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Reviewed: 02 October 2010
Black level ability, colour
SD pictures may be a little 'soft' for some
Not so long ago noted for their innovative design ethos, Panasonic are now content to produce rather drab looking Plasma and LCD TVs. The chunky grey finish presented by the TX-P50V20 looks rather uninspiring when placed alongside some of the stylish ultra slim offerings from other manufacturers.
Of course, if the V20 delivers where it is most important, in the picture presentation arena, then those bland looks will be forgiven and soon forgotten.
Somewhat overshadowed by the arrival of Panasonic's flagship 3D enabled VT20 range of Plasma TVs, the V20 has almost as much to offer technically, bringing with it the latest NeoPDP flat panel screen technology which promises performance to rival Pioneer's legendary 'Kuro' screens. The 'Kuro' range remain a benchmark for HDTV performance, even though they have now been discontinued.
Screen: 50in 16:9 Tuner: Digital Sound System: Nicam Resolution: 1,920 x 1080 Contrast Ratio: 5,000,000:1 Other Features: NeoPDP, Freesat HD and Freeview HD tuners, 600Hz sub-field drive, Vreal Pro 5. Sockets: 4 HDMI, 2 SCART (RGB), S-Video, Component Video, SD card slot.
The V20 has been designed to satisfy those consumers who are looking for high end features, but who are not yet ready to embrace the joys of 3D viewing in the home. A saving of around £500 is the carrot that may tempt many not to future proof with the 3D option.
Although Panasonic are not the only manufacturers of Plasma TVs, they continue to be the standard bearer for a technology which is facing stiffer and stiffer competition from its technological cousin, LCD.
Much has been made of the 'collaboration' involving Pioneer in the design of Panasonic's 2010 plasma range. Exactly how much technology sharing this involved has been the subject of much speculation, but what is not in doubt are the significant improvements for Panasonic's 2010 implementation of NeoPDP.
The most significant component, Infinite Black Pro, promises richer, deeper, more consistent black levels to rival Pioneer's 'Kuro' range.
The original NeoPDP technology introduced larger cell surfaces and improved phosphor mixtures to enhance flat panel luminance efficiency. The 2010 implementation offers an improved cell structure, improved phosphors and a new discharge gas formulae.
While the V20 does not benefit from fast plasma cell decay technology found on the 3D enabled VT20, its optimization for the 3D sequential frame format calls into question its worth in anything other tan a 3D enabled TV.
While the overall picture performance of plasma compares favorably to LCD, relative power consumption of the competing technologies has always exposed plasma's Achilles heal in significantly greater running costs. NeoPDP technology not only reduces power consumption but paves the way for slimmer, lighter screens with improved picture performance.
600Hz Sub-Field Drive
The V20 employs 600Hz Sub-Field Drive Intelligent Frame Creation Pro technology. Things are always not quite what they seem however, and the 600Hz as we shall see does not translate into 600 frames per second.
Remembering that a video signal is actually a series of still images (frames) appearing so quickly that they trick the eye into believing we are watching a moving image (100Hz = 100 frames per second) - Sub-Field technology adds an extra step to the process. Sub-field drive is the method used to display (or 'flash') the individual image elements (dots) on a plasma panel, 600 times per second (600Hz).
Panasonic are actually employing some clever technology to 'interpolate' this extra data. Although the number of frames has not increased to 600fps, the technology has produced impressive results in terms of enhanced picture smoothness.
The P50V20 gets 4 HDMI inputs (1 is v1.4), a D-sub PC jack, two USB inputs a LAN port and SD card slot. The LAN port gives you access to Panasonic's 'Viera Cast' service with the likes of YouTube and 'Skype' (currently showing a 'coming soon' message) and also enables file streaming from a DLNA-capable PC.
A USB dongle gives you the option of substituting the hard wired LAN connection for Wi-fi and interestingly, you can record to an external HDD (Hard Disk Drive) via the USB. You can copy Standard or High Definition programmes (although not via the analogue tuner) to a HDD between 160GB and 2TB. Unfortunately you can't use a memory stick and recordings can only be played back on the TV you made the recording ...
The TX-P50V20 is also DLNA compliant meaning that you can access and view content from a home networked PC, NAS or USB device.
Freesat and Freeview HD tuners
Covering both bases, the V20 gets a built-in Freesat HD and Freeview HD tuner for free (no subscription) High Definition programmes.
Bear in mind that Freeview HD services are currently being rolled out across the UK, so it is important to check via Freeview whether they are available in your area.
Panasonic's core picture processing technology now comes in the shape of Vreal Pro 5.
Somewhat overshadowed of late by other more glamorous features, we shouldn't forget that Vreal remains one of the most important determining factors of overall picture quality.
Calibration and Certification
The V20 gets ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) compatibility which means that a certified professional can now calibrate your TV. Panasonic have actually had to add more precise tweaking options such as an improved colour management system to get ISF on board.
