Panasonic TX-P42G20B

Choosing which free high-definition TV platform to go for can be difficult, but thankfully this 42-inch Panasonic plasma makes the decision a whole lot easier. It’s equipped with both Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners, which means it’s ready to deliver high-def pictures whether you opt for a dish or rooftop aerial.

It’s also one of Panasonic’s Viera NeoPDP models, boasting self illuminating pixels and a whole host of other clever plasma tech designed to put those LED wannabes back in their place. Meanwhile, 600Hz Sub-Field Drive with Intelligent Frame Creation Pro (phew!) works to deliver smooth motion by analysing the picture and inserting frames to increase the refresh rate.

On the outside the set is nothing special, falling well short of Samsung or Sony’s glamorous sets with its token gloss-black bezel, but rear connectivity is excellent. You get four HDMI inputs (three on the back, one on the side) as well as Component, PC and Scart inputs. On the side is a pair of USB ports which allow you to play music, video and photo files from storage devices and record programmes on an external HDD.

Elsewhere the TX-P42G20B is a typically feature-packed affair. There’s DLNA streaming from networked PCs, access to the Viera Cast web portal, an SD card slot, support for an optional WLAN USB dongle and a wealth of picture adjustments. These include a THX-approved preset and Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) tweaks that a professional engineer can use to calibrate the picture.

Panasonic’s operating system is as slick as ever, using sensibly sequenced menus, clear text and a pleasingly responsive cursor. The remote’s large, clearly-labelled buttons make it a joy to use too. The Freeview HD and network functionality works well without any major glitches, except for some brief stuttering when playing YouTube clips.

It’s also a supreme picture performer. Panasonic’s tried and trusted plasma technology delivers staggeringly good blacks - deep and solid but nuanced at the same time. Clear shadow detail makes the picture clear even during the murkiest movie scenes.

Flick to Freeview HD and you’ll be amazed at the clarity and believability of the images. Detail is pin sharp (helped along by those punchy blacks) but colours are equally superb - strong when they need to be, but consistently natural, particularly where skin tones are concerned. The 600Hz processing also does a great job, enabling smooth movement without any traces of artefacts.

The only thing we’d say is that the image isn’t quite as bright or gob-smackingly sharp as some LED sets, which can make some colourful TV studio sets lose some of their zest, but for movie viewing it’s perfect.

Sonically the Panasonic’s speakers are found wanting with movies, but for everyday TV fare it’s fine. Speech is intelligible and theme tunes are blasted out with the relevant energy.

Verdict

What’s more, built-in Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners give you the best of both free HD worlds. It’s not the best looking set we’ve seen and some people may prefer a brighter picture, but in every other respect this is a winner through and through.



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