Panasonic E3B (TX-L42E3B) LED LCD TV Review
Mark casts his eyes over Panasonic's entry-level LCD. Can 'no-frills' still cut it?
IntroductionThe model reviewed here is the Panasonic TX-L42E3B 42 inch LED LCD TV with a Freeview HD tuner and full UK specifications. Also available is the Panasonic TX-L37E3B, Panasonic TX-L32E3B, Panasonic TX-L24E3B and Panasonic TX-L19E3B TVs, which have not been reviewed here but should offer the same features and a very similar viewing experience – size excepted!
The Panasonic E3B could perhaps be viewed as something of an anomaly in the current market. It’s not particularly ‘smart’, only featuring basic media playback functionality with no internet widgets or connectivity. It also doesn’t include 3D, frame interpolation or local dimming functions either; heck, it even boasts ‘Game’ mode as a basis for excitement on the box so its picture quality is really going to have to deliver for it to justify a place in a very busy sector of the market, although prices have rapidly dipped from its launch SRP. Let the no frills fun begin!
Styling, Connections, Menus and SetupConsidering the TX-L42E3B is Panasonic’s budget LED lit LCD, it certainly doesn’t look or feel that way; save for the rather cheap plastic of the base stand that, annoyingly, doesn’t swivel. The styling is fairly handsome, if not svelte, with the metallic back plate of the chassis lending a feel of decent solidity. The bezel measures just over 3cm – top and sides – with the bottom just over 5cm, concealing the down-firing speakers. The bezel is all gloss black except for a strip of grey in the middle that’s overlaid with the Panasonic logo. We doubt the E3B's looks will offend anybody.
As there’s a distinct lack of features, the remote control supplied is older issue than we’ve seen from them recently, with no Vierra Connect or 3D to worry about. Unfortunately that means a return for the dreaded ‘N’ button that, at a stroke, wipes all your carefully made settings - so write them down as it’s easily done! Apparently N stands for ‘normalise’ but we think perhaps ‘not-needed’ or ‘Noooooooo!’ may be more apposite. Other than that we’ve no problems with it and most of the important functions are well centred and easily accessible.
The fact that the L42E3B is Panasonic’s entry-level LED LCD is perhaps evident in the fact that it only sports 3 HDMI connections with 1 to the side and 2 outward facing, to the rear. The side facing inputs are completed by a CAM interface, a headphone jack, RCA connectors and an SD Card slot. The out facing rear inputs further comprise legacy Component and RGB Scart connections; stereo in and outs; an aerial socket; LAN port; D-SUB PC in and SPDIF digital audio out. Having only 3 HDMI ports is a bit stingy, these days, but most are likely to find it sufficient.
Much as the remote control is a bit of a step back in time, so are the menus. The snazzy gradient colours, we’ve seen in most of the other 2011 Panasonics, are reverted back to the two-tone blue and yellow we’ve seen in years gone by. It’s not really a major complaint as they’re still snappy, responsive and logically laid out but they do look a little outdated – let’s be honest, they looked old hat 2 years ago!
At least we’ll not be complaining of the menus getting in the way whilst we’re taking measurements and calibrating as the E3B contains no calibration controls in the User Menus; instead – in the Picture Menu - we’ve got the basic Contrast, Brightness, Colour and Sharpness sliders along with a choice of various Picture Modes and Colour Balance (read Colour Temperature) options. The picture pre-sets on offer include Dynamic, Normal, Cinema, True Cinema and Game with colour temperatures of Cool, Normal and Warm available. The True Cinema option provides a ‘most accurate’ option in lieu of a THX mode, found in the higher ranges of the plasma TVs, and we’ll take a look at this later.
Further down the Picture menu, sits Vivid Colour, C.A.T.S. and P-NR. We found no good use for either Vivid Colour (it just raises colour luminance unnecessarily) and P-NR (noise reduction), but we can see how C.A.T.S. might be of benefit for those forced to watch in bright daytime conditions, as it adjusts gamma response, on the fly, to account for room lighting. We can also elect to turn the Screen Display on or off and, in the Advanced Settings we can set the, glorified sharpening Resolution Enhancer control to Off, Mid or Max – we left it off. Finally, the 16:9 Overscan setting is another on/off choice, here, and it’s best set to off for HD sources.
