Panasonic TX-L55WT65 £2250
9th Aug 2013 | 09:00
Not as good as it looks.
While Panasonic has been winning plaudits galore for its top-end plasma TVs this year, it's not had quite such a smooth ride with its LCD televisions. The main reason for this has been that it has struggled to keep pace with some rival LCD brands when it comes to producing dark scenes convincingly.
It could just be, though, that the 55-inch Panasonic TX-L55WT65 has what it takes to overcome this problem. As the flagship model in Panasonic's 2013 LCD range, it boasts the brand's premium LCD engine, complete with a 16-zone local dimming system driving its edge-mounted LED lighting array.
It's unusual for an edge LED set to deliver local dimming over so many zones, so you've got to hope that this ability to control the screen's light levels to such a localised degree will lead to a significant contrast boost.
The Panasonic Viera TX-L55WT65's flagship status is also evident in its enormous 3600Hz claimed motion driving system, which is more than twice as powerful as that of the next model down in the brand's range, the Panasonic TX-L55DT50. Indeed, we can't think of any other TV boasting so high a motion processing figure, so this will hopefully lead to the clearest motion handling yet seen on an LCD TV.
On top of these picture quality specifications, the Panasonic TX-L55WT65 is the proud owner of one of the prettiest and slimmest designs we've ever seen, and also gives you Panasonic's latest smart TV system, complete with a built-in camera, the exceptionally friendly My Home Screen Smart interface, and plenty of helpful second-screen functionality.
If you can't stretch to the Panasonic TX-L55WT65's full £2,250 (around US$3,490 / AU$3,845) price, the next step down in Panasonic's range is the DT65 series.
This strips the motion processing down (as noted earlier) to a still-impressively high 1600Hz, features a slightly less glamorous design, and only applies local dimming over six zones.
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If you prefer the extra contrast but reduced brightness of plasma technology, you should check out the Panasonic TX-P55VT65.
The Panasonic TX-L55WT65's most blindingly obvious feature is its stunning design, which boasts a super-slim bezel, glinting metallic finish, transparent bottom edge trim, gloss white rear plus a minimalist stand that makes the TV look like it's floating.
Our external examination does throw up one little niggle, in the shape of just three HDMIs when we would expect a TV of the Panasonic Viera TX-L55WT65's status - and price - to have four. But it does well with its other connections, including providing inputs for both Freesat HD and Freeview HD, three USBs, built-in Wi-Fi and a LAN port.
These are all indicative of precisely the sort of multimedia features we would expect of a high level TV in 2013 - playback of video, photo and music files from USB storage devices, streaming of the same sort of files from networked DLNA-capable PCs and access to online services though Viera Connect.
These online services are a bit of a mixed bag. There are apps galore, ranging from games and information apps through to the all-important video streaming services. The online system is stable and pleasantly presented too.
The bad news is that there aren't quite enough video streaming apps. You get Netflix, BBC Sport, BBC iPlayer, YouTube and Eurosport, but there's currently no Lovefilm, no 4OD, no Demand 5 and no ITV Player.
While a bit more online content would be appreciated, though, there's not much to complain about when it comes to the interface provided for accessing the TV's many content sources.
The Panasonic TX-L55WT65 sports Panasonic's new My Home Screen interface, which does a superb job of organising content and enabling different members of your household to set up their own personalised content 'portals'.
The Panasonic TX-L55WT65 is also supported by Panasonic's Viera Control 2 app for iOS and Android smart devices, which enables you to easily share content between your smart devices and the TV. This includes the ability to watch one TV programme sent from the TV on your smart device while another is being watched by other members of your household on the main screen.
As we already mentioned, the Panasonic TX-L55WT65's screen specifications are formidable. For starters, its edge LED lighting features 16 zones that can have their illumination levels controlled individually. This enables the screen to inject light into the Panasonic TX-L55WT65's pictures on a localised basis, potentially delivering a significant contrast boost.
What's more, by using 16 local dimming zones (an unusually high number) Panasonic's flagship LCD TV should hopefully be able to deliver its local lighting on a much more accurate basis than any of the models lower down in Panasonic's LCD range.
An enormous claimed 3600Hz panel driving system, meanwhile, delivered through a combination of a 100Hz panel, backlight scanning and frame interpolation technology, bodes well for the clarity of the Panasonic TX-L55WT65's motion reproduction.
The panel at the Panasonic TX-L55WT65's heart is an IPS one, meaning it supports wider realistic viewing angles than rival VA-type panels. Applied to this IPS panel is the filter associated with LG's passive 3D technology, and you get four pairs of free glasses with the TV so your family can get straight down to 3D business.
The last attraction of the Panasonic TX-L55WT65's is its immense set up flexibility. Colour management, gamma controls and white balance fine tuning are all supported, along with loads of control over various aspects of Panasonic's new 'Hexa' processing engine, including its noise reduction and motion control components.
