Flat HD fun

Despite not offering 3D pictures, Mark Craven finds a lot to like about Panasonic's newest LED TV

Ask any AV enthusiast to recommend a plasma TV and they’ll invariably mention Panasonic. The same isn’t always true of LED TVs, though – something the PDP giant will hope to change with its new 2011 range of LED sets.

Reviewed here is the TX-L42E30B, a standard (by that I mean non-3D) 42in LED model packed with features. These include USB HDD recording, Freeview HD tuner, DLNA certification and Panasonic’s Viera Connect internet portal. These slot into the spec sheet alongside picture-improving tech such as Intelligent Frame Creation and the Vreal Live processing engine.

The first thing I noticed when unboxing the TX-L42E30B (apart from the absence of 3D spex, which came as a bit of shock) is that Panasonic has crafted a TV that looks pretty even when it’s switched off. Other brands (Sony and Samsung spring to mind) have been doing this for years, but Panasonic has struggled to earn plaudits for basic design. This screen, however, is sleek and slim, with an attractive black bezel, and reassuring robust feel. It’ll look good in your living room.

Attaching the TX-L42E30B to its desktop stand is a pain-free exercise. Once done, you can hookup your components to its standard array of inputs (including four HDMIs) and get going.

Testing times

The good news is that Panasonic’s new LED endeavour stood up to a barrage of rigourous picture quality tests without much drama. For instance, in Cinema mode, with the ‘warm’ colour temperature preset, colours maintained a natural look, with subtle shades of difference particularly evident in greens, yellows and blues. Only bright reds became indistinguishable on a 16-step scale, but this seems to happen with every TV I clap my eyes on.

Similarly, the TX-L42E30B put up a decent fight with motion torture tests. Horizontal and vertical pans were handled fairly smoothly, and bringing in Intelligent Frame Creation in either of its two steps ironed out any wrinkles with little artefacting.

The edge LED lighting is nicely unobtrusive, too. I’ve seen a few screens where light pools from the edges of the panel can prove distracting, but even on a black screen, there’s little to infuriate. That is, however, if you are viewing the Panasonic square on. Drift off-axis and brighter patches become visible.

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What these PQ tests boil down to in real life is a rewarding hi-def experience. I spun up Toy Story 3 on Blu-ray and quickly settled in to the cinematic pictures. It’s a multicoloured movie, but the Panasonic TX-L42E30B delivers all its tones with a bright but untiring aplomb, while picking out the fine detailing embedded in Pixar’s gorgeous animation. And despite our Tech Labs measuring contrast levels as some way below the competition, I didn’t feel as if I was being robbed of any punch – and those who like things on the gaudy side can switch to the steroid-fuelled Dynamic mode. Switching to pictures from the Panasonic’s Freeview HD tuner, and quality naturally drops off, even with HD channels, but the performance is on a par with other sets and doesn’t have any major flaws. More annoying is the presence of adverts in the EPG. Is Panasonic really that desperate for money?

Chuck in some above average TV sonics from the 2 x 10W speakers and a lightning fast GUI and you have very efficient living room TV that bewitches with Blu-ray. AV addicts will want more in the way of picture tweaks, and gamers will turn their nose up at a non-3D set, but for some the TX-42LE30B will suit them fine.

HCC VERDICT

Highs: Blu-ray pictures; attractive design; fast, intuitive GUI; multimedia applications
Lows: Off-axis viewing reveals light pooling; no web browser
Performance: 4/5
Design: 4/5
Features: 4/5
Overall: 4.5

Specifications

Full HD: yes including 1080p/24
Tuner: yes Freeview HD
Component video: yes one input (rear)
HDMI/DVI: yes 4 v1.4 HDMI input (including 1 x ARC)
PC input: yes 1 D-Sub Resolution: 1,920 x 1,080
Sound: 2 x 10W Brightness (claimed): N/A
Contrast ratio: ‘High’
Dimensions (off stand): 1,002(w) x 611(h) x 75(d)mm
Weight (off stand): 15.5kg
Also featuring: Recording of Freeview to USB; DLNA certification; music, video and photo file playback from USB and SD card; Viera Connect portal; low power use