The TX-L55ET5B is the cheapest of the 3D TVs in Panasonic's current line-up of Viera sets. Instead of the active 3D system used on all its other TVs, this one relies on passive technology.
This means 3D glasses are cheap. Four are supplied in the box, but you can buy extra pairs for as little as £2 each.
Does this make the 55-inch TX-L55ET5B -- which will set you back around £1,600 -- an ideal big-screen TV for families?
User interface and EPG
Unfortunately, Panasonic hasn't redesigned the user interface to catch up with the likes of Samsung and LG, so you're left with pretty much the same system as 2011's models. These menus looked dated last year so now they're starting to appear really archaic. Long lists of white or yellow text are set against a blue background and the lush animations and 3D effects on many rival TVs are nowhere to be seen here.
On the plus side, Panasonic has updated the electronic programme guide (EPG) slightly to remove the advert placeholders that plagued its older TVs. This has freed up some extra space on screen and allowed Panasonic to create a cleaner, more airy layout. In fact, there are three EPG layouts to choose from in the settings menu. The main differences are the number of channels shown at any one time and whether the EPG includes a large box with summary info for the currently selected show.
It's annoying that the EPG still doesn't either overlay on top of the current programme you're watching or include a video thumbnail view, as many other TVs do. In fact, Panasonic includes this feature on the EPGs of its latest personal video recorders, so it's bewildering not to have it available on a TV costing over a grand and a half.
Design and connections
The TX-L55ET5B is definitely a set that's not going to leave you slack-jawed by its beauty, but neither is it offensive to look at. On the plus side, it's relatively slim, measuring 40mm deep. There's an attractive transparent edge running around the TV and like a lot of Panasonic's sets, it feels like it's built to last. The bezel around the screen looks a touch too broad at 35mm though, and the overall design is dull and uninspired in comparison to similarly priced models from rival big-name brands.
What I certainly can't complain about is the line-up of connections. Like most of today's large screens, it has four HDMI ports, one of which supports Audio Return Channel for feeding audio out to an external amp over a single HDMI cable. It also has a set of component inputs, a VGA port and a Scart socket. It's well kitted out for playing back video files too, as it has an SD card slot and three USB ports.
Unlike last year's models, Wi-Fi is now built in, but naturally there's still an Ethernet port if you'd prefer to use a wired connection, which is usally more reliable when streaming large HD video files across a home network.
Apps, streaming and video playback
Speaking of networking, the TX-L55ET5B has Panasonic's Viera Connect smart TV software on board. The set has a single-core processor rather than the dual-core chip found on the GT50 and TVs, so it doesn't support multi-tasking for apps.
Panasonic has continued to update Viera Connect with new apps and services and the line-up is now pretty good. As you would expect, BBC iPlayer is included along with Netflix, Acetrax and FetchTV. Naturally, YouTube is present for essential cat video viewing, and there are apps for Dailymotion and Vimeo.
Social networking is catered for with standalone apps for Facebook and Twitter. The Social TV app lets you see feeds from these services in a box at the side of the screen while you're watching a programme on telly. There are plenty of news and weather apps too, including BBC News and BBC Sport. But unlike Sony's new TVs, Viera Connect doesn't include Lovefilm. There's now a full web browser, although it's a tad buggy and doesn't support Adobe Flash, so embedded videos on some websites won't play.
Like the TV's overall menu system, the interface for the Viera Connect service hasn't changed much since the version that appeared on last year's TVs. It presents you with a grid of nine very large icons per screen and you can move up and down between layers of these icons using the forward and back controls.
Switching between the layers isn't as fast as it could be -- something that becomes annoying when you've got lots of apps loaded in the system. Still, at least you can edit the placement of the apps to group the most commonly used together.
Thankfully, Panasonic has updated the TV's digital media playback software to improve format support. It gets along fine with HD MKV files as well as movies in the MP4, DivX and Xvid formats, no matter whether they're played locally from USB keys and SD cards or streamed across a network. Audio Flac, WMA and MP3 files, JPEG pictures and 3D still images in the MPO format are also supported.
Like most of today's higher-end models, you can attach a USB drive to one of the ports and use it to record shows from the TV's built-in Freeview HD tuner. The set only has a single tuner and you can't watch one channel while recording another, so it's not a replacement for a full-blown personal video recorder.