Up until last year, if you wanted a TV with the best picture quality, opting for a Panasonic plasma was a smart move. Panasonic, however, has now pulled the plug on its plasma TVs as there was no realistic technology path for moving plasma to 4K and consumers prefer the slimline dimensions of LED sets.
The TX-47AS740 is the first set we've seen from the company since it put the knife into its plasma business. It's a mid- to high-end full-HD TV, but one of its biggest selling points is that it now supports Freetime so you can access on-demand content from BBC iPlayer, ITV player, 4oD and Demand 5 right from the TV Guide. The set currently costs around £1,200.
Panasonic's menu system used to look quite old fashioned and clunky, so it's good to see the brand has gone for a redesign this year. The fresh look is cleaner as it uses smaller, sharper looking text. As a result it also allows more menu options to be shown on a single screen. There are some improvements to the picture controls too. For example, you can now adjust the backlight setting independent of the contrast, something that you couldn't do on previous Panasonic TVs. This model also has a full colour-management system and gives you fine levels of control over its above-par upscaling and noise reduction system.
Panasonic's old TV programming guide is still present and accessible via the apps menu, but you don't have to use it as it's largely been superseded by the much more advanced Freetime guide that not only allows you to see what's coming up over the next seven days, but also lets you to skip back in time to catch up on shows you've missed from the main terrestrial broadcasters -- Channel 4, ITV, Five and BBC.
Freetime was originally developed by Freesat, but here it also works if you're using the TV's Freeview HD tuner, which makes it much more useful for the vast majority of people. We'll cover it in more depth in the smart TV section of this review.
Design and connections
Panasonic's TV designs have never really stood out from the crowd, but they have been getting better over the years. To my eyes the AS740 is one of the best looking sets the company has produced. Its bezel, although not as slim as some, is narrow enough to look sleek and modern. I also like the simple elegant look of the silver finish and the thin metal stand the TV perches on is stylish and unfussy. Overall, it's not a set that draws attention to itself in a shouty way, but it does make its statement in a quiet, stylish way.
Annoyingly Panasonic has only given this model three HDMI ports -- most sets from rival manufacturers in this price range have four. That's hugely disappointing.
As you'd expect the TV does have a set of component inputs as well as a full-sized Scart socket. There's both Ethernet and Wi-Fi built in and Miracast is supported so you can mirror what's on the screens of compatible Android and Windows Phone handsets to the TV over Wi-Fi.
This model retains the homescreen-based smart TV system that Panasonic was using last year. It's also added support for Freetime., but it has now been extended to support Freeview, so you no longer need a satellite dish to be able to use it.
Freetime allows you to move back in time in the TV's guide to watch shows that have been already been broadcast. The concept is similar to the YouView system.
Putting Freetime on a TV is a great idea, as its interface is clean and simple and much nicer to use than the EPGs on most TVs, including Panasonic's previous offerings. It also gives Panasonic access to apps for ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5, which had previously only all been available on Samsung's smart TVs.
Unfortunately the way Freetime's been implemented here suffers from a number of problems. Firstly, despite living with the TV for over a week, scrolling back in time on the main ITV channel never worked and always displayed an error message saying the service was unavailable. This was despite the fact it did work on the other ITV channels, such as ITV2 and ITV3. Scrolling back in the EPG doesn't work for Channel 4 or Demand 5 either. You can access these on-demand services via dedicated apps, but these are held separately in a Freetime menu rather than in the TV's main apps menu.
In fact the Freetime side of this set and the standard Panasonic on-demand apps just aren't integrated at all and feel like totally difference systems. So, for example, if you want to use 4oD you have to access the Freetime menus, but if you want to use Netflix you need to go to the Panasonic apps. Another issue is that certain features of Freetime aren't currently supported. The showcase element, for example, which is meant to suggest upcoming shows you might want to watch, doesn't work at present.