Panasonic TX-L32DT30B £1100
29th Mar 2011 | 09:45
An active 3D LCD TV with impressive multimedia options, but is 32-inches too small?
Panasonic TX-L32DT30B: Overview
The Panasonic TX-L32DT30B is Panasonic's first LCD TV to carry active 3D playback. This is a significant development from a brand that's only previously only bestowed this honour upon its beloved plasma screens.
The TX-L32DT30B is also the smallest active 3D TV we've tested so far and is built around the brand's latest IPS Alpha panel technology.
The latter delivers the same ultra-wide viewing angles as other IPS displays, but as will become apparent later, Panasonic has improved almost every other aspect of its panel design to make the TX-L32DT30B capable of doing a better job with 3D footage.
Also underlining the TX-L32DT30B's uncompromising stance are its extensive multimedia functions, including DLNA PC compatibility and Panasonic's new, improved online platform, dubbed Viera Connect.
If the TX-L32DT30B's 3D capabilities don't interest you, you're looking at stepping down to Panasonic's E30 series, though bear in mind that this step down will also see you losing out on many of the other advantages of the DT30's panel design, including its 400Hz (200Hz plus scanning backlight) motion processing.
Panasonic TX-L32DT30B: Features
While the TX-L32DT30's design isn't going to win any awards, it joins Panasonic's E30 models in being a big step forward from the brand's previously rather dour approach. It's impressively slim over most of its rear, and feels extremely well built and metallic to the touch.
Its bezel is strikingly narrow – noticeably more slender than those of the E30 models – and there's a tasteful silver trim around the set's extremities.
The only discordant note in the TV's design, perhaps, is the rather hefty bulge that runs along the back of its lower edge that contains some proper speakers in place of the impossibly thin, almost invariably rubbish drivers you tend to get with most skinny TVs.
The TX-L32DT30B continues to look every inch the 2011 trendsetter by carrying a prodigious set of connections. Four HDMIs get the ball rolling, but more exciting is the amount of multimedia stuff at your disposal.
For instance, there are no fewer than three USB ports, which looks like no more than is necessary when you consider that as well as playing video, music and photo files from USB storage drives, you can make the TV Wi-Fi capable via an optional USB dongle, and record from the TV's digital tuners to compatible and formatted USB hard-disk drives. Panasonic assures us, moreover, that recordings are now possible on a much wider range of powered USB hard-disk drives than was previously the case.
Also massively important to the TX-L32DT30B's 2011 credentials is its LAN port. Unless you go the optional Wi-Fi route, this is your portal to not only content stored on your DLNA PC but also the Viera Connect online platform.
What makes Viera Connect different to its Viera Cast predecessor? For one thing, its cloud-based system is shifting much more overtly towards the apps content model now familiar to so many people thanks to smartphones. The home page of the Viera Connect area now includes a box that takes you straight to a new 'marketplace', where you can choose which apps you want to install on your TV.
At the time of writing there were around 40 apps available from the market, all of them free. But you can bet your bottom dollar that the number will grow substantially over time and that a number will only be available if you pay for or subscribe to them.
Rather a lot of the 40 apps were for foreign language services, but the genuinely useful ones include YouTube, AceTrax (the film purchase/rental site), Skype, Eurosport, and those seemingly indispensable bastions of the modern world, Facebook and Twitter. Plus, thankfully, Panasonic has finally realised that it really needs the BBC iPlayer onboard.
Viera Connect is also much more interactive than Viera Cast. For within the marketplace you will ultimately be able to order hardware accessories to support upcoming gaming and health/fitness services. Among the accessories announced so far are a joystick, a set of scales, a pulse-monitoring armband and even a treadmill, so you can recreate the gym experience of jogging while watching something encouraging on a TV.
Although not available to test at the time of writing, these accessories have already been shown working, with the joystick even being seen to control a surprisingly decent looking racing game at some demos.
Viera Connect's cloud-based approach means it can be upgraded easily with new features and services. It's an open-platform system, too, so you can expect plenty of third party apps to appear as time goes by.
