Panasonic TX-L47ET50B £1672.99
30th Mar 2012 | 07:54
3D excels on this super-slim 47-inch Edge LED, but where are the glasses?
Has Panasonic lost its lovin' feeling for plasma TVs? The 47-inch Panasonic TX-L47ET50B is the Japanese manufacturer's biggest ever LCD TV by some distance, and as such represents a major shift in what it thinks is the right tech for home cinema.
For long a manufacturer mainly of plasma panels, Panasonic LCD TVs have thus far only been made in sub-37-inch screen sizes.
So the Panasonic TX-L47ET50B - priced at £1,673 in the UK (about $2,660) - and little brother the TX-L42ET50B (£1298/about $2070) are genuinely new for - tech-wise - arguably the most important brand in flatscreen TVs.
It may be a step in another direction for Panasonic, but the TX-L47ET50B is hardly a novelty act. In fact, this era of all brands offering everything might play into our hands in this case for one good reason: Panasonic's small screen LCD TVs have thus far been immaculate.
The main reason for that hasn't been the use of Edge LED backlighting (which, incidentally, the Panasonic TX-L47ET50B has), but instead their being based around IPS panels, which tend to extend the viewing angle noticeably further than basic LCD panels.
Happily, the Panasonic TX-L47ET50B constitutes Panasonic's largest ever attempt at an IPS-panelled television.
The Panasonic TX-L47ET50B isn't all about panel tech, living up to its Smart Viera LED TV name in more than one way.
Most eye-catching is it super-slim 36mm-deep chassis, which is dressed in an unusual mix of transparent lip and silver bezel, the latter of which measuring just 11mm wide. Called a 'Crystal Frame' by Panasonic, it's a great idea and cleverly executed, although the Panasonic TX-L47ET50B is a tad wider than it actually appears.
Appearance is all with its 3D system, too, which uses the active shutter tech developed by Panasonic.
Unfortunately this is the brand's entry-level 3D LED effort, so it doesn't actually ship with any 3D glasses in the box. We managed to procure a pair of Panasonic TY-ER3D4ME 3D glasses, which cost £81 in the UK and $80 in the US, where they're called Panasonic TY-ER3D4MU 3D Active Shutter Eyewear. Not too bad you might think, but for a family of five?
It's an unlikely upgrade, which partially explains Panasonic's introduction of its Easy 3D range of ET5 LED TVs, which use the much cheaper passive technology. Glasses for those TVs cost just a few quid, but the detail levels aren't as high.
Smart TV functions consist of Viera Connect, a grid-style presentation of app icons covering the likes of BBC iPlayer, BBC News, YouTube, Fetch TV, Eurosport and Skype. To use Skype, you'll need to add a £130 Panasonic HD Communication Camera TY-CC10W, which is called the TY-CC20 and costs $130 in the US.
Other Panasonic TVs
Aside from the simple small-screen LCD-based C Series, all of Panasonic's other LCD TVs for 2012 are LED-backlit.
The HD-ready X5 Series' largest screen is the 32-inch TX-L32X5, while the 32-inch TX-L32ET5 kicks off the ET5 Series, Panasonic's only attempt at passive 3D TV.
Other sets include the 37-inch TX-L37ET5, 42-inch TX-L42ET5, 47-inch TX-L47ET5 and 55-inch TX-L55ET5, all of which ship with four pairs of 3D glasses as well as Viera Connect, Wi-Fi and DLNA networking.
All other Panasonic LED TV ranges with 47-inch screens use the active shutter 3D system. These include the high-end Panasonic TX-L47WT50 in the WT50 Series, which boasts two pairs of 3D specs, Infinite Contrast, dual core Pro4 processor, web browser with Flash support, Bluetooth and a touchpad remote.
Active shutter 3D also appears on the more basic Panasonic TX-L37DT50 in the DT50 Series, with Brilliant Contrast, but no 3D specs or dual core processor.
The Panasonic TX-L47ET50B uses active shutter instead of passive 3D technology. Active shutter uses powered, relatively chunky glasses with left and right lenses that open and close in sync with the 3D display's flashing of left and right eye images.
Some complain of a constant flicker, but each of those images is in Full HD resolution. That's key, since passive 3D TVs don't flash any images, and instead require passive polarising lenses that can separate the left and right eye images without power.
The glasses are much cheaper - as little as a pound/dollar or two - but the Full HD resolution is shared between each eye. It's noticeably softer, but easier to watch for long periods.
