This is the first TV that CNET UK has had in from Panasonic's new 2012 range. The biggest surprise is that it usestechnology the company was pushing so hard last year.
Once upon a time, Panasonic used to claim that only plasma TVs could deliver satisfying 3D. Then it decided that active 3D LCD models were up to the job. Now it's also venturing down the passive route. So what gives?
According to Panasonic, it still believes active 3D is the best option, but you need a TV with a fast panel to get the job done properly, otherwise crosstalk is too noticeable. Therefore, on more affordable models that use slower panels, such as this set, which costs around £650, it's opted for passive 3D. How does it stack up against competing brands vying for your cash?
User interface and EPG
Sadly, Panasonic hasn't given its user interface the major overhaul that it so sorely needs to make up the ground lost to the graphics-rich menus on LG and Samsung sets. It will be redesigning the user interface for next year's models, which seems a tad late to me.
As a result, this TV is saddled with similar-looking menus to those in Panasonic's older range. There's only sparse use of graphics, so you're left with dated menus composed of blocky white or yellow text on a blue-ish background.
Panasonic has made a few tweaks here and there. The biggest improvement is that when you select an option in a menu, a text box beneath gives you a short description of what that feature does. For example, select Contrast and the text tells you that this setting adjusts the ratio between white and black. They're not the most comprehensive descriptions, but they should give the average user more insight into what effect their changes are going to have on the picture.
Panasonic has also updated the electronic programme guide (EPG) slightly. It has finally removed the web-style adverts that took up valuable screen space on the EPGs of previous models. There's now more room on screen for programming information.
There are three different EPG layouts that you can choose from. The standard layout shows seven channels' worth of data at a time using a large easy-to-read font. The second layout employs a smaller font but displays 10 channels at a time. Meanwhile, the third layout shows five, but adds a text box at the bottom of the screen that gives a summary of the show you've selected in the EPG. There's still no video preview window and the presentation of the EPG is dull and dated compared to Sony, LG and Samsung sets.
Design and connections
It's been a long time since a Panasonic TV really wowed me with its design, and the ET5 is no different. That said, it's prettier than the company's previous models. Like last year's LG TVs, this one has a transparent lip that overhangs the edge of the glossy grey bezel. The bezel is on the thick side, measuring 20mm wide at the top and edges of the set. As this is essentially an entry-level 3D model, I'll let that pass. With a panel depth of around 40mm, it's at least quite slim, so overall, while it's no stunner, neither is it ugly.
Things start to look up when you take a peak at the connections. With four HDMI ports, a set of component inputs, a VGA port and a Scart socket, you're not going to struggle for connectors when it comes to hooking up your AV kit.
Playback of movie files is well catered for as there are three USB ports, an SD card slot and an Ethernet port. Unlike last year's models, Wi-Fi is now built in too, so you don't have to run a cable to your TV or shell out for an expensive Wi-Fi dongle to take advantage of its smart features.
Internet TV and file support
Despite the fact that this is an entry-level 3D model, it still uses the same Smart Viera Connect software as the higher-end models in Panasonic's range. The difference is that unlike the top-end models, this TV relies on a single rather than dual-core processor. Consequently it isn't quite as quick and smooth.
Nevertheless, Panasonic has boosted the number of apps available on its Connect platform while also improving some of the existing services. For example, the YouTube app now uses the 'Lean Back' interface, which has been designed specifically for use on TVs. It has large icons and a menu system that's easier to navigate via a standard remote control. Along with the individual Facebook and Twitter apps, there's a social TV app that lets you view posts and tweets in a window while you're watching a TV show.
Naturally, BBC iPlayer is pre-loaded by default, along with the handy BBC News app. There's also support for the Dailymotion and Vimeo video services, while Panasonic has added a Netflix app. Lovefilm is not supported and there's no ITV Player or 4oD access, although no other TV manufacturer has apps for the latter two yet.
As with last year's models, you can download the Skype app but you have to shell out for the rather pricey webcam if you want to make use of it. There are more on-demand TV and film services like Fetch TV and Acetrax, as well as some pretty basic games and less-than-inspiring fitness apps.