Panasonic TX-L42WT50B £2194.99
23rd May 2012 | 09:39
Plasma is no longer Panasonic's only TV fruit
As plasma TVs' most vocal advocate, with enormous plasma production facilities to back up its beliefs, it's no surprise that Panasonic has been slower than most - well, everyone, really - when it comes to fully embracing LCD as a worthwhile TV technology.
Sure, there have been LCD models in Panasonic's TV range for a few years now. But they've invariably been limited in size and scope, with plasmas making up the entirety of Panasonic's big screen, home cinema enthusiast offering.
This year, though, it's all change. Panasonic's 2012 LCD television range is not only as expansive in terms of numbers as its plasma one, but it also includes screen sizes all the way up to 55 inches, and some genuinely flagship-status offerings full of high-level features, design flourishes and picture technology.
The 42-inch Panasonic L42WT50 is one such flagship proposition - a status it wears right out there on its sleeve, thanks to a gorgeous glass and metal design and a bezel so slender it wouldn't look out of place on one of the LG or Samsung's high-fashion models.
This is a big aesthetic leap for a brand that as recently as last year generally resided in the 'slightly bland' category for its TV designs.
Inside the Panasonic TX-L42WT50, meanwhile, is a dual-core processor system used to both drive Panasonic's most powerful picture processing engine yet - complete with local dimming for the Edge LED lighting system - and deliver some extra convenience features, including some welcome multitasking when using the set's expansive multimedia features.
The L42WT50's UK price is £2,195 (around $3,460) and is partnered in Panasonic's range by bigger brothers the 47-inch L47WT50 and 55-inch L55WT50.
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Just below the Panasonic WT50 TVs you can find the DT50 televisions - including the Panasonic L42DT50 and L47DT50 - available in the same sizes, but lacking the dual-core processing and thus getting neither Panasonic's top-level picture processing nor the L42WT50's multitasking features.
The WT50 TVs also ship with two pairs of 3D glasses included, while you don't get any with the DT50 series.
In terms of the Panasonic TX-L42WT50's competition, the obvious candidates are the Samsung ES8000 series and Sony HX853 series - both of which have already reviewed well, and so could present the Panasonic TX-L42WT50 with some pretty stiff competition.
It's fair to say that not all of Panasonic's recent flagship TVs have really looked like flagship TVs. In fact, they've generally looked a bit dated. This is not, however, an accusation you could level at the Panasonic TX-L42WT50.
Panasonic has completely revamped its aesthetics, combining a new 'Glass & Metal' design ethos with a super-slim bezel and trim backside that finally enables this venerable Japanese brand to go toe to toe in design terms with the most glamorous offerings from the two big Korean AV brands.
The Panasonic TX-L42WT50 has all the connections that matter too, despite its diminished rear end. Finding four v1.4 HDMIs for 3D and HD digital playback is no less than we would expect of a flagship TV in 2012. But it's certainly good to find Panasonic also more than acknowledging the importance of multimedia in today's world by providing three USBs, an SD slot and integrated Wi-Fi for multimedia playback.
The Wi-Fi support runs to both streaming from DLNA PCs and going online with Panasonic's Viera Connect online service, while the USB and SD card slots also permit you to record to suitably formatted devices from the built-in Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners.
The Panasonic TX-L42WT50 even carries built-in Bluetooth. This can't be used for streaming files from Bluetooth devices, but it can be used for 'attaching' Bluetooth keyboards or external Bluetooth speakers.
As with a growing number of TVs this year, the Panasonic TX-L42WT50 ships with two remote controls: a typical button-laden one, and a smaller, more spartan affair that features a trackpad at its top for supposedly enhanced navigation of web pages. More on this new remote later, in the Usability section of this review.
You can also control the Panasonic TX-L42WT50 via your Android or iOS device courtesy of a new Viera Control app - an app that additionally and rather brilliantly enables you to throw content from your TV to your portable device and vice-versa.
Other notable accessories contained in the Panasonic TX-L42WT50's box are two pairs of active shutter 3D glasses. The Panasonic TX-L42WT50 is far from the only TV in Panasonic's 2012 LCD TV range to sport active 3D playback, but the WT50 series is the only one that gets any glasses included free.
Needless to say, the inclusion of these glasses increases the likelihood of purchasers of the set actually using its 3D capabilities - and makes its somewhat steep £2,195 (around $3,460) price tag slightly easier to swallow.
As you would expect given how slender it is, the Panasonic TX-L42WT50 uses Edge LED lighting. And this lighting features local dimming driven by the Smart Viera Engine Pro video processing system reserved exclusively for the dual-core WT50 series.
