Panasonic TX-L32ET5B £700
16th Mar 2012 | 08:15
Panasonic's first passive 3D TV proves a surprising 32-inch hit
The Panasonic TX-L32ET5B is the first model off the 2012 Viera production line, ushering in what Panasonic hopes will be a golden year for its TV portfolio.
Significantly, the Panasonic TX-L32ET5B is also the company's first television to feature passive 3D technology. Passive 3D is the lower-cost, more convenient alternative to the active shutter system, albeit at lower resolution.
Panasonic has also lowered the power consumption of its 2012 screens and marginally improved its Viera Connect smart TV service.
Contrary to Panasonic's own publicity however, the TX-L32ET5B doesn't have a web browser, which is just as well, given how small web page text would appear on a 32-inch 1080p screen across a living room.
Another positive step is that before time Panasonic has ditched the much loathed advertising from its GuidePlus EPG. Three cheers for that.
At 32-inches, the Panasonic TX-L32ET5B is the smallest of five models in the ET5 range, all of which have 300Hz backlight scanning. It will soon be joined by the 37-inch Panasonic TX-L37ET5B, 42-inch Panasonic TX-L42ET5B, 47-inch Panasonic TX-L47ET5B and their ultra-big brother, the 55-inch Panasonic TX-L55ET5B.
The Panasonic TX-L32ET5B costs £700 in the UK. In the US, only the 42-inch and 47-inch versions are available, priced at $1,099 and $1,299, respectively.
The ET5 series is a step up from the non-3D E5 series and a step down from the ET50, which starts at 42-inch and adds 800Hz scanning plus active shutter 3D - or Full HD 3D, as it's now known.
Want 1600Hz scanning, a slimline bezel and Freesat HD? Keep going until you find the big bucks Panasonic DT50 and WT50 series.
The Panasonic TX-L32ET5B's spec sheet should satisfy the tech cravings of most TV buyers, especially on a 32-inch model.
The set is blessed with all the trappings of a complete TV-based entertainment hub, including built-in Wi-Fi, DLNA networking, a Full HD panel, Freeview HD tuner, connected TV and social media apps - including for the first time, in-vision Facebook and Twitter.
We'd go so far as to say some of this is overkill. It's hard to imagine anyone wanting to sit around watching someone Tweeting or updating their Facebook status on the screen, nor can we imagine anyone wanting to do so using the TV rather than a smartphone, tablet or netbook.
On the other hand, it could just work for certain live events such as The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing. And you can imagine a fair amount of Twitter action as Engelbert Humperdinck gets nil points from the French come Eurovision.
The adoption of passive 3D rather than active is an understandable move. Even at its glasses-free best we would be unconvinced about the merits of watching 3D on a 32-inch screen, and public indifference to 3D in general is a lot greater than manufacturers care to admit.
But the switch to passive 3D means there's a lot less bother involved: the specs don't need charging and are much lighter (these weigh a mere 18g and are much more comfy than any active specs), nor do they require pairing with a transmitter. They're also cheaper to replace if they get lost or broken, and can be used on any passive 3D screen.
What's not to like? Well, the downside is a potentially disastrous one in terms of image quality.
There's a 50 per cent loss of resolution, with images from a Full HD 3D Blu-ray reduced from 1920 x 1080 to 1920 x 540 pixels. But many punters will probably be blissfully unaware of such resolution matters.
The Panasonic TX-L32ET5B's screen sports Panasonic's "crystal frame" design. Bezel-wise, it's nothing like as demure as OLED screens such as the 4mm thin LG 55EM960V or even Panasonic's own slinky WT LED series, but the inch-wide silver-grey frame and transparent plastic edge trim have a certain panache.
Under the hood is an IPS panel with Clear Panel filter. This produces a wide (178-degree) viewing angle that's beneficial for off-axis viewing and generates higher contrast ratios and faster response times.
