Panasonic V20 (TX-P50V20B) Review

How does the V20 compare to its high-end 3D brother? And does it offer enough of a step up over the G20? Phil Hinton finds out...

by Phil Hinton
TV Review

77

Highly Recommended
Panasonic V20 (TX-P50V20B) Review
SRP: £1,600.00

Introduction

The final jigsaw piece in Panasonic’s high end plasma line up has arrived for review at AVForums. The V20 Plasma sits just under the flagship VT20 3D TV and above the G20 in this year’s range. So what are the differences between the models now we finally have the V20 available and is it just a VT20 with the 3D stripped out? All those questions and more are about to be answered

Design and Connections

There is no doubt that Panasonic has never been inclined to add much in the way of design flair to their TV chassis. However, 2010 has seen the addition of some finer design lines and colours used. Whilst there are slimmer and more designer orientated plasma designs now available from its Korean rivals, the Panasonic offers an assured build quality and rugged no-nonsense approach to its looks. The bezel frame has straight lines between the vertical and horizontal arms with a silver strip along the top and bottom. The VT20 used an off bronze colour with its design and the V20 has the same looks but in a gun metal grey finish. As always the design aspect of any TV is a very subjective one but this reviewer actually prefers the V20 finish to that of the high end model. Even the provided table-top stand has the same paint finish as the bezel that gives the impression of a brushed metal finish; but it is in fact plastic like the bezel.

Even the Remote Control has a new colour for the V20 with a silver finish to complement the TVs design. This silver is lighter than that used on the bezel but still gives the V20 a nice touch. The remote is well laid out and is identical to those used with the VT20 and G20 models. I am glad that Panasonic saw fit to do away with the annoying ‘N’ button that basically scrubbed your settings if accidentally pressed. The rest of the main key choices are where you’d expect to find them and are easy to use. It is a shame, however, that the high-end screens, this year, don’t have some kind of machined metal remotes like the old Kuro’s did. This kind of approach makes it feel like a quality item, unlike the plastic remotes used here.

Moving to the rear and side panels of the V20, we find the connections for your sources and home network. This line-up of connections is identical to the VT20 with four HDMI v1.4 slots (one on the side panel) with HDMI 2 offering the audio return channel(ARC) for use with an HDMI v1.4 equipped AV Receiver. For legacy video connections, we have two RGB Scarts, one set of Component RCA connections, a VGA PC slot and an Ethernet connection. There are also audio inputs and outputs using RCA plugs and an optical audio output. For the Freesat HD feed, we have a satellite socket, and for Freeview HD (if you have the right aerial and you are in an area where it is broadcast), there is a standard RF socket. One strange omission is an RS232 control port or any kind of control interface which again points to Panasonic aiming these sets at the consumer market and not the custom install market. However, having tested the professional PF20 panel last week, I think the company has missed a trick here, as the V20 is a far superior display in terms of picture quality.

Moving to the side panel and we are greeted with two USB inputs, a common interface card slot, a composite video input and further audio inputs along with an SD card slot and 3.5mm headphone jack. Rounding off the side panel is the main power switch and basic volume and channel buttons.

Whilst we welcome such comprehensive connections we do have an issue with the way the slots are positioned when it comes to wall mounting the TV. Although the rear panel is recessed slightly we cannot help but think that if the HDMI and Power Socket were positioned at a right angle, and recessed, it would allow better wall mounting options. Just a minor complaint, but a complaint none the less.

The final item to mention, that’s also included in the box, is the USB Wi-Fi dongle for connection to the internet so you can use the Viera Cast service and connect to your home network via DLNA. This is a nice touch for those who don’t have an Ethernet cable running anywhere near the TV. The small design also allows the unit to be connected to one of the two USB ports yet hidden from view.

Features

The V20 offers up an extensive number of features on board and to all intents and purposes is identical to the VT20 minus the faster phosphor and 3D technology. In all other respects it has the same feature count, so what do we have?