Below the Picture Menu there are two further main menus. The Sound Menu has your usual Bass, Treble and Balance Options and a slider for the Headphone output. There are three sound modes available - Music, Speech and User - with the latter offering a rudimentary equaliser. The final menu is Setup which deals with everything else you could possibly need and we’d recommend a read of the instruction manual, to those interested in its contents, as we’ve dealt with all the picture affecting parameters.
FeaturesGather round, this won’t take long. It’s funny how quickly things change; a couple of years ago we’d have made no remark on the L42E3B possessing only playback of media files, through an SD Card, as virtually its sole noteworthy feature but things have moved on; rapidly. Said media playback support is hardly extensive, either, with just the bare bones able to be replayed – .jpg photos; .mpg/.mov/.mts/.mod/.mp4 video containers plus MP3/AAC audio. Even then support of the video containers isn’t particularly robust. If you haven’t got the message, this is not a TV you should be considering if you’re after all the latest ‘Smart TV’ fun and games.
On the up side, the E3B is equipped with a DVB-T2 tuner that allows reception of the Freeview HD channels and services and, for good or bad, it’s a LED edge-lit TV. We’ve seen plenty of uniformity and haloing issues with edge-lit recently so we’ll be hoping the Panasonic can buck that trend but we’ll deal with that later. Finally, in terms of features, did we mention there was Game mode? Moving on…
Measured Results Out of the BoxGiven the fact that the EL3B doesn’t have any calibration options in the user menus, and that it’s retail stock, what we get here we’ll be pretty much stuck with - save for any good we can do with the global Colour control. Furthermore, the memory for each picture preset is not source independent meaning any alterations made on one input are carried over to all the others. A calibrator will certainly need to get creative in the service menu to create day/night settings but we’re not able to risk invalidating the warranty on this one.
After setting Brightness and Contrast optimally we took measurements to ascertain accuracy to industry standards and we were unsurprised to learn that True Cinema offered us the best combination of greyscale, gamma and gamut performance. The greyscale of Cinema/Warm was a mirror result but with inferior adherence to the Rec.709 standard but didn’t look too bad, at all, and it was capable of displaying up to a peak white value of 255, where True Cinema wasn’t. We’ve seen some concerns over a lack of a Backlight control but the Contrast control does a good enough job and the E3B has plenty of luminance to spare for even the brightest conditions.
First of all, let’s late take a look at the greyscale and gamma:
Fortunately, and thankfully, greyscale and gamma were both tracking very well with red a touch high and green a notch low but on-screen material looked pretty good with just a little too much ruddiness to skin-tones which we suspected had as much to do with the red primary being too bright. Our gamut measurements confirmed this as the case:
In fact, yellow excepted, all the colours are too high in luminance and that’s certainly noticeable with fairly garish real world reproduction. The degree by which each are out gives us hope that a few clicks down of the colour decoder would bring acceptable luminance results. There’s nothing we can do about the hue and saturation but the E3 is doing a reasonable job with only the yellowy greens noticeably wrong to the eye.
Calibrated ResultsThere’s no point in us publishing the greyscale and gamma charts again, as the post calibrated – and we use the term loosely – results were unchanged from the out of box condition. Where we were able to make improvements was in reducing luminance errors, in both primary and secondary colours, to below the threshold of 3 dE where are eyes shouldn’t be seeing any problems. We still have saturation and hue errors but colour reproduction is still believable and pleasing.
Picture ProcessingMore evidence, if it were needed, that the L42E3B is made up of a lot of the internals of previous generations technology comes in the shape of its performance in this area of testing. In short, it was average.
Like the 2009 range, SD scaling is soft and shows some signs of ringing and cadence detection ability is only notable for its complete absence. On the plus side, it did well in most of the deinterlacing tests but didn’t show particularly impressive directional filtering, with diagonal movement proving troublesome. With overscan disabled, the E3B displayed full resolution HD and was able to display full luma and chroma resolution.
To be fair, most of the video processing shortcomings, so far, are in the increasingly less important categories but, although Blu-ray material is displayed without undue judder, it is blighted with flicker, for some reason. We can’t imagine it’s a refresh rate issue but it is there and distracting.
Gaming PerformanceWhen put it in to Game mode, the Panasonic 42E3B held its own returning some pretty respectable results. At 60 frames per second the Panasonic was dropping between one and two frames and, when measured, showed figures of between 28 and 32 milliseconds. We definitely didn’t notice any undue latency when actually playing out favourite titles but the panels tendency to blur objects occasionally did become apparent.
