Panasonic TX-L47ET60B £1049
18th Oct 2013 | 10:00
This good-looking 47-inch TV ups the smart stakes and puts 3D back on easy street
Panasonic isn't the only major TV manufacturer to almost completely forget about 3D TV this year. Despite having 3D gubbins inside, there's barely a mention of it in the specs for the Panasonic TX-L47ET60B. Instead, Panasonic's lineup for 2013 is all about big screens and smart TV, and this 47-inch TV is a great example of both.
If 2012 was the year this plasma-obsessed manufacturer embraced LED backlighting, this year its new love is passive 3D, which now completely dominates its LCD TVs.
As well as the 'easy' 3D system and a Full HD IPS panel, the Panasonic TX-L47ET60B features new smart TV features, notably a My Home Screen function that's home to apps, browser shortcuts and other widgets, and customisable to multiple users.
Most viewers will have a tablet or at least a smartphone, Panasonic reckons, which explains its new Apple AirPlay-esque idea Swipe & Share 2.0, an app-based feature that sees two-way file exchanges between the TV and your smart devices.
Looks-wise the Panasonic TX-L47ET60B is on the money. A silver bezel that's barely 8mm slim (plus another 2mm gap between it and the screen) is impressive, as is its overall depth of just 35mm.
From being a manufacturer that was regularly a year behind the zeitgeist in design terms, the Panasonic TX-L47ET60B now represents one of the best-looking mid-range TVs around. A transparent lip at the bottom of the screen adds a further touch of lightness, though the squared-off corners could be judged a little harsh.
However, the build quality is excellent - peerless, even, in this commodity market - and far above average for the £1,100 (around US$1,662 / AU$1,596) price. We don't suppose gloss black will become particularly hard to find in 2013, but it's good to see it taking a back seat on this, one of the first of Panasonic's new flatscreen TVs for spring.
The ET60 Series, of which the Panasonic TX-L47ET60B is a member, constitutes the third rung of the Japanese manufacturer's lineup for 2013. As well as the Panasonic TX-L47ET60B, it comes in three other guises, the 42-inch Panasonic TX-L42ET60B, 50-inch Panasonic TX-L50ET60B and 55-inch Panasonic TX-L55ET60B.
Above it in Panasonic's LED-backlit LCD TV sector are the 55-inch Panasonic TX-L55DT65 and 60-inch Panasonic TX-L60DT65, which add voice interaction and recognition - each time you switch on the TV, no less - plus a dual-core Hexa Processing Engine.
Also higher up the range is the flagship 47-inch Panasonic TX-L47WT65 and the 55-inch Panasonic TX-L55WT65, which boast Clear Panel Pro, voice interaction and so-called 'Infinite Contrast'.
Panasonic's new plasmas for 2013 - the VT65 Series and 'reference level' ZT65 Series - are also worth bearing in mind.
Although 3D clearly isn't a priority for Panasonic in 2013 - and that probably goes for all major brands - the use of three dimensions on this 47-inch TV does constitute something of a boundary in terms of the brand's collection. While Panasonic used to use both active shutter (its own invention) and passive 3D systems to differentiate high-end, mid-range and entry-level TVs, it now uses it to make a clear distinction between LED-backlit LCD TVs and its favoured panel technology, plasma.
So while plasma gets the detail-pushing active shutter 3D tech that requires battery-operated glasses and more limited viewing positions, Panasonic's LED-backlit LCD TVs get the cheap, cheerful, flicker-free - and slightly softer-looking (not to mention the visible horizontal lines) - passive 3D TV technology.
You might expect there to be multiple pairs of 3D specs in the box, but sadly there's just two provided, which is a poor return for such an expensive TV. Still, at least they look good, with a slightly grey/blue, though transparent design. They're comfy, too.
Hardware-wise, the Panasonic TX-L47ET60B makes-up for its lack of built-in Skype camera with plenty of ins and outs. We are a little bit disappointed by the provision of just three HDMI inputs, especially since we've seen up to five on TVs from the Korean brands that cost a few hundred pounds less than this one.
The same goes for USB ports, of which there are just two. All of these are on the side-panel, which makes them both easy to reach and cables likely to protrude. The same goes for the optical audio output, the SD Card slot (still a Panasonic exclusive despite its obvious attractiveness to photographers) and a headphones jack.
Other ins and outs include wired Ethernet (although there is also a Wi-Fi card position on the rear of the TV) and a couple of legacy connections via adapters (including RGB Scart, composite and component video). You could well find yourself using only the side-panel.
Picture processing circuitry comes within the VIERA Real 3D Pro suite, which adds backlight scanning to its core 100Hz abilities. C.A.T.S. (Contrast Automatic Tracking System) remains, but sees a name-change to the more self-explanatory Ambient Sensor, while picture presets are dominated by True Cinema, which we've loved before for its out-of-the-box accuracy.
