The Panasonic L42ET60 is ultimately a slightly frustrating TV. While in many ways its pictures are excellent, one flaw prevents us from being able to give it an unqualified recommendation - we'll get back to this in a moment.
Starting with the good stuff, bright, colourful content is among the most enjoyable and natural we’ve seen. Colours look dynamic and rich, but also exceptionally natural in terms of both their tones and the subtlety with which blends and tonal shifts are delivered. This subtlety has a particularly good effect on skin tones, which completely avoid the mannequin-like finish commonly seen on relatively affordable LCD TVs.
We were also impressed by the L42ET60’s approach to sharpness and detail. With HD content pictures look richly textured and crisp, but the TV shows a great understanding of where to stop where sharpness is concerned, never tipping over into making pictures look gritty and fizzy unless you foolishly ramp up the set’s sharpness setting too high.
This deft sense of the right balance between sharpness and noise is even apparent when watching standard definition sources, as the Panasonic L42ET60 delivers one of the cleanest upscaled pictures we’ve seen – even with very low-quality standard definition broadcasts.
Contributing yet another element to the L42ET60’s engaging naturalism is the set’s motion handling. That's because the native response time of its panel is good enough to present motion with impressively little resolution loss or blurring, even if you don’t have the motion processing circuitry in play. Plus, as noted earlier, if you do want to make motion even crisper, you can use the IFC processing on its lowest level without it causing unpleasant side effects.
It’s also great to find that you can watch the Panasonic L42ET60 from a slightly wider viewing angle than usual with LCD technology before colour saturations and contrast start to significantly reduce – something which makes it a better option than most for a typical family living room, where not all seats are right in front of the TV.
The screen also does a decent job of soaking up ambient light, and its brightness levels are pretty intense, ensuring that images remain eyecatching even in bright rooms.
So what’s the catch? When you switch away from bright, colourful footage of the sort that occupies the majority of the daytime TV schedules to something darker of the sort that crops up routinely in your average Blu-ray movie, you can’t help but notice that the Panasonic L42ET60’s contrast isn’t the best.
Turn off the adaptive contrast feature and dark scenes exhibit a grey overtone that stops black and dark colours from looking totally natural and causes some shadow detail to get misted out of the picture.
Turing the adaptive contrast system greatly improves the set’s black level response. But it also causes a few distracting brightness ‘steps’ as it responds to changes in the brightness of source content.
While this stops the L42ET60 from achieving a rich black colour that’s also stable, though, the set does deliver a slightly more immersive performance with dark scenes than the 55-inch Panasonic ET60 model we’ve tested previously, allowing us to nudge the L42ET60 into Recommended badge territory where the 55-inch model didn’t quite make it.