Panasonic TX-L55ET60 (ET60) TV Review
We get our first look at Panasonic's 2013 3D LED TV Range.
What is the Panasonic TX-L55ET60?Despite it being only a few weeks since CES 2013 closed its doors, it’s seemed like an age waiting for the first batch of the 2013 televisions to come through our own. Here we have Panasonic’s TX-L55ET60B which now represents the manufacturers entry-level 3D TV but it also comes with a host of other premium grade features including built-in Wi-Fi and the new ‘My Home Screen’ experience. It was clear from CES – and later, Panasonic’s European Convention – that in the face of increased competition, the company has decided to rely on using outsourced panels for its entire LED/LCD range meaning that their excellent active-shutter 3D system of 2012 has been abandoned, across the board. It will certainly be interesting to see how Panasonic handles the engineering challenges the new panels bring for both 2D and 3D performance. Let the new season commence!
Styling and DesignThe Panasonic ET60B takes its stylistic cues from its predecessor, the ET50B, but shaves a little from the bezel width to put it firmly in to the ‘micro’ camp, measuring less than a centimetre for the top and sides and – including the transparent strip housing the power indicator light and infra-red sensor - less than 3cm at the bottom. The micro-bezel in question is constructed of a silver effect plastic but, whilst not usually our favourite colour choice, looks very nice indeed and is complemented beautifully by the accompanying stand that matches colour-wise but in a more understated matte finish. To think the ET60 sits fourth in Panasonic’s LED pecking order only makes us eager to see how lovely the WT60, et al, must look in the flesh.
We were a little surprised to see another reboot to Panasonic’s remote control design, following the first major change in form for a number of years with 2012’s iteration. It’s actually more a case of Back to the Future for Panasonic as the new form shares more in common with the older generations’. We much prefer the matte black material chosen this time around which saves the daily removal of greasy fingerprints and the plastic feels a tad softer and more tactile too. New buttons for Home and Apps have been added toward the top where the Internet and Viera Tools button once resided; which is fair reflection of the direction Panasonic are taking with integrating their smart features, apps and sundry interface this year.
Connectivity options are provided by 3 HDMI inputs, running down the side and just 11cm from the edge of the bezel. Also on the side facing connections panel are 2 USB ports, a headphone jack, a S/PDIF digital audio out and a SD Card slot. Running across the bottom and downward facing there’s a LAN port; an aerial terminal; component and composite video inputs; a connection for the RGB Scart adapter and L/R stereo audio jacks. This year sees the back of a D-SUB VGA PC connection for Panasonics so it’s HDMI only from here on in, which may upset some.
There’s not a great deal that can be said of the polarised glasses supplied in the box. There are a couple of pairs thrown in; being of the polarised variety, they’re very light and perhaps our only criticism is that they are equipped with quite small lenses which – we’d imagine – might prove difficult to fit over prescription glasses. The lenses, themselves, are remarkably tint-free with, if anything, a very light grey coating seeming to have been applied. This bodes well for 3D viewing later but they definitely could have been more generously sized.
MenusThe first thing of note here is Panasonic’s new, My Home Screen interface that greets the user when first switching on. We’re going to do an in-depth piece on Panasonic’s new smart experience very shortly (which we’ll link back to here once it’s complete) so we’ll just keep the description brief, for now. The Home Screen comes with 4 default views – Full Screen TV, TV Home Screen, Lifestyle Screen & Info Screen – with a further option to create customised screens as one sees fit. The Full Screen TV option doesn’t really merit further clarification, it simply displays a full video image where the other options provide a windowed video interface with a variety of apps and widgets surrounding. For example, the TV Home Screen displays a scrollable list of what’s currently on through the DVB tuner, down the side, with the ability to launch YouTube, view your Photo collection or access Viera Connect from the bottom. Naturally the other Home Screen options display different content but if you do plan on using the feature, you’ll probably be best taking the trouble to create your own if, for example, you’d prefer Netflix instantly accessible over YouTube. Our early impressions are certainly favourable but, as we say, check back soon for a more comprehensive look.
