Panasonic’s top of the range LED LCD TV – the Panasonic TX-L55WT50B 55-inch Smart Viera LED-backlit LCD TV to give its name the full dues – is one grand home cinema screen. And by grand we mean it looks a treat; price wise you’ll need to multiply that grand by almost three. The £2700 list price for the 55-inch version isn’t exactly easy on the wallet, but it is in line with its nearest competitors. So what do you get for the money and is this monolith-like screen worth it?
We like things to be that extra bit showy, hence selecting the largest WT50-series model to test. There are also 47-inch and 42-inch sizes that offer up the same technology as we’ll outline in this review, but at cut down sizes and, therefore, cost.
If you are going to go all out for that home cinema screen then the L55WT50B is certainly a way to do it in style. The screen is just shy of a true 55-inch diagonal, but only by 0.4-inches.
What’s most impressive about this beast is how much of the unit’s front is display – there’s a 10mm black bezel that surrounds the screen’s edge, topped with a silver edge that’s barely visible from front-on view, plus a slightly larger transparent extra to the screen’s base. But that’s it, it’s a very elegant set that really lets the picture dominate.
Despite the mammoth box that the set comes packaged in, the TX-L55WT50B is anything but wide - an advantage of the LED-backlight technology system. The screen itself is a mere 18mm deep, which tots up to approximately 27mm when including all of the extra equipment found on the unit’s rear.
A boomerang-shaped stand comes as standard and although it holds the screen steady we did find a fair bit of wobble when plugging various HDMI cables in and out.
There’s no shortage of connectivity either. Four HDMI 1.4 inputs, three USB ports, an SD card slot, a LAN port for wired connection and built-in Wi-Fi. There’s provision for both S-video and SCART devices via included adaptors too, so your Nintendo Wii can be dusted down and plugged in no problems. The only frustration of these is the SD card slot – getting the card back out again is a right fiddle.
But far from just being a series of inputs and outputs, the "Smart" aspect of this Viera set is an important factor. In this day and age TV has to be smarter to provide multiple ways of viewing content. And key to the LX-55WT50B’s is its Wi-Fi connectivity.
Install Panasonic’s Android app on a phone or tablet and it’s possible to swipe video, stills and websites over to the big screen. Literally, with the push of a finger.
It’s quite cool, though some may see it as a rarely used gimmick. There’s no W7 phone support and, furthermore, the Panasonic doesn’t have a desktop app able to stream media direct to the TV – as per the forthcoming Sony Bravia HX850. That’s not to say there isn’t media server and DLNA support, as there is, but we’d liked to have seen some further innovative use of this TV’s tech.
Streaming fans wired up to Netflix, Lovefilm or other services can easily access content through the TV’s menus without issue. A quick tap of the internet button on the remote opens a screen with various app widgets, with the likes of YouTube available.
Face-to-face banter via Skype is also possible, but it needn’t interrupt your viewing pleasure, thanks to the WT50’s dual core processing power the TV can display multiple images, rescaled to display simultaneously. The main image morphs into a slanted box out, met with a little pop-up in the corner to see your caller. Powerful stuff.
As well as the usual, "classic" remote control, the WT50 comes with an additional trackpad remote. It’s one of the features that separates this model from others in the series.
But far from feeling like a smartphone-inspired, Star Trek-esque responsive piece, it’s just a bit, well, needless. Its circular pad centre responds to swiping gestures; it begs to be used like iPods of old, but that’s not the case. Some people may love it - and it’s certainly a showy piece - but it doesn’t bring much to the party in our view.
Also packed into the box is not one, but two sets of 3D glasses. This is a key reason to buy this set instead of the Viera DT50 - the latter screen offers much the same picture quality, but without the 3D glasses included.
What about the picture?
Whether all the connectivity and control quirks suck you in or not, there’s no getting away from that fact that TVs are all about display. And when forking out more than three grand on a prime bit of kit, expectation is high. Good job then that the LX-55WT50B delivers aplenty in this department.
The depth to blacks is most impressive – it more or less matches the bezel surround, which makes for a seamless display from edge-to-edge of the screen. This is on account of the local dimming of the LED backlight that can control the image based on the content. There’s some slight excess dimming towards the screen edge, but for an IPS LED LCD panel this is impressive uniformity.
Although the spec sheet reads "1600Hz", the WT50 instead has a 200Hz native LCD panel with LED backlighting that flickers an additional eight times per second to give the impression of extra smooth motion. It’s how most TVs have been "upselling" themselves for years now.
There are pros and cons to this refresh rate: on the one hand it’s about as good as it gets for 3D playback where a high refresh is necessary to avoid stuttery, ghosted blur in movement and irritating crosstalk.
The LX-55WT50B performs well here. But when it comes to movies the 200Hz playback doesn’t divide equally by the 24p source material. The TV can adjust for the frame rate, but this can "smooth" movies into looking more like live action or what others describe as video-like (or "the soap opera effect").
We fired up a copy of last year’s hit Drive on Blu-ray and tinkered with the WT50’s "24p Smooth Film" mode. It works really well in playback, and whether you select off, min, med or max will depend on what footage you’re watching and how fazed you are by the effect. It’s decent performance, but diehard movie buffs may still prefer a traditional plasma screen, in particular on account of the cost of this Panasonic.
All in all, this large screen makes for impressive viewing whether in a dark room or with some daylight streaming in. Auto brightness adjustment will take care of the output, and those all-important blacks remain deep.
Sound as a pound
When it comes to sound the WT50’s output is good, but not spectacular. Proper movie buffs will invest in a decent surround system for the ultimate audio experience. A variety of surround sound options are available.
As well as on-board bass and treble adjustment, the WT50’s outage can be adjusted to optimise sound whether the TV is wall-mounted or further than 30cms from a surface. As with any speaker technology, there are limits to what can be achieved based on size and depth, though the WT50’s output is rounded and covers all the important ranges.
There’s a bit of a toss up between the WT50 and DT50 series. If 3D is your thing and you want two sets of 3D glasses included, the fancier stand and trackpad remote then the WT50 will be right up your street. But that does come at extra cost.
In this hotly contended category the likes of the Sony Bravia HX853, LG LM960V and Samsung ES8000 all fight for space - and the Panasonic nestles in among with the best of them. All these sets have their merits, for sure, but Panasonic has really delivered with this LED-backlit telly.
This is a darn good TV that not only looks great, but offers excellent picture quality with rich colours and deep blacks and there are bags of features to take advantage of. It’s fantastic, we love it, but it is unavoidably pricey - that's the price to pay for a 55-inch whopper.
UPDATE: 18 May 2012:
Panasonic contacted us about the WT50 series regarding its pricing in the UK. Due to a "guide price" on the official Panasonic eShop being far higher than the official launch retail price, we have amended our review. The official Panasonic Store quotes a £2699.99 price for the 55-inch version - we phoned them up to double check and you can do the same for yourself. As this cuts some £692 from our original citation, the WT50 is set to be far closer matched to its nearest competitors and its score has been adjusted accordingly. At least it's a lower price, it looks like the TV gods are shining down on home cinema fans...