If you don't want 3D, but do want smart TV features, the TX-L42E6B is the TV in Panasonic's new 2013 lineup that's aimed unerringly at you.
Priced at around £800 (although I found it cheaper online), it's a handsome looking model thanks to its slim bezel, and it comes with Panasonic's new smart TV system, which lets you create your own customised homescreen. It's also available in 32-, 39- and 50-inch versions -- I reviewed the 42-inch set.
User interface and programme guide
It's taken a very long time, but Panasonic has finally gotten around to updating the menu system it uses on its TVs. The old, static menus have largely been discarded and in their place a new, much more dynamic system has arrived. It centres on the idea of a homescreen that pops up when you turn on the TV, although it's an option -- you can set up the E6B to just start in normal fullscreen TV mode instead.
In some ways it's similar to the homescreens LG and Samsung have had on their smart TVs for a couple of years now, but the benefit of Panasonic's system is you can create your own customised homescreen if you want. This is covered in more depth in the smart TV section of this review, so skip to there to find out more.
The picture and sound menus are virtually identical to what Panasonic used on last year's models. They're not quite as flash as the new homescreen system, but their flat structure makes it quick and easy to get at the controls you need to adjust.
It's also good to see that Panasonic has separated out the backlight and contrast settings so you can now adjust them independently, whereas on last year's E5B model they were joined at the hip. I also like the way that the menus include a description box at the bottom that explains what the currently highlighted setting actually does.
The EPG retains the chunky text and timeline grid layout Panasonic has been using for a couple of years, but crucially it adds a video window in the top left-hand corner -- a feature that other manufacturers TVs have had for donkeys' years, but Panasonic's models lacked. It means you can now saunter through the TV listings while still keeping an eye on the programme you were watching, and as a result it's much more user-friendly.
There's also a channel explorer on the right hand side of one of the homescreens that you can use to quickly see what's currently playing on different channels. Unlike Panasonic's high-end models, however, this doesn't include a preview window of the other channels, as this model lacks the twin tuner feature.
Smart TV system
Panasonic's old Vieracast smart TV system looked very dated on last year's models. It had remained the same while the likes of LG and Samsung had powered ahead with newer, slicker-looking systems based around a homescreen.
Panasonic has followed their lead -- now when you switch on the TV you're greeted by one of a choice of different homescreens. One of these has a channel explorer down the right-hand side, for example, that lets you quickly see what's on currently on different channels. Across the bottom there are links to the Viera Connect app store, the YouTube app and a picture viewer. Another homescreen has a clock, a calendar, a note-taking app and a link to the Accuweather forecasting service.
The clever bit is that you can also design your own homescreen using four different templates that Panasonic provides. You can group all your most-used video on-demand services, such as iPlayer, Netflix and Acetrax, together on a single screen, for instance.
It's a great idea and works well in practice. It's easy to use and saves you a lot of clicking around when you just need to access the same apps again and again. And if you don't want to see a homescreen every time you turn on the TV, you can just set it to start in fullscreen TV mode instead.
Panasonic's app store is still somewhat lacking in apps though. It still doesn't have apps for Lovefilm and ITV Player, which are both now offered on Samsung's TVs. Nevertheless, most of the usual suspects are here, including iPlayer, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Netflix, iConcerts and Acetrax.
As you'd expect, this TV also has a media player onboard. This lets you play files from USB drives or alternatively stream them across a network from a PC or Nas drive. It supports a good range of formats too including AVI, MKV, WMV and MP4 for video. It worked with HD MKVs and standard-definition Xvid videos without any problems when I tried it out, playing them back smoothly over a network with no stuttering.
Panasonic's picture presets are, as ever, very good. It means that as soon as you take this model out of the box its picture quality impresses straight away. The 'Normal' preset works well for viewing during daylight hours, as it pushes up the brightness but doesn't overdrive colours too much, while the Cinema and True Cinema modes are both excellent options for watching movies in the evening with the lights dimmed.