Heading into the TX-L32DT30B's onscreen menus uncovers plenty more features to get your teeth into. Particularly welcome, considering that the TX-L32DT30B is far from cheap by 32-inch TV standards, are the set's ISFcc presets, indicating that the TV has been endorsed by independent specialist the Imaging Science Foundation and that is better equipped with picture adjustments than Panasonic's non-ISF TX-L37E30B model.
Select the Advanced ISFcc setting in the setup menu, and you can adjust the gain and cut-off levels for the red, green and blue colour elements, as well as their hue, saturation and luminance levels. Plus you can choose from a series of gamma presets.
Also additional to the features found on the L37E30 is a Clear Cinema Mode, which interestingly improves vertical resolution for movie images, so long as they're interlaced.
Otherwise, aside from some 3D options we'll get to in a minute, the picture adjustment options available are broadly the same as those found on the L37E30. So they include a resolution enhancer for improving the sharpness of, especially, standard-definition sources, and the option to adjust the strength of Panasonic's Intelligent Frame Creation processing for reducing judder and motion blur. It's a shame, though, that the level of IFC control is limited to simple off, Mid and Max settings. More on this later.
The 3D options include a 2D-3D converter with the adjustment to shift the 3D effect between low, mid and high levels, plus the option to turn on or off auto 3D detection so that the TV can spot a side by side 3D source such as Sky's 3D channel. There's also an interesting option for activating a 100Hz 3D refresh rate (though you're probably as well sticking with the default Auto setting, to be honest), and the ability to adjust the extent of the 3D effect with 3D Blu-ray source content.
The latter tool is perhaps a little controversial, as it means people can mess with the depth settings decided on by a film's 3D mastering people, but then Panasonic might reasonably argue that 3D is all about personal preferences/tolerances.
Wrapping the TX-L32DT30B's key features up are the new developments Panasonic has introduced to make its edge-lit LED TV better able to handle 3D inputs. Arguably the most significant of these concerns the panel itself. For Panasonic has narrowed the gap between the backlight and screen, and introduced a liquid crystal material with a higher level of fluidity - features which both help to speed up the new LED TVs' response time by as much as 50 per cent.
Reducing LCD response times is essential if you want to fight the crosstalk ghosting issue so common with last year's LCD 3D TVs, so it's not entirely surprising that Panasonic hasn't left its speed-boosting innovations merely to the panel improvements. The TX-L32DT30B also uses high speed 'advanced pre-charge driving' technology – essentially 200Hz scanning plus a blinking backlight – to boost the screen's scanning time and thus leave the screen with almost twice as long to react to the change from left eye image to right eye image.
Panasonic claims that the reason it didn't introduce any 3D LCD TVs last year was because it didn't believe that it had solved the response time issues sufficiently well to make a 3D product good enough to meet its own performance targets. It's worth adding, too, that the improvements introduced for 3D should also help 2D.
Panasonic TX-L32DT30B: Picture quality
Since the TX-L32DT30B is the first LCD 3D TV ever from Panasonic, 3D would seem to be the ideal starting point for the picture quality phase of this review. And actually it's a great place to start, for the TX-L32DT30B delivers the best 3D pictures yet seen on an LCD TV.
The main reason for this bold claim is that its 3D pictures are almost completely free from crosstalk noise. The Golden Gate Bridge sequence in Monsters Vs Aliens is notorious for highlighting crosstalk issues on LCD TVs, yet on the TX-L32DT30B there's nary a trace of the dreaded double ghosting issue.
In fact, running the same sequence through an HDMI splitter into both the TX-L32DT30B and a new Samsung UE46D7000 revealed immediately that the Panasonic model clearly suffers even less with crosstalk than the Samsung, despite the Korean manufacturer having made some strong crosstalk improvements for its 2011 range.
Given that crosstalk is single biggest barrier to becoming fully immersed in a 3D world, there's no overstating how worthwhile Panasonic's efforts at boosting the response time of its 3D LCD TVs have proven.
The TX-L32DT30B also impresses in 3D mode with its colours, which are well-saturated and vibrant – again, more so than those of the Samsung using similar picture settings. The full HD advantage of active 3D is even clear on the TX-L32DT30B's relatively meagre 32-inch screen, especially when it comes to the subtlety with which colour blends are delivered.
