Viera Cast is losing ground to some manufacturers' smart TV offerings, most notably Samsung, which now offers Lovefilm and ITV Player -- two services that are missing here. On the plus side, there are Facebook and Twitter apps, as well as a combined social networking app that overlays feeds from these two services onto the programme you're watching.
If you hook a hard drive or big enough USB memory key up to one of the USB ports, you also get some rudimentary video recorder features. You can pause live TV or record shows to disc. Timers are easy to set up as you just select the programmes you want to record in the EPG, much as you do on a standard personal video recorder. But there's only one tuner, so you can't watch a channel while recording another.
Panasonic has improved the media player built into this TV so it now has better support for video formats. I tried Xvid, MP4, WMV and MKV HD files and most player, but not all. Some of the MKV HD files refused to work, for example.
Panasonic has made a hash of the audio on its budget LED sets. Models such as the TX-L32X5B and TX-L55ET5B suffer from hollow and indistinct audio that really blunts their desirability. Thankfully, sound quality on this year's plasma models has been excellent across the range, and the TX-P42UT50B is no different.
The speakers deliver really rounded audio with decent levels of bass and a tight, focused mid-range. Everything from daytime fare like soaps to bombastic action movies sound as good as you're likely to get from a flatscreen TV.
2D picture quality
Right out of the box, the TX-P42UT50B produces very impressive picture quality. In fact, I'd go so far as to say there's no other TV in this price bracket that performs better. In darker rooms, at least, black levels are almost as good as Panasonic's own ST50 and GT50 models, and contrast performance is excellent. It really is very strong at picking out tricky shadow detail in darker areas of the pictures in a way that the vast majority of budget TVs aren't.
It also excels with colour, producing warm, vibrant hues and believable skin tones. You do see a very small amount of false contouring now and again (where colours step between hues rather than gradating naturally), but it's quite rare and not all that distracting when it does happen. Upscaling of standard-definition content is first-rate and motion handling is very impressive. HD films on Blu-ray look absolutely fantastic, thanks to the crisp sharpness of the images.
There is a caveat. The TX-P42UT50B lacks the Infinite Black Pro filter found on the ST50, which helps to stop light reflecting from the screen. So you have to be careful where you place the TV. If it's near a window with daylight streaming through, apparent black levels drop off significantly and you'll see a lot of reflections from the glass surface. As such, it's at its best when viewed in the evening, rather than during the day.
3D picture quality
Unsurprisingly, given the price, the TX-P42UT50B doesn't come with 3D specs. You'll need to buywhich will set you back around £40 to £50 a pair. If you have a large family and want to be able to watch 3D films as a group, one of LG's passive 3D sets -- which require very cheap cinema-style glasses -- would be a better option.
That said, the TX-P42UT50B is no 3D slouch. Some crosstalk (or image ghosting) creeps in now and again, but it's not all that distracting and 3D images have impressive levels of depth and sharpness. If I were to really nitpick, I'd say the 3D pictures could be a little brighter and the glasses are a smidgen too heavy to be totally comfortable. But on the whole, it's a reasonably strong performer when it comes to the third dimension.
Not everyone will be able to live with the TX-P42UT50B's two main weaknesses -- only two HDMI ports and a very reflective screen when viewed during daylight hours. But if you can put up with these issues, you'll find the TV delivers just about the best overall picture quality you'll see from a budget set.