Panasonic TX-L42DT65B £1399
12th Apr 2013 | 14:00
Second screen antics star on this high-end Edge LED TV
Where once its smart TV platform was completely separate from the rest of the TV, Panasonic has at last put apps and widgets into its Viera TVs. It's something the other leading brands have been doing, too, though the appearance of the smart My Home Screen on the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B isn't the only big change for Panasonic in 2013.
First on this 42-inch Edge LED-backlit LCD TV, there's the panel itself, a polarised 3D model that's now standard across the brand's lineup despite that fact that it was Panasonic that came up with the opposing active shutter 3D system.
That means that 3D on the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B comes by way of cheap 3D glasses - four of them, to be exact - rather than heavy battery-operated pairs that were often an optional add-on. Either way, it's slightly odd that while Panasonic has dumped active shutter 3D on its LED TVs (though not on its plasmas), Samsung insists on using only active shutter 3D and has instead concentrated on slimming down the glasses.
Not that the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B is any stranger to slimming down; it sports a svelte 35mm-deep chassis that includes a 'super narrow bezel' measuring just 10mm/0.39 inches, with another 4mm/0.16 inches or so of black screen between it and the edge of the image.
Inside there's a dual-core processor known as Hexa by Panasonic because of the eight image adjustments it powers. It helps power a smart TV platform that's far more joined-up, polished and ambitious than in previous years.
Swipe & Share 2.0 sees two-way file exchange between smartphones/tablets and the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B, while Second Screen viewing is also possible. Using an iPad or Android tablet and the appropriate app, the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B can show one TV channel on its screen while wirelessly sending another.
There are actually four tuners inside the TV - two for Freeview HD and two for Freesat HD - which is hard to complain about, even though nobody will ever use both. As well as app trickery, those multi-tuners also enable two shows to be recorded simultaneously to an external USB flash drive or hard disk.
The Viera Connect platform itself can now host HTML5 apps - such as the sparkling new YouTube app - while a new voice interaction system is also attempted. Those not quite ready to ditch handhelds can try out a new touchpad controller that comes complete with a touch-sensitive scroller, though an old-fashioned remote is also in the box.
The Panasonic TX-L42DT65B takes its place in the DT65 Series, Panasonic's second-rung Edge LED TV range, priced at £1,399 (around AU$2,041 / US$2,149). Other DT65 sets include the 47-inch Panasonic TX-L47DT65B, 55-inch Panasonic TX-L55DT65B and 60-inch Panasonic TX-L60DT65B.
Panasonic's leading Edge LED collection, the WT65 Series, reduces panel depth to 32mm/1.26 inches and adds a 'metal air frame'.
It also ups the LED clusters in the backlight to 16 (rather than six on the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B) and 3600Hz backlight scanning, which ought to mean more refined local dimming and more precise mixed brightness sequences - hence its claim of 'infinite' contrast. It comprises the 47-inch Panasonic TX-L47WT65 and the 55-inch Panasonic TX-L55WT65.
If you're after a relatively high-end 42-inch Panasonic TV, then the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B is the sweet spot, though if you want to go bigger it would be churlish not to consider one of Panasonic's plasmas.
Key screens in these upcoming Series include the 55-inch Panasonic TX-P55VT65, 60-inch Panasonic TX-P60VT65 and 65-inch Panasonic TX-P65VT65 in the VT65 Series, and 60-inch Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 and 65-inch Panasonic TX-P65ZT65 in its beyond reference ZT65 Series.
It's worth noting that UK models use '65' instead of the European '60' models to denote their use of Freeview HD-branded tuners, but are otherwise identical. That applies to all the Panasonic TVs mentioned in this section.
How the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B differs from the higher-end ZT60 Series is on the panel and imaging. As well as a slightly less capable panel (there are six segments of LEDs to the ZT60's 16 segments), the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B lacks a built-in camera, which rules out face recognition.
That probably won't worry most of us, nor should it, but know that the My Home Screen smart TV hub won't be all yours unless it sees that you're the one who set it up (the ZT60's camera solves this conundrum by enabling five unique setups that are instantly switched between according to whose face the camera sees first).
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For such a pricey TV, the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B's core connections are a bit of a letdown. Normally we'd expect four HDMI ports on a television of this price - something that's typical on LG and Samsung products - but on the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B there's one less.
Also slightly irritating is that the three USB slots provided (which should be plenty, given that the 3D glasses don't need powering up) are rather high up on the TV's side, precluding the use of any HDD that doesn't have a long cable. A bonus is an SD card slot, which is something you won't find on any other brand of TV.