Moving in to the Menus ‘proper’ and the basic look of the Graphical User Interface (GUI) is familiar from last year’s ranges with a two-tone blue and gold colour scheme and sharp, easy to read text in white. The Menus are split in to six submenus, Picture, Sound, Network, Timer, Set and a new Help section which, amongst other things, includes an ‘eHELP’ interactive menu, which like similar iManuals we’ve seen from other manufacturers, provides excellent assistance to more novice users, although we’d imagine the user-friendly nature of most of the menus shouldn’t require much in the way of explanation.
The Picture menu, however, has been expanded considerably and even seasoned users will need to find time for some acclimatisation. Starting at the top and the first thing some will notice is the inclusion of a new Viewing Mode, Custom, to accompany the existing Dynamic, Normal, Cinema and True Cinema options. Those really serious about gaining the maximum image fidelity will need to plump for the Custom or True Cinema modes as only they boast the ‘fine-tune’ calibration controls within their midsts. It will be interesting, later on, to see what the new ‘Adaptive Gamma Control’, ‘Black Expander’ and ‘Clear White Effect’ sliders bring to the party but it’s perhaps revealing that they’re either zeroed or greyed out for True Cinema whilst cranked up to 8 in Custom, by default.
More conventional calibration controls in the form of two and ten point white balance controls, pre-set gammavalues, as well as 10 point adjustments and a 3 point CMS for detailed adjustment of the primary colours.
On the front page of Picture options are more prosaic choices for Contrast, Brightness, Sharpness and Colour and – new for this year – a dedicated Backlight slider. Also ringing the changes is a new selection of Warm2 as a Colour Temp in addition to Cool 1 & 2, Warm1 and Normal. We’ll have to investigate the merits of each later in the review but Warm2 looks favourite in terms of out-of-box accuracy by eye but it’s close between that and Warm1, at least in the True Cinema Mode. The front page of picture options is also where one will find the ‘local dimming’, Adaptive Backlight Control with settings of Min, Max and Off; again, we’ll evaluate these further in.
Flipping over to the second page of picture options and we have settings for the Ambient Sensor, Noise Reduction, MPEG Noise Reduction and Intelligent Frame Creation - Panasonic’s motion interpolating system. A further Submenu named ‘Option Settings’ allows for switching on of the Game Mode, a 1080p pixel direct mode and the engaging of the Film Cadence Mode, all of which will be tested later on. Here is also where you’ll find the setting for HDMI RGB Range, which unless you’re hooking up a PC, will be best set at Normal range but it’s good to see that it’s assignable per input. Finally, should you so wish, the HDMI inputs can be set to be expecting Graphics or Photos with some automatic picture adjustments then applied, but unless this a professional requirement, we’d advise leaving at the default Auto Setting.
There are a number of 3D settings available. 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. Just below the 3D Adjustment option you can select to alter the Picture Sequence if you feel, and we quote the manual, ‘that the sense of depth is unusual’. There’s an Edge Smoother option too that we’ll check out later on and the 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. Finally there’s the choice of being able to swap the left and right frames of the 3D image over for those feeling any discomfort.
FeaturesThere’s two ways in to Panasonic’s smart experience this time around; one can either go straight in to the Apps screen where the full suite can be uncovered or opt to go via the more personalised My Home Screen interface. The Apps screen is very reminiscent of a tidied-up version of Samsung’s Smart Hub and none the worse for it. We like it a lot, especially as it provides a unified location for the full bag of goodies: including access to the Web Browser, Media Player and Server, the Main Menu and TV Guide as well as the installed apps. The Panasonic ET60 came pre-loaded with plenty of apps including the usual big hitters, iPlayer, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Skype plus access to the likes of Netflix, SHOUTcast Radio and the BBC Sport app. If that’s not enough for you, then feel free to visit the Viera Connect Market where a range of further games, VoD services and Social Networking apps can be downloaded; some free, others not.
Whilst the new content and interface is certainly worthy of commendation, perhaps best of all is the fact they can all be accessed using a tablet or smartphone via Panasonic’s new Viera Remote 2 app. As we said earlier in the review, we’re going to do full coverage of Panasonic’s smart eco-system in the very near future but, for now, be content to know the new app is shaping up to be slicker than that of any other manufacturers’ equivalent we’ve tried so far. It’s too early to crown it the champion remote control app of 2013, just yet, but the other manufacturers will officially be playing catch-up when a couple of the bugs are ironed out. It’s a joy to use, most of the time but we did encounter the odd crash using the Android version. We’ll test the iOS equivalent during our full blown smart system review. The only other negative we could find is that the battery of your mobile device may well take a battering.
