Product Type: Panasonic 3D LCD TV
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Far from perfect
Member Name: grahamt
Date: 02/01/12, updated on 03/01/12 (319 review reads)
Advantages: Great screen ; FreeviewHD enabled ; Full 1080p support
Disadvantages: Not user-friendly ; Poorly implemented additional features
So, it was time for a new TV and preferably one which had the best new features at the best price. Certain features were mandatory: a 40/42" screen; LCD rather than plasma screen; and LED back-lighting. The model I found, after consulting the Web regarding recommended ones, was the Panasonic TX-L42E31B, a 42" model. I got one at Comet for about £600.
Once I had got it home and unpacked, it was simply a matter of attaching the base and plugging in the various inputs, or so I thought, until I saw the remote control. Then I saw the User Manual, all 107 pages of it, and NO Quick Setup guide!
The TV has several inputs: a normal aerial input to feed the FreeviewHD tuner, an advance on the previous generation of SD standard only Freeview tuners; 4 HDMI ports; 1 SCART socket; 1 set of Composite Video sockets; 1 Pair of RCA Audio Input sockets; 1 PC Monitor socket; 3 USB 2.0 ports; 1 SD Card slot; and 1 Ethernet network connection port. Some of these are on the rear of the TV and some on the side, for ease of ad-hoc access. Plugging in the various connections was not so much of a problem; I already had a network port behind the TV for a small old laptop that I use as a media server, connected to the old TV's PC Monitor socket.
There are also output sockets: 1 Pair of RCA Audio Output sockets; and 1 SPDIF Optical Output socket. This latter is the one of interest to me as it enables me to connect the TV to a JVC Theatre Surround Sound 5.1 setup. However, the Panasonic, in this respect, is less friendly than the Samsung. The volume control, in both cases, has no effect on the sound output to the SPDIF port but at least with the Samsung you could mute the built-in speakers. With the Panasonic you can't even do that! You have to get around the problem by setting the default volume setting to zero instead. Not clever!
As with many manufacturers, they try to lock you in to their products by providing product-to-product interfaces that only work with their own products. In the case of Panasonic it's the Viera Link. No use to me as I have no other Panasonic products. So, controlling the sound still requires a separate remote.
Switching on for the first time you are taken through the usual Freeview channel search and setup. This is quite straight-forward of course, but takes quite a time. You also end up with more digital channels discovered as you also get the HD versions of the standard channels, such as BBC1 HD and ITV1 HD.
The picture quality is quite exceptional and is without doubt the primary feature of the TV. It is 1080p enabled, the highest quality currently available, and the difference between the SD and HD broadcasts of the Freeview channels is very noticeable: HD is visibly better, pretty well on a par with cable broadcasts such as Virgin Media, although the output from the standard V+ HDMI connection is actually the slightly lower quality 1080i.
However, switching the set off and on revealed another short-coming of the Panasonic: it doesn't remember what input you were last using but defaults always to DVB (Freeview) input. As we are cable customers, this means that every time we switch the TV back on (even from standby) we also have to push the AV button on the remote to switch the TV back to the alternative inputs.
The Wired Network input is interesting. The remote has a Viera Tools button and pressing this gives you access to other sources of media such as the Internet, if you have a broadband connection, and DLNA-enabled media servers on your own home network. The access does not work with non-DLNA network attached servers. Network attached Windows7 devices will work though, as Win7 comes DLNA enabled. There is no wireless network built in so if you only have wireless networking then you will have to purchase and connect a wireless network adapter.
I have a Synology NAS (Network Attached Storage) device, which is DLNA enabled. Switching on DLNA access, three new folders are created: video, photo and music. You have to move all of your videos, pictures and music to these folders for the TV to find them and enable you to access them through the TV as a media player. The video access if VERY fussy: I have been having great difficulty in finding a video format with which it is happy. Supposedly DiVX is supported so, in theory XViD should also be! Certainly is seems to complain about most AVI and MP4 format videos I threw at it!
The Viera Tools button also gives you access to music, photos and video from detachable devices such as USB storage thumb and other portable drives, and SD memory cards. Under this button you also find the Recorded TV facility. For this you need an external HDD device as there is no hard drive actually built into the TV itself. I was lucky to have an old Freecom 250GB drive that I had previously been using as a backup device, before I acquired my 750GB RAID5 Synology NAS and, before that, a Buffalo Technology 250GB NAS.
Connecting the hard drive via one of the USB ports, it is then formatted and enabled to store programmes recorded from the Freeview input. It will not record from any other input source. The drive format is not Windows compatible so you can't simply record something and then plug the drive into a Windows computer, in order to recover the recordings. Rumour has it that the TV runs a form of UNIX operating system called FreeBSD and that the drive format is UFS2.
Recording to the hard drive is simply a matter of either pressing the record button for an immediate recording or else selecting a programme from the TV Guide and then selecting to record to hard drive. At the appropriate time the recording will start. However, as the TV only has one tuner you can't watch another programme at the same time. You can, however, continue watching from another source, such as a set-top box connected to one of the HDMI ports.
However, a major drawback of the recorded TV facility is the way it is recorded and the way you can replay it. There is no real Fast Forward: the recording is split up into 5 minute "chapters" and the FF on the remote only takes you to he end of the current chapter. So, the maximum you can skip is 5 minutes, which means that trying to skip adverts is pretty much a hit-and-miss affair.
The other interesting source provided by the TV is Viera Connect. This is an Web service provided by Panasonic for customers. Confusingly, accessing this service requires you to press the remote control button marked Viera CAST, which was, apparently, the previous name for this service! Don't mistake this for a full Internet access service: the built in Web browser is very rudimentary and the Web sites accessible are very restricted.
Websites such as BBC News and BBC iPlayer are there. There are also selected YouTube videos. There is also the ability to connect to both your Facebook and Twitter accounts. However, remember that there is no keyboard for the TV so all access is limited to what you can do with the remote, which is not a lot. I have linked my Facebook account but the way it is presented here is less than ideal, so it's not something I would regularly use. I will use the BBC iPlayer service regularly though, despite its limited catalogue, as the Virgin Media Catchup on Demand BBC iPlayer service is so c**p. In fact, the VM On Demand service in general is c**p: I suspect a serious bottleneck problem on VM's On Demand servers as there is no problem with VM's live broadcasts.
So, what do we have to say about the Panasonic? Well, so long as you just want to use it for the basics, it will serve you well. It's major asset is the quality of the picture it provides, which is exceptionally good. Once you go beyond this though, the additional features begin to look very much an afterthought and not well thought out or implemented. The operation of these extra features is often complex and lacking in user-friendliness.
Two of the additional features, the ability to record to a hard drive and the network access are useful but could have been so much better. Certainly the limitations on the control over recording may be deliberate, so as to protect Panasonic's DVD recorder products. It's difficult to see why the network access, especially the Web access, couldn't have been better implemented, other than that they couldn't be bothered.
However, for the price I paid, it represents reasonable value for money. I just hope it lasts longer than the one it replaced but by then, I suppose, we'll be into 3D TV and Super HD, so yet another upgrade will be called for!
BTW, if you come across a TX-L42E30B model, it's exactly the same, with only styling differences.
Summary: LCD TV with a great screen but poorly implemented additional features and overly complex operation
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