First of all the V20 is being marketed as the best choice for movies and as such the THX certification is pushed to the front of a long queue. The THX mode is a one option does-it-all picture preset that mirrors the Industry Standards for TV and film playback. This means that the picture quality is set to match the same images seen in the production of the material you watch; hence you see it as intended. We will discuss this more in the picture area of the review.

Also included is the infinite black pro technology which uses filters to deepen the black level of the panel and also to reject ambient light. This is clever technology first seen on the legendary Pioneer Kuro screens and even in very bright rooms with lots of light hitting the screen; the image remains stable and doesn’t wash out completely like other Plasma TVs would.

Next, we have the inclusion of twin HD tuners which is still a unique feature of the Panasonic models this year. Both Freesat and Freeview HD tuners are available with simple set up and ease of use, you have the choice of the free to air HD channels in your EPG. Sadly there are only 3 HD channels available at this stage, but at least you will get all the World Cup matches as two of those channels are BBC HD and ITV HD.

The Viera Cast service offered by the V20 includes You Tube, Picasa and weather information. It is a closed online service which does not allow you to browse the internet. After playing around with the service for about 30 minutes there is a good chance you will get bored, like I did, and never use it again. Of more interest to us is the ability to hook up to our home network using the DLNA functionality so we could stream content to the TV. If that is still not enough for you, then you can use the USB and SD-Card slots to stream music, video and photos to the screen.

Intelligent Frame Creation and 600Hz

I normally talk about the picture processing of TVs in one dedicated section of a review, however, because there is so much marketing about these two features, it is probably wise to have a separate area dedicated to each. As the V20 uses exactly the same technology as the VT20, this is what we had to say in the VT20 review:

So first of all we have the Intelligent Frame Creation (IFC) which is a motion compensation technology that interpolates frames. Basically, this means that the TV looks at upcoming frames in the TV show or Film and then guesses what frames should be added in between to make motion look smoother. The positive effect of this is that all 1080 lines of resolution should become visible on screen. However plasma technology, because of its fast response times, doesn’t really have an issue with motion blur like an LCD TV would. Without the IFC function switched on, and using the FPD Benchmark Blu-ray test pattern, we could clearly make out just over 900 lines of resolution on the moving chart. With IFC turned on it made the resolution more stable to 1080 lines, however it also added some artefacts to the image. When moving to real world material, on both TV tuners and Blu-ray, with IFC engaged (it’s called 24p Smooth Film when BDs are played) the image did look smooth but also gave the image a false ‘soap opera’ look. This means that film, which should have a certain look to it, was now presented like it was shot on cheap digital video cameras. This completely robbed the image of what natural motion it should have and I would recommend leaving it switched off. Not only does motion look odd with IFC on for both Film and TV shows but the processing also adds in artefacts where its guessing goes wrong.

Next we have 600Hz and how it is sold to the public as being a motion technology like other manufacturers' 200Hz systems. This is not the case as you have two issues at play here with the Panasonic system. First of all 600Hz (also seen on Samsung and LG plasma TVs) is not the same as 100/200Hz systems. It refers to how the subpixels that make up the plasma image work. It all comes down to the frame rate and how many subfields are used to make up one frame. These subpixels do not directly affect motion but rather make up the image being drawn on screen within each frame. Where Panasonic confuse matters is when this natural way of making images in a plasma panel is introduced to the IFC system and gets called IFC sub field driving. So, with my cynical hat on again for a moment, this 600Hz technology is a marketing department invention to compete with the 200Hz LCD sets, and yet it’s nothing of the kind in practice. So do you need to worry about whether to buy a 600Hz screen or a 200Hz screen? No you don’t as they are completely different beasts altogether. Plasma technology doesn’t really have issues with motion blur like LCD, so the figures in real life use are a non-issue. It’s another big number for marketing departments to use.

Menus and Set-up

As you would expect the menu systems across all the Panasonic models are the same with just the occasional missing item. In the case of the V20 the menu layout is identical to the VT20 minus the 3D menu page.

