Panasonic TC-LE50 review: Panasonic TC-LE50

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MSRP: $1,099.95

The Good The Panasonic E50 is an attractive LCD TV that offers a solid amount of features, including Smart TV, for the price. Picture quality is better than that of the much more expensive Panasonic DT50.

The Bad That said, picture quality isn't the best, with rival LCDs and plasmas providing better performance for the money. Colors are a little off and a lack of deep blacks and comprehensive shadow detail lets the set down. Uniformity is an issue with large splodges in black areas of the picture. The TV built-in lacks wireless connectivity.

The Bottom Line The Panasonic E50 is a budget TV with a smattering of features but little to recommend in the way of picture quality.

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5.8 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 6
  • Performance 5
  • Value 6

For the past couple of years, Panasonic's higher-end plasma TVs have been known for excellent picture quality, and 2012 is no exception. In contrast, Panny's LCD TVs haven't fared as well. While Panasonic offers more LCD TVs available in larger sizes this year than ever before, they still don't pose a threat to the Samsungs of the world. The TC-LE50 series is a good example: it's one of Panasonic's least expensive models available in larger (47- and 55-inch) sizes, and while it performs better than the DT50 at twice the price, it's still not a great deal.

Picture quality is mediocre with gray blacks, a fairly mean serving of shadow detail and colors that look a little "off." I liked its styling, however, and the E50 offers a better feature set -- Smart TV and a large serving of connections -- than the otherwise superior and less expensive Toshiba L5200. But the trade-off here is in picture quality, and I believe you should always pay for the best picture your money can buy, and not the most number of widgets and doohickeys.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 47-inch Panasonic TC-L47E50, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.

Models in series (details)
Panasonic TC-L42E50 42 inches
Panasonic TC-L47E50 (reviewed) 47 inches
Panasonic TC-L55E50 55 inches

Panasonic is currently enjoying its most fashionable year ever, with boomerang stands and trendy glass accents, and thankfully this renewed design effort touches the E50 series. The television may not be as fancy as the high-end WT50, but it isn't ugly by any means. It features a glossy black frame and an attractive, clear bottom bezel.

The design of the E50 is actually pretty good for a) a budget model, and b) Panasonic. Sarah Tew/CNET

The remote control is a stripped-down version of the clicker I've become very familiar with over the last few years, with a central D-pad and large buttons. Unfortunately it's a little cramped in the middle and it's too easy to accidentally hit Internet instead of the Up key, which necessitates waiting while the Smart TV interface loads.

The remote control is fairly basic Sarah Tew/CNET

Key TV features
Display technology LCD LED backlight Edge-lit
Screen finish Glossy Remote Standard
Smart TV Yes Internet connection Wired
3D technology N/A 3D glasses included No
Refresh rate(s) 120Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing Yes
DLNA-compliant Photo/Music/Video USB Photo/Music/Video
Other: Optional USB Wi-Fi adapter (DY-WL10, $80 list)

While one of the Panasonic's closest rivals, the Toshiba L5200, strips out the features in favor of a better picture, the E50 does give some concession to the specs list. While it misses out on 3D, the Panny still features Smart TV (which is arguably more useful) but it uses a wired, Ethernet connection only. You can add a wireless dongle to the TV, via one of the dual USB ports, but this can add up to $100 to the price.

It's slim pickings in regard to further features of the TV, with a 360 Back Light Scan as part of its motion compensation engine and a 24p Cinema Smoother. As a budget TV, there's no backlight dimming or other LCD-enhancing features.

Smart TV: Panasonic debuted its Smart TV platform several years ago and the name has changed a few times -- now it's called Smart Viera. The interface remains the same, though, and it's still easy to use. It consists of a big grid of eight tiles with all of the best apps available on the first screen, including Hulu Plus, Netflix and Skype (here's the full comparison). You can swap any available app in or out, a level of customization not found on other Smart TV suites. Response time depends on your connection, and while the look is somewhat old-fashioned compared with LG's and Samsung's slick interfaces, it's also arguably more usable.

Update: The latest software update causes the TV to show you a banner ad when you first power up. It popped up and lasted about 3 seconds, but it was still annoying. I was happy to see I could disable it (here's how), but the banner is turned on by default.

The Smart TV interface is the same as featured on all Internet-connected Vieras. Sarah Tew/CNET

Picture settings: The selection here falls short of many other competitors, particularly LG and Samsung. There's no advanced calibration here; the most useful controls are the three presets for color temperature and three settings for smoothing in addition to the usual basic adjustments.

Connectivity: Though it's an inexpensive television, the E50 still offers a full complement of ports, with four HDMI inputs, two USB connectors, a hybrid component/composite adapter and an Ethernet connection. What did they leave out? Wireless. As I mentioned above, if you want to upgrade a compatible wireless adapter for one of the USB ports, it will cost you between $50 and $100 online.

Picture quality

In comparison with the picture quality presented by rivals such as the Toshiba L5200, the Panasonic E50 is unimpressive at the price. It doesn't do anything particularly well, with fairly inaccurate colors and grayish blacks. It's better than a bargain-basement TV like the catchily named TCL L40FHDF12TA, but not much.

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