Panasonic ET5 (TX-L42ET5B) 3D LED LCD TV Review
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It's a Panasonic 3DTV - only this one is different!
The model under testing here is the Panasonic TX-L42ET5B 42 inch 3D LED LCD TV with a Freeview HD tuner and full UK specifications. Also available is the Panasonic TX-L32ET5B 32 inch 3D LED LCD TV, the Panasonic TX-L37ET5B 37 inch 3D LED LCD TV, the Panasonic TX-L47ET5B 47 inch 3D LED LCD TV and the Panasonic TX-L55ET5B 55 inch 3D LED LCD TV which have not been reviewed here but should offer the same features and a very similar viewing experience.
By the far the most interesting thing about the Panasonic TX-L42ET5B lies in the choice the manufacturers made in electing to launch a passive 3D TV whose pictures are delivered by an outsourced panel. Panasonic have long been strong advocates of the active-shutter system which many claim delivers a higher resolution image, although it’s not really as simple as that owing to the way the brain processes 3D images but that’s a discussion for another place. As we’ve said in recent reviews, Panasonic are looking to compete on more fronts this year and they’ve obviously seen that a certain Korean manufacturer has been doing rather nicely with its passive Cinema 3D TVs. In fact, that very same manufacturer is the one from whom Panasonic purchased the panels employed in the ET5 – we’re not going to name them but perhaps you could take a Lucky Guess.
It’s not all about the 3D though, of course, and that’s but one of the many features available in the ET5 being as it’s branded under the new Smart VIERA ranges. There’s built in Wi-Fi, access to the cloud based services available through VIERA Connect, a Freeview HD Tuner and USB PVR recording functionality, to name a few. All of that is of no use if the 2D pictures can’t deliver, however, and we’ll not be blinded by the razzmatazz on offer. So will Panasonic’s about face prove a success and can they market passive aggressively? Let’s take a look…
If you’re not one of those that likes to watch with the lights down low, the Panasonic ET5 will make a fine choice. In fact, if you’re requirements are for a 3DTV in a family room, we can think of few better. The ET5 is pretty much what we’ve come to expect from an IPS based LED TV, the black levels and contrast won’t leave you agog, motion clarity can be bettered and there are some mild, but nagging, uniformity issues. That’s the bad. The positives are bright and accurate images, generous viewing angles, an absolute wealth of features and the 3D performance, which is gloriously bright, crosstalk and flicker free plus detailed, to boot. There’s Wi-Fi built in as well, which makes accessing all the connected features the ET5 possesses that much easier with the highlights being the new Web Browser, lots of Video on Demand Services and capable DLNA streaming of media files. It’s not going to knock the socks off the videophiles amongst us but the Panasonic ET5 still delivers on a lot of fronts.
There’s no denying Panasonic have been somewhat ‘inspired’ by a certain Korean manufacturer in a lot of this years designs but it’s not a wholesale rip-off job in the case of the ET5 and, although the crystal strip running around the perimeters of the bezel is markedly reminiscent of a Samsung TV, we prefer the matte brushed metal looks of the Panasonic ET5. We’re also slightly more keen on the older style remote that ships with it too, over the new glossy affairs we’ve handled with the other 2012 Panasonic’s we’ve covered. The menu system is common to all, however, and we find it very easy to navigate with sensible placement of items within. We’re not sure there was the need for a separate Timer Menu but that’s but a small gripe and the exclusion of advertising from the built-in EPG is more than recompense.
The inclusion of a decent set of calibration controls is a welcome one, especially in a mid-tier product, and we were able to gain some very impressive results that brought a very noticeable improvement to picture quality. The excellent calibrated performance was backed up with equally impressive video processing capabilities that all combined to serve up pleasing, punchy pictures with the, already mentioned, caveat that the ET5 won’t look as impressive in dimly lit rooms. While the 2D performance is good, it’s with the 3D that this Panasonic truly excels, with literally no crosstalk or flicker bundled with enough luminance to make you forget you’re wearing the eye-wear. With four pairs of glasses in the box, the ET5 is the ideal family 3DTV and bar some minor complaints over some slightly smeared motion, here and there, virtually flawless in its 3D delivery.
Gamers and the energy consumption conscious will also be pleased to note a latency figure around 25milliseconds to controller input and an energy draw of just 53w in calibrated 2D mode.
