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Panasonic TC-LWT50 review: Panasonic TC-LWT50

The Panasonic TC-LWT50 series is Panasonic's most expensive LED TV for 2012. We'll see if it packs a punch compared with those excellent plasma models.

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David Katzmaier
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David Katzmaier

Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

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6 min read

As the third and most expensive Panasonic LED TV CNET has reviewed this year, the WT50 faced high expectations. They went mostly unfulfilled.

panasonic-tc-l55wt50-55-class-54-6-viewable-viera-wt50-series-3d-led-tv-1080p-fullhd.jpg
5.8

Panasonic TC-LWT50

The Good

The <b>Panasonic TC-LWT50-series LED TV</b> showed the best off-angle performance of any LCD I've tested, and its screen was quite uniform. Its 3D performance was good with little crosstalk. The styling is sleek with an ultrathin frame and unique horseshoe stand. Plenty of useful features are onboard, including a well-designed Smart TV suite and a touch-pad remote.

The Bad

The high-priced WT50 has a sub-par 2D picture, reproducing a lighter shade of black than many cheaper LEDs. Panasonic inexplicably saddled the best default picture mode with compulsory smoothing, and the other modes have color accuracy issues. The TV doesn't come with 3D glasses.

The Bottom Line

Class-leading quality from off-angle can't excuse the expensive Panasonic TC-LWT50's disappointing picture when seen from the sweet spot.

Like its brethren, this television delivered picture quality a notch or three below what competing LED TVs can muster, and so far behind Panasonic's plasmas that it's almost a joke. The WT50 does have one plasmalike saving grace -- superb fidelity when seen from positions outside the sweet spot directly in front of the TV -- but that isn't enough to overcome its flaws. When you consider its high price, Panasonic's WT50 joins the ranks of flagship LED TVs that simply aren't worth the money.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 47-inch Panasonic TC-L47WT50, but this review also applies to the 55-inch member of the series.

The two sets have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Models in series (details)
Panasonic TC-L47WT50 (reviewed) 47 inches
Panasonic TC-L55WT50 55 inches

Design

The WT50 is one of the nicest-looking TVs on the market, falling just shy of Samsung's UNES8000 and LG's LM9600, both of which scored a 10 in this category. The WT50 earns its 9 with a vanishingly thin black bezel edged in silver, but while some might like the strip of clear plastic protruding from the bottom, I think it's more tacky than classy. I do like the stand, however, a splayed V of rounded, tapering silvery legs that terminate in a swivel base at the crux. The overall effect is understated and high-end, with a grace that befits a flagship LED TV.

The WT50 comes with two remotes: the standard clicker that comes with models like the DT50 and a little puck with a thumb touch pad just like a laptop computer's. Unlike the touch remote included with Samsung's high-end TVs, this one's actually as responsive as I'd expect from a modern touch pad, making it fun to use in many circumstances. It was at its best zooming through groups of thumbnails on the Netflix and Vudu apps; for browsing the Web, while better overall than the standard remote, it has its issues (see below). It's Bluetooth instead of infrared, so it doesn't need a line of sight to operate.

There's a sensitivity adjustment (I stuck with medium) but even so I can envision people who aren't touch-pad veterans becoming frustrated with it. And, of course, if you're keen to minimize coffee table clutter with a universal remote, the puck will probably just end up gathering dust.

Panasonic also tried to jazz up its standard remote this year, but the newly glossy face serves mostly to show fingerprints. We like the rest of the changes, though, from the nicely differentiated button sizes and groups to the extensive backlighting to the new dedicated Help button.

