Class-leading quality from off-angle can't excuse the expensive Panasonic TC-LWT50's disappointing picture when seen from the sweet spot.
As the third and most expensive Panasonic LED TV CNET has reviewed this year, the TC-L47WT50 faced high expectations. They went mostly unfulfilled. Like its brethren, this television delivered picture quality a notch or three below what competing LED TVs can muster, and so far behind Panasonic's plasmas that it's almost a joke.
The WT50 does have one plasmalike saving grace -- superb fidelity when seen from positions outside the sweet spot directly in front of the TV -- but that isn't enough to overcome its flaws. When you consider its high price, Panasonic's WT50 joins the ranks of flagship LED TVs that simply aren't worth the money.
The WT50 is one of the nicest-looking TVs on the market, falling just shy of Samsung's UNES8000 and LG's LM9600, both of which scored a 10 in Design. The WT50 earns its 9 in part with a vanishingly thin black bezel edged in silver.
The WT50 comes with two remotes: the standard clicker that comes with models like the DT50 and a little puck with a thumb touch pad just like a laptop computer's. Unlike the touch remote included with Samsung's high-end TVs, this one's actually as responsive as I'd expect from a modern touch pad, making it fun to use in many circumstances.
The touch-pad remote was at its best zooming through groups of thumbnails on the Netflix and Vudu apps; for browsing the Web, while better overall than the standard remote, it has its issues. It's Bluetooth instead of infrared, so it doesn't need a line of sight to operate.
Last year I ranked Panasonic's Smart TV interface, called Viera Cast, highest for its simple layout and ease of use. The company didn't change much beyond the name -- it's now Viera Connect -- for 2012
Navigation and app launching were a bit faster than on the ST50 plasma, likely thanks to the dual-core processor, but once I was within an app I didn't notice any differences in reaction time. The WT50 also gets "multitasking"; when I hit the tools key a virtual page flips up to reveal the most recently used apps, providing quick access.
Panasonic's content selection is top-notch since it added Vudu, although I'd like to see a dedicated 3D app like the ones LG and Samsung offer. There's a new-ish Social Networking app that lets you combine live TV, Twitter, and Facebook on the same page. Audio apps include Pandora, Shoutcast, and a karaoke app as well as a new addition, Rhapsody, which should be a boon to subscribers of that service.
The Web browser is almost as good as the ones on Samsung and LG TVs as long as you use the touch-pad remote, but that's not saying much since no TV browser can hold a candle to any phone, tablet, or laptop browser. Clicking over to CNET.com, I found I couldn't navigate down the page until it finished loading, which took forever (about a minute). I tried to scroll down by moving the cursor to the bottom of the page but it wouldn't respond. Instead I had to use the scroll bar on the far right.
Entering text via the onscreen keyboard, a painful necessity, was actually much easier via the standard remote since the touch clicker has a tendency to overshoot, and the lack of autofill is incredibly annoying. Load times were hit or miss -- mostly miss.
Viera Connect has more advertising than other TV makers' smart TV systems. The TV actually shows you a banner ad when you first power up. It popped up and lasted only about 3 seconds, but it was still annoying. Here's how to disable it. Like many TV makers, Panasonic also reserves a spot on the Smart TV home page for an ad, and there's no way to remove it.
Both the Cinema and Custom modes offer niceties like a color management system, selectable gamma (no 10-point gamma like the VT50 however), and a multipoint grayscale control (although it's a weird 7-point system, not the standard 10).
All told the WT50's image quality is significantly worse than you might expect from a high-end LED TV. The TV's depth of black is worse than a few mid- and entry-level models we've tested, color is inaccurate, and there's no way to fix it because the controls don't work properly. I appreciated the excellent screen uniformity, highlighted by best-in-class off-angle fidelity, but it's not nearly enough to overcome the WT50's faults.