Picture quality is also aided by 300Hz backlight scanning - a figure that marks new ground but is more than enough hertz to produce smooth images on a screen of this size.
Connectivity is generous to a fault, with no meaningful omissions to speak of. There are four HDMIs, three USBs for multimedia file playback (recording to an external hard drive is not possible), one PC input, plus built-in Wi-Fi and a wired Ethernet port.
An SD card slot also feeds the built-in media player, while digital sound can be output optically.
All common analogue legacy connections are reassuringly provided using adaptors.
There's no ISFF calibration, but the Panasonic TX-L32ET5B's suite of picture-tweaking tools is centred around Panasonic's Smart Viera Engine Pro. This includes everyday adjustments to contrast, brightness and noise reduction plus more advanced options such as gamma levels, white balance and Clear Cinema for improving the vertical resolution of interlaced signals.
Plus there's the mildly controversial Intelligent Frame Creation (IFC), which reduces judder. Read our Picture Quality section for more on this.
Generally speaking, images on the Panasonic TX-L32ET5B are top-rate. Starting with the basics, Freeview and Freeview HD broadcasts are eminently watchable and require very little processing or adjustment.
Switching between Normal and Cinema modes is usually all that's required to produce clear images with accurate colours and strong levels of contrast.
Even ropey old transmissions of Minder on ITV4 are up to snuff, and fast-moving footage such as Champions League footy and HD movies hold together nicely, with negligible levels of judder.
You can eliminate judder entirely by switching IFC to max, but this introduces unwanted side-effects of occasional haloing and makes filmic material look like it was shot on a video camcorder. IFC's medium or low setting is a good compromise for watching sport, but it's best left off when watching movies.
Switch to a 1080p/24 Blu-ray and IFC is automatically disabled in favour of 24p Smooth Film mode, which has very much the same effect. At least it can be adjusted to minimum, or turned off.
Overall, though, Blu-rays look stunning on the Panasonic TX-L32ET5B, aided in no small part by an exceptionally good black level and crucially, even levels of brightness. Avatar, for example, is richly rendered, falling just shy of the clarity we've seen on bigger screens.
There's no pooling of light when watching dark scenes, since Panasonic has made a sterling effort of implementing a consistently even backlight. This means you're at liberty to crank up the brightness without fear of overdoing selected parts of the image.
Watching 3D images on the Panasonic TX-L32ET5B is surprisingly impressive. The TV makes a decent fist of converting daytime 2D broadcasts to 3D, and bespoke 3D material such as Monsters Vs Aliens Blu-ray undoubtably benefits from a near-absence of crosstalk.
And the loss of resolution doesn't seem too terrible, given the other convenience benefits of passive specs.
Off-axis 2D viewing with the Panasonic TX-L32ET5B is excellent, with no deterioration in image quality as you move to the side, even from very acute viewing angles.
Usability, sound and value
Given how many features are crammed in to the Panasonic TX-L32ET5B, the set is by no means the hardest to operate. Its connections are all easily accessed, and face either sideways or downwards, so it can be positioned against a wall (although the rearward protruding speakers do give the TV a somewhat chunky depth of 4.5cm at the bottom).
We were slightly alarmed when we removed the attached Wi-Fi module from its USB socket and had trouble getting it to go back into position. This may explain why our review sample refused to acknowledge the presence of a wireless adaptor and forced us to use a wired ethernet connection.
The Viera Connect service on Panasonic's TX-L32ET5B is a cinch to use, although it isn't the quickest at changing menu screens.
The selection of portals and apps available is still unlikely to set your on-demand world on fire (no ITV Player, for example) but there's a handful of movie services (Fetch TV, Acetrax) and iPlayer is very user-friendly. The app store should of course grow.
Logging in to social media while simultaneously watching TV has the effect of reducing the live TV screen to a rather piddly 21-inches across, and while we were able to access Twitter, our attempts at satisfying Facebook's security procedures mysteriously failed.
