Review: Panasonic Viera TH-L42E6D LED TV
Stellar picture quality marred by horrendously slow and clunky smart TV experience.
Great black detail; excellent usable contrast; accurate colour reproduction; good build quality.
Horrid Smart TV component; volume is too low; screen is susceptible to glare.
Panasonic Viera TH-L42E6D LED TV
MRP: Rs 65,000
Like all good things in life, the plasma TV is on the decline. Which means, predominantly plasma centric manufacturers such as Panasonic have been forced to shift strategic focus to the lesser LED-backlit LCD technology. From where I see it, this lack of consumer appreciation for a panel technology offering superior picture quality has been a sobering experience for the manufacturer. It's little wonder why picture quality hasn't been the prime focus Panasonic in its 2013 line-up of Viera LED TV range. The Panasonic Viera TH-L42E6D LED TV that has arrived to the TechTree Labs for review instead relies on its extensive smart TV features as its USP.
Design and Build Quality
Priced at an MRP of Rs 65,000, the 42” TV is being sold on various websites for a discount of around Rs 8,000 to 12,000 at the moment. The good thing is that Viera indeed appears worth every bit of the price it seeks. The slim silver bezel when juxtaposed with the rich black panel looks absolutely gorgeous. The all-silver stand, however, looks and feels too plasticky for its own good. The huge rectangular dimensions and the over-abundance of the silver motif not only looks gaudy, but it's also at odds with the minimalist design of the tastefully done bezel.
I won't complain much, though, since the stand is quite sturdy and more resistant to wobbles than anything at this price range. This isn't a coincidence because Panasonic seems to have taken great care in selecting high-quality materials for the construction. The back panel, for example, is comprised of metal—and not plastic like most of its similarly priced alternatives. It's constructed from a material bearing a reassuringly high gauge steel that lends the whole TV a pleasing heft. The plastic used on the bezel too is top notch.
The only sore point in our review sample is the uneven panel gap at one corner of the bezel. I believe it's more a case of transit damage than any deficiency in build quality. With a thickness of 2.3 cm for the panel and 3.6 cm for the entire TV sans the stand, of course, the Panasonic Viera isn't exactly the slimmest television around. Nevertheless, these dimensions, when combined with a clever two-tone silver/black finish, make the TV look optically slimmer than it really is. At the end of the day, that's what matters to be honest.
The front is deliberately minimalist, with absolutely no intrusion in the form of a button or even a visual/design aberration for that matter. The thin silver bezel is only interrupted by a transparent plastic strip at the bottom that completes the illusion of a floating Panasonic logo while additionally bearing status LEDs for Power as well as remote input. Full marks to Panasonic for incorporating these elements without detracting from its minimal design theme. The 42” Viera LED TV is indeed a good looking piece of equipment.
The rear panel is uncomplicated with physical buttons for navigation and basic operation on one side, while the other side being populated with various connectivity options. Speaking of which, the TV sports three HDMI ports. That, I'm sorry to say, is the absolute bare minimum one expects at this price range. This should cover your set-top satellite TV box, console, and Blu-ray player. However, if you also own an AV receiver and dedicated external media player, or wish to hook up a PC as well, you are better off considering something else. That is unless, of course, you fancy taking the TV off the wall mount to swap cables each time you want to power one of your other HDMI-powered devices.
Speaking of wall mounts, the Viera doesn't play well with those at all. Mind you, it does come with requisite provision, but all the digital and analogue video input ports have been placed perpendicularly along the rear panel. The abject absence of even a single HDMI port along the sides is a major lack of foresight on Panasonic's part. The remote controller, fortunately, is a welcome respite thanks to its sufficiently large buttons bearing varied shapes and sizes for intuitive control.
Picture Quality: Out of the Box
Now that we know the Panasonic Viera looks great, but what about the performance? For that purpose, I ran it through my battery of test images to gauge everything from the ability to sustain high brightness levels without affecting the purity of blacks to the amount of contrast it can manage without compromising details within the white saturation gradient. The results look quite good, to be honest. The TV performs brilliantly on the colour gradient swatch, with a good degree of differentiation achieved even at the extremes of the hard-to-render blue and red gradients.
The quality of blacks is impressive at the default level. The TV could render all the black swatches except for the first level. In layman's terms, that translates into detailed dark scenes in movies, with minimal black crush. Minimal because, let's face it, there's bound to be some of it evident with LCD technology. TV could render maximum detail in the white saturation test with the contrast dialled down to 99%. That's pretty impressive, because that essentially means the Viera delivers the best performance at nearly the full extent of its contrast ratio. To put this into perspective, other TVs have to dial down the contrast substantially to achieve the same degree of detail. The Panasonic Viera TV therefore has more usable contrast than most TVs.
The sharpness levels are perfect once you turn the setting down to zero. The gamma levels too are spot on, with just a hint of aberration at the gamma gradient at 48% luminance level. However, this is something that isn't apparent to the naked eye during normal viewing conditions. The gamma levels appeared just right in the rest of my test images, though. The greyscale gradient, however, reveals that the TV bears a 6-bit panel that employs either FRC (Frame Rate Control) or some other manner of dithering to achieve the full 16.7 million colour palette.
The viewing angles are average, with some amount of gamma shift evident once you move out of the sweet spot. However, this isn't really conspicuous during regular viewing. Having said that, I noticed quite a bit of colour shift when I viewed the TV from acute angles. This compounded by the glossy screen that tends to reflect a lot of ambient light. Placing this TV away from direct sources of glare is important for fatigue-free viewing. On the bright side, a glossy screen generally translates into vibrant colours that pop effortlessly.