The screen also boasts an inevitable Full HD resolution, and an unprecedentedly high 1600Hz backlight scanning system for, hopefully, Panasonic's most accomplished LCD motion performance to date. The 1600Hz figure is derived, for those of you interested in such technicalities, by combining a native 200Hz panel design with an 8x-per-frame blinking backlight.
With a bit of luck, the Panasonic TX-L42WT50's motion processing power should aid it in reproducing 3D without judder or crosstalk noise. Mind you, come to think of it, Panasonic's top-end LCD TVs last year were impressively crosstalk-free even without such high-falutin' picture processing power.
As with the majority of Panasonic TVs this year, the L42WT50 gets the latest incarnation of the Viera Connect online platform. This has now become a very satisfying online experience for the most part, combining a solid (though certainly still improvable) content level with a well-developed and presented online market for adding apps and even hardware accessories to your TV experience.
The Panasonic TX-L42WT50 also deserves kudos for the multitasking feature made possible by the dual-core processing. This enables you to have up to six different apps running at once, with you being able to flick more or less instantly between them via a couple of presses of the remote control.
This makes the set's multimedia features feel more fully integrated into the Panasonic TX-L42WT50's overall experience, and certainly makes the TV much easier to get the most out of.
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The key online services currently look like this: Netflix, AceTrax, BBC iPlayer, Skype (with an optional extra camera), YouTube, EuroSport, BBC News, Fetch TV, Twitter, Facebook, Euronews, CNBC Real Time, DailyMotion, Aupeo internet radio, iConcerts, Viewster, Vimeo and Picasa. There's also Indian cinema service BIGFlix VOD, Break Comedy, UStream TV, Red Karaoke and MLB.tv baseball.
Plus a Withings app enables Wi-Fi scales to communicate your weight to the TV so it can chart your weight loss and BMI, while an iFit Live app enables you to connect iLive fitness devices - such as an upcoming Viera treadmill - and run them in conjunction with Viera Connect features such as Google Earth.
And finally there are some genuinely impressive games, courtesy of Gameloft. Asphalt 5 and Let's Golf 2 in particular provide a near console-like experience with their graphics and gameplay that you don't currently get on any other brands' online TV platform.
As with all online TV systems, moreover, there's more Viera Connect content on the way, with Disney Books and MySpace services already signed up. Hopefully LoveFilm might get on there at some point too, although we haven't received any firm information to this effect.
Right from the off the Panasonic TX-L42WT50's pictures exude high-end quality, looking polished to within an inch of their lives by the machinations of all the processing power the TV has at its disposal.
Colours are particularly striking. They look intensely vibrant and well saturated, but more importantly - since this is what separates them most clearly from the efforts of cheaper TVs - they also display an immense gamut and almost infinite subtlety when it comes to portraying the sort of tiny gradation steps that are so important when reproducing accurate colour blends without striping or errors.
In fact, in this latter respect the Panasonic TX-L42WT50's pictures are superior to those of many of Panasonic's plasma TVs.
As hoped from the fancy-sounding 1600Hz motion processing engine, meanwhile, the Panasonic TX-L42WT50 does an excellent job of handling movement in its images. There's very little blurring at all, even without any of the numerous motion processing options active.
Yet if you do bring these motion processing settings in, they add obvious fluidity (especially with 3D) and motion sharpness without making the picture look unnatural - so long as you don't feel tempted to use any of the high-powered motion processing options.
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The clarity of the Panasonic TX-L42WT50's motion handling plays a part in the general sharpness and detail visible in its portrayal of HD sources - and actually its standard definition images look pretty clean too, thanks to the ability of the TV's processors to upscale such sources to the screen's Full HD pixel count without exaggerating their inherent noise or leaving them looking soft.
Another notable plus of the Panasonic TX-L42WT50 concerns its effective viewing angle. You can ogle its images from a markedly wider angle down the side than is the case with the majority of LCD TVs - a feat achieved via the TV's use of one of Panasonic's IPS Alpha LCD panel designs. This could be a pretty big deal for anyone with a small room, big family or both.
Having said all this, it must be added that even the Panasonic TX-L42WT50's viewing angle performance is no match for one of Panasonic's plasma TVs.
At first glance, the Panasonic TX-L42WT50 also looks pretty handy when it comes to the tricky issue of black level response. During mostly bright scenes, or scenes with a combination of dark and light content, there certainly seems to be a healthy black level response to underpin and counterbalance the already mentioned punch of the set's colours.
However, feeding the TV a few more generally dark scenes does uncover a problem or two.
