In the past, high-end TVs from Panasonic always used plasma rather than LED technology, but the market has been moving more and more towards slim-line LED sets, so this year Panasonic has followed suit. The TX-L42WT50 shares high-end features with the GT50 and VT50 plasma models, such as its dual-core processor for speeding up Smart TV, Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners and active 3D technology.
Priced at around £1,200, however, it's about 200 smackers more expensive than Panasonic's own highly regarded TX-P42GT50, so is it worth the extra outlay?
User interface and EPG
The menus on this year's TVs from LG and Samsung look very flash, with modern graphics and a cool homescreen from which you can access most of the key features. As with other Panasonic sets, the TX-L42W50 lacks any of these embellishments. Instead its system looks largely unchanged from what you saw on TVs five years ago.
The menus are very dull and static, lacking the zippy animations and transitions found on sets from Korean manufacturers. On the plus side, they are easy to find your way around and you do get lots of control over the picture settings, including a full colour management system. This is turned off by default but is easy to enable from the main settings menu. The only slight catch is that a single slider controls both the backlight intensity and contrast, whereas on most TVs from rival gogglebox makers these are kept separate.
Panasonic has updated its EPG slightly, finally removing the advert place holders that took up space on the screen on last year's models. It remains very basic looking however, and it's annoying that it lacks a video thumbnail window, so you can't keep track of a program while browsing through the guide.
Design and connections
Panasonic's design department has struggled previously to come up with designs that achieve anything other than 'dull' on the stylish scale, but this year it has upped its game considerably. The TX- L42WT50 is undoubtedly the most attractively tailored TV the company has ever delivered.
The crescent stand that the TV sits on is a real thing of beauty, but the rest of the styling is also top class. For example, I like the slim design and the fact that the bezel around the screen is relatively slender at just 8mm wide. The chrome trim running around the outside of the screen looks ace and the Perspex lip at the bottom is also a nice touch, even if it is very reminiscent of Samsung's older designs.
In the box you'll find two remote controls. The standard zapper is a similar shape to those that ship with Panasonic's other TVs. It's quite large and long, but the button layout is good and the curved back makes it comfortable to hold and use.
The second remote is a touchpad zapper that connects to the TV via Bluetooth. It's actually pretty awkward to use and makes many actions more difficult to perform, so I can’t help thinking Panasonic needs to go back to the drawing board with this one. LG's motion-sensing remote, for example, works much better than this one.
I've got no complaints when it comes to connectivity though, as the TV has all the bases covered in this department. The side panel on the left is home to all four HDMI ports as well as three USB ports and an SD card slot. On the rear you'll find the rest of the sockets including a VGA port, optical audio output, RF input for the Freeview HD tuner and satellite input for the Freesat tuners. The TV also has Ethernet onboard, as well as integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The latter is used for syncing the 3D glasses to the TV and for connecting other devices, such as the touchpad remote, wireless keyboards and headsets.
The WT50 includes Panasonic's Viera Cast Smart TV platform. Viera Cast used to be one of the best Smart TV platforms, but it's now starting to fall behind, as the likes of Sony and Samsung rapidly improve their software. There's still a decent amount of content available including BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Acetrax and Eurosport. It does lack Demand5 and Lovefilm though, which are available on other platforms.
The layer design of the Viera Cast interface is a tad annoying as you have to step up and down through grids of icons to access different services, which is slow and cumbersome. Rather bizarrely, ITV Player is available via the on-demand section of the Freesat programming guide, but it's not present in Viera Cast and you can't access it if you only use the Freeview HD tuner.
Viera Cast also includes a full Web browser, and Panasonic has dramatically improved this feature when I compare it to the one I previously used on the company's other sets. Videos on the BBC website now play back properly and you can also make video fullscreen, something which didn’t seem to be possible before.