Panasonic TX-L47DT50 £2070.99
20th Apr 2012 | 13:27
A Panasonic LED TV with features that make it a real crowd pleaser
Things are looking rosy for Panasonic's large screen TV department. Rival Sony is suffering blighted sales and record-breaking losses while Panasonic is enjoying rave reviews for its latest range of flatscreens, including its first LCD televisions larger than 37 inches.
Plasma certainly isn't dead in Panasonic's eyes, but the company has sensibly made the decision to embrace Edge LED lighting and all of its benefits, notably including thinner screens and lower power consumption.
Hot on the heels of its impressive TX-L47ET50B is the step-up Panasonic TX-L47DT50, which seems to be selling for more or less the same price, despite offering several features not found on the junior model. And while logic dictates that an E series ought to be superior to a D, that isn't the case here.
The DT50 series comes in a trio of screen sizes, namely the 42-inch TX-L42DT50, 47-inch TX-L47DT50 and 55-inch TX-L55DT50. It adds 1600Hz back light trickery (basically, a 200Hz panel with a backlight that switches on and off eight times per frame) and a Clear Panel Pro for smoother motion, dual Freeview and Freesat HD tuners and an even more delectable super slim bezel.
Features common to both series include Active Shutter 3D, built-in wireless networking, Viera Connect smart TV and an LED edge-lit IPS alpha LCD screen with 178-degrees viewing angle.
While Panasonic hasn't abandoned plasma, all of its 47-inch screens are of the LCD variety, with a higher spec model, the eagerly awaited W-series TX-L47WT50 due to bring dual-core processing, SD card recording and an even slinkier design to the home entertainment party.
No other manufacturer has managed to land as many of its 2012 models on our shores as Panasonic but from what we've seen of the terrific LG 47LM670 and the current Samsung UE46D800, the South Koreans still have plenty to keep Panasonic from getting too smug about the demise of Sony.
Silver, it seems, is the new black. As least as far as TV bezels are concerned. This look was pioneered by Samsung two years ago and has now been adopted by Panasonic. And not without success, as far as the Panasonic TX-L47DT50 is concerned.
It doesn't quite match the also stunning LG 47LM670 for minimalism or inventiveness, but the design is still lovely, combining an ultra-trim silver bezel measuring 1cm deep with a translucent bottom lip. It's a definite improvement on the two-tone Panasonic TX-L47ET50.
The connections role call makes no compromises in terms of attendance or layout. All sockets considerately face downwards or sideways, enabling wall or stand mounting.
There are four HDMIs, and adaptors are provided for Scart and component video-sporting legacy analog equipment, while the Panasonic TX-L47DT50's multimedia prowess is borne out by the provision of built-in wireless and wired Ethernet connections, a playback-only SD card slot and three USB ports.
One of these can be used for PVR-style recording to a hard disk, which provides elementary time-shifting or archiving from whatever channel the TV is tuned in to. Sadly, it can't record one Freesat channel while watching something on Freeview, but you can view the recordings on a connected DLNA device.
The other USB sockets can be used for playback of files from USB flash drives or making Skype calls (you'll need Panasonic's £133 Skype camera, the Panasonic HD Communication Camera TY-CC10W, which is called the TY-CC20 and costs $130 in the US).
It's a shame TVs aren't built with the same flexibility as cars, where customers choose a basic spec and cherry pick the extras according to their budget and needs. The Panasonic TX-L47DT50 comes with active shutter 3D technology, which delivers 1920 x 1080 (Full HD) resolution 3D, whereas more affordable models such as the Panasonic TX-L47ET5 offer passive 3D.
The problem with active shutter 3D on the Panasonic TX-L47DT50 is that the 3D glasses are not cheap, the Panasonic TY-ER3D4ME set that we used are around £80 a pair in the UK - and $80 in the US, where they're called TY-ER3D4MU - and none are included with the TV.
After enjoying the casual convenience of passive 3D on LG's 47LM670 it seems a real faff having to pair this TV with its spectacles and deal with the numerous flashing red and green light signals that the glasses emit according to their status. With passive 3D there are no buttons or switches to deal with.
In addition to HD tuners for both Freeview and Freesat, the Panasonic TX-L47DT50 can also deliver plenty of entertainment via its smart TV feature. It's not the finished article though, with no Lovefilm or ITV Player, for example, but heavyweights such as BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Acetrax and Netflix are joined by new contenders Fetch TV and the impressive Aupeo online music streaming service.
There's also a full web browser and a Facebook/Twitter app for keeping in touch with your social network while watching live TV. Multimedia file playback is industry-leading, including compatibility with MPEG2-TS rips, DivX HD, XviD, and FLAC audio files.
Image adjustment and calibration options are also bountiful on the Panasonic TX-L47DT50. Its comprehensive set of image adjustment tools includes colour management and Panasonic's Intelligent Field Creation (IFC). Like all other judder-reducing tools, there's a trade-off between smoothness and unwanted side-effects, such as haloing.
The use of Edge LED lighting, coupled with a local dimming system, has unsurprisingly resulted in a panel with some uneven pooling of light. This clouding only becomes an issue with very dark static images (such as end credit sequences) and its severity on our Panasonic TX-L47DT50 sample was certainly not as bad as it was on a Panasonic TX-L47ET50. No TV manufacturer yet seems to have cracked the problem.