The TH-P50V20 is THX certified and with tough criteria to meet in the shape of brightness, contrast and video processing for a home theatre level of video reproduction this is more than a window dressing exercise.
To get THX certification, TVs are rigorously tested to ensure they produce film images exactly as the film's creators intended them.
Unlike less well specified Plasma TVs lower down the Panasonic pecking order, the V20 gets three rather than two speakers, arranged in an innovative 2.1 configuration.
Panasonic have persevered with Plasma technology for a reason, the potential for enhanced picture performance. With contrast levels and motion handling abilities that in many people's eyes match or even better LCD, Plasma still has much to offer. We now expect Panasonic Plasma TVs to deliver excellent levels of contrast and we have become just as interested in how they compare with other TVs in the Plasma stable and how much value for money they represent. Does the V20 deserve its place in the high end sector of Panasonic's range?
Things get off to a predictably good start with black levels that match the range topping 3D enabled VT20. Just as important, the level of accomplishment in this area is significantly better than the step down G20 range.
A simple test of a TV's black level ability is to sit in a darkened room with the screen on but showing a blank dark screen (switch to an empty TV input). You will realise instantly with any TV that what you might have thought were pure blacks were in fact very dark shades of grey. The V20 is no exception, but manages to create as good an interpretation of pure black as any TV around.
The V20 is one of a handful of TVs which are able to deliver those levels of graduated blacks that actually look inky black in normal room lighting while delivering subtle nuances of detail across darker scenes.
Of course, everyone wants to know if Panasonic's 2010 Plasmas are as good as the benchmark Pioneer 'Kuro'? well, they come close and looking at the two screens independently, you would be hard pressed to spot any difference. Ultimately however, the Pioneer still manages to produce slightly blacker blacks and a touch more shadow detail across darker scenes.
Panasonic have also managed to reduce the negative effect of 'ambient' light which gave 2009 models a slightly washed out look with high contrast material. Even in broad daylight, the VT20 manages to retain a high degree of contrast. Reflections can be present, but this is something that we have more control over.
While most people would agree that Plasma technology cannot deliver the colour intensity and sheer vibrancy you get from LCD, the black level performance of the V20 provides an excellent blank canvas for the realization of colour.
One of NeoPDP's ambitions was to focus on the colour fidelity of high end Panasonic Plasma's and in particular, the 'naturalness' of colour tones.
Going some way to indicate that Panasonic have achieved what they set out to do, what the V20 delivers in buckets is this 'naturalness' of tone that admittedly may be a little 'soft' for some, but which delivers a wholly authentic and watchable viewing experience.
The accuracy of colours is quite uncanny, making even tricky areas such as skin tones appear wholly realistic.
The faster phosphor discharge element of NeoPDP technology was actually designed primarily for 3D performance but it impacts positively on the 2D capabilities of any screen to which it is applied.
With fast on screen action, phosphor trailing (purple snakes) have largely disappeared.
As with all of the higher end Panasonic Plasma TVs, Standard Definition viewing on the TX-P50V20 is excellent. Even with a poor quality SD feed, the screen's upscaling abilities produce an image that is largely free from any inconsistencies.
PWM (pulse width modulation) which can cause a 'shimmering' effect on even the finest plasmas has largely been removed.
As we discovered with the VT20, the accomplished black level performance and colour ability combine with Panasonic's picture processing wizardry to produce one of the sharpest, cleanest, most stable and ultimately one of the best SD performances we have come across for some time.
One of the most impressive aspects of recent plasma offerings from Panasonic has been their High Definition performance. In fact, in most cases HD performance could only be described as sublime.
The TX-P50V20 has actually managed to take HD performance to another level which is a little awkward in that we now need to come up with a new set of superlatives.
What recent Panasonic plasma screens have achieved with HD material is a sense of realism that gets as close to being a totally immersive 2D experience as any entertainment medium we have come across.
The P50V20 actually improves this experience with a level of detail that thanks to NeoPDP technology, in our opinion, actually surpasses Pioneer's 'Kuro' range. The level of detail, sharpness and clarity with High Definition material and the sense of reality it creates is simply stunning.
The three speakers present on the VT20 with their innovative 2.1 setup gave us hope that we might at last come across a flat panel TV whose acoustics could live up to the picture.
Disappointingly, and despite other adjustment options, including various Pseudo surround sound modes, the acoustic performance (like most LCD and Plasmas) can only be described as average. Like so many other TVs that make concessions to style over the bulky speakers required for strong sound, acoustics are rather 'thin' lacking that top end base that requires a decent surface area to create.
The TX-P50V20 slugs it out with the flagship VT20 toe to toe, matching it in every respect. With stunning High Definition and Standard definition picture performance, the TX-P50V20 is one of the best all round TV we have come across.
The fact that you will pay around £500 less for the 50in VT20, in our opinion, allows it to slot nicely in to the right kind of position, in terms of price, in the Panasonic Plasma range. If the difference was a few hundred pounds or a little more, we would be tempted to future proof with 3D.
Black level ability, colour
SD pictures a 'soft' for some