Smart TV sees a complete refresh on the Panasonic TX-L47ET60B. There are plenty of apps - including the likes of BBC iPlayer, Netflix and YouTube - but nothing particularly different from 2012. Still no Lovefilm, Now TV or Blinkbox, and still no ITV Player, 4OD or Five On Demand.
Apps are presented in a nicer, more integrated manner: hit the Apps button on the redesigned remote and they appear as icons on a transparent panel while live TV continues underneath. However, the key innovation for smart TV is My Home Screen. Oft-used widgets, shortcuts and weblinks can be lined-up along the bottom and right-hand side of the screen while a live TV/input window dominates.
It's even possible to have Freeview HD channels along one side ready to be scrolled through, while each user can have their own, customised 'TV Home Screen' and 'Lifestyle Screen' alongside an option for Full Screen TV. A nice idea and simple enough to use, abuse or ignore at will, but perhaps it's overkill, and arguably as cumbersome as the previous, too separate VIERA Connect experience. For some it will be yet another layer of the user interface that must be customised-out, though that's perfectly possible.
As expected, Panasonic's use of a passive 3D screen means a solidly middle-ground performance - but nothing more. Our test disc, a Blu-ray version of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, revealed once again that Panasonic's True Cinema picture preset is a thing of wonder.
Straight out of the box it supplies a cutting-edge calibration that's 95 per cent as good as the long-winded real thing (which is possible thanks to an exhaustive colour menu). Detail is awesome, colours look natural, skin tones in particular, while there's a decent balance between light and dark, as demonstrated in a sequence of snow patches in Central Park. Granted, contrast and black levels are the main weakness; there's a blue-ish tinge to Central Park at night, with little shadow detailing visible. We also noticed some LED light leakage in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen.
When engaged, the Ambient Sensor introduces some plasma-like darkness to the image, but drains the luminosity of colour and the TV's bright peak whites fade, while the Adaptive Backlight Control lessens the shadow detail but does add some depth to black (although the blue tinge remains).
Upscaling is truly excellent - a real high-point - with a low-rent SD broadcast on BBC iPlayer, an ageing DVD and some digital video files from a USB stick all immaculately displayed. Bravo.
Sharpness is stable, with clean and tight horizontal and vertical lines for the most part, though one spiraling shot over a Manhattan zebra crossing did create some fleeting jagged edges.
Although it's becoming a standard feature in even mid-range televisions, the 100Hz panel immediately pays its way by helping to create smooth and sharp motion sequences. Fast camera pans don't introduce anything like the kind of distracting blur we used to find on LCD TVs, but it's always there to some degree - a rapid pan across the Brooklyn Bridge during Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, for instance, reveals some minor judder.
The IFC mode, which inserts frames to remove judder, is best avoided for Blu-ray; it creates a fluid video-look but adds some nasty rips and tears around fast-moving objects, though less so for DVD.
The 3D performance is as expected, with clean, almost always crosstalk-free images (we did spot a few during Hugo), but with (very) visible horizontal lines. There's a slight drop in brightness from donning the 3D specs, and fast-moving bright objects in mixed-brightness sequences do cause artefacts not unlike those seen in the IFC mode. It is, however, hassle-free and offers a lot of depth - its use over active shutter is a wise decision, we'd judge.
Usability, sound and value
Although we're not completely convinced about Panasonic's smart TV features, 2013 sees some innovative changes that try to push it up a notch to challenge the likes of LG and Samsung. The key change is My Home Screen, a completely customisable home page that can be tweaked to personal taste - and appears to be based on Samsung's largely successful style.
It does, however, have one major drawback, and that's its ambition to be customised by each individual user. It's an idea that's been used by Toshiba for its Toshiba Places portal, and also by Samsung in its own smart TV pages, but do people really watch TV alone? Even if they do so occasionally, who is going to want to fire-up their own home page each time?
Useful those widgets and apps may be, but not every day. We're still pretty convinced that people would rather use the TV for viewing and a tablet or smartphone for engaging in the kind of things that My Home Screen tries to include: web surfing, web links, YouTube and even - increasingly - browsing TV schedules.
Products higher up in Panasonic's 2013 range have built-in cameras that can identify each user by face recognition, and switch to their individual My Home Screen automatically, which you could view as either cleverly removing the hassle of changing user accounts, or massive overkill for such a minority feature.
Another of the major innovations this year is Swipe & Share 2.0, which builds on previous app-based attempts to make a smartphone or tablet a source device for the TV. Essentially, it works in the same way as before: download the VIERA Remote2 app for either iOS or Android, launch it, then physically push a photo from the device's touchscreen towards the TV itself.
Obviously, everything needs to be on the same Wi-Fi network. Unfortunately, it's slow - and buggy. As well as various freezes and crashes, the app on an iPhone 3GS took a long time to transfer photos (which are all given a long number in place of their 'real' name) and mustered only a few 'file not supported' messages for video (which it claims to support, but didn't in our test).