There are countless ways in which you can tweak the Panasonic TX-L47DT50's image, but preset modes are limited to Dynamic (to be avoided), Normal, Cinema, True Cinema and two Professional modes that can be preset and stored. Intelligent Frame Creation is buried in the advanced settings sub-menu, but will inevitably need accessing from time to time.
Happily, judder is usually not so much of an issue that you'll often want to engage IFC, but when you do it's probably worth sticking to the minimum setting just to take the slight jerkiness off fast moving subjects.
With 1080p/24 Blu-rays, IFC is automatically disabled in favour of 24p Smooth Film mode, although this has very much the same effect. Thankfully, it too can be adjusted to minimum or even set to off, to avoid making movies look like they were shot on video camcorders.
Generally, HD feeds look wonderful. Live football and cricket on Sky have fantastic clarity and accurate colours, while No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood on Blu-ray are as dynamic and engaging as we've ever seen them, and shadow detail is very good.
The Panasonic TX-L47DT50 is certainly a capable 3D screen (gimmicky 2D to 3D conversion aside), Monsters Vs Aliens exhibiting negligible levels of cross-talk. It's not an unqualified success though, since the screen can struggle with low bit-rate standard definition Freeview broadcasts. A live feed of Europa League football on Channel 5 was so mushy as to be barely watchable.
Over in HD, meanwhile, the same match was sweetness and light. Even more reputable channels such as BBC 1 don't have the clarity compared with the same on Sky, with panel noise also more noticeable. On the positive side, the classic BBC DVD of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is nicely upscaled with barely any side-effects.
The operating system on the Panasonic TX-L47DT50 is no match for the look of the TV or its feature count. It lacks the set's exterior panache, but at least it's not unpleasant to navigate, and the much-despised advertising panes of previous models are no longer part of the GuidePlus EPG.
It's a shame that neither the Freeview nor Freesat EPG enables you to visually or aurally follow whatever's being watched, since both EPGs take you right out of the live feed. But consolation is provided with access to the ROVI alternative TV guide if you're connected to a network.
The VieraLink button on the remote does an efficient job of cutting to the multimedia chase, bringing up a dashboard with icons for the various entertainment sources connected to the TV.
Moving between apps within the smart TV portal is a sluggish process, but web navigation on the Panasonic TX-L47DT50 is a fairly efficient process with a cursor that glides quickly between links as you move it either up, down, left or right across the screen using the remote.
Inputting text without a physical keyboard is where TV-based web use becomes bothersome, and the absence of Flash compatibility means video footage playback is unassured.
The Panasonic TX-L47DT50's remote has a dedicated button for accessing the set's surround sound modes, comprising V-Audio, which enhances width to simulate improved spatial effects, V-Audio Surround (enhances width and depth) and V-Audio ProSurround, which is supposed to provide a more progressive enhancer and reverberation to simulate improved spatial effects.
Switching between music and speech has a much greater effect than engaging any of the three surround sound modes, even with full-bloodied and dynamic Blu-ray soundtracks. All three surround modes noticeably improve the sonic spread compared with the default setting, but there's nothing to choose between them. In many respects you're better off having a play with the set's built-in equaliser.
With a recommended retail price of £2,071 in the UK and $1,900 in the US, most of the UK's leading electrical retailers are offering the Panasonic TX-L47DT50 for a shade under £1,700. And some - such as John Lewis - are chucking in two free pairs of 3D glasses, too.
Considering its large size and how technologically well endowed the screen is, this doesn't seem excessive, but it feels like a large sum to pay for a 47-inch TV. Others may do it a shade better but there's very little not found on the Panasonic TX-L47DT50 that can be found elsewhere for the same money.
Flying pretty high up the 2012 Viera range, the Panasonic TX-L47DT50 is jam packed with enthusiast-friendly features. Its Freesat tuner is ideal for lapsed Sky subscribers or free-to-air viewers unable to access Freeview come the completion of the digital switchover in the UK. Its multimedia and smart TV talents are diverse, and its classy look finally puts Panasonic on a design par with many of its rivals.
The Panasonic TX-L47DT50 is unquestionably the best-looking Viera TV ever made. There are numerous ways to tweak the image, and while black levels may not be a match for the best plasma screens, moving images are generally exceptionally good in terms of clarity, colour fidelity and contrast. Multimedia file support is also among the best.
There are some picture problems with softness and noise from some standard definition Freeview broadcasts on the Panasonic TX-L47DT50. In terms of usability, the operating system is dated, the web browser can be challenging and the set's connected TV services feel clunky. The surround sound modes have very little effect or discernible difference between them.
The Panasonic TX-L47DT50 has really put its maker on the LED TV map. The model might not raise the bar in terms of design, usability and features but it keeps Panasonic up with its rivals. You'd be hard pressed to guess that Panasonic has no previous form in the 47-inch LCD sector before this year.
With Panasonic out of the 2012 blocks so much earlier than its rivals, there aren't many similar sized screens to recommend from this year's output, aside from the highly-impressive LG 47LM670, which is even more attractive to look at, has passive 3D rather than active shutter and lacks the Panasonic TX-L47DT50's image processing sorcery.
If Freesat's not your bag and you don't mind losing one or two minor features, Panasonic's TX-L47ET50 is certainly worth a look, as is the Panasonic TX-L47ET5, which reduces costs even further by using passive 3D.
Not sure LED can cut it in terms of image quality and are prepared to go for a slightly larger screen? The flagship Panasonic P50VT30 is coming down in price a bit now that it's been around for a few months.