Panasonic's menus remain unchanged: an all-business yellow-on-blue that still seems a bit dated compared with Samsung's and Sony's user interfaces, but gets the job done. One great addition is the Help section with an onscreen user manual, which isn't as complete as the included print version but still covers most of what new users will want to know.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Key TV features "="">Other: Optional 3D glasses (model TY-ER3D4MU, $65 each), Skype camera/speakerphone (TY-CC20W, $130), network camera (wired BL-C210; $199; Wi-Fi BL-C230, $299); compatible with USB keyboards
Display technology LCD LED backlight Edge-lit with local dimming
Screen finish Glossy Remote Standard and touch-pad
Smart TV Yes Internet connection Built-in Wi-Fi
3D technology Active 3D glasses included No
Refresh rate(s) 240Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing Yes
DLNA-compliant Photo/Music/Video USB Photo/Music/Video

Features
The main extra that separates the WT50 from its less expensive brethren in Panasonic's LED TV lineup is local dimming. Its edge-lit LED backlight is said to be able to adjust the brightness of 16 independent zones across the screen. In practice, this implementation didn't do much to improve picture quality (see below).

Panasonic claims its 240Hz panel is augmented by high-speed "1920" backlight scanning for higher moving-picture resolution and smoothness during fast action scenes. It divides the screen into eight parts and the backlight turns off for the portions being scanned.

Panasonic TC-LWT50 series (pictures)

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Turning to features that don't affect picture quality, Panasonic includes a dual-core processor, which joins the touch-pad remote among the WT50's step-ups over the DT50.

I was disappointed in the lack of 3D glasses; even Samsung's least expensive 3D TVs come with two pairs, while LG and Vizio passive 3D models usually include four or more. Like all 2012 Panasonic active-3D TVs the WT50 complies with the Full HD 3D standard, so in addition to Panasonic's own 2012 glasses it also plays well with others, namely the $20 Samsung glasses. Check out my comparison for reviews of each.

Smart TV: Last year I ranked Panasonic's Smart TV interface, called Viera Cast, highest for its simple layout and ease of use. The company didn't change much beyond the name -- it's now Viera Connect -- for 2012. I like the fact that you can easily shuffle the items you want most, like Netflix, into prominent positions. Navigation and app launching were a bit faster than on the ST50 plasma, likely thanks to the dual-core processor, but once I was within an app I didn't notice any differences in reaction time. The WT50 also gets "multitasking"; when I hit the tools key a virtual page flips up to reveal the most recently used apps, providing quick access.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Panasonic's content selection is top-notch since it added Vudu, although I'd like to see a dedicated 3D app like the ones LG and Samsung offer. There's a new-ish Social Networking app that lets you combine live TV, Twitter, and Facebook on the same page. Audio apps include Pandora, Shoutcast, and a karaoke app as well as a new addition, Rhapsody, which should be a boon to subscribers of that service.

The Viera Market has a solid selection of apps, although I didn't appreciate having to sign in to an account to download even the free ones. There's also a real shopping section with overpriced Panasonic gear and other sundry hardware like keyboards (which help if you're the one guy who really enjoys tweeting on your TV).

The company says it will add new apps, including a partnership with MySpace touted at CES and an exclusive with Disney digital books, soon. It also offers a remote control app for iOS, Android, and BlackBerry.

The Web browser is almost as good as the ones on Samsung and LG TVs as long as you use the touch-pad remote, but that's not saying much since no TV browser can hold a candle to any phone, tablet, or laptop browser. Clicking over to CNET.com, I found I couldn't navigate down the page until it finished loading, which took forever (about a minute). I tried to scroll down by moving the cursor to the bottom of the page but it wouldn't respond. Instead I had to use the scroll bar on the far right.

Entering text via the onscreen keyboard, a painful necessity, was actually much easier via the standard remote since the touch clicker has a tendency to overshoot, and the lack of autofill is incredibly annoying. Load times were hit or miss -- mostly miss.

Viera Connect has more advertising than other TV makers' smart TV systems. The TV actually shows you a banner ad when you first power up. It popped up and lasted only about 3 seconds, but it was still annoying. Here's how to disable it. Like many TV makers, Panasonic also reserves a spot on the Smart TV home page for an ad, and there's no way to remove it.

