The TX-L47ET60B is the first TV to arrive in for review from Panasonic's new 2013 lineup. It's a mid-range model that's priced at around £1,150 and includes a new smart TV system based around a customisable homescreen.
Panasonic TVs have rarely been known for their sartorial elegance, but the ET60 is an absolutely cracking-looking set, so can its performance match its good looks?
User interface and EPG
Panasonic has finally updated its menu system and, rather than give it a quick splash of paint, it's actually rethought the whole idea of how a modern TV should work. It has to be said that at first glance, the result doesn't look all that different to the systems LG and Samsung have had on their TVs for the last two years. Look closer, however, and it's clear that Panasonic has come up with a few clever ideas of its own, including the ability to customise the layout of the homescreen. I'll cover this in more detail in the digital media section, so skip to that bit if you want the skinny on how the new smart TV system works.
The picture and sound settings menus are now also integrated into this new system, but they retain a similar layout to Panasonic's previous effort. On the whole these menus are easy to use and offer a good level of control over this model's various modes and features. It's also good to see that you can now tweak the backlight and contrast settings independently of each other -- something you couldn't do on last year's LED models.
Handily, there are short explanations of what the various settings in the picture and sound menus actually do. They're displayed in a box at the bottom of the screen, helping to provide more insight into the effects of any changes you make.
Another plus is that Panasonic's picture presets are, on the whole, very good. They're much better than those offered by Samsung on its sets, for example. The Cinema and True Cinema modes, in particular, deliver very watchable results for films, so you won't have to spend ages tweaking picture modes to get good results for your Blu-ray movies.
The EPG has been massively improved too. Panasonic has finally added a video thumbnail window to the guide, so using it is no longer as intrusive as it once was. You can now continue keeping tabs on Downton Abbey while checking out what's coming up on various channels later on. What's more, there's now also a channel explorer built in to one of the homescreens, so you can quickly run up and down through the channel list to see what's currently on across multiple stations.
Unfortunately, despite its relatively high asking price, this set doesn't support picture-in-picture on this channel explorer. That functionality is reserved for the higher-end models in the 2013 range that have dual tuners, rather than the single tuner that this model sports.
Design and connections
Panasonic started to take the design of its TVs more seriously last year, but it still struggled to produce models that were real head turners. All that seems to have changed this year, as the ET60 really is a very handsome-looking set. It has a super-slim bezel framing the screen, which measures a mere 14mm deep. This bezel is finished in chrome, so it looks the business, and I also like the attractive transparent strip running across the bottom of the telly that houses what look like floating LED indicators for stuff like the power status light. All in all, it's a really classy-looking telly.
It's even more annoying then that Panasonic seems to have followed the lead that Samsung set last year in reducing the number of HMDI ports on offer. Whereas last year's ET50 model had four HDMI ports, this one makes do with three.
These are all mounted on the left-hand edge along with two USB ports, an SD-card reader and optical digital audio output. There's also a downward facing panel on the rear that houses a set of component inputs and the green plug on this doubles up as the composite input -- something I'm starting to see often on newer TVs. If you want to hook up a Scart device to this model you need to use an adaptor cable that connects to the set's RGB mini jack. Wi-Fi is built in, but Panasonic has also naturally kitted it out with an Ethernet socket.
This model only has a Freeview HD tuner on board -- rather than both the Freeview and Freesat tuners on the company's more expensive TVs -- so there's only a single RF input on the rear.
Overall, the connection lineup isn't bad, but the absence of a fourth HDMI socket is puzzling. Surely when devices like tablets and smart phones increasingly have HDMI or MHL onboard (which does HDMI via the micro-USB port) we need more HDMI ports, not less.
Panasonic has completely redesigned its smart TV system. Now when you start up the TV, you're greeted by a choice of different homescreens. On one of these you've got a channel explorer on the right so you can see what's on currently across all channels on Freeview, and to the right of this at the bottom of the screen you've icons for YouTube and the Viera Connect app store. On another there's a clock, calendar, event timers, link to the AccuWeather service and a link to the on-board note-taking app.
When you turn on the TV it opens your chosen homescreen, but as one of these is simply for full-screen TV, you can opt for it to take you straight to this, rather than having to go through a menu every time. What's more, you can also customise these homescreens with different apps and widgets, or create your own from scratch using a number of different templates. It's all pretty easy to use, and the ability to create your own homescreen with all the apps you most use is an excellent idea that works well in practice.