My Home Screen is a clever way to get beyond the simple TV + apps recipe by seeking to create a useful home page where you can put links to apps, widgets (such as to-do lists, a calendar or clock) and web pages.
However, its main success is that it goes beyond the rather staid and grid-like EPG TV guides that we've become used to, instead placing all TV channels in a list beside a live TV feed. Better still, whichever channel you hover over begins to play without sound, which is evidence of the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B's twin Freeview HD (and Freesat HD) tuners at work.
As well as enabling recording flexibility, those twin tuners are also used to power a new smartphone/tablet app that goes way beyond simple virtual commands. Photos, videos and music can be swiped and shared between both a mobile device, the TV and even anything plugged into the TV.
Voice activation is here, too, powered by a secondary touchpad remote control that has a microphone built in.
With a plethora of well judged preset picture modes (including Cinema and True Cinema) and space to store your own settings using the comprehensive and thoroughly advanced calibration menus, it's a relief to see the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B's pictures live up to their billing.
While black response isn't right up there with the best (there's a slight blueish tone to deep black), it's an improvement on the ET60 Series. But where the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B takes the lead over its rivals is with a totally even backlight. There's not a trace of light leaking from the panel's six LED clusters, though nor is local dimming particularly advanced.
The panel is capable of extremely punchy, bright colours even at tight viewing angles, though they tone down nicely for films. Our Hugo test disc received a pin-sharp treatment that was very impressive; the wisps of smoke and steam in the station are acutely visible, while light streaming through the station's windows juxtaposes skillfully with the dark shadows, though the latter do lack some shadow detail.
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Fast-moving mixed brightness scenes, such as when Hugo leaps down the clock tower's ladders, is nicely judged, while that movement is smoothed out by the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B's 24p Smooth Film frame interpolation circuitry.
Despite the TV's panel's native speed, 24p Smooth Film mode proves to be key since it introduces fluidity and completely removes judder without creating any video nasties. Used on either its Mid or Max powers (don't bother with the Min setting - it does nothing), 24p Smooth Film is a much cleaner solution than last year's version, removing the judder from a sequence where a couple of actors rush across a camera shot.
Perhaps it's the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B's dual-core Hexa processor making this work better, but it doesn't stop there.
Despite 3D clearly not being on many people's shopping list - hence the drop down to the fuss-free polarised flavour on the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B - Hugo in 3D does impress.
Yes, those horizontal lines are visible (and will therefore sway some away from 3D altogether - including, we suspect, many at Panasonic), but 24p Smooth Film mode is able to take control once again, which adds some fluidity.
Without any crosstalk, free from artefacts and also with a touch more contrast than the 2D images, polarised 3D on the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B looks as good as it possibly can.
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The same goes for YouTube, streaming apps and standard definition material. A web optimiser on the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B - which isn't on the drop-down ET60 Series - does well, dredging up some detail and producing a clean, thoroughly watchable cat video from YouTube.
The same goes for standard definition material, even the ropey ITV channel on Freeview, from which Hexa manages to remove digital blocking, smoothing over any artefacts.
Overall it's an incredibly versatile and highly impressive picture that scores high marks in all areas.
Usability, sound and value
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When compared to the Panasonic TX-L47ET60B, the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B is much easier and quicker to use.
My Home Screen is a breeze to use (after some initial setting up) though we're not sure why there are two tabs on show, one for Freesat channels and one for Freeview. Nobody will use both, but it's incredibly easy to switch from one to the other - and thus be faced with an empty channel roster. Now that really could annoy some users who aren't expecting it.
Kudos goes to the new Swipe & Share 2.0 feature inside the latest Viera app for smartphones and tablets. Using an iPad 4, we managed to drag both videos and photos from the iPad to the TV, and fetch from the TV too. As well as cloning the live TV channel playing on the TV (called Live View), we streamed to an iPad some TV programmes recorded to a USB stick (and anything else in the MPEG-4 format).
From a Remote Play section of a separate Second Screen area of the app we managed to stream from a USB flash drive connected to the TV to the iPad.
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File support is much wider here, and identical to what the TV's Media Player software can handle. From a file list we played AVC HD, MPEG-4, AVI, MKV HD and WMV video files as well as WAV, MP3, M4A, FLAC and WMA music files.
It's even possible to access a list of TV channels and stream a separate channel from the one playing on the TV. The twin tuner idea isn't perfect (could we not just have four Freeview or four Freesat instead of two of each?), but to Panasonic's credit they have been used exhaustively.
