Panasonic’s new pragmatic approach to the TV world has lead to two startling developments for its 2012 range. First, the brand has introduced its first passive 3D TVs. And second, it’s finally bitten the bullet and afforded its LCD TVs pretty much the same ‘serious’ status that it’s long given to its plasma TVs.
The ultimate proof of this latter change in policy is the L55WT50. This 55in TV sits at the very top of Panasonic’s latest LCD TV mountain, sporting exactly the super-model looks and premium features such an ambitious (and expensive) TV needs.
Designed for life
The design reflects Panasonic’s new ‘Glass and Metal’ philosophy, which is to say that it’s chiefly made of, well, glass and metal. Not that you see very much of either, though, for easily the most striking thing about its design is how incredibly slender its bezel is. With only just over 1cm of frame around the 55in screen, it’s up there in style terms with the latest efforts of LG and Samsung. Gorgeous.
Its connections are fully up to speed with flagship requirements, meanwhile. As well as four HDMIs you get three USBs for both playing back multimedia files and recording from the TV’s built-in digital tuners - plus there’s an SD card slot as an alternative to the USBs. There’s built-in Wi-Fi too as a likely more convenient alternative to the set’s LAN port, with both these latter connection options enabling streaming from either connected DLNA PCs or Panasonic’s Viera Connect online service.
The L55WT50 proves able to play a wider range of file types than many previous Panasonic TV generations, and Viera Connect is growing nicely, as we’ll find a bit later. It’s important to stress, too, that the L55WT50 doesn’t just have a Freeview HD tuner like most of today’s TVs; it’s also equipped with Freesat HD. This is less of a deal now than it was a year or two ago when Freeview HD coverage was very limited. But it’s still nice to know that Panasonic has got the back of anyone unlucky - or lucky! - enough to be living in sufficient of a rural backwater that they still can’t get a clean Freeview signal.
Viera Connect is slowly but surely growing into a very satisfactory online presence. Panasonic has added Netflix and Fetch TV among other things to its online service, which joins the likes of the BBC iPlayer, Acetrax and Eurosport among the video streaming options.
Panasonic has also gone more of a bundle on serious, console-like video games than any other online TV platform, as well as providing Skype support (via an optional extra camera) and the most fully developed online TV market place in town, complete with hardware accessory sales as well as extra paid-for apps.
The interface for the market is excellent too, combining graphics and photos with a well-considered lay out and thoughtful search facilities. With Disney Books and Myspace features incoming for Viera Connect this year, our only major complaints with the service right now would be a) that the main content menus are rather cumbersome, requiring too much delving through multiple layers of icons, and b) that as yet there’s no LoveFilm support.
The edge LED system illuminating the L55WT50’s pictures can be driven by a local dimming system to boost its black level performance. These sort of systems can be problematic on account of their tendency to cause visible ‘blocks’ of extra brightness around very bright objects. But with the Sony 55HX853 and especially 46HX853 models recently rewriting the edge LED local dimming rule book, we’re hopeful that Panasonic can deliver similar skills with the L55WT50.