Panasonic has a glut of LED TV sets all bunched around the mid-range price point and all offering slightly different features. The TX-47FT60 sits right at the centre of this mid-range line-up. It improves on the step down ET60 model by adding 3D support, a Freesat tuner and Panasonic's impressive Hexa processing engine, but it lacks the twin tuners found on the DT65 as well as that model's local dimming support that helps it achieve deeper black levels.
It's priced at around the £1,400 mark, which is £350 more than the ET60, but only £150 less than the DT65, so is it the right mid-range model to go for?
Rejoice! Panasonic has finally dumped its blocky, dated TV user interface and replaced it with something that's altogether a lot slicker and more modern looking. The new system not only lets you choose between a number of different preset homescreens that the TV can bring up when you turn it on, but it even goes so far as allowing you to design your own homescreen.
The TV's settings menus are still separate from this new smart TV system, but they look reasonably modern, if not as stylish as those you get on Samsung's TVs. The important part, however, is that it's quick to jump between different settings and they're all fairly easy to use thanks to a hints box that gives a short description of what each feature or slider does. They also provide you with plenty of control over the picture, as Panasonic includes a full colour management system in the settings menu.
Also improved is the programming guide, which has had a small video window added in the top left-hand corner. As a result, using the guide no longer blocks out all audio and video from the channel you're watching, which was a problem with last year's models. The guide doesn't look quite as inviting as those on Samsung and LG's TVs, but it's easy to read from a distance and feels fairly snappy to use.
As well as the main guide, this TV also has a channel explorer widget that can be placed on a homescreen in the set's smart TV system. It basically lets you quickly see what's on across a range of channels simultaneously. Because this model lacks twin tuners, however, it doesn't actually show a live feed of the other channel in a picture-in-picture view the way the DT65 and VT65 models do.
Panasonic's smart TV system used to be very weak in relation to those found on the likes of Samsung and Sony's sets, but its new system is among the best in the business. It revolves around a homescreen that pops up when you turn on your TV. You have a choice of different pre-built homescreens that you can use (including a fullscreen TV mode if you'd prefer the TV just started up normally). These range from family notice board-type designs, complete with a calendar and jotter where people can leave notes, to screens that concentrate on providing shortcuts to smart TV apps.
The really clever bit is that you can also create your own custom homescreen from four different templates that Panasonic provides. This is ideal if you've got a group of smart TV apps that you use all the time and want quick access to, such as iPlayer, BBC News and Netflix.
Panasonic has pre-installed a number of apps on the TV, but you can download more via the set's app store. Most of these are free, but a few of them -- mostly games -- you'll need to pay for. The app store is reasonably well stocked, but the selection is some way off what you get with Samsung's smart TVs. It includes video services like iPlayer, YouTube and Vimeo, but it lacks apps for Lovefilm, Demand 5, ITV player and 4oD, all of which are now available on Samsung's sets.
Panasonic has kitted the TV out with a full Web browser though, and this supports videos on websites, so you can use it for stuff like watching video reviews on this here CNET. You can also catch and throw Web pages from mobile phones or tablets to the TV using Panasonic's Viera Remote 2 app. The Web browser isn’t massively stable and nor is it all that easy to use, especially if you're trying to control it via the normal remote rather than the smart phone app that's available for iOS and Android devices.
Nevertheless, the FT60 does have a good media player on board. It lets you watch a variety of video files, including HD MKV and Xvid formats, either locally from USB drives or streamed over a network from a PC or networked hard drive. It also supports downmixing of Dolby Digital soundtracks to stereo, something that not all TV media players can cope with.
Panasonic used to create great TVs that looked really boring. Thankfully, it seems to upped its game in the design department, as the FT60 looks rather striking. It's got a very narrow bezel around the screen that measures just 14mm wide and is covered in classy looking chrome trim. This helps to give it a very clean and futuristic look. I also like the impressive V-shaped stem on the pedestal stand, which is similar to that used on the high-end VT65 plasma. Here the stand thankfully swivels so you don’t have to physically lift the whole TV to angle the picture towards you as you do with the VT65.
It's a shame, but like all the other models in Panasonic's 2013 lineup the FT60 only has three HDMI ports, even though pretty much every other manufacturer offers four on TVs of this size. It does, however, have both Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners on board, and packs in three USB ports as well. You can record from these tuners to a USB hard drive, but unfortunately you can only record the channel you're watching, whereas the DT65 allows you to watch another channel while recording a show.
Scart devices can be connected to the TV via a short breakout AV cable and there are full sized component inputs on the rear on a downward facing panel. You also get an Ethernet port, and built-in Wi-Fi too.
