Despite cinematic masterpieces such as Sanctum and The Green Hornet being released in 3D, it seems the general public is still underwhelmed by the prospect of three-dimensional viewing. If you're of a like mind, the Panasonic Viera TX-L42E30B might be of interest. This 42-inch, 1080p, LED-illuminated LCD TV eschews 3D completely, in favour of producing great 2D pictures at a price that won't leave you living off baked beans.
The TX-L42E30B is available now for around £650.
Easy on the eyeballs
Some of Panasonic's 2010 models made a rainy day in Newcastle look exciting. This year, the company has upped its game on the design front. While the TX-L42E30B won't leave you wiping drool from your mouth, it does at least look pleasant, thanks to its sharply tailored lines and slightly metallic finish.
The TX-L42E30B isn't lacking on the features front either. For starters, it includes a Freeview HD tuner, so you can use it to view high-definition broadcasts from the BBC and ITV.
Panasonic's reluctance to move away from the dreadful Guide Plus+ electronic programme guide is beginning to really annoy us. Guide Plus+ not only looks ugly, but also displays Web-style adverts on the left-hand side of the screen, compromising the amount of space available for showing programming info.
The set makes up for this somewhat by including TV-recording features. Hook a hard drive up to one of its three USB ports and you can pause live TV or schedule recordings using the EPG. There's only a single tuner, so you can't watch one channel while recording another, but it's still a very welcome feature.
This TV is also Internet-savvy, packing Panasonic's new Viera Connect service. This offers a pretty good BBC iPlayer implementation, as well as support for services like the Acetrax movie-rental service, Eurosport and YouTube. It also includes Facebook, Twitter, Skype and Picasa applets. The Connect platform is now open to third-party developers too, so we may see some interesting additions in the future.
Along with its Internet features, the set supports digital media playback either locally, via USB storage devices, or across a home network, via a PC. This feature is easy to use, and playback is smooth and glitch-free. Format support is good too -- along with Xvid and DivX files, the set can play back high-definition MKV files, which are becoming increasingly popular on the Internet.
Extreme anglingThe set is built around a 1080p IPS Alpha panel with LED backlighting. One of the benefits of IPS technology is that the TV has very wide viewing angles. Even if you sit at a pretty extreme angle to the set, colours and contrast remain consistent. For picture processing, the set uses Panasonic's V-Real Live engine, along with Intelligent Frame Creation Pro, which helps to create smoother motion.
The TX-L42E30B performs best when fed with good-quality hi-def signals. Blu-ray movies look razor-sharp, with the set beautifully rendering even the finest of details, such as hair in Disney's Tangled.
The warmth of its colours is the set's strongest point, however. The rich, natural hues lend movies a very cinematic look and feel, so the landscape shots in No Country for Old Men look truly glorious. Motion is also incredibly well handled.
The set is more than competent when it comes to standard-definition sources, making the most of some of the poorer-quality, overly compressed Freeview channels. The subtle but effective noise-reduction setting comes in really handy here.
Unlike most slim TVs, the TX-L42E30B's audio isn't too bad. That's because the telly widens out at the bottom to accommodate larger-than-usual speakers, so audio sounds beefier, with fuller bass and more punchy mid-range performance. We wish more manufacturers would follow Panasonic's example, instead of concentrating purely on reducing the depth of their TVs.
The Panasonic Viera TX-L42E30B has few flaws. It works its magic in the picture department no matter the quality of the signal you feed it, its audio is beefier than you'd expect, and its Internet and media-playback features are up there with the best in the business. Add in the reasonable asking price and you've got a great TV for any front room.
Edited by Charles Kloet