Energy ConsumptionThe E3B is definitely not the most energy efficient LED LCD we’ve come across recently and it drew an average 79w in calibrated, i.e. True Cinema, mode and 98w, out of the box. The figures aren’t anywhere near plasma territory but definitely greater than we see from the average LED lit TVs.
Picture QualityThey are things to like about the Panasonic E3B’s images but, at the same time, they are several shortcomings. On the positive side, the True Cinema mode provides a pretty accurate pre-set with a natural looking colour palette and satisfying neutrality. The E3B can certainly go very bright and with the matte screen isn’t overly prone to distracting reflections so it’s certainly a TV to consider for a room that receives plenty of light. Viewing angles, on the horizontal axis, are also very respectable with not too much contrast lost, even at fairly extreme positions. That’s the good…
And now for the not so positive. Being as the E3 is fitted with an old generation IPS panel, contrast performance and black level were never going to be a strong point and that is certainly the case, in the flesh. There are no ‘local dimming’ options to play with so we were stuck with the panels native black response and it’s very underwhelming indeed. Despite the decent gamma results, shadow detailing was washed out in the charcoal greys (we can’t really call them blacks) and there was simply no sense of depth to pictures. Motion resolution was also very mediocre, with some blur visible on fast paced action – not that it was a bad as England’s performance vs France at the Rugby World Cup! What we will say, however, is that the owner of this particular sample will be getting an edge-lit LCD with amongst the best uniformity we’ve seen in this technology, with just the smallest amount of pooling to the corners, when sat flush on. Moving to the sides results in the opposite edge of the screen showing greater luminance, but that’s just the way the technology is – only a fully backlit TV could resolve that. Or Plasma, of course.
As we mentioned earlier, SD scaling is on the soft side with quite a lot of haloing but that’s becoming less important for most, these days, and 1080i signals were handled much better. The flickery nature of the Blu-ray images was a real disappointment, however, and not something we’d expect from this technology. It will certainly be the case that some won’t see it but, for us, a definite black mark against the E3B’s performance.
- Excellent out-of-the-box greyscale
- Decent colour reproduction
- Capable of high light output
- Less prone to reflections than many
- Reasonable input lag
- Poor blacks with muddy shadow detail
- Disappointing dynamic range
- Video processing
- Lack of calibration options
- No per-input memory
- Virtually no Smart TV functions
Panasonic E3B (TX-L42E3B) LED LCD TV Review
We’re not in the business of awarding badges for mediocrity, here at AVForums, as we like them to mean something but sadly that’s what the Panasonic TX-L42E3B definitely represents. From the relatively poor black levels, dynamic range and below par processing right through to the lack of calibration options and flickering Blu-ray presentation, the E3B never really lit our fires. There are certainly plus points with excellent uniformity (for edge-lit), a very decent out of the box greyscale and decent viewing angles but it just doesn’t do enough. We never thought we’d bemoan a lack of Smart TV functionalities but things have moved so quickly, in this area, that their, almost total, omission seems an anachronism. The matte screen and high light output capability will mean it’s a good fit for brighter rooms but, for everywhere else, there are better competing alternatives.
Under the hood the E3B may be a collection of Panasonic's tech from the last couple of years but the bezel is far more contemporary and looks fairly stylish although the chassis is quite deep, by today's standards, and 3 HDMI inputs is a little limiting. The remote is of an older vintage, too, and features the dreaded N button that wipes your settings, at a stroke but the lay out is good and it’s comfortable to handle. The menu system is logically presented, if not quite the snazzy affair Panasonic have shown off in their higher end TVs. In fact, our biggest complaints are the lack of calibration options and the lack of memory to store per-input settings. In terms of features, about the only things of note are the HD tuner and some limited media playback capability via USB.
It’s as well the Panasonic E3B featured the True Cinema mode, that was commendably accurate out of the box, as calibration controls are non-existent in the user menus and as this is retail stock, we weren’t in a position to enter the Service Menu. As it was, the E3B managed to deliver very believable colours but they were undermined by poor black levels , average dynamic range and, for SD material, poor video processing. The fact that the Blu-ray presentation, at least to our eyes, flickered was a definite low point, too.
All in all, the Panasonic TX-L42E3B isn’t a bad television; it’s just not a good one. If your requirements are accurate colours with a high light output and some gaming use, it’s worthy of consideration. For all other permutations, we can think of better alternatives.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £799.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level5
Ease Of Use6
Value for Money5
Our Review Ethos
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