Our first look at a Panasonic TV in 2013 comes in the shape of the Panasonic TX-L50ET60B, a midrange LCD/LED model. Panasonic has been in a rich vein of form with its TVs in the past couple of years, most notably with its plasma series.
2012’s GT50 and ST50 models, for example, struck the perfect balance between price and performance. The £1300 Panasonic TX-L50ET60 will be looking to do the same and get this year off to a flyer for Panasonic.
The Japanese giant is once again releasing a huge number of new televisions for 2013 – up to 16 plasma ranges and 16 LCD/LED models are expected to make their way in to UK shops. Finding the sweetspot for performance-per-pound value, therefore, is our mission.
Panasonic TX-L50ET60B TV review: Design
Last year’s ET50 series, which the ET60 series replaces, was a good but not great TV – will 2013 be a different story? It certainly looks the part out of the box. A new Super Narrow Bezel and metal design makes for one of the best Panasonic TVs that we’ve seen, and it sits on a simple rectangular pedestal stand, which allows for rotation.
The overall quality of the finish is excellent – though you don’t want to catch yourself on one of the pointed corners –and worthy of a far more expensive television. The flagship Panasonic LED models will have to go some to raise the style stakes.
Panasonic TX-L50ET60B TV review: Specification and features
The Panasonic TX-L50ET60B is a Full HD, 120Hz, LED-backlit TV, with Freeview HD and analogue TV tuners. You’ll find three HDMI inputs (one fewer than last year), two USB inputs, an SD card slot, headphone connection and an optical audio output side-mounted on the unit, while component, composite, RGB and stereo RCA audio inputs are on the back panel. So, it’s pretty comprehensive.
As with last year’s range, the Panasonic TX-L50ET60B ‘Smart VIERA’ TV offers wired or wireless network connectivity, and once online you get access to a wide range of content. BBC iPlayer is on board, plus BBC News and BBC Sport apps, and you can access films from Acetrax and Netflix. Standards such as YouTube, Aupeo! (internet radio), Facebook and Twitter are also present.
There’s no sign of the other terrestrial channels’ on-demand offerings, however, with ITV Player, 4oD and Demand Five notable by their absence.
If you do connect this smart TV to your network, you’ll also be able to stream music and video from any DLNA compatible device, such as a laptop or tablet, and access the internet via the built-in web browser. And making this smart TV experience all the more usable is the new Viera 2 remote app for smartphones and tablets.
Panasonic TX-L50ET60B TV review: Interface
Available for Android and iOS, Viera 2 is much more than a basic remote control app.
Connect to the same wi-fi network as your TV and, as well as allowing you to move around the TV’s interface using your smartphone or tablet, the ‘Swipe and Share 2.0’ functionality allows you to send music, video or images from your phone’s library straight to your TV. You can also launch apps, access a full keyboard when using the web browser and even access a gamepad for gaming apps.
Swiping a cursor around the screen can still be a little clunky, and the web browser experience is still not a patch on simply using the device you’re holding (there’s no Flash support either), but as a simple and effective way to share content on your phone on the big screen it seems likely to be useful. Even if some of our videos did appear upside down…
Also in the box with the Panasonic TX-L50ET60B are two pairs of passive 3D glasses. All of Panasonic’s 2013 LED TVs are passive sets, while all the Panasonic plasma models use active-shutter technology. This model has 2D-to-3D conversion on board, too.
Last but not least is a familiar Panasonic remote control handset. It has been given a slight rejig in terms of design, with Home and Apps given more prominence and the old ‘Viera Tools’ button retired. It remains one of the better examples of an intuitive, easy to use remote. There’s no secondary smart remote with the ET60 series.
Panasonic TX-L50ET60B TV review: Installation
Turn on the TV for the first time and this Panasonic will guide you through the set-up process itself – Voice Guidance vocalising a 15-step series of prompts to show you “what your new VIERA can do”. It works nicely and this series of help menus is always accessible via the Tutorial tab at the top of the new ‘my Home Screen’ interface.
Yes, Panasonic has given its interface a refresh – and we really like it. Packing in so many potential features and functions can make for a confused experience, but the various home screens on this ET60 series – which will be on all the new Panasonic TVs – are clean, clear and customisable.
We have no issue with this 50in set watching the TV as we browse other functions – whatever you’re watching on TV is displayed in a good-sized area of the screen. This panel is bordered by various menu options, giving you easy access to key areas of functionality.
We opt for the standard ‘TV Home Screen’, which gives us a sidebar on the right of Freeview TV channels, through which we can scroll independently to see what’s on without affecting the main picture, plus hot links to Viera Connect apps at the bottom and the full list of apps and other settings at the top. Simply put, in no time at all we feel we know how to access all the features of the TV. No mean feat.
Panasonic TX-L50ET60B TV review: Calibration
The standard Panasonic menu for adjusting picture, sound and other settings is accessed via the Menu button on the remote control. These menus remain more traditional in appearance, and will be familiar to anyone who’s seen a Panasonic TV in the last few years. They’re simple and intuitive. You’ll find the standard selection of Viewing Modes (we choose Normal), Colour Temperature (Normal) and other brightness, contrast, colour and sharpness settings.
