If you’d said to us a couple of years ago that a Panasonic range debutant would use passive rather than active 3D technology, and LCD tech rather than the brand’s beloved plasma, we’d have laughed in your face.
Yet here we are at the start of Panasonic’s 2012 TV launches with the Panasonic L42ET5 sat on our test benches: a 42in LED TV with passive 3D technology onboard. Wowza.
Basically, it would seem Panasonic has had to wake up and smell the coffee. For while plasma still has a well-deserved following, you just can’t deny the commercial reality that many people can’t think beyond LCD, even where large screen sizes are concerned. And while we have plenty of sympathy with qualitative arguments in favour of active 3D, there’s a large and entirely justified market for the simplicity, affordability and comfort of the passive 3D format.
Panasonic has even confessed to a technical/commercial reason for going the passive 3D route. Namely that it’s become increasingly convinced that you can’t do active 3D using a 100Hz panel (something borne out last year by Sony’s disastrous EX7 series). Which effectively means you can’t do active 3D on a really affordable LCD TV.
This explanation, or excuse, for going passive sounds a bit odd given that the Panasonic L42ET5’s spec sheet claims a "300Hz" system. But as with many such apparent fast refresh-rate claims, the reality is that the screen’s native refresh rate is 100Hz; the 300Hz bit comes from the way this combines with a blinking backlight.
We should add here that Panasonic hasn’t given up on its core values in any way. Far from it. It has an extensive and radically improved plasma range coming our way too, and the ET5 series is its only passive 3D offering, with multiple series of active 3D models elsewhere in the brand’s range. But it just so happens that the ET5 is the first new set to explode out of Panasonic’s warehouse, so let’s find out how this out-of-the-comfort-zone model shapes up.
It starts off very well, thanks to aesthetics that rank among the very best Panasonic has delivered. The smoky grey colour of the bezel makes a pleasant change, but this is given extra lustre by the application of a nice high-gloss finish that extends slightly beyond the main bezel to deliver a cool little transparent outer trim.
The set is surprisingly well connected, too. Particularly welcome is an integrated Wi-Fi system - though the set also has a wired LAN if you don't have a wireless system set up in your home. There are also four v1.4 HDMIs, a D-Sub PC port and a handy trio of USB ports through which you can play a fairly good selection of video, music and photo formats. These include JPEG, MP3, .mov, .qt, .divx, .avi, .mkv. wmv, .m4a and most MPEG-related file types.
It’s worth adding, too, that the L42ET5 has an SD slot, so you can play the same multimedia files from SD cards if you prefer these to USB storage devices. And still more good multimedia news finds the Panasonic L42ET5 able to stream files from networked DLNA PCs.
All this and we haven’t considered yet possibly the most key component of the L42ET5’s multimedia functionality: its Viera Connect platform. For the first time with a Panasonic TV, this includes a (rather hidden away, slightly buggy but well presented) Web browser rather than just restricting you to Panasonic’s ‘walled garden’ of content.