Externally Panasonic's TX-L47FT60 and TX-L42DT65 models look pretty much identical, but under the hood there are some big differences. The TX-L42DT65 we're looking at here is the more expensive of the two, priced at around £1,400.
It includes dual Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners, so if you add a hard drive it can act as a fully functional digital TV recorder. It also has local dimming to improve black levels and comes with a touchpad controller that has a microphone built-in for voice search. Is it worth paying the £300 premium over the FT60 model for these features? Let's find out.
User interface and EPG
The smart TV system on last year's Panasonic sets was disappointing, so it's good to see it's revamped it completely on this year's models. Out goes the old, awkward system of 3D layered icons for apps, and in comes a much more user-friendly smart TV homescreen. In fact, you can choose between a selection of preset homescreens or create your own custom screen using one of four templates. This is ideal if you want to group together certain smart TV services that you use on a regular basis, such as BBC iPlayer, Netflix and YouTube.
Panasonic hasn’t integrated the settings menus into this new smart TV system in the way Samsung has, but these menus still look reasonably modern and more importantly are easy to use. Their flat structure makes it quick to jump between the different picture or audio settings and Panasonic gives you an awful lot of control of the set's images thanks to its full colour management system.
The programming guide has also been updated so it now includes a video window that lets you keep track of the show you were watching while flicking through the listings to see what's coming up later. The guide isn’t perhaps as attractive as what you'll find on Samsung's latest TVs, but it's easy to read and feels speedy to use.
Along with the main guide, Panasonic has added a channel explorer widget to the Smart TV system. You can use this to quickly scroll through a list of channels to see what's currently on. And because the DT65 has dual tuners, it'll even show you a video thumbnail of the live feed from the other channel, which is very cool. The feed does take a second or two to appear beneath the channel name, however.
Digital media and Internet features
Panasonic's new smart TV system is head and shoulders above what was available on last year's models and actually makes it one of the best out there at the moment, although it's still not as slick as Samsung's effort. Key to the new system is the homescreen which pops up every time you turn on your TV (although you can set the TV to just start in fullscreen mode if you prefer).
Panasonic provides a number of predefined homescreens with various collections of shortcuts to apps and widgets for stuff like family calendars and channel explorers. You can also build your own homescreen using preset templates, however. This is a great idea as it lets you group together the features and apps you use most often.
There's a good selection of apps pre-installed, including BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Youtube, Vimeo and Daily Motion. There's also an app store on board where you can download and install extra apps, games and widgets. Some of the games have to be paid for, but most of the apps are free. There are still a fair few omissions in Panasonic's app catalogue, though. It lacks services like 4oD, Demand5 and Lovefilm, which are all now offered on Samsung's smart TV service.
This model includes two remotes: a standard zapper and a touchpad controller. The touchpad can be used to control the set's full Web browser, which supports videos on some websites, but not all. The controller works reasonably well with the browser, but the browser itself tends to crash pretty often. The controller can also be used to navigate the TV's other menus, but it's fiddly to do this.
There's a mic built in too for voice search, but the voice search is limited and doesn't always work reliably. I can’t see very many people finding it a really worthwhile addition to their TV.
On the plus side, the DT65's media player is very strong. It works reliably with a range of video file formats, including Xvid and HD MKV files, both of which played locally and streamed across a network. Files with Dolby Digital soundtracks also play properly, which is not something that all TV media players can cope with.
Design and connections
Panasonic has often lagged behind the competition when it comes to the styling of its TVs, but thankfully it seems to be on top of this issue with this year's sets. The TX-L42DT65 is, by any measure, a great-looking TV. The chrome bezel around the screen is strikingly narrow at just 14mm wide, and the sculpted v-shape pedestal stand gives the set a clean and sophisticated air.
Annoyingly, Panasonic has cut the number of HDMI ports from four on the older DT50 model, to the three found here on a panel on the left-hand side beneath the TV's three USB ports. The good news is that the DT65 has dual tuners on board for both Freeview HD and Freesat HD, so if you hook a hard drive up to one of its USB ports it can act as a fully fledged PVR. This means you can record one channel while watching another.