So comprehensive are the Panasonic TX-L55WT65's adjustments, in fact, that the TV comes bearing the backing of the independent Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) group, which can calibrate your TV professionally for you (for a fee) using two provided ISF picture preset slots.
If you could judge a TV's picture performance on first impressions alone, the Panasonic Viera TX-L55WT65 would now be the proud owner of a Tech Radar Recommended badge.
For its picture quality with the sort of bright, HD tuner fare we started our testing phase with is nothing short of exceptional.
For starters, the set's colour reproduction is stellar, thanks to a hugely eye-catching combination of ultra-rich saturations, almost infinitely subtle blends/tonal shifts, yet also a keen sense of tonal accuracy that means pictures never look cartoonish despite their dynamism.
An exceptional amount of brightness erupts from the screen too, really helping colours to pop and joining with the subtle blending to give pictures a sense of depth and solidity that's reserved for only the most accomplished TVs.
Another big attraction of the Panasonic TX-L55WT65's pictures is their sharpness. Joining the already mentioned extreme colour subtlety is a deft knack for eking out every last pixel of detail and texture from an HD source, along with - as we'd hoped - some of the finest motion handling we've seen on an LCD TV.
Even if you don't employ Panasonic's Intelligent Frame Creation (IFC) processing, moving objects look clean, sharp and only marginally afflicted by judder.
But the processing power of the Panasonic TX-L55WT65 is such that you can also call in the IFC system if you like - albeit only on its lowest power level - to remove pretty much all judder without leaving images looking either too processed or beset with unwanted processing side effects.
The third instant hit of the Panasonic TX-L55WT65's pictures is their beautifully judged handling of noise. The impressive sharpness is delivered without making edges look stressy or doubled, and without causing images to look fizzy or excessively grainy. This leaves you free to enjoy the image's clarity and richness without any distractions.
Black picture quality
The clearly high-end look to the Panasonic TX-L55WT65's pictures with bright footage, though, unfortunately gives way to disappointment with dark scenes.
The basic problem/conundrum is that if you don't activate the Panasonic TX-L55WT65's local dimming system, the screen's black level response isn't very impressive at all. In fact it falls far short of the black reproduction of rivals such as the Sony 55W905A, Samsung UE55F8000 and Panasonic's own P55VT65 plasma screen.
Yet if you do employ the local dimming system, even on its lowest power setting, you can clearly see areas of light 'blocking' - sometimes stretching right across the picture - around bright objects when they appear against dark backdrops.
This blocking phenomenon used to be very common with edge LED TVs that use local dimming, but Sony and Samsung have both proved that it's possible to employ local dimming in an edge LED configuration much more subtly and less distractingly than it is employed here.
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Adding to the distractingly uneven look to dark scenes on the Panasonic TX-L55WT65 is an overactive dynamic contrast system that shifts the image's overall brightness level up and down too regularly and too extremely in its bid to react to the brightness levels of the content being watched.
As well as such overt shifts distracting you from what you're watching, the dynamic contrast system can go so extreme during the darkest scenes that shadow details are crushed out of the darkest corners.
The Panasonic TX-L55WT65 is not a total loss where dark scenes are concerned. If they contain a reasonably even tone rather than a mix of light and dark content then Panasonic's screen is capable of hitting some impressively deep and even black levels.
But of course, unremittingly dark fare is actually quite rare. It's much more common to come across scenes that contain a mixture of dark and light, and with these you're all too often made aware of the technology behind the Panasonic TX-L55WT65's pictures, rather than being immersed in the pictures themselves.
SD and 3D pictures
There are three more areas of the Panasonic TX-L55WT65's picture quality to cover - all of them good, as it happens.
First, the set proves unusually able when it comes to upscaling standard definition sources.
Lots of detail is added, but at the same time noise is cunningly suppressed and colour tones continue to look crisp and rich, largely avoiding the tonal slippage still common when watching standard definition sources on LCD TVs.
The Panasonic TX-L55WT65's 3D pictures are strong too, making good use of the set's colour, clarity and colour finesse to produce an unusually bright, punchy 3D image that contains a superbly rendered sense of depth and space.
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There's some evidence of jaggedness around curved edges, and detail levels aren't as high as they are on the best active 3D TVs.
But these inevitable passive 3D shortcomings will for many people be easy to live with, given how relatively relaxing it is to watch passive 3D technology's bright and flicker-free active 3D images.
One last strong point of the Panasonic TX-L55WT65 is that its use of an IPS panel enables you to watch it from a wider angle before the image loses contrast and colour than happens with other LCD technologies.
With its bright colours, good sharpness and clean motion processing, the Panasonic TX-L55WT65 is a potentially tasty gaming monitor. However, its gaming appeal is dealt a blow by the fact that we measured the screen's input lag at 66ms - twice as high as we like to see from an LCD TV.
