Panasonic TX-L42ET5B review

It's passive 3D, it's LCD, but it's still Panasonic

Panasonic TX-L42ET5B
Panasonic's first passive 3D TV is a big slice of humble pie, but one with rather good picture quality

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Panasonic TX-L42ET5B

For those of you who skipped the intro to this review (!), the single most important thing you need to know about the L42ET5 is that it uses passive 3D technology - a result in part of Panasonic apparently deciding that you just can't get a great active 3D performance out of a cheap, 100Hz LCD panel.

But also, while Panasonic might be understandably reluctant to admit it, cheapness isn't the only reason it's worthwhile having a passive 3D TV in your range. For the L42ET5 will surely also deliver on passive 3D's 'comfort' advantages.

These include being able to wear lighter-weight glasses; not having your eyes fatigued by the shuttering effect of active 3D glasses; not having to watch in near-darkness to minimise the 'flickering' issue you can get with active shutter technology; not having the picture's brightness and colour response as heavily affected by the glasses as they are with active 3D tech; suffering less crosstalk (double ghosting noise) than the majority of active 3D TVs; and finally not having to spend lots of extra cash on securing however many pairs of active shutter glasses you might need (as noted in the introduction, the L42ET5 ships with four pairs of passive 3D glasses included for free).

However, the L42ET5 will also, presumably, suffer with passive 3D's disadvantages. Namely the potential for visible horizontal line structure over 3D and even, occasionally, 2D images; a slightly softer look to HD 3D material; and the sudden appearance of scary amounts of crosstalk if you have to watch from an angle of more than 13 degrees above or below the screen.

Overall, though, there's no question that passives advantages are a strong draw to a certain, potentially large portion of the relatively casual TV marketplace. And experience with last year's passive 3D screens from LG would suggest that the L42ET5's 42-inch size is particularly well-suited to the passive format.

It probably hasn't escaped your notice that LG's name has cropped up a few times already in this review of a Panasonic TV. And we're going to do it again, as the panel at the heart of the L42ET5 is sourced from the Korean brand. Panasonic is not making its own passive 3D tech from scratch.

That said, the L42ET5 certainly tries hard to forge its own, Panasonic-inspired identity. This begins with its looks, which combine a grey, glass-finished bezel with a transparent outer trim to very attractive effect. In fact, the L42ET5 is arguably the best-looking flat TV Panasonic has ever launched.

Looking for other attractions of the L42ET5, it's well connected for an entry level 3D TV too. It's got four HDMIs for starters, but it's also a fount of multimedia support thanks to three USBs, a LAN port and, best of all, built-in Wi-Fi.

The USB ports support playback of a pretty good selection of music, video and photo file formats, and the TV can also be jacked into your network for streaming files off DLNA PCs. This being a Panasonic TV, there's additionally an SD card slot you can use for playing files directly off or for storing apps you download from Panasonic's app 'market'. More on this in a moment.

Heading into the L42ET5's menus, it's immediately clear that while the core panel might be from LG, everything else is Panasonic through and through. Highlight features include a colour management system that allows you to adjust the gain and 'cut off' of the red green and blue colour elements; five different gamma presets; optional noise reduction; and multiple 'strength' settings for Panasonic's proprietary Intelligent Frame Creation motion enhancement processing.

It's worth covering briefly the 300Hz claims made for the L42ET5's pictures - especially as these appear to fly in the face of the 'passive 3D is best on 100Hz TVs' issue discussed earlier. The reality, as with many other cheap TVs claiming very fast refresh rates, is that the '300Hz' figure is actually arrived at by combining a native 100Hz panel refresh rate with a four-times-per-second blinking backlight.

Viera Connect

The last big feature to focus on is Panasonic's latest Viera Connect online service. After a slow start this started to show real signs of improvement towards the end of 2011, and for the most part the L42ET5 shows that Panasonic is continuing to move in the right direction.

For instance, the platform now features quite a few more video streaming sources, as the likes of AceTrax and the BBC iPlayer are joined by FetchTV, BBC News, Euronews, CNBC Real Time, iConcerts and, most importantly, NetFlix. It has to be said, though, that the appearance of this big new kid on the video streaming block does make the lack of Lovefilm on Viera Connect look very odd. Especially given that some of the new services - including Fetch TV - really don't have much quality content to their name right now.

Other notable services among the L42ET5's pre-installed apps are Skype (though you'll need to add an optional camera), Twitter, YouTube and Daily Motion.

Viera Connect Market

You can also access more apps - as well as accessory hardware like keyboards, joysticks and (ironically) active 3D glasses - from Panasonic's Viera Connect Market. It's well worth looking through these 'optional' apps, actually, for there are some decent findings among them. Indeed, at the time of writing you had to track down (in the 'News' app category!) the TV's Web browser and manually install it before you can access the open Internet from the L42ET5.

Also in the market are apps for iFit and Withings, the former of which allows the TV to sync with iFit devices, while the latter allows you to feed your weight to the TV from special Wi-Fi Withings scales. More fitness applications are incoming too, such as being able to use Panasonic's latest TVs in conjunction with an optional extra treadmill that can co-ordinate with Google Earth so that you can jog down virtual streets anywhere in the world.

Panasonic is promising Disney books and MySpace for later in the year too. And actually, these future services can't come soon enough really. For while much of the content on Viera Connect is of a respectable quality, a bit more of it would certainly be nice.

It's worth adding, moreover, that the ET5 series doesn't enjoy the dual-core processors found on Panasonic's flagship TVs for 2012, meaning the set won't support app multi-tasking.

John Archer
AV Technology Contributor

John has been writing about home entertainment technology for more than two decades - an especially impressive feat considering he still claims to only be 35 years old (yeah, right). In that time he’s reviewed hundreds if not thousands of TVs, projectors and speakers, and spent frankly far too long sitting by himself in a dark room.