Externally Panasonic's TX-L47FT60 and TX-L42DT65 models look pretty much identical, but under the hood there are some big differences. The TX-L42DT65 we're looking at here is the more expensive of the two, priced at around £1,400.
It includes dual Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners, so if you add a hard drive it can act as a fully functional digital TV recorder. It also has local dimming to improve black levels and comes with a touchpad controller that has a microphone built-in for voice search. Is it worth paying the £300 premium over the FT60 model for these features? Let's find out.
User interface and EPG
The smart TV system on last year's Panasonic sets was disappointing, so it's good to see it's revamped it completely on this year's models. Out goes the old, awkward system of 3D layered icons for apps, and in comes a much more user-friendly smart TV homescreen. In fact, you can choose between a selection of preset homescreens or create your own custom screen using one of four templates. This is ideal if you want to group together certain smart TV services that you use on a regular basis, such as BBC iPlayer, Netflix and YouTube.
Panasonic hasn’t integrated the settings menus into this new smart TV system in the way Samsung has, but these menus still look reasonably modern and more importantly are easy to use. Their flat structure makes it quick to jump between the different picture or audio settings and Panasonic gives you an awful lot of control of the set's images thanks to its full colour management system.
The programming guide has also been updated so it now includes a video window that lets you keep track of the show you were watching while flicking through the listings to see what's coming up later. The guide isn’t perhaps as attractive as what you'll find on Samsung's latest TVs, but it's easy to read and feels speedy to use.
Along with the main guide, Panasonic has added a channel explorer widget to the Smart TV system. You can use this to quickly scroll through a list of channels to see what's currently on. And because the DT65 has dual tuners, it'll even show you a video thumbnail of the live feed from the other channel, which is very cool. The feed does take a second or two to appear beneath the channel name, however.
Digital media and Internet features
Panasonic's new smart TV system is head and shoulders above what was available on last year's models and actually makes it one of the best out there at the moment, although it's still not as slick as Samsung's effort. Key to the new system is the homescreen which pops up every time you turn on your TV (although you can set the TV to just start in fullscreen mode if you prefer).
Panasonic provides a number of predefined homescreens with various collections of shortcuts to apps and widgets for stuff like family calendars and channel explorers. You can also build your own homescreen using preset templates, however. This is a great idea as it lets you group together the features and apps you use most often.
There's a good selection of apps pre-installed, including BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Youtube, Vimeo and Daily Motion. There's also an app store on board where you can download and install extra apps, games and widgets. Some of the games have to be paid for, but most of the apps are free. There are still a fair few omissions in Panasonic's app catalogue, though. It lacks services like 4oD, Demand5 and Lovefilm, which are all now offered on Samsung's smart TV service.
This model includes two remotes: a standard zapper and a touchpad controller. The touchpad can be used to control the set's full Web browser, which supports videos on some websites, but not all. The controller works reasonably well with the browser, but the browser itself tends to crash pretty often. The controller can also be used to navigate the TV's other menus, but it's fiddly to do this.
There's a mic built in too for voice search, but the voice search is limited and doesn't always work reliably. I can’t see very many people finding it a really worthwhile addition to their TV.
On the plus side, the DT65's media player is very strong. It works reliably with a range of video file formats, including Xvid and HD MKV files, both of which played locally and streamed across a network. Files with Dolby Digital soundtracks also play properly, which is not something that all TV media players can cope with.
Design and connections
Panasonic has often lagged behind the competition when it comes to the styling of its TVs, but thankfully it seems to be on top of this issue with this year's sets. The TX-L42DT65 is, by any measure, a great-looking TV. The chrome bezel around the screen is strikingly narrow at just 14mm wide, and the sculpted v-shape pedestal stand gives the set a clean and sophisticated air.
Annoyingly, Panasonic has cut the number of HDMI ports from four on the older DT50 model, to the three found here on a panel on the left-hand side beneath the TV's three USB ports. The good news is that the DT65 has dual tuners on board for both Freeview HD and Freesat HD, so if you hook a hard drive up to one of its USB ports it can act as a fully fledged PVR. This means you can record one channel while watching another.