Picture settings: Unlike Panasonic's high-end plasmas the WT50 doesn't have a THX mode, but otherwise it does have most of the picture adjustments offered on the flagship VT50. Unfortunately, they don't work as well.

Both the Cinema and Custom modes offer niceties like a color management system, selectable gamma (no 10-point gamma like the VT50 however), and a multipoint grayscale control (although it's a weird 7-point system, not the standard 10). Cinema is basically broken for videophiles, however, because it inexplicably omits the ability to disable dejudder/smoothing -- the Motion Picture Setting is stuck at Strong in Cinema, causing the infamous, obvious Soap Opera Effect and accompanying artifacts in film-based material. Custom does allow you to disable dejudder, but its color performance isn't nearly as accurate as Cinema despite plenty of controls. See below for more details.

Connectivity: Plenty of inputs, including four HDMI, three USB, and a PC input, grace the WT50's backside. Component- and composite-video connections require use of the included breakout cable.

Picture quality

All told the WT50's image quality is significantly worse than you might expect from a high-end LED TV. The TV's depth of black is worse than a few mid- and entry-level models we've tested, color is inaccurate, and there's no way to fix it because the controls don't work properly. I appreciated the excellent screen uniformity, highlighted by best-in-class off-angle fidelity, but it's not nearly enough to overcome the WT50's faults.

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Comparison models (details)
Samsung UN55ES8000 55-inch edge-lit LED
Sony KDL-55HX850 55-inch edge-lit LED
Toshiba 50L5200U series 50-inch edge-lit LED
Panasonic TC-P55ST50 55-inch plasma
Samsung PN60E8000 60-inch plasma

Black level: Like the other Panasonic LCDs we've tested this year, the WT50 had trouble mustering a convincing depth of black. The TC-L47WT50 I reviewed produced the lightest shade of black in our lineup. Its letterbox bars and shadowy areas, for example the tunnel and shadowy alley from "Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows" (1:21:46), appeared markedly brighter and less realistic than on the Toshiba and Samsung, while the Sony and the plasmas looked better still. The difference was mainly visible in dark scenes but spilled over into brighter ones as well.

I didn't include any of Panasonic's other LCDs in the lineup but judging by my measurements of 0 percent black -- the WT50 got 0.039, the E50 0.054, and the DT50 a terrible 0.24, and all three rate "Poor" by my Geek Box chart standards -- Panasonic's edge-lit local dimming system, exclusive to the WT50 among the three, isn't that effective.

Beyond the lighter blacks I also noticed a more washed-out quality in many scenes, both bright and dark, caused by too-bright gamma. The WT50 had no problems conveying details in shadows, but the progression from dark to light was too abrupt, making dark areas look less natural. The other sets looked more realistic in comparison and showed better punch.

Unlike the Samsungs and the HX850, the WT50's backlight didn't turn off completely during fades to black, for example during the intro to "Watchmen," and that's a good thing. The issue did occur when we switched to Cinema or Custom mode, however.

Color accuracy: Again the WT50 fared worse in this area than any other TV in our lineup. The skin tones of Moriarty and Adler in chapter 2 (10:09) looked much like the other colors in comparison: pale and slightly sickly. This was mainly because I had to desaturate the image to make up for significant over-accentuation of red in the Panasonic's color balance.

Another problem, made more visible by the lighter black levels, was the WT50's tendency to plunge into blue in black and near-black areas. None of the other TVs showed as severe a blue tinge when reproducing dark material.

Video processing: As I mentioned above, the WT50's main problem in this area is that Cinema is stuck in smooth mode, rendering it useless for people who prefer to see film the way the director intended -- typically, with judder. The control that causes smoothing, labeled "Motion Picture Setting" and offering four settings (Off, Weak, Medium, and Strong), is only adjustable in the other picture modes.

Choosing Off caused the TV to correctly reproduce film cadence with 1080p/24 sources. Interestingly, Weak also came very close to ideal cadence too, betraying just the merest hint of smoothing in my test. That setting may be preferable to Off for slightly less hardcore film buffs who want to take advantage of the superior motion resolution afforded by engaging dejudder on this TV.

