There's understated, and then there's anonymous. The looks of Panasonic's TX-P46VT20 are, like the looks of anything else, a matter of personal taste – but we can't help thinking that it doesn't so much hide its light under a bushel as deny the existence of a light altogether.
It would be a pity if those lacklustre looks put off potential buyers, because beneath the Clark Kent exterior there's something of a Superman waiting to be revealed.
Deeply impressive spec
A glance at the spec-sheet tells you that this is more exciting than it looks. Freeview HD tuner and playback/recording USB sockets are nothing unusual in this price sector, but the 'VT20 also has Freesat reception and 600Hz motion processing alongside wireless LAN capability and THX certification.
Panasonic even has the decency to include a couple of pairs of 3D glasses at the price, which is not an option that's occurred to every competitor. There isn't a stack of on-screen adjustability either, and the remote is relatively sparse, so the P46VT20's simple to fine-tune.
Pictures from all three of its tuners have tremendously lustrous, detailed black levels, and handle motion well. The colour balance, too, is pleasing and contrast is controlled well.
Too much picture noise in SD
There's a disappointing amount of picture noise in standard-definition TV, though, and edges sometimes tend to shimmer and crawl.
All the most worthy elements of that showing – motion tracking, colour nuance, inky black tones – also apply to the way the Panasonic upscales DVDs.
There Will Be Blood convinces in these areas, but the 'VT20 contrives to be simultaneously soft and coarse when it comes to textures, edge definition and complex patterns. If ever a TV could be characterised as ‘a mixed bag', at this stage it's this one.
A switch to Blu-ray helps the 'VT20 pull itself together a little. All the areas of concern are addressed: edges are far better, skin is more convincing and detailed, and the set tracks complicated patterns without alarms.
And again, the Panasonic's prodigious black levels, well controlled contrast and stable motion impress all over again. Even the sound it makes (reasonably balanced and inoffensive) seems to benefit.
Smooth, convincing 3D images
And while the majority of screens in this test have a caveat or two attached to 3D performance, in the case of the 'VT20 it's the most impressive thing about it.
Far less susceptible to cross-talk than most rivals, and consequently more restful to watch, the Panasonic delivers smooth, convincing 3D images via reasonably comfortable eyewear. Its 3D pictures are a trifle dim, and the plasma technology has no backlighting to be adjusted, but its competence makes the TX-P46VT20 a most convincing 3D screen.
As we said, it's a partial Superman – even if it's wearing its underpants over its trousers in some other respects.