We were actually fairly impressed by voice interaction on the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B; speaking 'Search Big Bang Theory in Guide' into the sleek touchpad remote produced a list of scheduled broadcasts on E4 over the next seven days.
We were then able to say 'schedule recording', though we had to use the remote to select which broadcast. However, 'channel up' was then heard as 'switch off'.
Besides, the need to press the microphone button on the remote each time you want to speak - and the wait for a couple of seconds - renders voice interaction more trouble than it's worth. It's like using a walkie-talkie.
Though there is a tiny woofer onboard the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B, you wouldn't know it. While delivering surprisingly detailed audio, it's all in the higher frequencies and there's little to take note of lower down.
Though it's a better performance than we'd expected from such a slim TV, it's still necessary to hook up to a more serious system if you intend to watch a lot of films.
The all-round look, feel and operation of the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B is truly high-end - as it should be. The design is stunning, the picture quality highly adaptable and with impressive highs, while the user interface is certainly smarter than most.
My Home Screen, while possibly over-complicating things for some, adds some genuinely exciting touches of brilliance - such as the opportunity to actively see what's on another TV channel without switching to it.
Four pairs of 3D glasses is decent value, but, then, they cost less than a pound each. Compared to the Panasonic TX-L42ET65, this TV adds LED local dimming, ISF calibration controls, Bluetooth and those dual tuner arrays.
However, for such an expensive TV - this is only a 42-inch television, remember - we're not sure its price can stay north of £1,100 (around AU$1,606 / US$1,691) for too long.
Seeing as the European version of this TV actually has six tuners, we're wondering when we'll see a UK-centric TV that presents four Freeview HD tuners - now that really would be impressive.
My Home Screen is really quite ambitious, but unlike some smart TVs the user interface has clearly been created, tested, tweaked and tested again. It thus looks and feels polished and, most importantly of all, makes everything easier, not harder.
The fact that the underlying Panasonic TX-L42DT65B is a competent panel capable of delivering versatile pictures is a bonus.
If standard definition TV channels, DVDs and low-res web-based video look clean and highly watchable, it's HD that impresses most of all. Rich in detail and with an impressive 24p Smooth Film feature that successfully removes judder, there's a high-end look to the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B's pictures.
However, our favourite slice of the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B is the Swipe and Share functionality on the Viera app for tablets and smartphones, which brings to the fore some fabulous second screen functionality. Overall the new smart TV functions and user interface work well, and are blessed with some fast-working transitions that add a final polish.
Some pretty average audio aside - standard for slim TVs - we've little to complain about on the throughly polished Panasonic TX-L42DT65B. Its three HDMI inputs is scrooge-like, but more serious is the presentation of both both Freesat and Freeview HD channels next to each other on My Home Screen, which could cause confusion.
As with most brands that have tried voice control, the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B's is too often inaccurate and also rather slow, though it's easier to use than on Samsung's latest smart TVs.
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Killer smart TV and second screen apps flow from Panasonic's smallest top quality LED TV for 2013. The Panasonic TX-L42DT65B's second screen features are more ambitious than Samsung's, and use better apps that are equally kind to both iOS and Android users.
Its touchpad remote isn't as good though, while there's no built-in camera either. However, a fast-working, ambitious user interface that's easy to operate is very welcome, as is its versatile handling of all kinds of video sources.
High-definition content benefits from dazzling colour and a blur-free picture, and while black levels aren't reference-level, most living rooms won't notice.
3D is even better, though there are drawbacks; the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B's speakers are disappointing, as are voice control and the provision of just three HDMI inputs.
It's not revolutionary and neither is it perfect, but the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B's exciting second screen features make it perhaps the smartest 42-inch TV on the planet - at least for now.
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Few of the 2013 crop of TVs had been launched at the time of writing this review, but rest assured that the second-rung Panasonic TX-L42DT65B will have plenty of competition.
Samsung's 7 Series of TVs - and its UE40F7000 (£1,200) and UE46F7000 (£1,600) in particular - are sure to pose a challenge. Both come with active shutter 3D rather than the passive solution Panasonic has opted for in 2013, but have the same loading of dual tuners for both Freeview HD and Freesat HD. They also add built-in cameras, which this Panasonic lacks.
Also worth a look is the much cheaper, but equally as well-built metallic-designed Philips 42PFL6007T, which includes passive 3D playback, multimedia file playback from USB, and a much more basic Net TV online platform.