If you don't want 3D, but do want smart TV features, the TX-L42E6B is the TV in Panasonic's new 2013 lineup that's aimed unerringly at you.
Priced at around £800 (although I found it cheaper online), it's a handsome looking model thanks to its slim bezel, and it comes with Panasonic's new smart TV system, which lets you create your own customised homescreen. It's also available in 32-, 39- and 50-inch versions -- I reviewed the 42-inch set.
User interface and programme guide
It's taken a very long time, but Panasonic has finally gotten around to updating the menu system it uses on its TVs. The old, static menus have largely been discarded and in their place a new, much more dynamic system has arrived. It centres on the idea of a homescreen that pops up when you turn on the TV, although it's an option -- you can set up the E6B to just start in normal fullscreen TV mode instead.
In some ways it's similar to the homescreens LG and Samsung have had on their smart TVs for a couple of years now, but the benefit of Panasonic's system is you can create your own customised homescreen if you want. This is covered in more depth in the smart TV section of this review, so skip to there to find out more.
The picture and sound menus are virtually identical to what Panasonic used on last year's models. They're not quite as flash as the new homescreen system, but their flat structure makes it quick and easy to get at the controls you need to adjust.
It's also good to see that Panasonic has separated out the backlight and contrast settings so you can now adjust them independently, whereas on last year's E5B model they were joined at the hip. I also like the way that the menus include a description box at the bottom that explains what the currently highlighted setting actually does.
The EPG retains the chunky text and timeline grid layout Panasonic has been using for a couple of years, but crucially it adds a video window in the top left-hand corner -- a feature that other manufacturers TVs have had for donkeys' years, but Panasonic's models lacked. It means you can now saunter through the TV listings while still keeping an eye on the programme you were watching, and as a result it's much more user-friendly.
There's also a channel explorer on the right hand side of one of the homescreens that you can use to quickly see what's currently playing on different channels. Unlike Panasonic's high-end models, however, this doesn't include a preview window of the other channels, as this model lacks the twin tuner feature.
Smart TV system
Panasonic's old Vieracast smart TV system looked very dated on last year's models. It had remained the same while the likes of LG and Samsung had powered ahead with newer, slicker-looking systems based around a homescreen.
Panasonic has followed their lead -- now when you switch on the TV you're greeted by one of a choice of different homescreens. One of these has a channel explorer down the right-hand side, for example, that lets you quickly see what's on currently on different channels. Across the bottom there are links to the Viera Connect app store, the YouTube app and a picture viewer. Another homescreen has a clock, a calendar, a note-taking app and a link to the Accuweather forecasting service.
The clever bit is that you can also design your own homescreen using four different templates that Panasonic provides. You can group all your most-used video on-demand services, such as iPlayer, Netflix and Acetrax, together on a single screen, for instance.
It's a great idea and works well in practice. It's easy to use and saves you a lot of clicking around when you just need to access the same apps again and again. And if you don't want to see a homescreen every time you turn on the TV, you can just set it to start in fullscreen TV mode instead.
Panasonic's app store is still somewhat lacking in apps though. It still doesn't have apps for Lovefilm and ITV Player, which are both now offered on Samsung's TVs. Nevertheless, most of the usual suspects are here, including iPlayer, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Netflix, iConcerts and Acetrax.
As you'd expect, this TV also has a media player onboard. This lets you play files from USB drives or alternatively stream them across a network from a PC or Nas drive. It supports a good range of formats too including AVI, MKV, WMV and MP4 for video. It worked with HD MKVs and standard-definition Xvid videos without any problems when I tried it out, playing them back smoothly over a network with no stuttering.
Panasonic's picture presets are, as ever, very good. It means that as soon as you take this model out of the box its picture quality impresses straight away. The 'Normal' preset works well for viewing during daylight hours, as it pushes up the brightness but doesn't overdrive colours too much, while the Cinema and True Cinema modes are both excellent options for watching movies in the evening with the lights dimmed.