Panasonic TX-L42FT60 (FT60) TV Review
New Kid on the Block
What is the Panasonic TX-L42FT60?A,B,C,D… actually, scrub that, we’ve never got to grips with alphabet according to Panasonic and the FT60 duly sits one rung above the ET60 but one below the DT65 and two behind the WT65; but we guess the lack of logic doesn’t really matter, as the price-tags tell all. The FT series is new for Panasonic this year, straddling that area between mid and high-range and is probably borne out of an effort to compete in as many price sectors as possible, a la Samsung and LG, as opposed to Sony who are consolidating efforts by streamlining their Bravia range. The TX-L42FT60 comes with pretty much the full suite of Panasonic’s 2013 Smart Platform offering, including their excellent new my Home Screen interface as well as Passive 3D and 1600Hz Backlight Scanning tech. Let’s see what it can do to justify its inclusion in Panasonic’s portfolio.
Design and ConnectionsIt’s all glass and air these days, as far the Panasonic design team is concerned, and the FT60 keeps the momentum going by offering a super-slender metallic bezel, and lovely open V-connector that attaches the chassis to the silver base-stand and does swivel. Completing the colour theme, the FT60 ships with a shiny silver remote of a familiar guise from former years but equipped with dedicated buttons for the Home Screen and Apps.
Connectivity is provided by 3 HDMI inputs, running down the side and less than 8cm from the edge of the bezel so you might need to wraparound your wires for a flush finish. Also on the side facing connections panel are 3 USB ports (one is USB 3.0 compatible), 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; a satellite antennae; a DTV aerial terminal for Freeview HD, inputs for component and composite video input; a connection for the RGB Scart adapter and L/R stereo audio jacks.
Menus and FeaturesPanasonic’s new 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. We’re not going to give you chapter and verse on it here, however, as we’ve given it in-depth coverage in a separate review of Panasonic’s Smart Viera 2013 platform but the short version is, we really like it.
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. A further delve in to the Setup menu will allow for 2 further Viewing Modes – Professional 1 and Professional 2 – which contain a very full suite of calibration controls including two and ten point White Balance controls, pre-set gamma values, as well as 10 point adjustments and a full 6 point, 3D Colour Management System CMS for detailed calibration of both the primary and secondary colours.
There’s also some new for 2013 options including Adaptive Gamma Control’, ‘Black Expander’ and ‘Clear White Effect’. Also in the DT65 we have Ambient Sensor, Noise Reduction, MPEG Noise Reduction, Caption Smoother, MPEG Remaster, Resolution Remaster, Brilliance Enhancer 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 setting them to Off.
On the front page of Picture options are the more traditional choices of 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. 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.
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.
We’ve seen fairly consistent out-of-the-box results from the 3D LED Panasonic’s this year, with a general over-emphasis of the green and red channels in the greyscale, at the expense of blue energy. This gives a general yellowish cast to lots of content. With Delta Errors topping out at around 7, things could certainly be a lot worse but even seemingly modest dE improvements here can, and mostly do, yield major benefits to overall picture quality. Typically, for an IPS panel, colour accuracy is impressive prior to calibration with red a tad under-saturated and cyan quite heavily skewed toward green being the major points of note. We’d expect cyan to be a lot closer following the greyscale calibration and, if it isn’t, we can call on the services of a fully featured CMS to bring things to rights.
We probably could have called it a day once we’d used the 2 point White Balance controls and moved straight to the 10pt gamma but since Panasonic are good enough to provide multi-point greyscale adjustment, it would have been rude not to have used the facilities. As we can see from the chart above left, we soon reached a point where literally no improvements could have been made in terms of either greyscale or gamma, as they’re totally achromatic and neutral of tone.
As the CIE Diagram above right demonstrates, at full saturation and three quarter luminance colour tracking was also superb, although as we can see from the graph below, plotting the colours at less intense stimulation points, the FT60B is a little ‘hot’ in its delivery of red lower down. In actual fact, it was quite hard to see with real world content but comparing to a screen with better colour distribution, you can see that skintones are a bit more coloured. Still, you really would need to stand it next to a fully calibrated display to notice so hardly something to fret over.
Picture ProcessingPanasonic promised improvements to their video processing and they’ve mostly delivered, although handling of 1080p24 is sometimes a bit jerky. Not deal-breaker jerky but when you’ve got used to what Panasonic plasma’s can do, it’s a noticeable downgrade.The FT60 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 FT60 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. Another slight let-down this year is 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 rarely see an issue.
Contrast, Black Levels and Screen UniformityAs expected, the DT60 performed almost identically to the other passive 3D TVs in Panasonic’s 2013 line-up and provides a ‘steady’ rather than exceptional level of black. A full screen black pattern will see auto-dimming kick in and totally cut the signal but by using a disc based full field black we got a reading of around 0.11cd/2. With peak white output set around 120cd/m2 for equity and comparison with other tests, using a checkerboard pattern we got an averaged black level slightly less, at 0.109 cd/m2, but averaged white level diminished to about 93.5 to give an ANSI contrast sub 900:1. Nothing to get too excited about but the FT60 was blessed with good uniformity, in terms of light spread across the panel, and a good filter that lets it look blacker than it really is in bright rooms.