Naturally both Wi-Fi and Ethernet are built in, and you can connect up older Scart devices to the TV via a short break-out cable.
2D picture quality
The DT65 puts in a strong showing it the picture quality department, but it does have a weakness. The main issue is that despite the use of local dimming with six zones, its panel just doesn't seem to be able to produce the inky deep black levels of newer sets, such as Sony's W905A and Samsung's F8000. You can’t really see the difference in a bright room, but if you're watching a movie with the lights turned down then this weakness does become more apparent.
The TV is strong when it comes to delivering shadow detail however, and so its pictures do tend to look quite contrasty. It’s got wider viewing angles than Sony's W905A too, so colours and contrast remain a bit more consistent when you're viewing it from side-on, which may be important to you if you use your TV is a larger lounge/diner where people will be sitting at different spots during the day.
The TVs presets are also very easy to use, with the Cinema and True Cinema modes providing very good settings for watching movies. The former is best for brighter rooms and the latter more suitable to darker rooms. This means you don’t have to mess around with the picture controls as much as on Samsung's TVs to get great looking pictures from your Blu-ray discs. The colours on these modes are especially warm and cinematic, and it absolutely bristles with sharpness when it comes to detail levels on HD sources.
Panasonic's upscaling manages to add a bit of extra sharpness into standard-definition images without also highlighting weaknesses, such as mosquito noise and Mpeg blocking -- something that Samsung's TVs seem to find hard to avoid.
Motion is deftly handled too. Even with all motion processing off the screen doesn't look overly blurry when watching F1 or footy. If you enabled Panasonic's motion processing at it's lowest setting, you can get rid of virtually all blur without introducing lots of nasty flickering on the edges of objects. If you go much higher than the minimum setting these issues do start to appear though, so it's best to keep the processing reigned in a bit.
3D picture quality
As with all of the 3D TVs in Panasonic's current line up, the DT65 is built around an LG panel and so uses passive 3D, rather than the active 3D system Panasonic uses on its plasma screens.
You do lose some resolution with passive 3D, as it essentially sends every other line to your left and right eyes. If you're sitting close to the screen you'll see horizontal black lines in the images, but from a normal viewing distance on a 42-inch TV like this one, the images blend seamlessly together.
The advantages of a passive system far outweigh the disadvantages though, especially for people with larger families. For a start, the glasses are seriously cheap. Panasonic includes four pairs with this TV, but you can buy extra ones for as little as £2 each. The glasses also don’t cause flickering on ambient light in your room the way active 3D specs usually do, making them less tiring to wear. They don’t have the same dimming effects as active glasses either, so the 3D images on the DT65 looks very bright. There's virtually no crosstalk, so the 3D effect is very convincing and gives you a good feeling of depth.
The only caveat is that the 3D image does break up if you view the set from above or below by an angle of around 15 degrees or more. If you're thinking of wall mounting the TV you'll have to bear this in mind, as it can affect the height at which you position the TV. Overall though, this is an excellent TV for 3D viewing.
The DT65 is better than average when it comes to audio. Like the FT60, it has a small 10W woofer on the rear that helps add low-end depth to the sound. This, combined with its two 4W downward firing stereo speakers, gives it a reasonably expansive soundstage.
Its bass response is still not as natural or as deep as what you'll get from a decent set of external speakers, but the set does sound deeper and warmer than most slimline TVs on the market. The perky mid-range response also helps it to produce dialogue with plenty of poke that cuts through the mix easily.
Don't bother with the TV's pseudo-surround sound modes though, as they tend to muddy the dialogue, so they're best left turned off.
The TX-L42DT65 is a fine TV from Panasonic, but perhaps not the truly exceptional set we were expecting. While its pictures are impressive, its black levels fall short of what I'd ideally like to see at this price point. The truth of the matter is that you'll get very similar picture and sound quality from the cheaper FT60, and you'll only really be sacrificing the dual tuner support. If, like a lot of people, you get your TV from a third party service like Sky or Virgin Media, that won't be much of a sacrifice.