Usability, sound and value
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For the most part, the Panasonic TX-L55WT65 is exceptionally easy to use considering how extensive its feature count is. The main reason for this is My Home Screen: Panasonic's inspired new on-screen interface, designed to make it easier to access all the many content streams the television has to offer.
My Home Screen provides a selection of themed content hub screens right out of the box, but also brilliantly enables you to set up multiple new hubs of your own.
This effectively means that different members of your household can all have their own hubs providing shortcuts to exclusively the content types they're interested in.
The ease with which you can create your personal hubs is exceptional, and also laudable is the lengths Panasonic goes to to make sure you always know where you are in the menus and where to go if you need a little help.
The Panasonic TX-L55WT65's installation menus are impressively in-depth too, and they crucially introduce you to Panasonic's new Viera Remote 2 app for your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet.
With this brilliantly designed app you can easily 'cast' content from your smart device to the TV or vice versa, just by swiping your finger across your smartphone or tablet's screen.
There's room for improvement, perhaps, with the menu system that Panasonic uses to deliver its countless picture adjustments, but in most ways the Panasonic TX-L55WT65's operating system is a template for rivals to learn from.
The Panasonic TX-L55WT65's sound is OK, but it's not quite as assured as it could do with being, given the set's flagship status and high price.
It manages to produce a fair amount of raw volume, and can do this without its speakers starting to phut or distort. It also reaches higher treble levels than many TVs, without sounding thin or harsh.
However, even the addition of a rear-mounted woofer speaker doesn't help the Panasonic TX-L55WT65 to produce enough bass to stop soundtracks from feeling a little lopsided and unconvincing during action scenes.
Some of the other £2,000-plus 55-inch TVs that we've seen this year have been spectacular in almost every way.
This £2,250 (around US$3,490 / AU$3,845) Panasonic, though, isn't entirely convincing with its black levels, its sound or its online video services. And these shortcomings all added up ultimately make it look unduly expensive.
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If any TV can overcome the problems that Panasonic's LCD TVs have suffered with this year with handling dark scenes, it's the Panasonic TX-L55WT65. This flagship 55-inch television enjoys Panasonic's most powerful local dimming system, as well as a high grade IPS panel.
It also features an enormously powerful 3600Hz motion processing engine, and a rich and superbly presented roster of smart TV features - all tucked away within arguably 2013's most attractive TV chassis.
Pictures often look spectacular on the Panasonic TX-L55WT65, with gorgeous colour, sharpness and clarity. Its handling of 3D sources is extremely watchable, too.
However, although the screen is more capable of producing a deep black colour than Panasonic's previous 2013 3D TVs, dark scenes still look rather artificial and uneven - which will likely be a big problem for film fans.
Gaming fans might not fancy the Panasonic TX-L55WT65 either, on account of its slightly high 66ms input lag, and the shortage of catch-up TV services on the Viera Connect online platform could also put a few people off. This all adds up to a screen with a rather limited potential audience.
The Panasonic TX-L55WT65 looks absolutely gorgeous, and its handling of bright, colourful content is first rate. Its interface is exceptionally friendly and useful too, and its support for second screens is admirable.
Dark scenes tend to suffer with distracting artefacts or low contrast, depending on what settings you use. The set's audio is a little bass-lite too, while input lag is too high for gamers, and Panasonic's online platform could do with more catch-up TV services.
The Panasonic TX-L55WT65 makes a startlingly strong first impression. Its sleek, glinting, airy, generally gorgeous design gets the ball rolling, but this is swiftly joined by a brilliantly friendly interface, a feature-rich series of content-access options and, most important of all, some really eye-catchingly sharp, colourful and beautifully nuanced pictures.
Longer examination, though, reveals some distracting clumsiness when handling dark scenes, a shortage of video streaming services versus some rival online platforms and a higher-than-average input lag figure. That adds up to more problems than we're comfortable seeing on a £2,250 (around US$3,490 / AU$3,845) TV.
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We've picked out three alternatives to the Panasonic TX-L55WT65 that you'd be mad not to consider buying instead. The first is the Sony KDL-55W905A. This employs Sony's class-leading local dimming engine and Triluminos colour enhancement to produce spectacularly dynamic, rich pictures, complete with an exceptional contrast range.
Its audio quality is a cut above the norm too, thanks to its use of long-duct speaker technology. The set's interface isn't as sophisticated as Panasonic's, but you can access a wider range of video streaming apps.
Option two is the Samsung UE55F8000. This offers a uniquely comprehensive catch-up TV platform, as well as a groundbreakingly sophisticated smart TV engine generally. Plus it handily produces stellar picture quality, thanks to mesmerising levels of contrast and sharpness.
Finally, if you're a film fan you really need to care about black level response. And if you care about black level response you simply have to check out Panasonic's P55VT65. This uses Panasonic's latest plasma screen technology to stunning effect, producing black colours that LCD technology can only dream about, while also producing richer colours and much more brightness than previous Panasonic plasma generations.