Gaming PerformanceThe FT60 clearly shares more in common with the DT65 and WT65, processing-wise, than it does the ET60, turning a very speedy input response in the mid 30 millisecond range. With the Game Mode enabled in the Options Menu, the default Custom Viewing Mode gave the very lowest figures at 34ms and since it can be tuned to look very nice, that’s good news, although there’s so little in it as to make no difference between all the modes.
- Standby: 0W
- Out-of-the-Box – Normal Mode: 68.2W
- Calibrated – Pro Mode: 42.9W
- Calibrated - 3D Mode: 72.4W
Panasonic TX-L42FT60 Picture Quality 2DThanks to the precision of the calibration controls, the FT60 was able to offer stunning picture accuracy which goes a long way in providing enjoyable pictures. Motion handling was also quite good, although there is the odd stutter with 1080p24 Blu-ray content. Whether you could spot that on a 42-inch panel at regular viewing distances is altogether another matter but it is there. Besides believable colours, it’s generally considered that strong contrast performance is the key factor in determining whether our eyes will be impressed with image qulaity and, in that respect, the FT60 is rather mediocre. With the lights down low, dark areas of the image look very washed out and reveal very little detail. The dimming controls can help but they’re far from an ideal solution with some disturbing haloing and colour luminance shifting evident when using the High or Med setting and it doesn’t make a great deal of difference at Low. Whichever way, it’s a trade-off, but at least the native black levels are more impressive than previous IPS panel equipped TVs that Panasonic has produced.
Probably the biggest let down with this year’s higher-tier Panasonic LEDs has been a sometimes intrusive dirty screen effect, that was particularly evident with the WT65 flagship but present to, lesser degrees, in all the others. The FT60 also exhibits this flaw, especially with very pale backgrounds, and perhaps we’ve built a cumulative intolerance but it is very frustrating to see routinely blotchy skies and grass with certain material. It’s no secret that Panasonic is using LG supplied panels this year and this was an issue that troubled the Koreans’ TVs last year. The early evidence is that LG is getting on top of the problem and it’s something that needs the attention of Panasonic’s engineers as a priority. We’re certainly willing to concede there will be some variance and, if you get a FT60 without the issue, it really is a very good TV with excellent viewing angles and the ability to combat bright living spaces.
Panasonic TX-L42FT60 Picture Quality 3DAgain, it was here where the FT60B impressed us most, delivering almost totally crosstalk-free images with punchy colours and very little loss of brightness through the lenses of the 3D glasses. Naturally, being passive technology, there’s no hint of flicker from the eye-wear, either, and about the only thing we’d class as a backwards step from last year’s active shutter display is a certainly blurriness in motion. It’s more evident with 50Hz side-by-side broadcast content but still there with 3D Blu-ray. The FT60 provides superb depth to 3D content, although we’ve seen (active) displays that have just a touch more pop-out quality but we prefer positive parallax effects in any case so not something we’d consider an issue, in the scheme of things. If 3D forms one of your key performance indicators for a potential purchase, you really should be demoing.
- Very accurate colours
- Low input lag
- Great design
- My Home Screen is superb
- Oodles of Smart features
- Generous viewing angles
- 3D is excellent
- Viera Remote App 2 works extremely well
- Good in a bright room
- Contrast is mediocre
- Lack of detail in dark areas
- Dirty screen effect is pretty noticeable
- Dimming controls aren't very good
- A bit of stutter with Blu-ray
- Video deinterlacing could be better
Panasonic TX-L42FT60 (FT60) TV Review
Forgive us an instance of deja vu with the FT60 but since we've had everything from the ET60 up through the doors, the higher-end Panasonic's look a bit samey, although that doesn't mean they're not attractive - far from it. The 'super-narrow' silver bezel design is certainly striking but we wouldn't mind seeing a little more intra-range variance. Connectivity options are decent, with 3 HDMI and built-in Wi-Fi the stars, and the range of apps and VoD services are also very impressive. Panasonic's Smart platform is all woven together very nicely this year, with the my Home Screen interface and mobile apps probably the best newcomers to the offering.
The extensive calibration controls allowed us to extract maximum benefit from the IPS panel, with the FT60 attaining more or less perfect charts. That same panel isn't quite capable of hitting such heights in terms of dynamic range, however, and the mediocre black levels were hampered further by a lack of detail in the dark areas. The dimming options provided only sporadic assistance there, unfortunately, and we'd not really recommend using them in anything but the low configuration to avoid disturbing side-effects. Other pluses include generous viewing angles, an impressive resistance to ambient light and low input lag for gamers. The biggest issue with this particular sample was an annoying dirty screen effect that reared its head too often for our liking and it's something Panasonic need to look at for their 2014 range.
Whilst there's plenty to admire about the Panasonic TX-L42FT60, particularly in terms of design and features, it doesn't really deliver enough in the picture quality department to justify its slightly lofty price-tag. To paraphrase Roy Walker - we've been waiting for this day, it's good but it's not great.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,099.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level5
3D Picture Quality7
Ease Of Use7
Value for Money5
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