The two-way idea is just that, since we couldn't detect any digital files on the Panasonic TX-L47ET60B despite a USB drive being attached that was stuffed with myriad files. Individual apps can be launched from this app, too, but not operated.
The VIERA Connect platform itself - Panasonic's attempt at a Smart TV app - sees some improvements. We like how it now integrates with My Home Screen and is quicker to access, though it still lacks a few key apps. One of its widgets up-top, the web browser, remains slow and frustrating to use - even with the app.
In theory it makes it much easier to enter text than using an onscreen virtual keyboard, but in reality it merely introduces a two-layer process that doesn't gel together - we ended up with Google within the app on our phone and Panasonic's website showing on the TV.
At some point they swapped, but not without delays and another crash. Plus, why would anyone use the TV to conduct web searching with a smartphone or tablet already in their hand?
At least the EPG, for so long a weakness of Panasonic TVs, has been refreshed. It has the same slightly tired blue/yellow grid-style look, but this time there's a live TV thumbnail in the top left-hand corner that always remains, with sound, while you browse the schedules.
Digital file handling is good, with Media Server supporting the likes of APE, OGG, WAV (but not FLAC) music formats on top of MP3, and AVI, MOV, WMV and MKV files (though the latter looked terribly soft). From a USB stick FLAC was also supported, as was top quality MKV, AVC HD and clearer-looking AVI files.
It's not a massive surprise to find that this super-slim TV's built-in 18W speakers are of pretty basic quality. It does come equipped with a small subwoofer to claim a 2.1 array, but don't get overexcited, the speakers are overly thin and although it does make a decent stab at delivering some low frequency sound, it doesn't get very far.
Bass boost doesn't help much, while the 'surround sound' doesn't live up to its name either. We had to jack-up the volume for a Blu-ray disc only for a return to Freeview HD to blast our ears out. Musical soundtracks, however, appear to have a decent sense of stereo separation.
A balance has to be struck between picture quality and convenience, but we'd judge the Panasonic TX-L47ET60B as slightly too expensive since it doesn't excel on either front. The inclusion of two pairs of 3D specs is poor value indeed - they only cost a quid - and the user interface/app does have a few issues, but the build quality of the Panasonic TX-L47ET60B itself is peerless. And that's really what you're paying for here.
We get the impression that Panasonic's visual department is in a bit of a quandary at the moment. On the one hand, its excellent value plasmas are perhaps the best pound for pound screens available for anyone.
Unfortunately, such is the marketing power behind LED-backlit LCD TVs that this slightly inferior technology has become the de facto flat TV. For its part Panasonic has produced a fantastic attempt at the latter, but compared to its similarly sized plasma, the 47ET60 just looks too expensive.
However 'second-rung' it feels from a Panasonic perspective, you'll not find a better example of LED-backlighting anywhere in 2013. If you can't be tempted to buy its beloved plasmas, Panasonic now has the next best thing. It's just a shame it's not a tad cheaper.
Almost ready to rock out of the box, True Cinema lends the Panasonic TX-L47ET60B an immediate dose of accurate colour, detail, smoothness and awesome upscaling. 3D is much easier on the eye, digital media streaming/USB support is excellent, and the My Home Screen innovation makes Panasonic's Smart TV effort much more organised. We especially liked the transparent apps screen and the tweaked EPG that now includes a live TV thumbnail. Build quality, meanwhile, is peerless, and the design is light, super-slim and, for once, not gloss black.
Sound is bad, black levels and contrast so-so, and the Panasonic TX-L47ET60B is too highly priced. If it's not as good as a plasma then why does it cost more? We're also not totally convinced by the additional layer of GUI that My Home Screen adds, especially since the latest app is full of bugs and just doesn't deliver on its promise. Contrast and black levels, meanwhile, are utterly average, though totally in line with what mid-range LED-backlit LCD panels usually muster.
The Panasonic TX-L47ET60B isn't as good as its plasmas. This LED-backlit LCD TV, however, is just as good as its real rivals - and probably better. The picture quality may not be up to the pace-setters that cost a good deal more, but this 47-inch TV has a decent enough balance between contrast, colour and black level to survive as a TV for casual use in a living room. It's impressive-looking, too, and just 35mm slim. Add to that a tinkering-free experience thanks to True Cinema (you can forget about calibrating and spend your time more wisely - choosing a movie!), a top-quality SD-HD upscaling experience, hassle-free 3D and some novel smart TV applications and - with a few quid knocked-off the asking price, perhaps - the Panasonic TX-L47ET60B appears a talented all-rounder.
Though few of its rivals have unleashed their wares for 2013 at the time of writing, we'd judge the Panasonic TX-L47ET60B - which is an update (though with passive in place of active shutter 3D) on 2012's TX-L47ET50B - to take-on the LG 47LM760T, also a passive 3DTV. Two active shutter alternatives include the good value Toshiba 46TL968B and the pricier Sony KDL-46HX853.