By default, the home screen for Viera Connect displays icons for BBC News, Skype, BBC iPlayer, Eurosport, YouTube and Fetch TV. Although it's fully customisable, the central screen is always reserved for playing whatever live input was playing when Viera Connect started up - typically live TV or a Blu-ray disc.
Other screens include Netflix, Acetrax, Twitter, Euronews, Facebook, CNBC Real Time, DailyMotion, Picasa, SHOUTcast radio, Aupeo, iConcerts and some games and weather apps.
There's also a downloadable web browser, and a market area of Viera Connect where hardware and software can be purchased.
If the Panasonic TX-L47ET50B cashes in, it can also have a cache in it - shove in a USB flash drive or SD card of at least 2GB (although 16GB and higher is far more practical) and it can pause live TV, rewind it and even record it - using timers, no less.
It's impressive, but actually quite limiting; there's only one Freeview tuner included, so if it's switched on it can only record what you're watching. It's useful for recording something while you're out, for sure, but that's about it.
The Panasonic TX-L47ET50B, like almost all smart TVs, likes to think of itself as a media streamer. As well as three USB ports and one SD card slot for playing digital media from a USB stick or HDD, it has Wi-Fi and wired Ethernet LAN for networking.
Here it's in its most advanced form yet, going beyond the usual digital file fetch; programmes recorded from the Freeview tuner via this TV can be shared on other DLNA-compatible devices - typically a laptop or PC on the same home network.
Picture tech-wise, the Panasonic TX-L47ET50B has a 200Hz 'Clear Panel' capable of 800Hz backlight scanning as well as frame interpolation tech called Intelligent Frame Creation.
One of the key features on the Panasonic TX-L47ET50B is an 800Hz option, but don't be fooled by that figure. It's actually a 200Hz option that generates 200 frames per second that are then flashed up by 'fine blinking' of the backlight. The aim is smooth, blur-free movement.
We tested this claim on a 2D sequence from Grand Canyon Adventure, and found the results smoother than with the feature disabled, though not by much.
After-images - often seen a step or two behind the moving object - almost completely disappear, although it's not a unique achievement, and no more or less impressive than on 200Hz TVs.
We then gave the Panasonic TX-L47ET50B a test drive during the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sky's F1 channel on a Virgin Media TiVo box. The anti-blur tech again proved its worth amid an image with plenty of colour and vitality.
A few days later we checked out the same race's highlights via the BBC iPlayer app on Viera Connect. Here, the picture quality is poor. It's colourful, reasonably stable and there's nothing wrong with the app itself, but it's such a soft image.
We know this kind of streamed standard definition content looks acceptable on a 42-inch Edge LED television, so we can only conclude that the extra stretch needed to achieve a 47-inch image is just too much for the source.
We come up against this problem elsewhere, too. Freeview HD channels are a very mixed bag, with the expected division between SD and HD channels.
Watching The One Show on plain old BBC One is riddled with mosquito noise around the edges and boundaries between colour blocks, with a sheen of dotty noise across everything. It struggles to fill the 47-inch panel. But swap to BBC One HD and all of those problems disappear to be replaced by a bright, colourful image with plenty of contrast.
From all sources we noticed some light leakage at the top of the screen, although the three visible clusters of LEDs weren't bright enough to distract; we've seen a lot worse than this.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy on 2D Blu-ray is reasonably detailed, and head-on contrast is decent enough, too (although large blocks of black appear as one), but there's a constant sheen of picture noise that we just can't shake off.
It appears to be the source, since Shutter Island appears crisp and has decent detail in the gloom, and even an MKV trailer of Up In The Air impresses.
Although the contrast is fair on the Panasonic TX-L47ET50B, activating the 3D mode instantly brings a drop in brightness and a perceived deeper black level. We watched Grand Canyon Adventure on 3D Blu-ray, which was near-on immaculate save for some noticeable flicker over white areas of the image.
But a 3D effect can be gleaned from converting almost any 2D source. That includes your own digital video files, Freeview, Blu-ray and DVD, but not video streamed though a Viera Connect app, such as BBC iPlayer.
We tried out this effect on Jeremy Paxman's Empire on BBC One, and the effect was impressive when the focal point is at the centre of the frame. For documentaries, it usually is, but that's not the case for movies, where it's quite often a complete mess. Whatever the source, there's seemingly an even powerful flicker in bright areas of the image, such as the sky.
Usability, sound and value
Buried in the Panasonic TX-L47ET50B's Market area of Viera Connect is a web browser. It's HTML5 compatible so can display media-rich websites, but there's no Flash support, so many video-based sites don't work.