Out of Box PerformanceRegular readers will know that factory set, default home modes are typically possessed of far too much blue energy in the greyscale and whilst Panasonic often aren’t quite as guilty, they still like to pull the trick of whites appearing more dazzling, in a washing detergent style. There is an industry standard for white known as D65 that defines both a colour temperature and xy co-ordinates on the CIE chart, which is in the middle of the triangle on the graph below to the right. We can also see from the charts on that side that although the primary colours are well positioned in terms of hue and saturation, the secondary colours are being adversely affected by the excess of blue in the greyscale. It’s not the worst out of box image we’ve encountered but it’s certainly washed out and fairly unappealing.
Just for fun we decided to put the True Cinema and Custom modes in to a calibration-off. The end results were near identical but we were just able to bring in Custom to the nth degree that bit more and, as we can see from the RGB Balance chart above, the balance of the three channels was perfectly distributed throughout the range. There was a slight kink in gamma response near white that was outside of the 10pt gamma controls’ reach but its actual real world effects were nigh on unnoticeable, and the greyscale distribution definitely bettered that we saw with the True Cinema calibration where it was difficult to manage high end blue.
Where Custom mode really outshone True Cinema was in its fidelity to the HDTV Rec 709 gamut reproduction. The points on the CIE chart shown above are perfectly hit for both primary and secondary colours at full stimulus, a feat True Cinema couldn’t match with its slightly under-saturated palette and we can see from the chart below, which demonstrates accuracy at lower saturation points, is also nigh on perfect. True Cinema had an uncorrectable tendency for green and cyan to be off at lower points. All in all, Panasonic’s new controls and panel work a charm together.
Picture ProcessingPanasonic promised improvements to their video processing and they’ve mostly delivered. The ET60 proved an extremely competent scaler of standard definition signals with clear and crisp reproduction of even the finer details (where present), without any rough-around-the-edges ringing. For those that still have a large DVD collection but no upscaling player, the good news continues as the ET60 has no problems in identifying progressively shot film material sent in an interlaced signal, meaning as clean a representation of your old movies as you could reasonably hope for. The only slight let-down was the quality of the video deinterlacing at 1080i50 which did show more jaggedness than we’re accustomed to when displaying dedicated test patterns although, to be fair, with real world testing, we could barely see an issue. The deinterlacing tests perform slightly differently with each processor we see so it could just be a bit of an anomaly. As we would hope for a TV emerging in 2013, the Panasonic TX-L55ET50B had no issues with frame skipping or any other unexpected unpleasantness with Blu-ray disc based material.
Contrast and Black LevelsIf there’s one area where Panasonic LED TVs has really struggled in the past, it’s here. Whilst their own IPS technology does have its benefits over LG’s implementation, in terms of outright contrast performance, it’s always trailed behind somewhat. As described in the Menus area, the Panasonic ET60 has an active backlight control that can be set at high or low levels and, at first glance, the comparatively deep blacks the max setting provide seem enticing. In fact put up an all-black pattern and the auto-dimming switches in to the extent that we got a reading as low as 0.007 cd/m2. In the words of a sub-par Aussie soap - and sporadic pop – star, catapulted to household name status by virtue of a failed union to a glamour model - ‘insania’ and not really representative of a picture with mixed content. There are two problems with using the Active Backlight Control at Max: a) it’s very sensitive to very mild changes in on-screen luminance meaning dark portions of the picture can fluctuate in their brightness fairly rapidly and frequently, and b) it causes the picture to shift gamma dynamically so content can go from looking just right to very over-blown. In the end we found the Min setting gave a little helping hand without intruding on picture quality in a tangible way and in that configuration the ET60 managed an averaged black level of 0.1 cd/m2 giving an ANSI contrast figure of just under 1000:1, which is good but not great although certainly better than most recent Panasonic LED TVs. Without any dimming assistance, the ET60’s native black level sits at around 0.12 cd/m2.
