With Panasonic's VT50 and ST50 plasma series televisions delivering gorgeous premium picture quality and amazing value for money respectively, there was a question mark over whether the Panasonic TX-P42GT50 could really justify its position between the two - a question mark writ larger by the fact that Panasonic is distributing the GT50 series relatively quietly, through independent channels rather than putting it into the usual high street suspects.

However, it quickly becomes apparent that as well as being another excellent Panasonic TV, the Panasonic TX-P42GT50 is also unique enough to fully justify its existence.

The highlight of its picture performance, as is so often the case with Panasonic plasma TVs, is its contrast - chiefly because the Panasonic TX-P42GT50 is able to produce a black colour that's deeper, richer, more consistent and more natural than the blacks you get from any other make or type of screen.

The impact of this on films - which tend to enjoy much wider contrast ranges than normal TV shows - is nothing short of spectacular, providing a perfect cinematic starting point for all other aspects of the picture to work with.

To some extent this awesome black level response is a result simply of the Panasonic TX-P42GT50's plasma heart, since plasma is a self-emissive technology whereby each pixel of the picture can produce its own independent light level instead of having to share a separate light source with other pixels.

But this isn't the only reason for the Panasonic TX-P42GT50's resplendent black levels; after all, LG and Samsung also have plasma TVs, and their black levels - this year, at least - aren't looking anywhere near as deep as those being delivered by Panasonic's ST50, VT50 and now GT50 models.

So to explain Panasonic's clear dominance where black level is concerned, we can only turn to a combination of the proprietary filters Panasonic uses in its panels and the brand's apparently unprecedented control over the voltage that goes into each plasma cell.

Whatever the cause, though, the simple fact is that the only TVs that deliver a better black level response than the Panasonic TX-P42GT50 are Panasonic's own VT50 models. So if you're a movie fan who can't quite run to - or accommodate - the larger and more expensive VT50s, the Panasonic TX-P42GT50 is already looking like a mighty fine compromise. That's even before we look at all the other great stuff its pictures have to offer.

Panasonic TX-P42GT50 review

These other strengths include its colour response. As with the ST50 and VT50 models, colours look bolder, brighter and richer than they have on any previous Panasonic plasmas - and in doing so, they also look consistently more natural, especially where reds and greens are concerned.

Colours look more balanced too now that they've got more brightness to work with, yet at no point - unless you use the not-recommended Dynamic preset - do colours start to look over-aggressive.

More good colour news concerns the apparent presence of more subtlety in the Panasonic TX-P42GT50's colour blends than you've had with any previous Panasonic plasma TV generation. There's hardly any of the sort of colour banding over subtle blends that's long being one of the few weaknesses of Panasonic's plasma TVs.

Next we need to wax lyrical about the Panasonic TX-P42GT50's fine detail response. Thanks to the Full HD native resolution, the quality of Panasonic's video processing and the extraordinary control of light in the Panasonic TX-P42GT50's pictures, the clarity and extent of detail in its presentation of Blu-ray movies is exquisite. Even dark scenes look gorgeously rich and full of depth, thanks to the way the screen's self-emissive nature enables it to render even the subtlest of shadow details in dark scenes.

Panasonic TX-P42GT50 review

It doesn't exactly harm the Panasonic TX-P42GT50's stunning clarity that it suffers practically zero motion blur. This is typical of plasma screens versus LCD ones, of course, but it's taken to another level by the Panasonic TX-P42GT50 because this screen joins the VT50s in suffering scarcely at all with the judder that has previously been apparent on many plasma TVs.

You can even turn on Panasonic's Intelligent Frame Creation motion compensation circuitry (not something we would normally recommend) without pictures starting to look over processed - a result, we can only presume, of the power and speed of the processing engine the Panasonic TX-P42GT50 carries.

Panasonic plasma TVs have long impressed when watching 3D on account of their freedom from crosstalk ghosting noise.

This reputation took a slight hit this year with the discovery of some tell-tale ghosting on the ST50 series, but this ghosting is largely removed on the Panasonic TX-P42GT50, a fact that delivers probably the single most compelling reason for stepping up from the ST50 series.

Panasonic TX-P42GT50 review

The Panasonic TX-P42GT50's pictures aren't completely perfect. Its 3D images look less bright than those of most if not all 3D LCD TVs, for a start. Pictures also lack brightness with 2D if you're watching in a lot of ambient light.

There's also a little colour break up during camera pans while watching 50Hz material, and some minor dotting noise is visible if you sit too close to the screen or use the Dynamic setting.

The Dynamic setting also causes a curious flickering effect during dark scenes when you're watching 3D, so switch to a different preset.

Most of the Panasonic TX-P42GT50's flaws are pretty easy to work around, though. And in any case they barely amount to a ripple in the vast ocean of this TV's pictorial excellence.