The main Picture Menu has a choice of Dynamic (yuk!), Normal, Cinema, THX, Game, Photo and Professional 1 & 2. The new options (Pro 1 & 2 requested by AVForums members and the review team last year) contain isf picture set up controls. These give access through the advanced menu to controls for greyscale, colour gamut points and gamma. Although nearly all the controls we requested at a presentation to Panasonic are included; the lack of a full 3D Colour Management System (CMS) is, in our opinion, a major omission given almost all their competitors have one. Also here in the professional menu is a digital cinema colour option.

Another option worth looking at is the C.A.T.S system, which attempts to adjust the contrast performance depending on what the lighting and environment conditions are. These types of auto systems are never accurate and can cause the image to fluctuate by some margin so we left it switched off. Also here on the first menu are options for noise reduction settings, picture in picture, picture display on or off, the advanced menu access, plus options to lock settings and reset to default. These are your options in THX and Professional modes. However, if you switch to Game, Cinema, Photo and Normal you also get further picture controls for Colour Temperature, Vivid Colour (called Colour Management last year) and Advanced White Balance including Gamma.

The Sound Menu is also very straightforward to use and includes a custom mode that gives you an EQ system to fine tune the sound to suit your needs. The actual sound quality of the built-in speakers is adequate but, as always, we would recommend the use of an off board 5.1 sound system with a TV of this calibre.

The rest of the menu system contains options you would set once and forget, apart from two important settings which are strangely not included in the picture menu. The first is the Intelligent Frame Creation Pro controls which should be switched off for film based material as the motion resolution of plasma doesn’t need any assistance. Secondly the 16:9 Overscan option is also under the ‘Setup’ menus and this should be switched off for use with HD content so you get 1:1 pixel mapping.

Test Results

Out of the Box Measurements

The V20 was run in for 100 hours before any measurements were taken using a Klein K-10 meter and CalMAN V3.7 software.
As with the G20 and VT20, the higher end screens from Panasonic this year have the THX mode included. This picture preset tries to follow the industry standards for content reproduction and playback. We have found that whilst THX do have set goals for the limits of errors allowed within this out of the box preset, it has varied between different models. On the VT20 and G20 blue tracked low in the greyscale mix with green and red around 5% over the 100% target. These results were fairly consistent and produce a slight yellow cast within the image, most notably on skin tones. However the V20 is being marketed as the screen to buy for critical movie viewing and as the product for serious videophiles and straight away, just by eye, THX mode looks far more accurate than it was on the G20 and VT20. Now, there could be a number of reasons for this; each model could be different, run in time might affect results or it’s a deliberate tweak at the factory end. Certainly with this models marketing angle and the results below in THX mode has me wondering about the latter.

So, we look at the out of the box THX mode and start with the greyscale. As you can see, in the tracking and balance charts, the mix between the three colours is good with errors at 3dE and under (Delta E). On screen, this means that most viewers would not witness any visible errors and, unlike the VT20 in THX mode, the V20 has no yellow cast to images. Sadly gamma is not quite perfect and tracks at closer to 2.0 than our desired 2.2, which means that, on screen, the image from 0-100% is lighter than desired. This is not a major error but it will be noticeable to videophiles aiming for picture perfection.

Moving to the CIE chart, where we measure the Colour Gamut and the results here are excellent. There is very little needing to be done to improve this result with everything almost bang on and is one of the best results we have seen with the THX preset, reference levels of accuracy.

Calibrated Results

Thanks to the inclusion this year of ISF calibration controls, we are able to again reach excellent results. Thankfully, Panasonic finally get that users want a TV that produces a Colour Gamut that matches the standards of TV and film playback. As such, the Professional Modes are similar to the THX mode, out of the box, in terms of hitting Rec.709 and D65 for greyscale. However, we also have the controls needed to fine tune the image further. This is especially useful for the Greyscale tracking; however the CMS included is not quite perfect. We would like to see a full 3D Colour Management System (CMS) for next years models.