The Panasonic TX-L32ET5B's remote control is passably decent, while the on-screen menu system isn't what you'd call sexy, although it is logically laid out.
As mentioned earlier, the 2012 GuidePlus EPG no longer features adverts that were a pane on older Panasonic TVs as well as a pain, and is much easier to use as a consequence.
It's good that when you select a show to watch, the EPG automatically offers you the choice of watching in HD or standard definition.
But it's not so good that you lose visual and aural contact with the live broadcast when using the EPG. At least you can set up to four favourite channel lists to help speed up the browsing process.
The USB media player on the Panasonic TX-L32ET5B admirably does its job with little fuss. Movies and photos are presented as recognisable icons, and we had no trouble playing a wide range of MOV, AVI, MP4, MKV and TS files, including DivX, MPEG and H.264 codecs.
Audio performance is above average for an LED-lit screen of this size. Those slightly bulky rear speakers manage to pump out decent mid- and upper-range sounds, while the Panasonic TX-L32ET5B's V-audio surround mode increases the spatial fill.
The set certainly has a fantastically low power consumption, rated A in the now-compulsory EU rating chart. We measured it using around 40W, which is less than many old-school incandescent lightbulbs.
These days £700 is considered fairly pricey for a 32-inch TV, even a Freeview HD set, but replacing last year's £1,100 Panasonic TX-L32DT30B, the TX-L32ET5B looks like much better value.
The outgoing Samsung UE32D6510 is an active 3D model selling for around £650, but the specs are expensive and cost extra, while you get four pairs of passive specs with each Panasonic TX-L32ET5B for instant 3D family frolics.
You're also getting a Full HD panel, comprehensive multimedia features and plenty of picture processing options. For the same money you can of course buy a larger screen, but you'd be hard pressed to find one with so many cutting-edge features.
In most aspects, the Panasonic TX-L32ET5B offers incremental improvements over previous models. The panel it's built on has slightly better processing, while networking features are more user-friendly (including built-in Wi-Fi connectivity) and the set's Smart TV features continue to evolve.
But the Panasonic TX-L32ET5B breaks new ground for its manufacturer in offering passive 3D viewing rather than active 3D.
The Panasonic TX-L32ET5B does a sterling job with its passive 3D images. The overall experience is so superior to using active glasses and the reduction in resolution seems far less significant than we'd expected, possibly because the TV is just about as small as you can get for 3D viewing.
Its 2D pictures are consistently up there with the best, especially with HD sources, and the removal of adverts from the Freeview EPG gets a big thumbs up. Generally, the Panasonic TX-L32ET5B is a pleasure to use.
Intelligent Field Creation in its maximum setting simply introduces too many artefacts. Even when reined in, it detrimentally affects images with haloing and the loss of filmic appearance when watching movies.
The Freeview EPG and tired old menu system could badly do with having a more contemporary feel. We struggled with logging in to Facebook, despite following instructions, and still feel that Viera Connect needs a broader selection of apps.
While 3D is unlikely to be the prime motivational factor for anyone buying a 32-inch TV, we think Panasonic has played a bit of a blinder on this one, making 3D much less of a faff, more affordable and perfectly enjoyable.
Sure it has one or two operating niggles, but these are pretty much minor concerns. This is a highly competent multimedia and connected TV, while from Blu-ray movies to daytime TV and HD sports, the Panasonic TX-L32ET5B consistently serves up first-rate images. And ultimately, that's what counts most when telly shopping.
If 3D isn't really a deal-breaker, you could do a lot worse than the Toshiba 32RL858B. Its £400 price gets you Edge LED lighting and a Freeview HD tuner, plus more than decent performance.
Offering better value is Sony's KDL-32EX723, priced at just £500 and blessed with Active 3D rather than passive.
LG's 32LV550T sells for around £600, but isn't a 3D screen.
Finally, if 3D is not on your bag then the Panasonic TX-32LE5, due soon, may fit the bill, offering many of the same features as the TX-L32ET5B in a 2D-only package.