Ultra HD and OLED are the current buzzwords in AV, and plasma TV technology feels even more besieged than ever before, with confirmation from Panasonic that its 2013 range of plasma screens will be its last. Thankfully, it’s come out with all guns blazing with these models – but how much of the outstanding quality exhibited by Panasonic’s premium ZT65 and VT65 plasma TVs has filtered down into its mid-range series, as represented by the 42in TX-P42GT60?

Well, the TV's design doesn’t give much away. It’s attractive enough with its glossy black frame and glinting metallic trim, but the width of the frame is enough in these skinny-obsessed times to stop it from looking particularly cutting-edge. Its connections, too, aren’t beyond reproach. Panasonic only provides three HDMIs rather than the four I’m increasingly coming to expect. It does, however, tick the key multimedia boxes courtesy of built-in Wi-Fi, three USBs and even an SD card slot.

Where things really look up, however, is with the TX-P42GT60’s plasma panel specification. This mid-range set sports the same ‘NeoPlasma Black 3000’ design employed by Panasonic’s 2013 hero models, meaning you get the same 3000Hz Focussed Field Drive technology for improving motion response and brightness/vibrancy, as well as Panasonic’s Infinite Black Pro and High Contrast Filter technology. Furthermore, the TX-P42GT60’s mid-range status hasn’t prevented it from still carrying the endorsement of both THX and the Imaging Science Foundation. As you’d expect from these endorsements, the TX-P42GT60 is stuffed with calibration tools and aids focused on optimising movie playback, including extensive colour, white balance and gamma management systems. Tweakers will be happy.

The Smart box is ticked by the inclusion of Panasonic’s very friendly My Home Screen interface, complete with the option to establish multiple personalised hubs of your own, providing access to only the apps and sources you or other family members most use.

The TX-P42GT60 also lets you stream video, photo and music files from DLNA-ready networked computers, and access online content carried by Panasonic’s Viera Connect platform. This, again, is well-presented, but it lacks some of the key video-on-demand platforms. LoveFilm, ITV Player, 4OD and Demand 5 are particularly unfortunate absentees. In pure content terms, Korean brands Samsung and LG are leading the Smart way.

Like father, like son

Film fanatics, though, will probably readily forgive the current lack of video streaming platforms once they lay eyes on the TX-P42GT60’s pictures. It’s immediately apparent that this well-priced TV does indeed retain a startling amount of the outstanding picture quality sported by Panasonic’s higher-end PDPs.  

The gorgeous race scenes in colourful cartoon Wreck-It Ralph, for instance, reveal far greater levels of brightness and colour dynamism than I’ve seen on previous mid-range plasmas. As well as making pictures more eye-catching, this extra picture punch also makes the set much more usable in a brightly-lit environment.

It’s great to find, too, that unlike previous Panasonic step-down screens, the intensity and contrast of the TX-P42GT60’s pictures are not seriously reduced by high ambient light levels.

These new strengths join forces deliciously with Panasonic’s traditional plasma contrast strength. This includes a black level response that’s nothing short of spectacular, rendering The Dark Knights night-time chase across Gotham with a bazooka-wielding Joker with a degree of credibility and purity that’s unparalleled for the set’s price level, and leagues ahead of anything LED-based LCD models can achieve. 

What’s more, because the TX-P42GT60 produces its immense black level response natively, tucked away within even the darkest corners are excellent levels of shadow detail that help dark scenes avoid a flat, hollow look. Just make sure you don’t leave the set’s brightness set too high, though, or dark areas can suffer with green speckling noise.

The TX-P42GT60’s ability to produce an intense, authentic black colour pays great dividends with the rest of its colour palette, providing a superb foundation for other colours to play off against, enhancing the naturalism of the whole palette.

Motion is a touch problematic on the TX-P42GT60 if you ignore the provided Intelligent Frame Creation (IFC) processing, suffering gentle judder and fizzing dot noise over moving skin tones. Happily, though, Panasonic’s Hexa processing lets you use the IFC processing – at least on its lowest level setting – to reduce judder and remove dot noise with minimal unwanted side effects. 

Plasma’s fast-response technology also means motion is pretty much completely clear of the blur still common with LCD screens, helping the Panasonic produce the intense detailing and textures of ultra-sharp Blu-ray sequences, like those in the woodland retreat in Oblivion.

Superior stereoscopy

The TX-P42GT60’s extra brightness versus last year’s plasmas makes it a more formidable 3D performer, too. 3D pictures look much more dynamic than they have on earlier Panasonic 3D plasmas, drawing you into the experience and ensuring that watching 3D feels less of a compromise. 

You can also make out more detail in the TX-P42GT60’s brighter stereoscopic world, which in turn helps the image delineate a more expansive, accurate sense of depth and space. And since the TX-P42GT60 uses active 3D technology you see a genuine Full HD 3D picture – and once that is scarcely blighted by crosstalk ghosting noise.
There is a little judder in evidence with 3D, but overall the TX-P42GT60 is equally as accomplished with stereoscopic material as it is with 2D – especially when it comes to doing the extreme contrast ratios of films justice.

The TX-P42GT60’s audio is less exceptional than its pictures, sounding boxed in and muddy when the going gets tough. But this muddiness doesn’t slide into full-on distortion, and there’s a respectable amount of bass underpinning the soundstage.

Overall, if you love films, you’ll love the TX-P42GT60. The picture quality is exceptional for its mid-range price point, providing a poignant reminder – with 4K waiting in the wings – that mere resolution isn’t all you need for gorgeous TV pictures. The Panasonic may not be the Smartest set around, nor the most stylish, but it performs where it counts.


HCC VERDICT

Panasonic TX-P42GT60 
Price:
 £1,100 
www.panasonic.co.uk

Highs: Stellar, film-friendly 2D and 3D picture quality; excellent Smart TV interface; 
decent value

Lows: Minor motion issues; slightly bland design; not enough video streaming services currently available

Performance: 4.5/5
Design: 3.5/5
Features: 4/5
Overall: 4.5/5