The Panasonic scored the full 1,200 lines in my motion resolution test when I choose Strong or Medium, falling to a still-respectable 900 to 1,000 in Weak and the typical 300 to 400 lines in Off. As usual I found it nearly impossible to detect blurring or other traces of low motion resolution in normal program material, so I was fine keeping it set to Off.

Uniformity: From the standpoint of maintaining consistent light output over the entire area of the screen, as well as image fidelity when seen from off-angle, the WT50 displayed excellent screen uniformity.

Unlike most other edge-lit LEDs I've tested, the WT50's screen was pretty much free of bright spots and clouding. Its light black levels may help in this regard, effectively masking any imperfections, but either way the WT50 deserves a lot of credit here.

Even more impressive is its ability to maintain picture fidelity when seen from angles to either side of the sweet spot right in front of the TV. Compared with the Samsung and Toshiba, both of which have better black levels from on-angle, the WT50 actually delivered a slightly darker black when seen from angles as close as one seat cushion to either side (tested from a 7-foot seating distance). It also maintained color fidelity better, taking much longer to show a shift toward red or blue.

Move farther to either side and that advantage increases; when seen from extreme angles, the WT50 blows any other LED TV (including the DT50 and E50 we tested) out of the water. Of course, most people watch TV from the sweet spot or close to it, and sit farther away than 7 feet. For them, the WT50's off-angle prowess will be much less valuable.

It's also worth noting that even from less extreme angles the WT50 still lost some picture quality, and that loss increased the farther off-angle we moved. In other words it's still no plasma, a technology that maintains essentially perfect quality from any angle.

Bright lighting: Under the lights the WT50 behaved similar to the Sony and Samsung sets, with bright, distracting reflections and the ability to reject some ambient light to preserve black levels. Of course its initial black levels were bad enough that it didn't make the set look better than the others in this regard.

3D: The 3D picture of the WT50 was excellent in one crucial area: crosstalk reduction. As long as I chose the 48Hz option under the Advanced picture menu, the TV did as good a job of quelling the annoying double-image of crosstalk as the superb Samsung UNES8000, and outperformed the other sets in the lineup. My crosstalk torture test is "Hugo," namely problem areas like Hugo's hand as it reaches for the toy mouse (5:01), the tuning pegs on the guitar (7:49), and the face of the dog as it watches the inspector slide by (9:24). In these areas the ghostly double image was almost invisible.

The WT50's Cinema mode again has non-defeatable smoothing, so I switched to Standard and the Warm color temperature as the best available preset (I don't calibrate TVs for 3D). In that mode color was pretty bad, significantly redder than any of the other sets. It was also dimmer than either of the other two LEDs, in particular the excellent Samsung. Aided by the glasses, black levels were better than 2D but still not great, especially compared with the inky plasmas.

Panasonic's standard 3D glasses fit better than the Samsungs and provided marginally better performance since they enclosed my eyes more thoroughly, shutting out more ambient light. Check out my comparison and reviews for more.

Geek Box test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.039 Poor
Avg. gamma 1.82 Poor
Near-black x/y (5%) 0.2898/0.3011 Average
Dark gray x/y (20%) 0.3111/0.3316 Average
Bright gray x/y (70%) 0.3115/0.3287 Good
Before avg. color temp. 6563 Good
After avg. color temp. 6567 Good
Red lum. error (de94_L) 9.2212 Poor
Green lum. error (de94_L) 0.2291 Good
Blue lum. error (de94_L) 2.6271 Average
Cyan hue x/y 0.2293/0.3281 Good
Magenta hue x/y 0.3108/0.1502 Average
Yellow hue x/y 0.4269/0.519 Poor
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i Deinterlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 1200 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300 Poor

Panasonic TC-L47WT50 CNET Review Calibration Results

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5.8

Panasonic TC-LWT50

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 6Value 4