As the first TV from Panasonic's 2012 range, the L42ET5 is nothing if not unexpected. As little as a year ago a passive 3D model from the brand would have been unthinkable, and the fact that the L42ET5 is an LED rather than plasma model is perhaps significant too, in that it introduces us to the idea that in 2012 Panasonic seems to be putting its LCD TVs on a more or less even footing with its plasma TVs for the first time.
Also a surprise for Panasonic is how attractive the L42ET5 looks. Design hasn't been a great area of success for the Japanese brand in recent years, but the L42ET5 is really quite pretty.
The L42ET5 offers some decent features for its money, too. For on top of the passive 3D tech, you get a full HD resolution, edge LED lighting, DLNA networking, USB file playback, and access to the latest version of Panasonic's mostly satisfying Viera Connect online platform.
Crucially the L42ET5 is a mostly good picture and sound performer too. Its 3D pictures are bright, colourful, full of depth, and very relaxing and natural to watch, while its HD 2D pictures are crisp, dynamic and bold.
Its standard definition pictures aren't the best, but provided you can stick with HD as much as possible (the set does have a Freeview HD tuner, after all) and don't mind a little lost resolution with your 3D pictures, the L42ET5 is an extremely enjoyable TV.
Unusually for a Panasonic TV the L42ET5 is a very attractive set, with a pretty but slender frame around its screen. There's also much to like about its Viera Connect online functionality, now that Panasonic has added more video streaming services and improved some aspects of its interface. The TV's 3D performance, meanwhile, is relaxing and engaging, and it's great to get four pairs of glasses included free. Finally, HD pictures are clean, sharp and dynamic.
The L42ET5's standard definition pictures are a little softer and noisier than they would ideally be. You can also sometimes see horizontal line structure over 3D images - especially if you're sat close to the screen - and crosstalk with 3D becomes excessive if your vertical viewing angle is more than around 13 degrees. Finally, a little more content on Viera Connect would be appreciated, and input lag might prove aggravating to serious gamers.
The L42ET5 is perhaps a rather strange choice as Panasonic's debut TV of 2012. But while it might not be very representative of where Panasonic's TV heart lies, it does establish that the brand is willing to think out of its comfort zone if commercial realities and consumer choice demand it.
What's more, the set has got a well developed and stable online service, and performs rather well for the majority of the time, combining a very watchable 3D performance with an impressive 2D HD experience.
Given that the TX-L42ET5 is built around an LG passive 3D panel, the most obvious alternative to it would be the equivalent model from LG's own passive 3D range. With LG's 2012 TVs still waiting in the wings, the closest current LG model would be the 42LW550T. This can now be found for under £600 if you shop around - a cool £150 cheaper than the best price currently available for the Panasonic L42ET5.
However, the Panasonic benefits from the latest generation of the brand's image processing and online capabilities, as well as looking prettier - advantages which potentially nullify the LG's age-based price advantage.
If you would prefer an active 3D option to the L42ET5's passive proposition, your best bet would probably be Toshiba's 46TL868. Despite costing under £600 from some online retailers, this offers a 46-inch screen to go with its active 3D talents, as well as a startlingly slim bezel that helps it fit into the sort of space normally occupied by 42-inch TVs.
Its 2D picture quality is very good considering the TV's price too, but there are compromises to be aware of. First, Toshiba's online services are pretty underwhelming versus those of Panasonic's new TVs. Second, you don't get any 3D glasses included for free with the 46TL868, with each pair you need costing £50-£60. Finally, while 3D pictures are exceptionally detailed and 'HD', they do suffer with quite a lot of crosstalk ghosting noise.
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