Moving to the calibrated ISF results of the Greyscale and we have reference levels of performance here. The menus provided do get in the way, like they do with the other models this year, so it does take longer than necessary to calibrate but the results are worth the hassle. We would like to see Panasonic change the menu workflow as soon as possible as there will be plenty of users who will hire professional calibrators to get the very best out of the V20, and we don’t blame them. As you can see, with careful calibration, we were able to achieve almost perfect tracking and balance results, with errors (Delta E) under 1 across the board. We were also able to get the Gamma to track a little better, than out of the box, with careful set up and it now tracks far closer to the 2.2 target point.

As the V20, like most Panasonic TVs this year, has a very close Gamut result to Rec.709, there was not much for us to do here. Just a few tweaks were required to get the best balance of results and, again, it is reference level. Not a lot else we can add here, so lets move on…

Picture Processing

The one area where the 2010 range of Panasonic plasma screens has improved the most is with their scaling and de-interlacing. However, there is still no support for any form of film or video based cadence detection, so with the tuner’s and any signal fed ,that hasn’t already been processed, (from an upscaling DVD/BD player with good cadence detection) this will result in some visible artefacts.

However the plus points here is the scaling performance, resolving excellent detail levels without adding ringing to fine edges or blur. The now common tests run on the HQV and FPD benchmark discs (barring cadence) all passed with very few issues. There is good diagonal interpolation which suppresses jaggies in most content to a high degree.
HD performance is also exceptionally good with both interlaced and progressive formats. We saw no major issues to detract from your HD viewing and no back door processing being added to the image. 24p playback is again at 96Hz, on the V20, which offers no interpolation and smooth looking images with no induced judder. The inherent response of the Plasma technology also manages to display a good 900 lines of motion resolution, on the FPD test, which is three times better than an average LCD TVs performance. This means that the V20 is not only excellent when fed HD film content but watching fast moving sports material is a delight. As I mentioned earlier in the review, if you add on Intelligent Frame Creation (24p Smooth with BD sources) the motion resolution improves but with the drawbacks of adding in processing errors and making film content look like a ‘Soap Opera’, so its best left off.

Flicker, Image Retention and Black Levels rising

Rounding up our testing, we look at the common issues discussed on the forums at the moment concerning the Panasonic Plasma screens.

The V20 drops the 3D capabilities of the VT20 and that includes the faster phosphor technology incorporated with that function. This means that phosphor trailing is seen from time to time with the V20. This is mild and almost unnoticeable in normal viewing conditions. It may be more of an issue when playing fast moving video games, so if you are a gamer you need to demo this before purchase.

I am happy to report that at no point did I notice panel flicker, from the V20, when watching normal content. As flicker is a very personal thing, some people see it and others don’t, I would again recommend that you demo the TV to see if this affects you.
The black level rising issue is now well documented to a great degree on the forums with the 2009 sets. However, at this stage, there are no reports that the 2010 rises are noticeable or impact on the image quality. This is an area that Panasonic have claimed will be unnoticeable on the 2010 sets, as they work more gradually in their voltage rise. This needs to be tested long term with the 2010 sets but, at this point and with the testing we have done with review models, there doesn’t appear to be any issues with black level rise or excessive retention.

Speaking of image retention, we can confirm that, like every other plasma out there, the V20 has very little visible retention during normal use. This was only visible by using test patterns and we didn’t notice it during normal use. Retention is an issue that disappears quite quickly and is not a permanent issue like burn-in.

The last area to check is for an artefact called ‘Floating Blacks’. This is where the black levels (usually the bands on a 2.35:1 film) seem to change intensity and look like there is light behind the blacks. I can report that I noticed this on one film and only when I went looking for it: it was very minor. I have to say that this issue does not seem to be overly noticeable on the V20 and is a lot better than the latest LED LCD uniformity issues where the whole screen has floating blacks, well greys. Again, it needs to be tested long term but I saw no issues that concerned me during our review process.

