Yup, there’s no doubt about it: 2012 is definitely the year when Panasonic gets serious about LED TV.
We’ve already tested an aggressively priced Panasonic LED model (the L37E5) and a passive 3D Panasonic LED model (the L42ET5). Plus for the first time we know Panasonic is bringing in truly big-screen LED models, all the way up to a home cinema-friendly 55in.
And then there’s the Panasonic L42WT50. This 42in TV, perched glamorously on our test benches this very moment, belongs to Panasonic’s new flagship LED range. And it’s fair to say that it well and truly lives up to this elevated status in terms of both its looks and its features.
Aesthetically it’s a bolt from the blue. Gone are Panasonic’s traditionally rather dull, or at least conservative, looks. In is a stunningly slim bezel that looks for all the world like something you’d expect to (barely) see wrapped round one of Samsung or LG’s most stylish TV efforts.
What little there is of the bezel is very attractive too, its main centimetre or so of blackness offset beautifully by a silver outer trim and, along the bottom edge, a cutely illuminated Panasonic logo. Wrapping things up perfectly is a startlingly bold ‘boomerang’ stand design.
Once you’ve recovered from the shock of seeing Panasonic go design crazy, you’ll find that it has plenty of jacks to keep high-end users happy. These begin with the inevitable four HDMIs - all built, of course, to the 3D-friendly v1.4 standard.
But the set is also distinguished by its provision of three USBs, an SD card slot, Bluetooth support for keyboards and headphones or external speakers (though you can't deliver files from Bluetooth devices to the TV), a LAN port for wired connection to a router or DLNA PC, and finally built-in Wi-Fi.
Looking at some of these connections in more detail, the USBs can play a very satisfying range of video, music and photo files - as well as allowing you to record to USB HDD from the set’s two (Freeview and Freesat) integrated HD tuners. The SD card slot also permits recording, and will play back the same file types as the USB ports.
The Bluetooth support is, we believe, a first for Panasonic, and represents the first time we’ve seen this on a TV since it was experimented with a couple of generations ago by a few high-end LG TVs. As for the sort of DLNA and especially online features delivered by the LAN/Wi-Fi support, they’re bolstered significantly, as we’ll see presently, by the set’s use of a dual-core processing system.
The big ‘trick’ delivered by the dual-core processors is multi-tasking. For the first time on a Panasonic TV, you can truly do multiple things at once. For instance, you can Skype a friend at the same time you’re watching TV. Or you can have multiple apps open at once, so that a quick press of the Viera Tools button causes the corner of the screen you’re looking at to ‘fold up’ to reveal instant-access icons for the other apps you have open. Very nifty.
The dual-core processing should also prove handy when it comes to the TV’s video processing - indeed, it’s likely responsible for the extremely eye-catching claim by Panasonic that the set runs with a 1600Hz scanning rate. Closer examination reveals that this is actually - inevitably - not a true 1600Hz rate, but rather a native 200Hz scanning panel combined with a backlight that blinks eight times for every frame of the image. But it’s still an impressive number achieved by a clearly advanced edge LED lighting array.
There’s one further dual-core benefit worth mentioning too. Namely that it adds Flash support to the integrated web browser.