The Panasonic TX-L55ET60B certainly has some things going for it when it comes to video games, primarily its size – you can’t beat a nice big screen for gaming and that goes double for games produced in 3D, a task which the ET60 performs very well. Input latency is almost the definition of average and using our pioneering test equipment we took a lowest measure of around 48 milliseconds lag. The Game mode most assuredly needs engaging from the options menu and used in combination with the Custom Viewing Mode it gives the lowest latency. The games mode doesn’t particularly handle motion brilliantly, however, and some ghosting might be apparent if you’re sensitive to that kind of thing.
- Standby: 0W
- Out-of-the-Box – Standard Mode: 102.2w
- Calibrated – Custom Mode: 65.5w
- Calibrated - 3D Mode: 101.7w
Panasonic TX-L55ET60 Picture Quality 2DWe didn’t have any major complaints in the out of box performance in the True Cinema mode and with just a little bit of adjustment the Custom mode also presented some very nice images also. Of course, we at AVForums always aim for the highest possible standards and with some manipulation of the finer calibration controls we were able to hit upon a picture that ticked all the boxes in terms of colour reproduction and neutrality of greyscale. Once in this higher state of consciousness, the Panasonic ET60 really excelled with the likes of nature documentaries and animation where colour fidelity is so important. Skin tones were also looking superbly precise, which helps with just about all content, and the overall images produced benefited from a real sense of naturalness.
It’s sometimes the case that we feel LED/LCD pictures can look over-digitised, especially with movies where the analogue look is key but the ET60 rarely conveyed such an appearance and although it manages to cleanly reproduce every last nuance of detail from high definition sources; it never felt forced, if you take the point.
There are some things the ET60 doesn’t do quite so well and there’s some decisions to be made in setup that have quite dramatic effect on the pictures it can produce. We discussed the merits of the Active Backlight Control on the test results page and, for the reasons given there, we think it best to keep it conservative so contrast performance never really rises much above the level of adequate, although an excellent filter and resistance against reflections means it gives the impression of possessing very good black levels until the lights come down. Detailing within the darker shades isn’t particularly strong either, with a certain milkiness to shadows and a general lack of definition.
One thing we’d certainly say when comparing the IPS panels of LG and Panasonic is that motion handling is best executed by the Japanese technology. There’s always the option of having the IFC option assist but it can’t always mask the occasional instances of ghosting, which was mainly seen with high paced sporting action. We wouldn’t recommend IFC in any of its guises for film content, however, as the soap effect is immediately apparent, even on the minimum setting. During testing we did uncover a bug where coming out of IFC at Max in to a lower setting or Off would send the ET60 in to a stuttering frenzy that required a reboot. We couldn’t recreate the problem but it’s another good reason to avoid setting it that high.
For the most part, the screen consistency of the ET60B was very creditable indeed and viewing angles quite generous. We could just make out that the far left hand side of the screen was marginally paler than the rest but that was in a much darkened room on an all-black screen. In day to day viewing, there was very little in the way of light uniformity problems to spoil the party. Colours held up well from off-centre but, typical of the technology, black levels don’t maintain the same levels of punch out of the sweet spot.
The Panasonic ET60 delivered a rewarding viewing experience overall. In terms of colour reproduction, it’s simply excellent and it’s pleasing to see the added bit of contrast the new panels bring married to Panasonic’s generally excellent processing and driving methods. We certainly wouldn’t complain if blacks could be given a further native boost and if they managed to improve the general motion handling but the ET60 is a very good all-round performer, ideal for a living room that sees a bit more light than our viewing environment.
Panasonic TX-L55ET60 Picture Quality 3DWhen news came through from CES 2013 that Panasonic had abandoned active shutter technology in its 3D LED TVs it came as more of a disappointment than a surprise. The likes of the WT50 and DT50 had, last year, proved that plasma was not necessarily the king when it comes to 3D. This reviewer’s personal preference for the comfort and lack of flicker inherent with passive systems was severely put to test by the 2012 Panasonic’s so the regret is that we didn’t get to see what improvements they could have implemented on an already excellent platform.