Gaming Performance

Moving to gaming performance and again plasma technology comes through as offering very little lag time, with the V20 managing a respectable 15ms of lag. This means that even the most hardcore of gamers will probably never notice any delay between keying a move and the response on screen.

Power Consumption

As plasma is a self illuminating technology the power consumption of the set varies depending on what content is on screen. If it’s a very bright image then it uses more power than a dark scene. During 10 minutes of normal TV broadcast material, the V20 ranged from 59w at the lowest end and 305w at the most. Using our static testing of 0, 50 and 100 IRE fields, the screen measured 59w, 213w and 389 watts.

Picture Quality

So with all the testing out of the way, it was time to see just what the V20 was capable of with normal film and TV content.
The first question people will ask is about the black levels and I am happy to report that they are the same solid and deep levels witnessed on the VT20. Once calibrated, there was a good degree of shadow detailing and the greyscale was rock solid (as seen above in the test area). When sat side by side with our reference Pioneer LX5090 there was little to distinguish between the two screens and only in completely dark surroundings could you see that the Kuro still had a slight edge here. However, in terms of TVs that are available to buy on the market today, the V20 offers the best black levels along with its big brother the VT20.

And its not just the black levels that excel on this plasma screen. Colour performance out of the box and calibrated is reference level with natural looking hues and tones, along with accurate and life-like skin tones. Again, when next to our reference screen, there is very little in it between this panel and the Kuro. There are however a couple of little issues worth noting. Colour banding with high gradation scenes, was a little more pronounced on the Panasonic and was also visible on a few faces here and there. This may not be a deal breaker, by any means, and would likely only be seen by videophiles looking for perfection. Overall the image quality, at this price point, is very welcome indeed with deep blacks, excellent colour and outstanding dynamic range. It’s clear that even when up against some great looking LCD screens this year, the Panasonic shows why plasma is still considered the top dog where picture quality is concerned. The V20 lives up to its best for movies marketing.

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Excellent black levels
  • Excellent out of the box picture preset in THX
  • Reference Greyscale and Colour reproduction when calibrated
  • Lack of PWM noise and clean looking image
  • Freeview HD and Freesat HD built-in
  • Excellent build quality
  • Excellent Lag time for gamers
  • Full ISFcc controls
  • THX certified
  • Excellent scaling

The Bad

  • Uncertainty over long-term black level performance
  • Minor floating blacks visible
  • Some visible banding on certain material and faces
  • Calibration menus could be better designed
  • Light image retention seen
  • Power hungry when compared to latest LCDs
  • No film cadence detection

Panasonic V20 (TX-P50V20B) Review

The Panasonic V20 plasma has lived up to its made for movies marketing by producing some of the best images we have seen this year on any TV. If you want this picture quality and 3D together then you should certainly look at the VT20, which we reviewed last month, but if it’s just the best quality TV and film playback you want - with the deepest black levels ever seen on a Panasonic plasma, this is the TV for you.

It has its issues here and there, which I have mentioned in the review above, and, of course, we are still not sure exactly what the effects of any black level rise will have on the 2010 screens. Plus banding issues may vary on these screens and could be an issue, so make sure you demo this TV before buying. However, with all that said, the V20 equals its big brother in the 2D TV picture stakes.
If you want deep blacks, accurate colours and excellent motion resolution then the V20 offers these things in spades. It’s one of the best TVs currently available for accurate picture quality and comes highly recommended.

Highly Recommended

Scores

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level

.
9

Screen Uniformity

.
9

Colour Accuracy

10

Greyscale Accuracy

.
9

Video Processing

.
.
8

Picture Quality

.
9

Sound Quality

.
.
.
7

Smart Features

.
.
.
7

Build Quality

.
.
.
7

Ease Of Use

.
.
.
7

Value for Money

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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