There are various further picture adjustments at your disposal, too. Adaptive Backlight Control ‘automatically controls dark areas of the picture’, Ambient Sensor adjusts the picture based on your room lighting conditions, while there’s Intelligent Frame Creation motion processing and various noise reduction settings.
Panasonic’s motion processing has improved and we were happy to have the Minimum setting smooth out some juddering for us, while Ambient Sensor could be useful if you’re in a brightly lit room. Otherwise we prefer these processing modes turned off.
Panasonic TX-L50ET60B TV review: Picture quality
The Freeview HD tuner is excellent. Edges are sharp, with good definition even to background objects showing the Panasonic’s impressive levels of insight. Detail and texture to people’s faces and clothes make for a realistic and immersive picture.
Motion is pretty smooth, too. We opt to turn the Intelligent Frame Creation on to Minimum (some people may even prefer Middle), to smooth out juddering without introducing an unnatural feel.
As we’ve seen across other Panasonic TVs – and projectors such as the PT-AT6000E – the TX-L50ET60B has a natural, relaxed colour palette, looking best delivering a more realistic rather than vivid image.
We try Vivid Colour but find it too over-saturated, even after tweaking. Whites could be a little brighter and whiter – switching to a Cool picture mode adds a blueish tint, while Warm makes for a slightly yellow hue – but generally we like what we see. And good off-axis performance makes it ideal for family viewing.
Hit the AV button on the remote to switch to one of the HDMI inputs, and we take a look at the Blu-ray of The Amazing Spider-Man. It’s a similarly easy-to-watch, easy-to-enjoy picture. Colours are accurate and natural, sharp edges frame detailed objects, and fast motion is handled smoothly.
Again, it’s not at its best when asked to deliver punchy pictures – colours are instead subtle – and the level of contrast between white and black can be bettered elsewhere.
In fact, black levels, so good on Panasonic plasma TVs, are a relative weakness of this midrange LED set. The ET60 struggles to match the deep, dark blacks of last year’s best TVs, losing definition in dimly lit scenes.
We also notice a not entirely uniform backlight on our TX-L50ET60B review sample, with bottom corners of the screen seeming to let a little too much of the backlight through. It’s by no means a constant annoyance but during darker scenes it is apparent.
DVD performance bears many of the hallmarks of the picture quality from other sources. Again, colours are natural, edges reasonably sharp and motion slips up and shows signs of juddering only in the most testing scenes. There’s occasional pixel crawl and noise to some object edges, and again black levels lack solidity and insight, but it remains an easy picture to just sit back and watch.
Panasonic TX-L50ET60B TV review: 3D performance
Easy to watch; a theme seems to be developing. And it continues when we switch to 3D pictures. This is a passive 3D TV, and you get two pairs of Panasonic TY-EP3D20 3D glasses in the box. They’re very light, comfortable and, dare we say it, almost quite stylish (should that be a concern in the privacy of your home).
The TV auto-detects a 3D signal and flicks the TV to 3D picture mode. This will change your settings, though you can of course readjust them. We experiment and end up, sure enough, somewhere in between, not feeling the need for quite the contrast boost that the 3D setting delivers.
3D performance is good. We watch some Harry Potter, followed by a bit of Avatar and then Coraline, and most noticeable is the lack of strain or stress as we enjoy 3D pictures. This traditional perk of passive 3D tends to go hand-in-hand with a little less depth and a loss of detail, and that’s true to an extent with this 50in ET60.
The subtlety to 3D effects is no bad thing but it’s not quite as sharp and insightful as we’d like, while fast motion can still occasionally blur. Once more, black levels let the overall image down a touch, too.
The live 2D-to-3D conversion, which allows you to turn any TV content in to 3D pictures, is a neat effect, but the quality is a step down. Crosstalk becomes noticeable, the image is softer, and we felt our eyes working a little harder. For gaming it can be a nice effect – and it’s an easy way to show your mates – but overall it’s a poor relative to true 3D content.
Panasonic TX-L50ET60B TV review: Sound quality
Sadly, the Panasonic TX-L50ET60B doesn’t follow suit, delivering a much more familiar, poor quality TV sound that’s unclear, prone to sibilance and light in weight. That thin-panel design seems to have come at a cost here. We’d urge you to use a soundbar or other external speakers alongside this TV.
Bass and treble controls do help a touch – we upped the bass and dropped the treble a few notches – but the sound quality remains underwhelming. Sound modes and surround modes don’t make too much difference, though the Stadium surround mode does seem to add to the ambiance when watching live sport.
Panasonic TX-L50ET60B TV review: Verdict
The Panasonic TX-L50ET60 is a good TV, and a solid start to 2013 for Panasonic. We’re big fans of the style and design, the new my Home Screen menu system looks great and Panasonic’s familiar natural, sharp and detailed palette is present and correct.
A decent selection of streaming options, a clever new remote app and watchable, comfortable passive 3D, all form part of a package we’re happy to recommend.
Ultimately though, we expect other 2013 models from Panasonic to be better – both in terms of all-round performance and ultimate value. The £1300 price tag isn’t low enough to forgive the less than solid black levels and uneven backlight, slightly lacklustre contrast levels, or the poor sound quality. A better selection of catch-up TV apps would be nice, too. So this is good but not great: roll on the rest of the Panasonic range.
MORE: Panasonic 2013 TV lineup