Moving on. It’s probably fair to class the ET60 as more of a side-step than a backwards one, 3D-wise. It’s inarguable that it provides a brighter image than any active shutter tech TV out there and, equally uncontestable, that it will flicker less. The ET60 is certainly capable as providing as much pop as any other 3D display and the lack of crosstalk makes the whole experience truly engaging and enveloping and that we managed to sit through the entire presentation of Dredd, which frankly looks better in 3D than 2D, without the need for a headache-break is probably testament enough to the ET60’s 3D charms.
The downside of the new panel is that there’s definitely more blur. We routinely use recorded footage of the BBC HD Wimbledon 3D coverage as both a test for side-by-side performance at 50Hz as well as the fact it’s a crosstalk torture test with the rapid movement and white marking lines of the court and we could see that the ET60 was having some problems transitioning out of white. Clearly the panel response performance isn’t quite what it used to be but it rarely detracted from the overriding sense of involvement and the ET60 is a 3D display to be reckoned with.
- Superb colour accuracy
- Excellent scaling and general handling of standard definition
- Flawless Blu-ray playback
- My Home Screen is a very good idea
- We like the new/old remote
- Tons of smart features
- Gorgeous looking
- Filter is highly effective in ambient light
- Motion handling could be smoother
- Black levels and contrast could still use a further boost
- Some smearing of white with 3D content
Panasonic TX-L55ET60 (ET60) TV Review
If every television we see in 2013 can match the Panasonic ET60 in the looks department, our eyes are in for a treat this year as it’s a stunner in the flesh. We don’t usually take to metallic effect surrounds but the bezel of the ET60 is so sleek it’s barely noticeable and the complimenting base-stand that is of a more subtle, matte finish is equally beautiful with its slightly sloped form. It’s a winner for the design department of Panasonic and we also like the reimagined remote control that pays homage to the past whilst providing a gateway to the future through the new buttons that access Panasonic’s new – and slick – smart ecosystem.
Heading up said platform is Panasonic’s new My Home Screen concept that is simple and, more importantly, genuinely useful if your viewing habits aren’t restricted to traditional delivery methods. For instance, you may wish of the option to jump straight in to your Netflix account or check your Twitter when first switching on and, thanks to the customisable nature of My Home Screen, you can do just that, and much more besides. Panasonic’s new Viera Remote App 2 is excellent although the Android version, at least, is having a few random crashes that we’re sure will be addressed. Panasonic is obviously recognising that your tablet or smartphone is a much better fit for controlling most of the smart functionalities; and rightly so.
The new menus present in the 2013 range through up a few surprises, not least of which was the appearance of a Custom Viewing Mode which had the same full suite of calibration controls only afforded otherwise of True Cinema. What’s more, after disabling some of the more outlandish new ‘enhancement’ options present in the Picture Menus, Custom more than gave True Cinema a run for its money in terms of accuracy. A full calibration of both modes resulted in an almost dead heat with the Custom mode just shading it with its fully saturated colour palette - and it truly did tune up a treat.
Panasonic’s general processing and driving of the new panels proved very effective, for the most part, and this allied with the supremely accurate colours a calibrated ET60B is capable of meant that images were, at times, simply sublime in their appearance, packed with detail and brimming with realism. The weaker points, as expected, are a sometimes blurred representation of motion and not exactly stellar native black levels. The contrast performance is highly impressive in a reasonably bright room, though, and those looking for a big screen that’s a very capable all-rounder in those circumstances could do much worse than audition a Panasonic ET60B.
The 3D spectacle is equally as engaging, with a vivid, totally flicker-free and enveloping experience awaiting those that make use of the facility. The new panel does have the downside of not having as fast a response as the outgoing iteration so motion is not as fluid and there’s some problems when transitioning from white but it rarely hampered the general sense of enjoyment and immersion.
The sideways move in panel technology hasn’t proved a painful one for the Panasonic ET60, in fact in a number of key factors it’s an improvement over the outgoing series. It’s a beautiful, smart and very capable performer that positively merits an AVForums Recommended Award.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,299.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level7
3D Picture Quality8
Ease Of Use7
Value for Money6
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