The TX-L32DT30B's contrast performance in 3D mode further seems to slightly better Samsung's, though the Samsung 3D picture does manage to score a marked advantage when it comes to shadow detailing, with some darker detail areas getting crushed out of the picture on the Panasonic. Samsung's 2D to 3D conversion also seems slightly cleverer, and certainly delivers a greater sense of depth.
Overall, though, the TX-L32DT30B is as good a 3D LCD TV debut from Panasonic as anyone could possibly have hoped for. The only issue where 3D is concerned is that it's debatable how worthwhile it is having on a 32-inch TV at all. Unless you're going to be sat very close indeed to the screen, having a 3D effect occupying so relatively little of your field of vision arguably makes it feel more like an interesting experience rather than a tool for immersing you more in whatever you're watching.
Turning to other facets of the TX-L32DT30B's performance, things aren't as uniformly satisfying as they could have been.
Starting with the good stuff, the IPS Alpha panel at the TX-L32DT30B's heart delivers its customary viewing angle benefit, with colour saturations and contrast levels holding up better than those of non-IPS Alpha panels across a wider selection of viewing positions.
There's also an agreeably cinematic and natural look to its colour rendition, avoiding the slightly bluish or yellow-tinged colour palettes often present to some level on LCD TVs.
Two-dimensional HD images are crisp, detailed and as layered as they can be without actually being 3D, meanwhile, which is no mean feat on a screen this small.
Motion is reasonably fluid, startlingly detailed and sharp, so long as you've got the Intelligent Frame Creation system engaged, and, finally, black levels are surprisingly convincing compared with the rather underwhelming efforts of the TX-L37E30B – provided, at least, that you've got the TX-L32DT30B's Area Dimmer Control option switched on.
However, these last two points also introduce a couple of problems. Regarding motion, turning the IFC system off causes the picture to degrade markedly, with much more motion blur and judder. Yet with it on, you sometimes see a few processing-related glitches, especially during standard-definition viewing.
To get the best results overall you should probably leave IFC set to its Mid level for most of the time – but Panasonic should definitely think about taking a leaf out of Samsung's book and allowing you much more control over how its motion processing systems work.
The problem with the Area Dimmer Control, meanwhile, is a familiar one with edge-lit LCD TVs. Namely that while it introduces a quite striking overall improvement in contrast performance (or, more accurately, black level response), it also causes you to lose shadow detail, and generates some pretty overt greyish 'blocks' around bright parts of otherwise dark images.
For instance, if there's white text in the middle of a black screen, you can see a rectangle of greyish light stretching right from top to bottom of the picture over the width occupied by the bright object. Or if there's a bright object in a corner of an otherwise dark image, you can see a sort of triangle of extra brightness around the area occupied by the bright object.
These backlight 'blocking' issues don't crop up often with usually bright normal TV viewing, it has to be said. But they certainly appear while watching films, with their generally more extensive contrast ranges.
So should you just turn the Area Dimming off? Not necessarily, for doing so causes the picture to lose a considerable amount of black level response, leaving dark scenes feeling rather grey and washed out.
Overall you're probably served better by having the Area Dimming feature active, but there's no doubt that the TX-L32DT30B presents you with a choice between two flawed black level options, rather than offering a solution that satisfies on all levels.
The net effect of all the pros and cons discussed so far is that when compared with the 2D performance of this year's other 'headline' TV to date, the Samsung UE46D7000, the latter achieves a more dynamic picture with more detail and effective control in dark areas while the Panasonic gives you warmer and more natural colour tones and slightly better motion detailing.
Panasonic L32DT30B: Sound, value, ease of use
The decision to compromise the set's slimness with some proper speaker 'boxes' pays off handsomely, as the set delivers not only a more extensive audio range than the vast majority of slim 32-inch TVs but also a soundstage that spreads far and wide around your room without losing cohesion, power or clarity.
