Panasonic TX-L55ET60 £1500
20th Apr 2013 | 13:05
The low-down on Panasonic's cheapest 55-inch 3D TV
Looking at the TX-L55ET60, it's hard to believe it only sits in the middle of Panasonic's new TV range. Thanks to its gloriously slim metallic silver and glass frame, it looks every inch a flagship TV.
A quick double check, though, confirms that the L55ET60 really is only a mid-range model. In fact, it's Panasonic's entry-level 55-inch 3D model for 2013, complete with a relatively painless price tag of £1500.
Making the L55ET60's mid-range status even more startling is its carriage of Panasonic's superlative My Home Screen interface, which does a brilliant job of streamlining your access to the TV's myriad content sources. Plus it supports Panasonic's Viera Connect online platform, and enjoys a potent-looking picture engine that includes a '600Hz' motion system and an IPS panel designed to support wider viewing angles than standard 'VA' panels.
If you can live without 3D, you can save yourself a few bob by stepping down to Panasonic's E6 series. These TVs use a VA panel and have less potent motion processing, but as our recent review of the 42-inch L42E6 proves, they're still rather good. A fact which raises expectations for the ET60 series sky high.
Above the ET60 series in Panasonic's range are the DT65 series, which adds local dimming to the TV specification, and the WT65 series, which further adds Panasonic's most advanced motion processing system ever, delivering a 3600Hz effect.
In terms of products from rival brands, it's a difficult call at the moment because so many of the big brands have only just started launching their new 2013 ranges. But interesting, still-available (at the time of writing) 2012 models you might want to check out would be the Samsung UE55ES8000, and the Sony KDL-55HX753.
Panasonic first introduced its Metal & Glass design concept in 2012 but only applied it to its two top-tier LCD series, the WT50 and DT50s. Happily, though, the concept has been both refined for 2012 and extended further down the range, so that it now sits glamorously around the 55-inch screen of the mid-range L55ET60.
And when we say 'glamorously', we mean it. The glinting light silver metallic finish of what little there is of the super-slim bezel looks delightful, as does the sliver of see-through material that angles out from the bottom edge. Even the silvery stand is a significant cut above the mid-range norm.
Connectivity is decent rather than outstanding, with highlights of three HDMIs, two USBs, an SD card slot, integrated Wi-Fi and a VGA computer port. A fourth HDMI would have been appreciated, and we're also increasingly starting to see three USBs on today's multimedia savvy TVs. Still, we must remember that the L55ET60 is ultimately a mid-range model, however high-end it might look.
You can play back multimedia files from USB sticks or networked DLNA computers, as well as going online with Panasonic's Viera Connect platform. Among the most interesting services on this are Netflix, Acetrax, the BBC iPlayer, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Eurosport, BBC Sport, BBC News and - with the addition of an optional extra camera - Skype.
There are currently no apps for LoveFilm, ITV Player, 4OD, BlinkBox and Demand Five, but hopefully some if not all of these services will arrive on Viera Connect at some point.
The L55ET60 does a brilliant job of helping you access all your content via its new My Home Screen interface, which we'll have a closer look at in the Usability section.
Turning next to the L55ET60's screen specifications, the first thing to report is that it's a 3D TV, employing LG's passive system (where a polarising filter is placed across the front of the screen). Four pairs of passive glasses have been included free.
It's a full HD screen - as you would expect these days - made using the IPS LCD panel technology designed to deliver a slightly wider viable viewing angle than VA panel types. Excellent though this sounds, however, past experience suggests that using IPS panels can result in less impressive contrast performances than you get from VA panels...
A combination of a native 100Hz panel with a 6-segment scanning backlight, meanwhile, delivers an impressive-sounding 600Hz effect, hopefully keeping LCD's common motion blur problems to a minimum.
When it comes to video processing, the L55ET60 is powered by Panasonic's V-Real 3D Pro engine, which is responsible for the TV's motion processing options, noise reduction tools, and dynamic backlight control system - all of which can have their power levels individually adjusted to suit your tastes and the requirements of different types of source material.
As a side point, it's a real relief to note that Panasonic has put right a key omission of its 2012 LCD TV settings by including a backlight adjustment. This makes calibrating pictures much easier and more effective.
The L55ET60's pictures are startlingly good at times, especially with 3D. But they also suffer a fairly significant flaw that serious film fans in particular will find hard to ignore.
Starting with the good stuff, the L55ET60's brightness levels are intense, delivering levels of instantly appealing punch that it's hard to believe are being produced from an edge-LED lighting system tucked behind such a puny bezel.
