9 / 10

Panasonic TX-L42WT50 review

Panasonic TX-L42WT50 review

Company

Panasonic

Price

£1,302.99 inc. VAT

The sumptuous image quality provided by Panasonic’s TX-P42GT50 proved once again that the company has plasma tech in its pocket. But over the past few years it’s become a dab hand with LED LCD tech too, and now the company views it as a viable large-screen TV proposition alongside plasma.

Here we’re taking a look at a super-slim set from its flagship ‘LED’ range, the TX-L42WT50. It’s a 42in LCD model with edge LED backlighting, built-in Freeview and Freesat HD, Smart TV features and a dual-core processor.

Design and connections

Design-wise Panasonic’s TVs are usually frumpy grey or black affairs, but this year the company has finally cooked up a TV design that’ll make you go ‘wow’. The TX-L42WT50 is a truly stunning set, with a wafer-thin black bezel surrounding the screen and a glinting silver trim that frames the whole thing beautifully. It’s easily as glamorous as a Samsung or LG, plus the incredibly thin 27mm depth leaves a minimal footprint.

At the bottom is a transparent plastic lip, embedded with a glowing Panasonic logo. It’s mounted on a boomerang-shaped swivel stand that’s every bit as alluring as the screen itself, with space-age silver prongs.

Instead of touch-sensitive controls, there’s a small panel of hard buttons on the back. There’s a generous range of connections there too, all of which are downwards or sideways facing to make them easy to hook up when wall mounted.

You get four HDMI v1.4 inputs, three USB ports and an SD/SDXC card slot for digital media playback, an Ethernet port, digital audio output and PC input. There are SCART and component video inputs, which require supplied adapter cables, plus RF and LNB inputs for the Freeview and Freesat HD tuners.

Features

Naturally the TX-L42WT50 supports 3D, and includes two pairs of active shutter glasses in the box – a gesture that’ll save you quite a bit of cash.

There’s also built-in Wi-Fi, which saves you faffing about when accessing the online functionality. It also features Bluetooth to connect a keyboard or speakers, as well as the 3D glasses and touchpad remote – more on the latter under ‘Operation’.

Connect to a router via Wi-Fi or Ethernet and you’ll open up a wealth of content from Panasonic’s Viera Connect platform. The selection is terrific, including such smart stalwarts as BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Twitter, Facebook, BBC News, BBC Sport, YouTube, Acetrax Movies, Eurosport and more, although until we get ITV Player, 4OD, Love Film and Demand 5 we won’t be truly happy (you can, however, access ITV Player through the Freesat tuner). There’s also a Viera Market where you can not only download apps but also buy accessories such as wireless Gamepads, LAN adapters, Skype cameras, 3D glasses and Bluetooth keyboards.

Furthermore, you’ll find a web browser, which is surprisingly easy to use for several reasons – the arrow cursor moves around the screen quickly; you can stream Flash videos from websites (something that most TV web browsers can’t do) and even view them in full screen; plus the virtual keyboard for text entry is clear and responsive (and gets even easier if you connect a Bluetooth keyboard).

As a DLNA-certified streamer the TX-L42WT50 really excels. You can beam videos, music and photos from media servers on your network, and there’s a long list of supported formats – on the video side, it’ll play WMV HD, MKV, DivX, AVI, XviD, MP4, 3GP and AVCHD, while streamable music formats include MP3, WMA and AAC, but not FLAC, which can only be played from USB flash memory devices (you can play all the above formats from flash drives too).

You can even record from either of the built-in TV tuners onto an external USB HDD or SD card, which could come in handy if you haven’t yet invested in a proper PVR. The single tuner means you can only record what you’re watching, but there is an on-board timer for making recordings while you’re out, plus you can also pause live TV.

Elsewhere, the dual-core processor makes it easier to use several features at once, which means you can have a few apps open at the same time. When you press the Tools button, the corner of the screen lifts up’ as if turning a page, to reveal all the running apps – just highlight and select the one you want. You get the same page-turning effect when you change Freeview channels, which is a nice touch. The dual-core processor also makes sure that content loads quickly and navigation is nice and smooth. Digital text pages and online apps fire up instantly.

It also provides more grunt for high-powered picture processing, which includes Smart Viera Engine Pro and a claimed 1,600Hz refresh rate, the effect of which is achieved using a combination of a native 200Hz panel and backlight scanning.    

Operation

The TX-L42WT50 ships with two remotes – one regular zapper and a smaller touchpad remote. The standard remote is terrific, covered in large rubbery buttons arranged in an intuitive layout.

The touchpad Bluetooth remote sits in the hand comfortably, and is supposed to make it easier to surf the Internet or navigate apps and menus. However, it didn’t always detect my finger movements and jabs to select items, and sometimes it selected something when I didn’t want it to. Also, the small circular touchpad means your finger quite quickly runs out of space when moving from one end of a menu to another, or moving down a web page. You have to stroke it furiously, which means the lingering threat of thumb fatigue is never far away.

