- Terrific bright pictures
- Sumptuous design
- Excellent multimedia features
- Distracting black level problems
- Touchpad remote is frustrating
- Review Price: £2500.00
- 55in LCD with edge LED lighting
- Active 3D support
- Viera Connect online functionality
- Dual-core processing
- Second, touch-pad remote
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.
Panasonic has got very savvy in recent years when it comes to providing you with lots of options for tweaking the way its TV pictures look, so it’s no surprise to find the L55WT50 offering such delights as colour management, gamma control, and lots of fine-tuning for its various picture processing elements – including Panasonic’s Intelligent Frame Creation (IFC) motion blur/judder reduction engine.
Double the fun
While on the subject of picture processing, it’s important to stress that the L55WT50 is powered by a dual-core processor, which should improve the speed and accuracy of its picture calculations. This processor also allows the L55WT50 to offer multi-tasking, whereby you can have open and switch quickly between as many as six different apps and online services. This might not sound much on paper, but in practice such multitasking has a pretty large impact on how often and how extensively you use the set’s multimedia features.
Something else we also found ourselves using a lot during our tests was the Viera TV control app for Android and Apple phones and tablets. This proves a fine way to handle web browsing and navigation and also, rather brilliantly, lets you ‘throw’ video content from your tablet to the TV or vice versa. For a full investigation of this revolutionary new control interface, check out our full review.
Much less brilliant is the second, touchpad-sporting remote control Panasonic ships with its WT50 TVs. The touchpad area is too small, and its round shape doesn’t tally logically with the shape of the screen you’re trying to navigate. Having to tap it to select an option feels weird and doesn’t work very well either. So let’s put that to one side and move swiftly on to the L55WT50’s pictures.
Which are at times outstanding. It was England/West Indies Test Match time when we tested this TV, and given how many hours we watched this for (!), it was great to see the screen serving up a scintillating combination with Sky’s HD feeds of high brightness, extremely dynamic colours, and very high levels of sharpness and detail.
Big is beautiful
Seeing all this writ as large as 55in did a great job of making us feel like we were at sun-drenched Trent Bridge rather than in fact being tucked away in our perpetually darkened test room.
The motion of the players and ball was well handled too, with minimal blur and no judder provided you handle the IFC system with care, not running it on its highest settings. The ball occasionally ghosted in and out a little as it raced off to the boundary, but overall the benefits of the processing outweighed the negatives.
While HD cricket is actually a fine demonstrator of many of a TV’s picture attributes, though, it doesn’t do much to further our understanding of black level abilities. Our flavour of the month right now for testing black levels is the final Harry Potter film, and actually some of the most taxing sequences in this extremely dark film did catch the L55WT50 out a bit.
This is a bit surprising, actually. Not necessarily because the L55WT50 is Panasonic’s flagship LCD TV; we’ve seen plenty of other supposedly fancy LCD TVs come a cropper while trying to show dark scenes convincingly too. But the L55WT50’s smaller sibling, the L42WT50, has already mostly impressed us with its dark scene handling, so we’d hoped for the same level of competency from this 55in model.
However, presumably on account of the tougher backlight demands of the larger screen, the L55WT50 sometimes gets into quite a bit of backlight trouble. Problem one is that without the ‘area dimming’ feature active, the set’s black level response really isn’t impressive at all, with dark scenes becoming largely obscured by quite strident grey clouding.
So you’re left with having to put the Area Dimming feature on. This certainly delivers a massive black level depth improvement, but comes with significant strings attached. For there’s no ignoring the fact that whenever a bright object appears against a predominantly dark background, that object is accompanied by a pretty clearly defined rectangle of extra brightness caused by the different brightness levels being applied to separate segments of the edge LED backlight array.
Source of distraction
This phenomenon did appear on the L42WT50 too, but it seems more obvious on the L55WT50 than it was on the smaller model. In fact, the problem can lead to dark scenes that contain a lot of action or camera pans looking really quite distractingly inconsistent, as large chunks of the picture change their overall brightness tone to ‘track’ the change in position of a relatively small bright moving object. This is tough to take when you think of the more or less perfect black levels delivered by Panasonic’s latest plasma TVs.
With these issues in mind, it’s frustrating that Panasonic hasn’t provided you with more control over the way both the area dimming function and the set’s backlight levels work. Most TVs with local dimming allow you to adjust the feature’s ‘potency’, but with the L55WT50 it’s either on or off, and that’s it. And surprisingly the L55WT50 doesn’t carry a backlight adjustment at all; you just get basic brightness and contrast tweaks.
It’s back to more positive territory with the L55WT50’s 3D talents. The natural dimming effect of the active shutter 3D glasses serves to reduce (though it has to be said, not fully remove) the visible impact of the backlight consistency problems we’ve just been talking about, while the set remains bright and colourful enough to still look punchy. Detail levels are high with full HD 3D sources too, not least because pictures are largely devoid of 3D’s crosstalk ghosting issue. All in all, the L55WT50‘s 3D pictures are very watchable indeed.
Got the angles covered
There’s more good news where input lag and viewing angles are concerned. Stick the set into its Game picture mode and you shouldn’t experience any lag higher than 40ms, which should leave your console-gaming skills unhindered. And since the L55WT50 uses one of Panasonic’s latest IPS Alpha LCD panel designs, you can watch it from quite a bit further down the sides before colour and contrast levels plummet than you can with most rival LCD TVs.
The L55WT50’s audio is about what we’d expect of a TV with so little bezel width and rear depth to play with. In other words, it’s rather average. There’s a decently open sense to the mid-range, and treble detailing is decently handled. But bass is in short supply, and as a result action scenes can sound a bit harsh when the going gets tough.
With bright, colourful material the L55WT50 is just peachy, producing flagship-standard pictures more or less as good as anything the LCD world has to offer right now – including Sony’s HX853 series. The L55WT50 also benefits from a good online service and some strong multimedia support.
However, it struggles at times to produce dark scenes with total conviction, and it’s also impossible to ignore the fact that at £2,500 it looks rather expensive versus the recently reviewed £1600 Sony 55HX853.
Score in detail
3D Quality 8
2D Quality 8
Sound Quality 7
|Max. Resolution||1920 x 1080|
|Full HD 1080p||Yes|
|Refresh Rate (Hertz)||1600Hz|
|Digital Audio Out||1 (optical)|