For starters, with the set's local dimming option left off, the panel's native black level depth really isn't very profound, with markedly more greyness around than you tend to see with many of the other Edge LED TVs in town this year.
Thankfully, activating the local dimming system introduces a pretty emphatic improvement. Dark scenes lose a good deal of the grey misting that seems to hang over them without local dimming in play, yet impressively the improved black level response doesn't stop the TV from being able to produce a fair amount of the shadow detailing that's so important to making dark scenes look truly believable.
It does have to be said, though, that while the Panasonic TX-L42WT50's local dimming is a classy effort, it's not as all-round outstanding as the system used in the Sony 46HX853.
In particular, the Sony does a better job of handling shadow detail, plus there's slightly more evidence on the Panasonic of unnatural blocks of light around very bright image elements when they appear against dark backdrops. To be fair, the Panasonic L42WT50 is still pretty accomplished where keeping a lid on backlight blocking is concerned - it's just that Sony has rather shifted the goalposts in this regard.
The Panasonic TX-L42WT50 arguably saves its best till last, with its 3D performance. Obviously 3D isn't everyone's cup of tea, but you certainly can't knock Panasonic for going to so much trouble on the Panasonic TX-L42WT50 to prove that LCD really can do Full HD 3D just as well - if not better - as plasma can.
One area where the Panasonic TX-L42WT50's 3D pictures definitely outgun even the 3D efforts of Panasonic's 2012 plasma TVs is their colour punch and brightness. Yes, Panasonic's 3D glasses still seem to take a little more light out of images than some of the latest glasses from rival brands, but the screen is sufficiently dynamic with its output to counter this dimming to a satisfying degree.
It's also handy that the dimming effect of donning the 3D glasses serves to obscure to some extent the Panasonic TX-L42WT50's small black level problems.
The Panasonic TX-L42WT50 is blissfully free, meanwhile, from the dreaded active 3D issue of crosstalk noise. The double ghosting artefact that's still apparent to some degree on almost all 3D LCD TVs - including the otherwise stellar Sony 46HX853 - is here almost completely removed, only rearing a marginally ugly head on extremely rare occasions. Excellent.
Finally, as noted in passing in the 2D section of the review, the power behind the Panasonic TX-L42WT50's picture processing enables it to deliver some of the most impressive motion handling with 3D material we've seen to date, keeping judder and resolution loss pretty much completely out of play - regardless of whether the motion is across or in and out of the 3D picture.
Panasonic has long been a popular brand with the gaming community. So it's good to find that the Panasonic TX-L42WT50 delivers its all-round impressive pictures with only around 30ms of input lag. This is a low enough to figure not to have any significant impact on your gaming performance.
Usability, sound and value
The Panasonic TX-L42WT50 isn't quite as easy to use as we'd hoped. Particularly disappointing is the touchpad remote provided alongside the normal one. For starters, the trackpad area is too small for comfort, requiring you to lift and reset your finger too often while scrolling around the screen.
The circular shape of the trackpad isn't helpful either, since it doesn't bear any relation to the shape of the screen you're working within, making your finger movements feel counter-intuitive.
Then there's the way you have to tap the trackpad to select an on-screen option. The amount and type (tap or more sustained press) of pressure required to make this work seemed aggravatingly inconsistent during our tests. Also, as with the similar approach taken by the second remote supplied with Samsung's latest high-end TVs, it's all too easy to accidentally slide off your desired selection while attempting to press the pad to select it.
The normal remote, meanwhile, is solid but certainly not spectacular. It provides one-button access to most of the TV's key features, but the layout isn't especially thoughtful, leaving you with a sense that Panasonic is clinging on to an outdated remote control design rather than going back to the drawing board to come up with something that reflects the latest TV usage patterns.
The Panasonic TX-L42WT50 is best controlled, in fact, with the latest Viera Control App. Once you've learned your way around the shortcut icons at the bottom of this app's screen (it's a pity no tutorial is provided), it proves a very pleasant way of controlling the cursor and navigating the television's features. Plus, of course, it provides a brilliantly simple means of sharing multimedia content with the TV.
Please note, though, that you can't share music stored on your iOS device with the TV. Nor does the iPhone/iPod/iPad version of the app support voice control/recognition, while the Android version does.
The Panasonic TX-L42WT50's main on-screen functionality menus, meanwhile, aren't especially attractive. They do get the job done in a reasonably logical and succinct style, despite having quite a lot of options to handle courtesy of all the calibration tools the TV had to supply to earn the endorsement of the independent Imaging Science Foundation (ISF).
