.4 affair, enabling the TV to offer the latest HDMI spec’s audio return channel, so that the TV can send audio data to an AV receiver without the need for a separate digital audio cable.
The set also has an Ethernet port, which serves a whole number of uses. First, it’s there to support the Freeview and Freesat HD platforms, and any future interactive features - including, inevitably, the BBC iPlayer - they might introduce. Next, it allows you to stream in files from a DLNA-capable PC. And finally, it provides your connection to Panasonic’s VieraCast online platform (or, alternatively, you can go Wi-Fi via an optional USB dongle).
Last year, VieraCast was one of the better online services around - not least because of its impressively designed and intuitive interface. But I have to admit to being a touch disappointed with it this year, simply because it hasn’t yet evolved very much. The English-language services available are DailyMotion, YouTube, Picasa, Eurosport, and a weather ‘channel’ - fair enough, I guess, but some way short of what you can enjoy via the latest Sony or Philips online TVs.
As with all online services, though, VieraCast can be updated on the hoof as and when new service provider deals are struck, so hopefully this aspect of the P42G20B’s feature list will improve soon. Our model actually showed a ‘Coming Soon’ menu graphic for Skype, for instance, and we’ve certainly seen examples of streaming movie services at some of the shows and presentations we’ve attended.