This extreme brightness proves extremely handy when it comes to the L55ET60's colour reproduction, too, driving tones across an agreeably wide spectrum right out of the screen without, critically, allowing the picture to lose tonal subtlety or become gaudy and unnatural.
The L55ET60's core colour tone is a touch warmer than that of the Panasonic L42E6 and other VA-type panel TVs. But far from being a bad thing, the L55ET60's slightly redder tone actually ends up sitting quite nicely with the sort of calibrated tones generally best suited to Blu-ray and DVD playback.
Another excellent aspect of the L55ET60's performance is its motion handling. The backlight scanning system manages to greatly reduce both the judder and resolution loss complaints usually suffered by LCD screens, and it does so without causing the image to look unstable or over-processed - so long, at least, as you keep the set's motion control options on a relatively low power setting.
Even if you don't want to use the motion processing at all the L55ET60 remains more accomplished with motion than most - a fact which also helps it deliver images of good - though not quite outstanding - clarity and sharpness. It's important to stress, mind you, that this clarity isn't pushed so hard by the L55ET60 that pictures break down into grittiness or other types of 'harsh' noise.
The efficacy of the L55ET60's processing engine can be seen in its reproduction of standard definition pictures too, as they're re-rendered up to the screen's native full HD resolution very pleasantly. We've seen some rival TVs make standard def sources look sharper, perhaps, but the L55ET60 sensibly works within its limitations by taking a gentler approach to adding detail that takes care not to add too much picture noise to proceedings.
Strong 3D playback
The L55ET60's single strongest area, though, has to be its 3D playback. Its 3D pictures suffer with practically zero crosstalk ghosting noise and enjoy extreme levels of colour punch and brightness - the latter being achieved, crucially, without dark 3D images being afflicted by the sort of backlight clouding woes still painfully common with edge-LED LCD TVs.
The lack of crosstalk helps 3D pictures on the L55ET60 enjoy a real crispness despite the fact that resolution levels aren't as high as those you get with good-quality active 3D TVs. The sense of space in the L55ET60's 3D images is deftly handled and credible too, and as we've often found before, the passive 3D format is generally more relaxing to watch for extended periods of time than the active format - especially if your room is routinely quite bright.
The L55ET60 isn't immune to passive 3D's weaknesses, though. In fact, its relatively large screen rather emphasises them. So it is that you can sometimes see faint traces of horizontal line structure from the polarising filter over very bright parts of the image, as well as jaggedness over small objects or contoured edges. For many people, though - especially families - the relative simplicity and affordability (given the provision of four free pairs of glasses) of the passive format makes perfect sense.
You're probably starting to wonder at this point about the the flaw in the L55ET60's picture make up mentioned earlier. So let's get into that now, as we put Panasonic's 55-inch mid-ranger through its paces with dark scenes.
The problem is that the L55ET60 just can't render the colour black with as much richness and authenticity as some of its rival TVs. Dark scenes thus tend to appear rather grey and misty, which inevitably prevents them from looking as natural and authentic as bright scenes.
Panasonic has provided a solid set of tools with which you can try to tackle the set's black level shortcomings. Engaging the adaptive backlight system can result in a generally more satisfyingly deep black tone, and we'd also recommend splurging down the backlight setting to as little as a third of its maximum value.
Taking these measures does result, though, in a significant reduction in the image's previously attractive brightness - as well as leading to a loss of detail in dark areas. Furthermore, no matter what we tried, dark scenes still looked a little grey compared with the best LCD and especially plasma TVs out there.
To put all this in perspective, the L55ET60's black level averageness isn't a big problem for much of your viewing time, given normal broadcast TV's preference for bright, colourful images. It's worth adding, too, that the L55ET60's contrast holds up better from wide viewing angles than that of many of its peers.
All the same, the L55ET60's contrast flaws could certainly could become an irritation to people who like to dim their lights for intense movie experiences from time to time.
The average black levels could also be a concern for serious gamers - as, sadly, will the the L55ET60's rather high input lag figure. Our tests produced a lag reading of 65ms on average, which is certainly high enough to reduce your abilities with timing- and speed-sensitive games.
The dominant factor here is Panasonic's My Home Screen interface. This is inspired, frankly, in the way it manages to give you easy-to-follow and even personalised access to all the online/multimedia/tuner/DLNA PC sources the L55ET60 is a portal too.