Panasonic's Viera Connect platform works great in some places but not so well in others. Where it's particularly effective is in its Marketplace area. This is probably the most friendly, attractive and easy to search shop we've yet seen on a TV, and is something other brands should flat-out copy as soon as possible.
Less helpful is the main menu for getting at all your apps - pre-installed and otherwise. This uses page after page of large icons, showing only eight apps per page, meaning that you'll often find yourself delving down through multiple pages to try to rustle up the particular app you're after.
It must be stressed, though, that the system does at least enable you to move apps up and down through the pages, so you can make sure you get all your favourite apps as near the top of the menu pile as possible.
The Panasonic TX-L42WT50's skinny frame, measuring 956 x 569 x 27mm, doesn't raise any great hopes for its audio performance. And indeed, it does sound pretty much like the majority of other super-skinny TVs out there, thanks to a pretty obvious shortage of bass and a slightly congested mid-range. Still, it can hit some decent volumes, and the treble end of the spectrum is decently clean without sounding too harsh or hissy.
Considering how much the Panasonic TX-L42WT50 has got going on in terms of its features and performance, its £2,195 (around $3,460) price - discounted to just £1,700 (around $2,680) in some places - isn't as out there as it might look at first glance. Certainly it's roughly in line with the sort of pricing being applied to other dual core TVs this year from the likes of LG and Samsung.
It rather helps the Panasonic TX-L42WT50 in this section, too, that Sony doesn't do a 42-inch version of its HX853 series. However, at the same time you can't ignore the fact that while it's not got dual-core processing and lacks a few feature bells and whistles, the 46-inch Sony 46HX853 can be had for around £1,450 (around $2,290) - that's less money for four more inches of screen.
Panasonic's most concerted attempt to show that it gets LCD TV just as much as it gets plasma TV is, overall, a major success.
For starters, the brand has gone back to the design drawing board and made the Panasonic TX-L42WT50 easily the most attractive TV it's ever produced. The feature count is high too, thanks to the inclusion of 3D, online functionality and all manner of picture tweaks.
Plus Panasonic has also done a kitchen sink job where the TV's picture quality is concerned, integrating dual core processing and Panasonic's most advanced picture processing engine to date.
The overall result is a slick, flexible and mostly high-performance TV, only let down by some minor backlight issues and one or two operational flaws.
Picture quality is, for the most part, excellent. The TV's 3D images are nearly flawless, in fact, and most 2D material looks good too. Panasonic's new design approach is a joy to behold as well, and the set's connectivity and features are mostly excellent. We also appreciated the Android/iOS device control and content sharing system, and the multitasking functionality opened up by the dual-core processing.
The touchpad remote provided with the TV is frustrating to use. There's room for improvement, too, with the Panasonic TX-L42WT50's handling of dark scenes, and as usual with very thin TVs, its audio is a bit average. There's also no denying that it's pretty expensive by 42-inch standards.
Any lingering doubts about whether Panasonic could do a 'serious' LCD TV are thoroughly dispelled by the Panasonic TX-L42WT50. Panasonic has gone more than far enough with the TV's processing power and lighting mechanisms to make it a truly classy performer no matter what you feed it - although it's especially accomplished with 3D.
Its multimedia support is terrific too, and excellently handled via Panasonic's new multitasking functionality and Android/iOS apps.
It might not handle contrast as well as Sony's HX853, and it's undoubtedly expensive for a 42-inch TV, but overall the Panasonic TX-L42WT50 far exceeds expectations. Especially if you're into 3D.
The TV that most springs to mind as an alternative to the Panasonic TX-L42WT50 is Sony's 46HX853. Despite being four inches larger than Panasonic's set, this Sony is also cheaper, and delivers what we believe is the finest 2D picture quality yet produced by an LCD TV. The Panasonic TX-L42WT50, though, enjoys a trimmer design, and outguns the Sony in terms of its 3D performance and its multimedia flexibility.
Another obvious rival is Samsung's UE40ES8000. This is two inches smaller but if anything is even more glamorous in its design than the Panasonic TX-L42WT50. It's also cheaper, and features a more feature-rich and well-presented online system.
Plus it provides gesture and voice control options, as well as a better touchpad remote than Panasonic's. However, while its pictures are exceptionally punchy and bold, they lack a little of the subtlety that you get with the Panasonic TX-L42WT50.
Finally, of course, you simply can't ignore Panasonic's own plasma TVs. These don't compete with the Panasonic TX-L42WT50 where brightness is concerned, especially when watching 3D. But they're considerably cheaper, and produce class-leading black levels, making them a fine option for film fans able to use them in relatively dark rooms