The set comes with a number of apps preloaded, including BBC iPlayer and Netflix. You can download a bunch more from the Viera Connect app store. The app store is reasonably well stocked and most apps are free, although games usually need to be bought. On the shelves you'll find the likes of YouTube, iConcerts, Skype, DailyMotion, Acetrax, Facebook and Twitter. There are still a number of gaps in the lineup though, as there's no support for Lovefilm and it lacks an app for ITV Player, which is now supported on Samsung's TVs.
The set also has on-board media players for playing files either locally from SD cards or USB drives, or streaming files from a PC or network-connected hard drive. Format support is good too, as it happily played HD MKV files, as well as MP4, Divx and Xvid videos.
The slimness of the chassis unfortunately seems to have compromised this model's sonic. As with last year's ET50, this one sounds quite tinny. Even if you crank up the bass control in the menu and turn on the bass booster, it doesn't improve matters much. The speakers just don't seem to have it in them to produce much in the way of the low-end sonics. At least dialogue isn't as muddy as on the older ET50, as there's definitely more clarity when it comes to speech. Still, there are better sounding mid-range TVs to be found on the market than the ET60.
2D picture quality
The ET60B's 2D picture quality is very good on the whole, especially for a mid-range TV. It's got bags of brightness on tap so it looks exceptionally vivid in a brightly lit room. Colours are also bold and strong, but as most of Panasonic's presets don't over drive the panel, colours have a nice warmth to them that works especially well for movie watching.
On the motion front there's a fair degree of blur when you've got all its motion processing turned off (like all LED models). Turning on the motion processing at the high setting smooths this out, but does introduce glitches in the picture – this usually manifests itself as tearing around moving objects. If you knock it back to the minimum setting then motion still looks reasonably smooth, but you don't get as many glitches due to processing errors. On the whole, this screen's motion processing is not outstanding, but is pretty good considering where it sits in the market.
As with most of the Panasonic models I've seen before, the ET60B also does a very good job of upscaling standard-definition channels or movies on DVD. Panasonic's upscaling does a good job of sharpening things up nicely without introducing lots of extra picture noise, so even the poorer quality Freeview channel are still very watchable on this model.
As this set uses an IPS panel, it's got very good viewing angles too. You have to be looking at the screen from a very extreme angle before you see any significant shift in colour or contrast. In this regard it's much better than most Sony and Samsung models, which use a different type of panel that struggles with colour shifts at wider viewing angles.
Given the relatively high asking price, I don't think black levels are quite as good as they should be. They're fine for bright room viewing, but in a darker room in the evening they're not as inky black as I saw on some of Sony's models last year. There's also some of clouding caused by unevenness in the backlighting, something that affects pretty much all LED screens to some degree but isn't an issue on plasma TVs.
3D picture quality
It's a pretty open secret that all of Panasonic's 2013 LED models are built around LG panels, and as a result all the 3D models use passive rather than active 3D. Two pairs of glasses are included in the box, but extra passive glasses are very cheap. They only cost a couple of pounds each, so you won't have to stump up a load of cash for extra specs if the whole family wants to be able to watch 3D movies together. The glasses are very comfortable to wear as they're essentially just like sunglasses, but with polarised lenses.
Passive 3D does halve the vertical resolution though, so you get 540 lines fed to each either eye rather than the full 1,080 that you get with active systems. In reality it looks more like two thirds resolution, and although you can see the absent lines if you sit close to the screen, from a normal viewing distance they're not nearly as noticeable.
Watching Prometheus on this set I felt it delivered reasonably sharp-looking 3D with a good sense of depth. The absence of the flicker that you get on active specs made it less tiring on my eyes to watch and pictures look brighter, as the glasses don't dim the image all that much. It also seemed to suffer very little from crosstalk as long as you're sat at a pretty normal vertical angle to the TV. If you stand up, for example, it breaks the 3D effect completely, but that's something which happens on all passive 3D sets, and that's obviously not how you'd normally watch TV. Overall, I really enjoyed this set for 3D movie watching.
Finally Panasonic has managed to create a TV that's a real beauty in terms of design. It's also done a good job on updating this model's smart TV system, as I really like the way you can customise the homescreen. Its quite expensive for a mid-range model however, and its sound quality isn't great. Although its pictures are good, they're perhaps not quite as good as we'd expect when you're shelling out over a grand on a 47-inch model.