The new TV season is here. And for the first time in years, the first big-brand ‘new wave’ TV to hit our test benches doesn’t sport a Samsung badge. For once the Korean giant has been beaten out of the traps by Panasonic – a minor point on the surface, perhaps, but to us a potentially significant statement of intent from a brand that's looking increasingly bold and bullish.
The Panasonic TV in question is the TX-L42E6B. This 42-inch LCD model isn’t one of Panasonic’s new flagship models; in fact, it sits just below the middle of the brand’s 2013 range. However, it still packs serious design and feature punch, showing that Panasonic’s aggressive intentions this year aren’t going to be restricted to its premium TVs.
The L42E6 – as we’ll henceforth be calling it – really is quite the looker. For starters the frame is extraordinarily thin for a 42-inch TV costing under £800. We measured it at just 1cm, incorporating a couple of mm of black inner frame, and a silver outer frame. The combination of black and silver looks very stylish, too.
Also notable is how the bezel only widens a fraction along the bottom edge, where it’s joined by a centimetre or so of fetching see-through glass containing the power lights and a tiny Panasonic logo. Add in the fetching silver stand and it’s hard to believe that the stylish L42E6 sits more than halfway down Panasonic’s range.
The back of the L42E6 continues with the strikingly slim theme, yet also manages to provide a decent suite of connections. Three HDMIs get the ball rolling, but also critical given the multimedia age we’re now living in are its built-in Wi-Fi, LAN port and two USBs. These jacks permit playback of video, photo and music files from both USB storage devices and connected DLNA devices, and in addition you can also take the TV online with Panasonic’s revamped Viera Connect service.
The only aggravating thing about the L42E6’s connections is that many of them face directly out from the TV rather than being designed for flush-fitting side access. This could present you with a few problems if you’re intending to wall-mount the TV.
Firing the L42E6 up for the first time immediately presents you with a pleasant surprise. The menus used to guide you through setup are much more graphics-rich and generally attractive than anything Panasonic has done before. They also make getting your new TV onto your network pretty much as easy as it could be. And most importantly of all, they end up with a tutorial for Panasonic’s new ‘My Home Screen’ interface.
This new smart interface is so far advanced over anything Panasonic has delivered before, and so important a part of this year’s TV battleground, that we will be devoting a standalone review to it in the next day or two.
By way of an introduction though, My Home Screen essentially provides a series of pre-designed home screens, each based around different themes and offering instant access to different types of content and information. You can easily move at will between both the content windows on each home screen and all the different home screen options.
You can even build your own home screens from a range of supplied templates, populating them with your preferred apps. Multiple personalised screens can be created too, potentially allowing different members of your family to set up their own personal content screens.
The My Home Screen system looks great, is remarkably slick and quick, and best of all is actually, honest-to-goodness useful, managing to genuinely streamline access to preferred content while remaining blindingly easy to use.
So effective is My Home Screen, in fact, that it wouldn’t be a stretch to describe it as revolutionary in the way it finally integrates Smart functionality into a TV in a way that anyone – even the most extreme technophobes – can get to grips with. Other brands are trying similar things to My Home Screen this year, but they’ll have to go some distance if they’re going to rival the Panasonic approach for sheer simplicity and practicality.
Another key part of the L42E6’s latest interface is its enhanced co-operation with tablet computers and smart phones. Using the new, improved iOS/Android Viera Remote App you can cast images from your TV to your smart device or vice versa, or you can browse the TV’s listings or the web on your smart device without interrupting the TV. You can even use your smart device's touch screen for easier surfing of the TV's built-in Web browser, and much more besides.
If you're using one of Panasonic's high-end new LCD TVs – the WT65 or DT65 series – you can even watch a different channel on your smart device to what’s been shown on the TV, thanks to those TVs having twin tuners built in. Also new is the ‘two fingered swipe’, which allows you to save content stored on your smart device to any USB memory you’ve got attached to your TV.