Panasonic has got more serious about LCD technology this year than ever before, having shifted over to edge LED lighting. But it's also introduced a couple of 42-inch models that have the potential to threaten its own plasma market, which also start at 42-inches.
Can the Panasonic TX-L42E3B LCD TV come close to the impressive standards set by its plasma siblings?
There's nothing very original about it aesthetically, but its slender bezel and glossy finish are a step up from the brand's former affordable LCDs. Its connections are a bit of a downer, though; it only has three HDMIs when some rivals at this price level manage four.
But worse is its limited multimedia support. There's no USB port, and the provided LAN port is merely there to support a built-in Freeview HD tuner; it doesn't enable access to Panasonic's Viera Connect service or file streaming from a networked DLNA PC.
Thankfully, the L42E3B is saved from being a total multimedia washout by an SD card slot that enables you to play JPEG stills, video files or MP3s.
As it's a reasonably expensive TV, the L42E3B's lack of multimedia prowess leaves us looking to its other features and picture quality to justify its relative expense. But it doesn't do anything special in either department.
The onscreen menus, while prettier than last year's vintage, offer only one notable discovery in the form of a Resolution Enhancer you can use to improve the clarity and detail of standard-definition sources.
The screen itself is a straightforward 50Hz affair, with no significant motion processing around to reduce blur and/or judder. Surprisingly, the L42E3B doesn't benefit from Panasonic's IPS Alpha panel design, with its potentially wider viewing angles, either, even though other models in the series do!
Despite its startlingly basic specification, the L42E3B is a solid performer. One thing that stands out right away is the evenness of its backlight output, which presents dark scenes with precious little evidence of the clouding effect that upsets so many edge LED TVs. Black levels are comfortably deeper than those of the LG 42LV450U.
I also appreciated the L42E3B's approach to colours; the rather warm look to tones initially looks a bit strange, but grows on you over time, until eventually it feels more natural than the harsher palettes usually offered by most sets.
The L42E3B isn't without its problems, though. For instance, while black levels look deep, they lack shadow detail. Troubling, too, is a lack of sharpness when watching HD compared with the other TVs featured here.
Some of this is due to motion blur, and there's also more video noise than I would expect. The absent IPS Alpha panel means the L42E3B can't be comfortably watched from as wide an angle as many Panasonic LCD TVs too.
I can at least finish my tests on a high note – the L42E3B's audio is slightly richer and clearer than usual by edge LED TV standards. But I'm not sure that's enough to raise it above being merely average.
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