Styling, Connections, Menus and Setup
Despite the fact that Panasonic have clearly been casting their eyes over the Sea of Japan, or East Sea – depending on your standpoint, for a few ideas we like the looks of the Panasonic ET5 with its Samsung inspired crystal strip surrounding the brushed charcoal bezel, which at least gives it some distinction from the gloss black surrounds of the Koreans. The bezel, itself, measures just under 3.5cm to top and sides, with the bottom 4.5cm in width and the chassis is 6.5cm at its deepest point. The Panasonic logo features in the middle of the bottom strip of the bezel and matches the colour of the swivel stand, that is a lighter shade of grey than that of the bezel but isn’t distracting for it and nor is it particularly reflective.
The ET5 comes with the older style Panasonic remote control but retains, almost exactly, the button layout of the recently reviewed higher tier products. If anything, we prefer the more classic remote slightly, not only for its more matte appearance but also for the fact we (I) find it a touch more comfortable in use for extended periods. Given that the ET5 is capable of running Panasonic’s new Web Browser, you may find that a convenience, although we’d probably advise the use of a wireless keyboard if you intend to extensively utilise that feature.
Also in the box were 4 sets of Panasonic’s TY-EP3D10EB 3D eyewear; obviously with them not being of the ‘shuttered’ technology, they’re much cheaper to produce but it’s still good to see 4 pairs of specs in the box and it should service the average family requirements. The glass themselves are very lightweight and have nice large lenses that are almost tint free. Most importantly for sensitive types (cough, hello) they don’t flicker at all, making the 3D experience so much more comfortable for those that suffer with the other tech.
It’s nice to see Panasonic haven’t skimped on the connections front either and despite its mid-tier status the ET5B is still equipped with 4 HDMI inputs, running down the side and 10cm from the edge of the bezel; so it will be a tight fit to get those cables hidden around the back without adapters but feasible. Also on the side facing connections panel are 3 USB ports, a headphone jack and a SD Card slot. Running across the bottom and downward facing there’s a LAN port; an aerial terminal; a S/PDIF digital audio out; a D-SUB PC connection and adapter connections for analogue video connection – Scart/Component and Composite.
The menu system is pretty much exactly that we found in the DT50 save for a few items only found on the high-end DT50 and, of course, the 3D options differ. The menus are broken down in to five categories - Picture, Sound, Network, Timer and Setup and are swift to navigate around with options located where they should be. We’re still not totally convinced the Timer Menu justifies its existence with only 3 items – at most – selectable but the new Network Menu definitely merits its place.
For our purpose the Picture Menu can be greatly enhanced by unlocking the advanced calibration menus from the Setup Menu, which will give 2 point White Balance controls, pre-selectable gamma values and, when operating in the True Cinema Viewing Mode, a 3-axis 3D Colour Management System (CMS). As well as the True Cinema mode other choices include Dynamic (eugh), Normal, Game (from an external source) and Cinema but we like the accuracy True Cinema gives. If you don’t like True Cinema, for whatever reason, next best is Cinema with a Colour Balance (read colour temperature) of Warm. Under the Viewing Modes we have our standard Brightness, Contrast, Colour and Sharpness sliders, and below those a few options that we’d mostly disable - Vivid Colour, C.A.T.S. - Contrast Automatic Tracking System (Automatic Brightness Control function), P-NR (Picture Noise Reduction) and 3D-COMB.
Joining the calibration controls in the Advanced Settings area of the Picture Menu are Intelligent Frame Creation (IFC), 24p Smooth Film which is available only for 24p signal input and displayed instead of IFC, Clear Cinema and 16:9 Overscan. We’ll discuss the first three of those later in the review but you will want 16:9 Overscan set to ‘off’ with your HD sources. Finally, as far as the Advanced Settings are concerned, the DVI Input can be set to Normal/Full where Normal represents video level signals (16-235) and Full corresponds to PC levels (0-255) but if the input is straight HDMI – rather than a HDMI to DVI connection – the ET5 will automatically select the level.
As far as the 3D settings go, users can manually alter the ‘strength’ of the 2D>3D conversion mode (Min/Mid/Max) but it is only selectable once enabled in the next option down, 3D Adjustment. There’s a built in warning message concerning the viewing of 3D images by way of Safety Precautions and there’s an Edge Smoother option too. 3D Detection can be set to Off, On or On Advance. The Off setting speaks for itself where On detects particular 3D signals (Frame Sequential, SBS etc) and displays them automatically and On Advance detects all 3D signals and shows them without any notification or user intervention necessary.