There's no doubt that £1,100 is a hefty wad of cash to splurge on a 32-inch TV, so it's just as well that your money is buying you some genuinely innovative and 'next level' panel technology that gives rise to the finest LCD TV 3D performance yet.
That said, it still seems debatable if many punters will really be ready to spend so much to secure a 3D feature that perhaps feels a touch gimmicky at the 32-inch screen size - even if the 3D technology also improves Panasonic's 2D performance. With this in mind, larger DT30 models might find it easier to justify their costs.
Ease of use
The remote control for the TX-L32DT30B is pleasingly weighty and spacious affair and feels comfortable in the hand. Its button layout is generally decent, too, and it's great to find dedicated buttons for 3D and Viera Connect (still shown as Viera Cast on the relevant key).
The biggest gripe is the main menu button, which gets less prominence than it should.
The L32DT30's onscreen menus are thankfully better than the bland and at times rather tortuous efforts found on previous Panasonic TV generations. There are a few graphics on there now, and the main menus are translucent so you can still see the picture while you make your adjustments.
However, it's fair to say that Panasonic still has a way to go before it can rival the sophistication and appeal of some of its rivals, especially those from Korea.
The Viera Connect menu style feels rather cumbersome: it can't present you with direct access to many of your apps from one screen, potentially requiring you to burrow through lots of sub-menus.
Panasonic TX-L32DT30B: Verdict
It's an unfortunate but unavoidable fact that the first thing that grabs your attention about the TX-L32DT30B is its price; spending more than a grand on a 32-inch TV just doesn't seem like something many people will do these days.
However, the TX-L32DT30B certainly does have plenty going on to help it justify its cost. Particularly noteworthy are its 3D playback - making it Panasonic's first active 3D LCD TV for the consumer market - and its multimedia tools, which include DLNA support, file playback from USB drives, recording of the digital tuners to powered USB HDDs, and most significantly of all, Panasonic's new Viera Connect online portal.
This new portal is definitely an improvement in content and interactivity terms from Panasonic's previous Viera Cast system, and will even allow you to buy hardware accessories like joysticks and fitness gear for use with upcoming Viera Connect apps.
Perhaps the single biggest justification for the TX-L32DT30B's price, though, comes from the genuine innovations Panasonic has delivered with its LCD panel design technology in a bid to reduce response times and thus boost 3D performance levels.
These innovations pay off handsomely, moreover, in helping the TX-L32DT30B produce the cleanest, most watchable 3D picture yet seen on an LCD TV - notwithstanding the fact that at 32-inch, 3D pictures inevitably aren't as immersive as they can be on bigger screens.
While perfectly respectable with 2D playback, though, it the TX-L32DT30B isn't quite as outstanding as it is in 3D mode.
The set's 3D performance is superb, as its new panel design improvements finally prove that LCD really can do 3D while suffering barely any crosstalk. It also sounds much more powerful than most skinny 32-inch TVs, and its design is a nice leap forward from previous Panasonic LCD models.
It also delivers a very natural and subtle colour palette, and its pictures are capable of looking very sharp.
While you really need to use the set's motion processing, you're not given much control over this processing. Similarly, while most people will prefer pictures with the set's local dimming feature active, this causes an occasionally noticeable issue with chunks of backlight inconsistency.
Finally, it feels as if the onscreen menu system for Viera Connect might struggle to cope once huge numbers of apps start to come on line.
The set is pretty pricey for a 32-inch model, too, for all its innovations.
If you are after a 32-inch TV that delivers the last word in 3D LCD picture quality, the TX-L32DT30B is definitely the screen for you. The extensive technological innovations Panasonic has developed really pay off, finally removing crosstalk noise from the 3D LCD experience.
The set is nicely designed and well built, too and packs enough multimedia tools to satisfy even pretty devoted multimedia consumers.
There are many good things about the TX-L32DT30B's 2D performance as well, as you would expect considering its 3D-focussed technology is all about reducing LCD's response time issues. However, while its 2D pictures look mostly good, slight flaws in a couple of the set's 2D picture technologies stop the TX-L32DT30B from being able to bag a completely unqualified recommendation, especially with its price taken into account.
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