Picture Quality: Calibrated
Surprisingly, the TV achieves all this performance right out of the box with just a minor tweaking with the settings, which involves turning off all comb filters and other image optimisation bullshit. When I put the Panasonic Viera LED TV through the paces with Datacolor's Spyder colorimeter, the results I was pleasantly taken aback by the results. I knew that the TV rendered a stable and colour accurate image, but I realised the true extent of its accuracy once I was done calibrating it with the colorimeter.
Usually, the calibration achieves a significant improvement over your average TV's existing picture quality. The Panasonic Viera, however, isn't your average television set. Post calibration, I was shocked to see the same excellent white and black level reproduction, with virtually no difference to the colours either. A back-to-back comparison of the calibrated and uncalibrated picture quality revealed how little the picture quality had changed. This is great because a TV that's near perfect out of the box means a uniformly good picture quality across different devices, and not just on the PC bearing a calibrated colour profile.
So far we have established that—as long as you don't sit too far away from the sweet spot—this panel is exceedingly brilliant at rendering blacks as well as whites, while delivering great colour reproduction to boot. Let's see how all of this translates into real-world performance, if at all.
Subjective Blu-ray Tests
If you have been reading my TV reviews, you probably know this is where I pull out the favourites from my Blu-ray test suite. The Shaun of the Dead Blu-ray underscored the excellent colour capability of the Viera TV. The skin tones were spot on, while also delivering the right amount of saturation that makes the image appear vibrant without being gaudy. The level of detail scrounged up by the TV was also quite impressive.
The Descent and Pandorum Blu-rays are my go-to reference for black detail. Both movies showcased the panel's ability to reproduce a respectable amount of greyscale information, with little to no black crush. I have seen better performance at this price, but none of the LED panels of that calibre cost anywhere as cheap as this.
Both Doomsday and Suck Blu-rays impressed with their sharp images and excellent detail levels, right down to the fine film grain evident on both transfers. Doomsday's subdued colours and darker scenes was faithfully reproduced by the colour accurate panel, whereas the high contrast imagery found in Suck was handled with aplomb thanks to the excellent contrast ratio afforded by the TV. My only complaint during the movie playback was the fact that the Panasonic Viera's sound output is quite feeble even at the max volume. While I don't have any beef with the company choosing Sachin Tendulkar as the brand ambassador, I would have preferred it if the TV didn't sound like him.
The Smart TV Component
This level of performance is quite staggering considering that Panasonic itself told TechTree that the 2013 range of TVs focused more on the smart TV and convergence aspect than picture quality. So what happens to the aspect where the manufacturer really put its heart and soul into?
Well, after witnessing the sorry state of the smart TV component, I'm just glad Panasonic didn't focus on the picture quality front. To put that into perspective, imagine the movie 127 Hours running for those many hours featuring nothing but footage of Aaron Ralston amputating his right forearm with a dull knife. That's how excruciating the smart TV interface is. I mean, I would much sooner saw my limbs off than endure its horrid sluggishness.
Mind you, this isn't an issue with the more expensive Viera smart TV variants. Their hardware capability is sufficient enough to handle the graphics-heavy GUI of the Smart TV interface. Now, I can understand when a manufacturer nerfs hardware and processing power in cheaper smart TV models for obvious reasons. However, if it plans to sell a smart TV at all, I expect these features to be at least usable, if not downright spectacular. The Viera TV doesn't fit in either categories, mainly because it's just plain disappointing.
Even though none of the Smart TVs in this price bracket offer specialised remote controllers, their complicated interfaces require all the help you can get from touchpads and motion controls. The lack of the same when combined with the glacial pace at which inputs are processed, makes navigation absolutely dreadful. Searching for videos on the YouTube app using sadistic on-screen keyboard that lays out the entire English alphabet in a single row is the the very epitome of torture. The least Panasonic could have done is optimise the interface to cope with the low-powered hardware and without a smart remote.
The social networking apps such as Facebook and Twitter are equally clunky and slow. They are unwieldy and unappealing enough for most users to just switch over to their smartphones or PCs instead. The TV is installed with local Indian apps across categories such as news, entertainment, travel, sports, matrimonials and more, but they all share the same fate as the lacklustre social networking and YouTube apps. The Viera Connect marketplace is Panasonic's very own app store for downloading more apps; just in case you're feeling particularly masochistic.
There are plenty of interesting additions such as the Viera Remote app that turns your Android/iOS smartphone or tablet into a second screen that you can either push video, picture, and website content to the TV or pull the same onto the mobile device. You can even use the app to control your TV, but all of that gets old real soon. Especially with an interface that's this sluggish.
Summing up the Panasonic Viera TV is both easy and difficult at the same time. There's no doubt that, in terms of picture quality, the panel is amongst the finest you can buy at this price. The TV looks gorgeous to boot. Based on those virtues alone, this TV comes highly recommended. However, someone who's paying a premium of Rs 5,000-10,000 for a smart TV, deserves to get at least a decent convergence experience entailed by the technology.
When you consider it as a smart TV, just as it is advertised, I will humbly submit that you are better off with more user friendly alternatives from LG. However, if you are open to drop the smart TV pretence and seek a TV for its picture quality alone, you can't go wrong with this one.
Design and Build Quality: 3.5/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5
Overall Rating: 3.5/5