If neither remote is to your taste, then you can install Panasonic’s Viera Remote app on your iOS or Android device and use it to control the set. You can even ‘throw’ items from the device to the screen, which is undeniably cool.

While companies like LG and Samsung are busy dreaming up jazzy, animated menu systems, Panasonic is quite content to take a more sober approach. That’s not to say its onscreen design isn’t pretty – bright colours and cute graphics are everywhere – but its conventional layout won’t make you go ‘wow’ like some menu systems.

At least it makes everything easy to find, which is good news considering how much there is to explore. Of greatest interest are the picture settings – the WT50 is endorsed by the Imaging Science Foundation, which means an ISF engineer can professionally calibrate it.

As well as the basic adjustments there’s an Advanced Settings menu that allows you to alter the white balance, gamma, Intelligent Frame Creation, Clear Cinema and 16:9 overscan. There’s also a 1080p Direct mode that shuts off all processing and displays images in their purest form.

There are two Professional picture modes for storing the ISF-calibrated settings (one for daytime viewing in lighter surroundings, one for night viewing). This is just the tip of the iceberg – there are loads of other modes and adjustments to fiddle with, which will make picture purists very happy.

Other helpful onscreen displays include Viera Tools – a row of icons that appears at the bottom of the screen and provides direct access to photo, music and videos, and the Media Server menus. The Options button calls up a contextual menu with a few handy adjustments, while a 3D button on the remote lets you switch between 3D display modes, including 2D-to-3D conversion.

There are a few minor grumbles though. Viera Connect’s apps are split over several pages, which makes it a chore to access services at the back end. If Panasonic shrunk the massive thumbnails down, it could squeeze more onto one page and make life a lot easier. You can however, customise the Home screen and put all the apps you use most on the front page.

The EPG is incredibly simple to navigate thanks to its bold layout, displaying 10 channels in the programme grid at once and offering useful shortcuts along the bottom. But unlike many EPGs, live TV disappears when you access it so you lose track of what you’re watching.

Another niggle is that the Freeview info banner only shows now and next information for each channel, whereas many sets are able to display a week’s worth of details.

Performance

The TX-L42WT50’s performance is stunning from the word go, offering dazzlingly bright and luxuriously contrasted 2D pictures. It’s this intense brightness and punch that might tempt some to pick this LED edge-lit LCD TV set over plasmas like the TX-P42GT50, as it’s much better suited to viewing in brighter room conditions.

Even the presets are on the money, particularly the Cinema and Normal settings, which look rich and carefully balanced. Also impressive is that the IPS LCD panel keeps the image looking nice and solid from wide viewing angles.

What makes this set really shine is its phenomenal colour reproduction. Strong hues have a depth and purity that’s hard to tear your eyes from, but it’s their subtlety that really seals the deal. Different shades blend into each other without a single trace of banding, which results in a smooth and realistic-looking palette.

Detail is displayed with amazing intensity. Rarely have we seen Blu-ray pictures looking so poised and meticulous on an LCD screen, and with the Intelligent Frame Creation mode set to its low setting this detail stays sharp and focused when objects start moving around. It keeps blur at bay, but gives onscreen motion fluidity without making everything look overly processed or unnatural.

The set features a local dimming backlight system, which when activated really helps add depth to black parts of the picture without the greyish tinge that can spoil their purity. During dark scenes you can easily make out shadow detail too and there are no serious backlight inconsistencies either.

3D images look just as entrancing. The combination of radiant colours, razor-sharp detail and intense natural brightness makes these some of the most engaging 3D pictures we’ve seen on an LED set – or any type of TV for that matter. Most impressively, there’s very little evidence of crosstalk, which keeps everything focused, while motion blur and judder are but a distant memory.

Finally the set does a decent job of upscaling SD material, such as Freeview channels, to the screen’s Full HD resolution, making edges look tight and colours consistently vibrant. It’s not completely without artefacts like MPEG noise but in general SD pictures are enjoyable.

Sound

The TX-L42WT50 inevitably suffers the same problems as most super-slim TVs, namely a rather narrow frequency range with precious little bass. But speech comes through clearly and it projects audio in a loud, robust fashion, without distorting greatly or sounding overly harsh when you temporarily crank it up. There’s a User mode in the setup menu that lets you set the EQ yourself, as well as Speech and Music presets and V-Audio surround modes.

Verdict

Competition is fierce in the LED LCD TV premier league but Panasonic keeps itself in the title race with a quite phenomenal 42in flagship set that delivers 2D and 3D pictures to die for, loads of cutting-edge features and a beautiful design. It’s so good, in fact, that it gives the Panasonic TX-P42GT50 plasma a run for its money, particularly in terms of brightness and punch.

Pros

  • Bright, punchy 2D and 3D pictures
  • Smooth, powerful dual-core processing
  • Chic design

Cons

  • Now and next info banners
  • Viera Connect layout
  • Touchpad remote hit and miss

Company

Panasonic

Price

£1,302.99 inc. VAT

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