It's easy enough to use, although it's still based around an (albeit huge) cursor to navigate using the clickwheel-looking buttons on the remote. It's slow, and if you have a smartphone, you'll only try it out once.
The user interface is reasonably easy to use, but a little stale and not a patch on Panasonic's new Blu-ray players.
Still, we like the Viera Tools menu that can be called up as a taskbar along the bottom of the screen. From there we played AVC HD, MKV and AVI video files, FLAC and MP3 music, and JPEG photos (which, incidentally, load very quickly in fast, dynamic and beautifully laid out software) straight from an HDD connected to one of the three USB slots.
Connected to a network, we couldn't get the Panasonic TX-L47ET50B to recognise MKV files, although MOV and MP4 videos were playable. Photo and music file support remained the same.
Activate the V-Audio sound mode and dialogue is seemingly lifted so that it appears to emanate from the screen itself. The V-Audio Surround mode proves ineffective, although the speakers on this 47-inch TV prove meaty enough to do pretty well in our tests.
Hardly musical and lacking the ear effects and muscle for movies to really impress, the Panasonic TX-L47ET50B nevertheless makes a better stab than most TVs at genuinely useful sound.
Upgrade to a home cinema or 2.1 system, yes, but you can take you time about it.
With every passing year, formerly devout plasma fanatic Panasonic expands its lineup of LCD TVs, with 2012's crop now numbering seven separate ranges.
The key feature in the TX-L47ET50B is the use of an IPS panel, although the viewing angle is less than we had expected on this usually reliable tech. Still, there's no hint of motion blur.
A big screen for a living room rather than a home cinema stalwart, the Panasonic TX-L47ET50B features a top-draw smart TV dimension in the shape of Viera Connect, although it could do with Lovefilm and some on-demand TV apps such as Demand 5 or ITV Player.
The Panasonic TX-L47ET50B doesn't do itself any favours in the value stakes by not including any 3D glasses, and with active shutter tech that's a misfire that could likely kill off the very idea of 3D at home.
It's a strange move for Panasonic - are we moving towards a situation where 3D-ready is just a backwards compatibility issue rather than a must-have new feature?
Bowing to consumers' clamour for LED TVs - and with one eye on the current trend for truly big screens - with the Panasonic TX-L47ET50B, the brand appears to be ready to loosen its grip on plasma, but on two conditions.
These are firstly by coming up with an IPS panel to get over some of LCD tech's shortfalls (with mixed results), and secondly, deciding to use active shutter 3D for ultimate detail.
As such, the Panasonic TX-L47ET50B is a relatively high-end choice on paper, although it remains the brand's most value-busting effort - there are, after all, two ranges (WT50 and DT50) above it in the 2012 arsenal.
The 3D imagery on offer is excellent, with genuinely detailed and wowing effects backed up by the sheer size of the screen. Immersive and convincing with 3D, there's also some deep and detailed 2D Blu-ray to enjoy.
Freeview HD also impresses, as does the burgeoning Viera Connect platform of apps and games, with a particularly warm welcome for Netflix.
Soft standard definition, middling Blu-ray and a narrow viewing angle make this a less than overwhelming effort from Panasonic.
As IPS panels go, it's a disappointment. Digital file-wise, it's is a work in progress (why no MKV over a home network?), while the 2D-to-3D conversion is a feature to forget. And why is there no Lovefilm app on Viera Connect?
Overall we'd judge the Panasonic TX-L47ET50B as having a panel that's a tad too big for its boots, with no source outstanding and some standard definition material disappointingly soft and dirty.
Put simply, it's a half-decent all-rounder for a living room, with some 3D fireworks up its sleeve, but it's not half as good as a Panasonic plasma TV.
At this size, Panasonic's plasma TVs - all 3D TVs with Viera Connect - are the real rivals to the TX-47ET50B, with 50-inch options within the brand's six ranges.
Its top-of-the-range VT50 Series has an Infinite Black Ultra Panel, Bluetooth, ISF calibration option and two pairs of 3D specs, and features the TX-P50VT50.
The Panasonic GT50 Series, which has an Infinite Black Pro panel and Bluetooth, includes the TX-P50GT50, and the Panasonic ST50 Series - with an Infinite Black Pro panel - has the TX-P50ST5.
The Panasonic UT50 Series, which lacks Wi-Fi and has a more basic plasma panel, features the TX-P50UT50.
If you're not after Full HD 3D, note that Panasonic also makes the TX-P50XT50 (3D, but merely HD-ready) and TX-P50X50 (HD-ready only).
From the 2012 crop of TVs from other manufacturers, the high-end Samsung UE55ES8000 is a top choice.