It works by providing a series of pre-established 'home screens' with different focusses (Lifestyle, information, TV) as well as allowing you - and other family members - to build your own individual home screens, populated by links to only the apps and services you most use.
The menus are cleanly presented, respond quickly to your navigation, and are easy to follow. Even building your own home screen is remarkably simple, taking just a couple of minutes.
Also hugely appreciated are the lengths Panasonic goes to to make sure you understand how to use the L55ET60 right out of the box, via a series of written and spoken tutorials that kick in when you first boot the TV up. Thanks to these and the helpful layout of the menus, we never felt even confused by anything in the L55ET60's menus.
This thoughtful approach stands in stark contrast to the inscrutability of Samsung's brilliant but daunting 2013 Smart TV interface.
The L55ET60's standard remote control is decent, meanwhile, not least because of its well-emphasised buttons for quickly accessing Apps and the Home Screens. However, if you have an Android of iOS smartphone or tablet, we'd strongly recommend that you download Panasonic's Viera Remote 2 app, which does a mostly excellent job of enabling you to share content from your device to the screen; share video from the TV to the portable device; control the TV; or even input voice commands and text to the TV via your smart device's built-in mic.
The separate menu system you have to use to adjust the L55ET60's pictures, sound etc is more bland than the rest of Panasonic's operating system, but it's still easy to use for the most part.
While the L42E6 only had a stereo speaker system, the L55ET60 enjoys a 2.1 set up, with an additional bass speaker. While this sounds promising on paper, though, it doesn't make as profound a difference to the L55ET60's performance as we would have liked.
There is a touch more bass underpinning the mid-range, and the set can go a bit louder before starting to succumb to distortions and overt muddiness. But the L55ET60's audio system still struggles to expand to accommodate action scenes, and sounds a bit unnatural with deep masculine voices.
The L55ET60's £1500 price tag isn't steep by any means for a TV that offers the most user-friendly smart interface in town along with a pretty extensive set of multimedia playback options, a gorgeous design and frequently very enjoyable 2D and 3D picture quality.
However, the value argument is damaged a bit for serious film fans by the L55ET60's difficulties with dark scenes - especially given that Panasonic's new set is currently having to share shelf space with some excellent and now heavily discounted 2012 TVs.
Panasonic's entry level 55-inch 3D TV for 2013 cuts a mighty handsome figure. What there is of the L55ET60's unfeasibly skinny bezel looks a shimmering vision in its silvery metal finish with glass accents.
The L55ET60 also sets a brilliant early tone with its superb My Home Screen interface, which has to be the most friendly and well-designed Smart TV 'hub' system we've seen to date.
Even the TV's picture quality strikes a good early note thanks to its high brightness, bold approach to colours, and excellent motion performance.
The L55ET60 is ultimately just fetched up short of an unbridled recommendation, though, by a combination of its rather short list of online video streaming services, and its underwhelming contrast performance.
There are precious few prettier 55-inch TVs around this year, and nor does any other TV offer a more user-friendly operating system. The set's multimedia and smart device support is mostly excellent too, and its 3D pictures are great fun.
Dark scenes reveal a rather average black level performance, and it would be handy if Panasonic could get round to adding a few more online video services at some point. Gamers should take note of the L55ET60's rather high input lag, too.
The L55ET60's premium looks provide a beautiful disguise for its mid-range status, and if there's a friendlier Smart TV in town right now, we haven't met it. It caters well for your multimedia needs too, and there's much to admire about its picture quality - especially its bold colours, excellent motion clarity, and brilliantly relaxing, engaging 3D images.
In the end we can only award it a final score of four on account, mainly, of its merely solid contrast performance. But Panasonic's TV is still worth at least an audition by all but the most serious of film fans.
With no comparative new 2013 models available at the time of writing, the rival sets that currently most warrant your attention are actually 2012 models - especially now these are being fairly heavily discounted in some online stores.
One example would be Samsung's UE55ES7000. This offers an equally lovely design, and outguns the L55ET60 in the picture quality department thanks to its excellent post-calibration contrast performance. It also delivers a considerably wider range of video streaming services - though its viewing angle is more limited, and Panasonic's online/multimedia interface is much better.
Sony's 55HX753 would be our other worthwhile rival. This set doesn't deliver quite the same level of picture quality as Sony's exemplary HX853s, but its black levels are slightly deeper than the L55ET60's and it offers a more video-rich online platform. Its interface falls far short of Panasonic's, though, and the Panasonic's passive 3D playback is ultimately more rewarding than the active system on the Sony.