The bulk of everything else in the menus have been dealt with in our recent DT50B review so to save repetition, we’ll refer you to that but owners might want to take note that the Power on Preference, located in the Other Settings area of the Setup Menu that allows the choice between the TV tuner, with TV selected or either the HDMI1 or AV1 input, when set to AV, provided the equipment connected is powered up.
We’ve long been saying that if the manufacturers want mass buy-in to their connected and smart features then they need to make easier for the consumer and it seems they’re coming round to our way of thinking with more and more models boasting built in Wi-Fi as standard. The Panasonic ET5B follows this trend, thankfully, and we’re happy to report the range of the adapter that’s attached to the back of the chassis seems reasonably generous and the signal robust enough. Allowing for a wireless connection means hooking up to the, cloud based, VIERA Connect portal is a breeze and we were able to stream HD video on demand content from the likes of Netflix and BBC iPlayer without any stuttering. Other highlights include Twitter and Facebook Apps; the internet radio service AUEPO in addition to all that is offer in the VIERA Connect Market that has a variety of games and fitness diversions as well as all the on demand applications to download. For video golf gamers the ‘App store’ is currently offering ‘Let’s Golf 2’ for free which isn’t a bad Everybody’s Golf clone although it’s lacking on the textures front. You can control it with a standard remote control, however, so no need to buy a compatible Logitech controller from the shopping section of the Connect Market. We have to check these things for you, it wasn’t just an excuse to be gaming during the day, honestly.
Curiously located right at the bottom of the Viera Connect Market, under the News and Lifestyle section, owners are able to download Panasonic’s new Web Browser. You’ll need to create a VIERA Connect account to download but we discovered you don’t have to part with any financial details to access it, although the process does make it look that way – just press cancel when it asks you to go to the s.a.r.l secure connection. The browser works well enough with the standard remote control although, naturally, it’s a fairly laborious process so owners of mobile devices (android/iOS) can take advantage of Panasonic’s free to download app for tablets and smartphones. Another alternative is to use a wireless keyboard although the list of compatible accessories isn’t yet available from Panasonic for the 2012 TVs. Despite the lack of dual core processing found in the higher-end ranges, web pages loaded quickly but we were still having a few problems with alignment with embedded videos as per the earlier reviews.
The media playback abilities of the Panasonic’s have certainly taken a turn for the better this year and we were able to stream video files including AVCHD, AVI, MKV and MP4. The manual also lists ASF, FLV, 3GPP, PS, MOV and TS containers as supported. Audio support now includes FLAC to compliment the MP3, AAC and WMA/WMA Pro codecs and for photos, the ET5B can display jpg, jpeg and the 3D mpo formats. The same files supported over DLNA streaming are also listed for a USB connected device so, all in all, it’s a capable little player and using our Windows 7 PC we found Servio to work best of the servers installed.
Further features include Skype video calling, provided the TY-CC10W HD camera/mic attachment is purchased, and Personal Video Recording (PVR) like capabilities from the internal tuner, where recordings can be set either manually or from the Electronic Program Guide (EPG); and hats off to Panasonic for removing the advertising from the EPG, again. The Panasonic ET5B is certainly plentiful in its extras and we’re getting the idea that at least some of them will begin to be plentifully used in the near future.
Picture Quality – 2D
After coming directly from reviewing the outstanding Panasonic VT50 plasma, we won’t deny the ET5 was something of a come down, particularly for night time viewing but it’s certainly not without its merits and the VT50 probably isn’t a fair comparison given the price difference. Certainly black levels, contrast and dynamic range aren’t the ET5’s strong points – for those interested we measured the calibrated minimum luminance level at 0.20 cd/m2 which is over 10 times that of the 2012 Panasonic’s and ANSI contrast was under 1000:1 – but, of course, the plasma’s will lose much of that advantage when placed in an averagely lit living room where contrast is washed away with ambient light and this is where the ET5 will do well. With absolute luminance to spare, the ET5 will really shine in brighter environments and its accurate colour palette and reference calibrated greyscale performance won’t lose any of its pop with a few lights on in the room. Viewing angles are also very good for an LED TV, with colours in particular holding up very well, even some distance off-axis.
