Nipping back to the Viera Cast platform, we’ve discovered the latest version of the system supporting a couple of key new features: Skype’s video calling service (via an optional extra camera), and the AceTrax film download site.
You can, as with Sony’s LoveFilm TV tie up, set up an account with AceTrax that connects to your TV, for easy streaming of a decent selection of films at either retail or rental prices.
You can cough up as much as £12 to buy a film for good (it’s stored in an AceTrax 'Cloud' so you can access it whenever you want to), or rent films for a single viewing for around £3.99. Go this route, and you have 30 days in which to stream the film. Unfortunately, though, Panasonic doesn’t believe that the UK’s broadband speeds are good enough right now to support HD AceTrax content.
The P42V20 happily shares the 3D range’s endorsements from both THX and Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) 3rd party organisations. The THX support manifests itself in a THX picture preset, while the ISF support sees you given two Professional picture preset slots, where an ISF expert can store night and day settings.
You can, of course, also store your own calibration efforts in these slots, with a fair colour management tool and thoughtful selection of gamma adjustments proving the star of the calibration show.
Other features of note within the tidy, largely foolproof onscreen menus include Panasonic’s new Resolution Enhancer, which proves handy for making standard definition pictures look sharper (so long as you avoid its noise-inducing High setting); Panasonic’s Intelligent Frame Creation/24p Smooth Film processing; a 600Hz sub-field drive; and a Digital Cinema Colour setting that seeks to create a more expressive, dynamic colour palette close to that produced by commercial digital cinemas.
It just so happened that we started testing the P42V20 immediately after spending time with one of Samsung’s 8000 series LED TVs. And as a result, our very first impression wasn’t actually a positive one, as the Panasonic’s pictures looked rather low on brightness by comparison.
But of course, this is routinely the case with plasma screens when sat side by side with LCD ones. And it’s misleading, for what Panasonic’s plasma screens might lack in terms of eye-catching brightness they more than make up for in terms of contrast - something that’s arguably of more importance to serious TV viewers than any amount of raw brightness.
So it is that after settling into the Panasonic’s less strident approach and dimming our lights to our customary viewing level, we started very quickly to appreciate the P42V20’s considerable contrast qualities. This is underpinned, of course, by Panasonic’s consistently outstanding black level response. In fact, the P42V20 uses the same Infinite Black Pro technology that so impressed on the VT20 3D model, producing the most naturally deep black levels we’ve seen on any TV aside from Pioneer’s legendary but long-discontinued KURO models.
This excellent black level performance stands in pleasing opposition to the TV’s portrayal of whites and colours of all brightness levels, and it’s this which ensures that while the P42V20‘s pictures don’t 'glow in the dark' as aggressively as many LCD TVs, they’re actually unusually dynamic.
This holds true, too, when you’re watching from an angle, since unlike LCD screens, there’s no loss of colour or contrast until you’re pretty much at right angles to the screen.