Panasonic Viera TX-L47ET50B

When is a 3DTV not a 3DTV? Panasonic’s biggest-ever attempt at an Edge LED television here includes the pricier, sharper Active Shutter flavour of the technology, but the box is bereft of any glasses.

If Panasonic’s choice of LED over plasma is unusual at this 47-inch size, so is its inclusion of the more expensive (glasses cost at least £50 each) 3D system over the cheaper "passive" workaround used by the likes of LG and Toshiba.

It's becoming increasingly obvious that passive 3D is best suited to living rooms, while active shutter belongs in home cinemas, partly because of the reflections of ambient light that can appear in active shutter glasses. All of which makes the L47ET50B's use of active shutter 3D tech a little confusing, since it firmly belongs in a living room setting.

It’s Freeview HD tuner, online goodies and – most of all – it’s distinct lack of convincing black levels make us sure of that. Has Panasonic got it wrong? Possibly; we wouldn't be surprised if this is the last year that active shutter 3D tech is used on anything other than 50-inch+ plasmas designed for home cinemas, of which Panasonic is the undoubted king.

Ins and outs

Fitted with Panasonic’s slinky new "Crystal Frame" design, the L47ET50B is heaped with ins and outs, two of which - Scart and component video - use proprietary adaptors to maintain its 36mm-deep chassis.

As well as four HDMI inputs, there are three USB slots high up on the TV’s side, which is comprehensive though can be inconvenient. Most compact HDD devices have cables much shorter than the drop from these USB slots to the bottom of the TV, though anyone using a USB thumbdrive for making recordings from the single Freeview HD tuner – and more likely feeding the pause/rewind live TV feature – will have no problems.

One of those USB inputs is powered, so can recharge 3D glasses, though Panasonic’s latest £50 TYER3D4ME "eyewear", though slim and lovely with all the electronics built into the bridge between the eyes, are expensive relative to £1 passive 3D specs.

VIERA Connect

It's fair to stay that Panasonic has yet to conquer the smart TV environment, though VIERA Connect is at last becoming genuinely useful as well as good-looking. Some users won't like the need to scroll through several different screens to get to the exact app required, but we think the gorgeous, spacious design is worth the extra effort.

Refreshed for 2012 and now sporting Skype, BBC iPlayer and Netflix as well as some other newcomers, VIERA Connect is a smart TV interface on the move. Fed by built-in Wi-Fi on the TX-L47ET50B, it at last includes a dedicated web browser, though only if you go hunting for it on VIERA Connect’s Marketplace area. We're still not sure that idea has a place on a TV when most of us are packing smartphones.

Networking

As usual on most TVs, the L42ET50B makes a stab at wireless networking and digital file support, but can only be said to cover the basics. From a docked USB thumbdrive, we managed to play only AVC HD, AVI and MKV video files, though that will be enough for most users. Photos, which are limited to JPEG, and treated identically to video in that they're displayed in a fullscreen grid of thumbnails, though video thumbnails are only visible once they've been accessed and played.

Music over USB is more impressive, with lossless FLAC files supported as well as MP3, though arguably it's the WAV format that's more common in the world of lossless CD rips and downloads.

Linking to a Mac running Twonkymedia we managed to stream only MOV, MP4, AVC HD and AVI video, JPEG photos and MP3 and FLAC music. Why the difference?

2D & 3D Picture quality

With HD sources the picture is incredibly detailed, crisp, and reasonably bright throughout our test, though deactivate the C.A.T.S (Contrast Automatic Tracking System – it detects ambient light levels and adjust the backlight to maximise contrast) feature and the picture gets decidedly darker.

It’s not a feature if you watch from the wings, though – this telly has a viewing angle that’s far too narrow given that it’s largely going to be bought for mass-viewing in a big room. During a walk down a dark underground tunnel on The Tube, we noticed some LED clusters around the top of the panel spilling light, as well as from one of the corners, but we’ve seen a lot, lot worse than this on other edge LED-backlit TVs.

Still, native contrast lends blocks of black a blue-ish hue, and standard definition fare just doesn’t size-up well on this bigscreen, with lots of visible artefacts in the low bitrate broadcasts. Thankfully the L47ET50B comes armed with a Freeview HD tuner, but the same problems exist on upscaled DVDs and especially app-based video. Stuff streamed from BBC iPlayer looks awful, though colours sparkle across the board.

In a good, though not faultless performance we end on a high with a 3D run-through of Legends of Flight. Big enough to really show-off the format, 3D images here look precise and powerful through a pair of the TYER3D4ME specs, with the sheer amount of detail and smoothness showcasing what the L47ET50B is really capable of. There is the odd visible flicker and a modicum of crosstalk around fast moving objects – in this case wing tips – but that’s more than made up for by the sheer immersion on offer by the L47ET50B’s huge screen.

The 3D effect – though impressive – is subject to the usual caveats that both the format and LCD panel tech bring. As a surfer rides a wave towards the camera in Ultimate Wave Tahiti, the 3D effect is good until he gets too close; the resulting wall of water that hits the lens is utterly confusing since our eyes have no idea where to focus at such short notice.

It’s far easier on the eye when things slow down. Some stop motion photography of a weather system moving down a canyon is sublime, with plants in the foreground fluttering and an awesome 3D depth created. For those not after 3D at all, but stuck on LED-backlighting, consider the entry-level E5 Series, which numbers the 32-inch TX-L32E5B, 37-inch TX-L37E5B, 42-inch TX-L42E5B and 47-inch TX-L47E5B.

Verdict

Great 3D and an enticing VIERA Connect smart TV platform that’s easily the best looking around make this a great option for a family room. There is some bad stuff, though, with a poor viewing angle and low native contrast levels – and it only performs anywhere near its best with hi-def sources.