Thanks to Panasonic's strong picture presets, the TX-L47FT60 looks good right out of the box. The Cinema and True Cinema picture modes are particularly impressive, so you don’t have to carry out much in the way of tweaking get good results either from the on-board Freeview and Freesat HD tuners, or movies fed via Blu-ray.
The FT60 is particularly good at delivering rich and vibrant colours, while also handling more subtle colour hues, such as skin tones, with expert finesse. Its high brightness levels give its pictures plenty of punch, making it a good option for use in rooms that get a lot of bright sunshine during the day.
The set does a reasonably good job of delivering good levels of shadow detail in darker scenes, while in bright rooms black areas of the picture seem to have good depth. It's when you use it in the evening with the lights turned down however, that problems start to arise. Dark areas of the picture look more greyish than we would have liked. There's also some evidence of light leakage towards the bottom left- and top right-hand corners of the screen on the sample I had in for review.
Although you can use the adaptive backlight control to improve black levels, it only works up to a point. It dims the overall image to improve black level performance in dark scenes, but when there's a lot of contrast in the picture -- when there are bright elements with dark shadows, for example -- the backlight tends to stay at or near full power. This highlights the bright areas, but darker bits of the image suffer and have a distinct grey tinge.
Nevertheless, it's probably an issue that a lot of people using it in brighter rooms simply won't notice. What people are more likely to pick up on is just what a good job Panasonic's Hexa image processing does of upscaling standard-definition broadcasts, adding extra sharpness to edges, while simultaneously managing to suppress image noise. HD pictures look very sharp and crisp too, just as you'd expect form a modern screen.
The TV also does a pretty good job of handling motion -- by LED standards at least. There's less of the smearing you sometimes see on other manufacturers' sets during fast-paced scenes, and Panasonic's motion smoothing technology -- called Intelligent Frame Creation -- doesn’t suffer from picture glitches as much as its rivals. This means you can happily use it on its minimum setting for video-based content, although most people will find that it's best left off for movie watching.
As this model uses an IPS panel, its viewing angles are very wide too. It doesn't suffer anywhere nearly as badly from colour and contrast shifts as Sony's screens -- which use VA panels when you're viewing it from an angle. The panel is more reflective than some rivals -- such as Sony's W905A -- so its worth bearing in mind if reflections really annoy you.
All of Panasonic's new LED TVs rely on LG panels, meaning its 3D LED tellies now use passive rather than active 3D technology. In many ways I prefer the passive system, especially on sets under 50 inches in size. With passive 3D you do lose some horizontal resolution from the 3D images, as alternate lines in the image are sent to different eyes in order to create the 3D effect. It's not all that noticeable on sets under 50 inches when you view them from a normal distance, and that's certainly the case here. Also, because the FT60 is a passive set you don't get the flickering that tires your eyes when you're watching via active 3D specs, and this model suffers from almost no crosstalk.
The FT60 produces a good sense of depth when it's dealing with 3D movies, and you also have the option of pushing the 3D effect in to the screen or pulling it out a bit via the 3D settings menu. Motion in 3D is also very smooth by LED standards -- something that can be seen clearly in the long sweeping opening shots of Hugo. Panasonic includes just two pairs of passive glasses with the TV, but extra polarised glasses can be picked up for just a couple of quid online making this TV a good option for larger families who want to be able to watch 3D movies together.
The FT60 isn’t the last word in terms of audio quality, but it does a better job of handling sonics than many of its peers. It's not quite up there with the likes of Philips's PFL7007 and Sony's HX853, which are probably the best-sounding sets on the market, but Panasonic has included a small woofer on the rear to help its bass responsiveness.
In truth, its bass still sounds a bit wooden, but the FT60 does at least have more of it on tap than TVs that don’t have a woofer built in. Mid range is tight and punchy too, which helps dialogue to sound clean and direct. There's a very slight tendency towards screechiness on the higher frequencies if you push the volume level out of its comfort range -- basically above the halfway volume mark -- but that's going to be quite loud the in average-sized lounge.
The TX-L47FT60 is a pretty good all rounder, but not a truly exceptional one. It has strong sound quality, perky picture performance for bright room viewing and an easy to use and attractive Smart TV system. It needs better support for catch-up TV services, and its pictures lack the black level depth that would have made it a strong choice for watching movies in the evening with the lights dimmed.
Panasonic's similar DT65 slightly outperforms the FT60 in this regard, thanks to its support for local dimming, but in truth neither can produce the deep blacks you get from the company's plasma TVs.
If you do want an LED telly, though, and are trying to decide between the FT60 and DT65, then the FT60 is the better option if you watch most of your TV using a third-party service like Sky or Virgin Media and won't be using the on-board tuner. Alternatively, if you rely on Freeview or Freesat then the DT65 is the better buy thanks to its support for dual tuners, and you'll also get the benefit of slightly deeper black levels.