We remember as children getting a wireless remote TV — that was pretty cool. Changing channels and turning the volume up without getting off the lounge was seriously high tech back in the early 1970s.
TVs today have gone all clever on us: web browsing, running apps and social networking, not to mention 3D viewing, are all features of modern Smart TVs. But if you're after something a little less involved, what's available for, say, under one grand?
Panasonic's new U Series comes in two sizes: 42 inches and 50 inches. We managed without any arm-wrestling to pick up a 42-incher for under AU$800 from a well known retailer.
Although it's not "Smart" as such, the TH-P42U30A ain't exactly stupid, either. It's a two-dimensional, full HD TV, with a few connectivity tricks up its sleeve. Bundled under the name "Easy IPTV", these include DLNA network and Wi-Fi-ready support, which is largely aimed at file sharing over a LAN network. Social networking via applications like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter is available, if you've nothing better to do with your time. Music and internet radio are also accessible via SHOUTcast. That's about the extent of the U Series' "smartness", but there are the usual Panasonic Viera features, such as the image viewer and SD card slot, Viera Link system control.
The panel features and specs remain the same as the previous G13 generation U Series panels — namely, 2,000,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio, a 600HZ sub-field drive with 900-line moving picture resolution and 6144 steps of monochrome graduation. Specs aside, this is a tried-and-tested panel, which should promise excellent image quality.
On the connection front, it's all here, with three HDMI inputs, two USBs, one LAN, a component video and two composite video inputs, plus PC input. There are three line-level audio inputs and an optical digital output for hooking up to an A/V receiver or soundbar.
The remote is a fairly standard, small handset with a good button layout and, combined with the on-screen menu system, both are intuitive and easy to use, even if you've never done so before. Once powered up, the TV automatically runs through a tuning and basic set-up, but, as we found, it pays to delve further into this TV's calibration, especially its picture adjustments.
Fresh out of the box, tuned in and set to "Home" default picture settings, the TH-P42U30A looks good. But it can look a lot better. Watching channel One HD, before we tried any other HD source, it gave a good indication that all of the image elements that have made Panasonic top of the Plasma game were there — solid and deep blacks, vibrant colours and smooth, flowing motion.
Things improved with 1080p Blu-ray content, although we still weren't blown away by the Panasonic's picture. It's well worth calibrating the picture settings — we made several changes using the DVE: HD Basics calibration disc, and it made a huge difference to image quality. The brightness and contrast snapped things back into a highly detailed and rich perspective, plus we were a lot happier with the colour balance. This is the picture we were expecting — lustrous blacks, strong contrast, a vice-like grip on motion and natural skintones to match the best in this class.
Watching standard TV or SD content revealed that this Panasonic's not the greatest when it comes to handling 576i/50Hz material. With the vast majority of free-to-air TV channels, there was a noticeable softening of edge definition, and some programming looked quite blurred, at times. This doesn't occur with HD material, and, with DVDs, we found it best to allow the DVD player to upscale and output a progressive video signal, which looked much better on the Panasonic than interlaced material.
One other downer is the sound, which doesn't really improve however much you tweak it. We've heard worse TV sound, but, realistically, the Panasonic is no sonic star, either. Voices too often sounded veiled and indistinct, and nothing in the Panasonic's audio arsenal compensated for this — except turning the volume up. We'd definitely recommend partnering this screen with a capable soundbar or A/V system to handle the audio duties.
We finally liked the Panasonic's picture, but not its sound. If you're after a sub-AU$1000 TV of this size, and don't need all of the media bells and whistles, then Panasonic's 14th-generation plasmas continue to deliver great performance at the price.