Colours are excellent across the board, as the E6B seemingly effortlessly delivers bright and punchy hues that also have bags of subtlety. Even tricky skin tones look very natural and believable on this model.
It's strong on sharpness too, as every inch of detail is eked out from HD sources, such as movies fed in via Blu-ray or HD channels from its Freeview HD tuner. What's more, its upscaling of standard-definition sources, like Freeview channels and movies on DVD, is strong. Upscaled pictures are sharpened up cleanly, suppressing unwanted artefacts, such as too much 'mosquito noise' (when it looks like there's a swarm of insects around an object) due to heavy MPEG compression.
Like all LED sets, it does suffer from motion blur if you turn all the motion processing off, but it's not bad in this department. If you use the set's intelligent frame creation mode, its lowest setting gets rid of much of this blur without making movement look overly smooth and glassy.
For a mid-range TV, the E6B has exceptionally deep black levels and its backlight is very consistent across the display, so it doesn't really suffer from the blotchiness you often see on mid-range TVs. In fact, its contrast better than the more expensive ET60B, as this model uses a different type of panel.
There's very little light bleeding at the edges either. On the sample I had it was only really slightly visible in the top and bottom right-hand corners. Its contrast performance is top-notch too and it does a good job of dragging shadow detail out of darker, noir-ish scenes.
The different panel that Panasonic has used here does have a downside, as this TV's viewing angles aren't quite as wide as most of Panasonic's other TVs. If you're watching it from far to the right or left of the display, colours take on a slightly blue-ish tinge.
The E6B is pretty average when it comes to sound. Like most slimline TVs, its speakers just aren't blessed when it comes to the bassier end of the mix. You can improve its low-end performance by selecting the 'User' sound mode and then adjusting its graphic equaliser to boost bass frequencies, but even then bass tends to sound quite boxy and wooden.
On the plus side, dialogue sounds cleaner and clearer than on last year's model, as the E6B has more bite in the mid and high frequencies. The pseudo surround mode does a pretty good job of expanding the sound stage without muddying speech or music.
Design and connections
Panasonic has certainly upped its game this year in terms of design. The ET60B I looked at recently was a supremely handsome set and although the E6B isn't quite as classy, it's still an attractive beast. This is partly due to the fact that the bezel that frames the screen is only 14mm thick, and looks even slimmer, as part of that is a black border that's flush with the surface of the screen.
But it's also as a result of the good-looking transparent edging at the bottom of the display, which houses the IR sensor for the remote and a 'floating' power LED too. What this model lacks though is the chrome finish of the ET60B's bezel, as here Panasonic has used a plastic, silver-coloured strip instead, presumably to cut down on cost.
Sadly, as with the ET60B, Panasonic has reduced the number of HDMI ports on this TV compared to last year's equivalent model. That one had four HMDI ports, whereas the E6B only has three. They're found on the rear and point directly out of the back of the TV, which may make it tricky to wall-mount. This rear panel is also home to the RF input for the Freeviw HD tuner, as well as a full-sized Scart connector and a set of component video inputs. There's an Ethernet socket here too, but Wi-Fi is also built in.
A panel on the left-hand edge houses the set's two USB ports, the headphone socket and the CI slot. It lacks the SD card slot found on the ET60B, but I don't think most people will miss it.
While the connections on offer here will satisfy most people's needs, it's still a shame to see Panasonic following Samsung's lead and cutting down the number of HDMI ports, especially as we're all using more and more HDMI devices these days.
Despite the fact that its speakers could do with a tad more bass and it lacks 3D support, the TX-L42E6B is still an excellent TV. It's got a useful smart TV homescreen feature, a great looking design and very strong picture quality, thanks to its deep black levels and warm natural colours. A really good buy, and a step forward for Panasonic.
Update 28 March: A previous version of this review incorrectly referred to the E60B in the headline. This has been corrected.