This year, Panasonic has extended its size range of LED models up to 55 inches, where previously they topped out at 37 inches. That means you can now opt for an LED over a plasma if you're after a large display with the benefits of a slim design, narrow bezel and oodles of brightness.
Among Panasonic's mid-range Viera sets, the 47-inch TX-L47ET50B is the largest screen on offer. It's quite pricey though, setting you back around £1,200 -- and you'll have to pay for active 3D glasses on top of that because they're not included as standard. So is it worth the investment?
User interface and EPG
Unfortunately, little has changed on the menu of this TV compared with Panasonic's older models. Next to the flash graphics, colourful icons and smooth animations you get on the latest LG and Samsung TVs, Panasonic's menu system looks archaic. It relies mostly on flat-looking menus that make only the bare minimum use of graphics.
That said, the simplistic nature of the menus does mean they're relatively easy to use, with most of the important stuff accessed via the main menu. Here you'll find the picture, sound and set-up controls.
One annoyance with the picture menu is that the contrast slider changes both the contrast level and the intensity of the backlight. Many other manufacturers split these two settings to give you greater control over the picture.
Nevertheless, Panasonic's picture presets are generally better than those found on many other TVs, with the Cinema and True Cinema modes in particular delivering very good results from movies on Blu-ray.
The electronic programme guide (EPG) has been improved slightly over last year's Panasonics. The biggest change is the removal of web-style adverts that gobbled up valuable screen space. You can also swap between three views, choosing either to have the EPG showing more channels at any one time, or to display fewer, while featuring an info box about the show you've selected. When you call up the EPG, you don't get to continue seeing the channel you were watching as there's no video thumbnail window.
Design and connections
Panasonic has improved the design of its latest TVs. The TX-L47ET50B is much more of a looker than last year's models. The chassis is very slim, measuring just 36mm deep, and the screen is framed by a narrow silver bezel that blends into a transparent perspex lip. It's not quite as sexy as the almost invisible bezel on the LG 42LM660T, but it still looks very smart. I also like the angular brushed aluminium stand that adds to the set's premium feel.
Like most of today's slimline models, this one doesn't have full-sized Scart or component inputs. Instead, there are mini-jack sockets for these inputs on the downward-facing rear connections panel. You use these with the supplied break-out cables to connect up your non-HDMI gear.
This panel also houses the RF input for the Freeview HD tuner as well as an optical output for feeding digital audio to an external amp. There's a VGA input here too, as well as an Ethernet socket. Unlike last year's models, Panasonic has built Wi-Fi into this set, so you don't have to shell out for an expensive dongle to go wire free.
All four HDMI ports are mounted on a second panel on the left-hand side of the TV. Thankfully, these are set far enough back from the edge that your cables don't overhang the bezel like they do on some TVs. This side panel is also home to the three USB ports. Mounted slightly further back is a CAM slot in case you want to use the set with the pay TV services now available as an add-on to Freeview.
Internet TV, recording and playback
This set includes Panasonic's Viera Connect Internet TV platform. The look and feel of the service remains unchanged from previous Panasonic TVs. It still uses a 3D layers system, with each layer showing a grid of nine large icons. You move up and down through the layers using the forward and back controls on the remote. It works okay if you only make use of a few apps, but as you load in more from the app store, the layers system becomes a pain and you long for a simpler flat grid layout.
The range of apps available is pretty decent. Panasonic has added Netflix alongside other big hitters like iPlayer and the Acetrax movie service. The YouTube interface has been improved and there's a social TV app that lets you view Twitter and Facebook feeds overlaid on TV shows you're watching. There's now a web browser too, but it still seems buggy and it doesn't support Adobe Flash, so you can't use it to view videos on some websites. You do get more content on LG and Samsung's Smart TV services, but Panasonic's offering is the next best thing.
Panasonic has improved support for digital media playback. It'll now play more file formats, either via USB or across a network from a PC or NAS drive. I had no problems with high-definition MKV files, as well as standard-definition MP4, DivX and Xvid videos. It also handles AC3 and DTS soundtracks properly now.
Another feature that some may find handy is the TV's ability to record shows from the Freeview HD tuner to USB memory keys or hard drives. This works well, although there are two issues to consider. Firstly, the drive has to be reformatted by the TV before it can be used. Secondly, recordings are locked to the set, so they can't be played on PCs or other devices.
The chassis on Panasonic's previous LED models tended to widen out at the bottom to create some extra space to fit in slightly larger speakers with better bass response. This design trick is something that LG has copied on some of its newer models. However, Panasonic now seems to have gone in the opposite direction. This TV is the same width from top to bottom, so the size of its speaker drivers has been compromised and this has had a negative effect on audio quality.
The audio sounds weedier than last year's TX-L37DT30B, for example, as the bass response is simply not as good. The high frequencies also tend to sound a little harsh to my ears. Tweaking the graphic equaliser in the sound menu does allow you to get rid of some of the scratchiness from the high end, but there's no way to get beefier bass from this model, which is a shame.
2D picture quality
The TX-L47ET50B has a very bright display. Even in a sunlit front room, the colours it produces pop right off the screen. Colours appear rich and warm too, especially in its two Cinema picture preset modes. However, I could see slight clouding around the edges of the screen during very dark scenes. Although its black levels are generally good, they're some way off the best I've seen from an LED set.
When upscaling standard-definition channels or DVDs to fill the screen's Full HD resolution, the TV manages to successfully get the balance right between adding extra sharpness and avoiding introducing too much noise into the picture. High-definition images, as you would expect, look even more stunning, especially as this TV has no problems reproducing pin-sharp details.
Panasonic calls this an 800Hz set. In reality it's a 200Hz panel with backlight blinking to increase the apparent speed further. As with most LED sets, you can see some motion blur when the fancy Intelligent Frame Creation motion control circuitry is off. Meanwhile, turning it to max gives a flattened 'soap opera' look to pictures. If you set this mode to the minimum, the TV produces very good motion performance though.
3D picture quality
Disappointingly, despite the high price, it doesn't ship with any 3D glasses in the box. The active 3D specs are quite pricey too -- the new TY-ER3D4ME goggles cost around £50 each if bought online. Panasonic has switched from using infrared to Bluetooth for syncing glasses to its new range of TVs, so older Panasonic specs won't work with it either.
Performance with 3D material is top notch. The new glasses are lighter and more comfortable to wear than the old ones. You can also adjust the specs to reduce the flicker you sometimes get when there's ambient light in the room. Doing this can have a slightly negative effect on 3D images but I don't think most people would notice.
The set's 3D images are wonderfully crisp as you get Full HD delivered to both eyes -- unlike with passive 3D technology. High brightness levels mean it doesn't suffer anywhere near as badly from the dimming effect of the active specs used with older Panasonic plasmas. This helps 3D pictures to retain their punch and also heightens the already convincing sense of depth. Motion is smoothly handled and Panasonic has done a great job of reducing crosstalk -- or image ghosting -- to almost imperceptible levels.
The TX-L47ET50B is a pretty decent all rounder. It delivers sharp standard-definition and HD pictures with warm colours. There's also a good line-up of Internet TV services and 3D performance is strong. However, the TV is quite expensive, especially considering it doesn't include 3D glasses, sound quality isn't wonderful and you'll get slightly deeper black levels from competing models.