In terms of screen uniformity, which is so often a major issue with the technology, the Panasonic TX-L42ET50B was one of the better examples we’ve seen, though not perfect. We could see some light pooling, particularly emanating from the top right hand corner, but with most material it wasn’t apparent in day to day viewing but movie lovers won’t appreciate their black bars glowing when watching non 16:9 aspect ratio content. Again, this is something for those that like to watch with the lights low, for which the ET5 isn’t well suited in any case. We didn’t notice any array banding or obtrusive haloing so we were able to enjoy sports broadcasts without unintentional pitch markings showing up and whilst motion performance was about average for a LCD/LED, i.e. fast moving action will exhibit some blur, we weren’t overly troubled by it and we’ll take a bit of smearing over distracting uniformity issues, any day.
In short, the Panasonic ET5 has all the usual strengths and weaknesses associated with IPS panels. On the plus side, it has accurate colours, plenty of light output and generous viewing angles and counting against it, relatively weak contrast and black levels, average motion clarity and some mild(ish) uniformity problems. The negatives are only really so in relatively low light surroundings, however, so please take that in to account. And then, of course, there’s the 3D…
Picture Quality – 3D
According to the most in-depth study , we’ve seen, of the differences in perception between passive and active 3D systems, passive 3D has been getting a rough ride in certain areas of the industry, although we’ve always expressed our approval in our reviews. On paper, the Passive system delivers only 540 lines of vertical resolution to each eye, where active shutter can deliver 1080 lines, leading to the complaints of lower resolution images. Also, because of the Black Matrix employed in the Film Pattern Retarder (FPR), we commonly read complaints of ‘scan lines’ being visible.
The most hotly debated topic is the ‘resolution loss’ and what Dr Raymond Soneira concluded in his study ties up well with what Steve and I had to say about last years LG’s, using the same system used in the ET5. And that was, we could perceive no noticeable resolution loss with actual content at comfortable distances (which we’d consider at something like 5ft for a 42inch TV). There’s a term for why this would be the case and it’s known as image fusion, whereby the brain will take the information from each eye and combine it in to one image. It makes sense really otherwise 3D images would literally be unwatchable on a Passive 3DTV and they’re simply not. As for the so called ‘scan lines’ Dr Soneira found as we do, that if you’re anything like at a sensible distance to enjoy the 3D experience, you simply won’t see them. For reference, we measured the point at which the matrix became invisible on a light background at being around 2ft, for this 42inch, and we have 20/20 vision. You would need near super human peepers to see the matrix at reasonable distances.
Dr Soniera’s report is extremely interesting and well worth a look for a far more in-depth discourse on the subject but our (or at least my) experiences largely mirror his findings. This is a review, however, and we need to get back to the matter in hand, and that is, how does the Panasonic TX-L42ET5B handle 3D. The answer is a resounding, ‘fantastically’. With zero crosstalk, a bright punchy image and without the nasty flicker some of us permanently witness with active-shutter TV’s, I found the 3D experience to be the best since last I reviewed a passive set. With four pairs of glasses in the box, the ET5 is the ideal family 3DTV and bar some minor complaints over a slightly smeared motion here and there, virtually flawless in its 3D delivery. We realise not everyone has the same complaints over active shutter system but we’d urge everyone to give passive a try before dismissing it on the common, and supposed, drawbacks.
The Panasonic ET5 proved a nifty little gaming TV, particularly when you factor in the 3D capabilities and returned an averaged figure of 25 milliseconds controller latency, when in Game mode. Which is more than adequate for our needs and likely the vast majority of our readership. If you want significantly better, you’ll need to be looking at dedicated gaming monitors.
The ET5 has good numbers here, too, and we saw an average of 54W draw in calibrated 2D mode compared to 53W in the rather dull out of box Normal viewing mode. As expected the extra luminance needed for 3D asked a little bit more but the averaged figure was still impressive at 77W
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4,337 word review viewed 96,774 times.
Full HD 3D LED LCD TV
Size: 42 inch television
Suggested price: £899
Reviewed 8th April, 2012 by Mark Hodgkinson
Supplied for review by
To get the best out of your TV or projector, consider getting it calibrated.
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