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- Review Date: 07/31/2012
- Bottom line: The Panasonic ET5 series offers integrated Wi-Fi and passive 3D with included glasses in an affordable LED HDTV, but its picture isn't quite up to snuff unless you look at the screen straight on.
- Pros: Inexpensive. Built-in Wi-Fi. Bright picture. Comes with 4 pairs of 3D glasses.
- Cons: Weak off-angle viewing including heavy crosstalk. Disappointing shadow detail.
Passive 3D is a convenient, inexpensive way to watch 3D movies on an HDTV. While active 3D often offers the better picture, passive 3D doesn't require expensive, battery-powered glasses. Each 3D technology comes with trade-offs. The majority of the sets Panasonic sells are active 3D, but the company is joining Vizio and LG in the ranks of manufacturers offering passive 3D models. The ET5 series is the company's first passive 3D LED model, and at $1,099.99 (direct) for the 42-inch TC-L42ET5 version we tested, it's an affordable HDTV. But its picture quality doesn't measure up to Vizio's or LG's passive 3D screens, and doesn't come close to matching active 3D HDTVs. Still, the set's price and feature set helps make up for its picture failings, and if you want an affordable HDTV that does a lot, it's a solid choice.
Very basic looking, the set's bezel is flat and plain, framed by clear acrylic edging to give it a little bit of flair. The base is black, rectangular, and sturdy, but doesn't turn or pivot in any direction. Power, Volume Up/Down, Channel Up/Down, and Menu buttons sit tucked just behind the right edge of the screen. On the opposite side, four HDMI inputs and two USB ports sit conveniently facing to the left. The remaining component and composite video (a pair of connectors that use an adapter), VGA, cable, Ethernet, and optical audio ports face down from a recessed portion of the back panel.
The 8.9-inch remote is large, backlit, and comfortable. The big buttons are easily identifiable, and the number pad, volume/channel controls, and navigation pad all feel different enough under your thumb that you can easily use the remote blindly. A dedicated Internet button accesses Viera Connect services and a 3D button summons 3D options, but the remote doesn't have dedicated Netflix or Skype buttons like Panasonic's connected Blu-ray players like the DMP-BDT220 (4 stars). Panasonic also offers a smartphone app that turns your iPhone or Android smartphone into a remote control. It also has touchpad and gamepad modes for browsing the Web and playing games on Viera Connect apps on the HDTV.
You can use built-in Wi-Fi or an Ethernet connection to hook up the TV to the Internet and Panasonic's Viera Connect service. It comes with several apps and online services installed, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, and a Web browser. Web browsing is awkward with the remote, but you can use Panasonic's Viera Remote app to turn your iPhone or Android smartphone into a touchpad for better cursor control. You can download additional apps and services to the HDTV through the Viera Connect Market, which also lets you order physical products like optional gamepads and Webcams for use with certain apps.
We test HDTVs with DisplayMate test patterns, a Konica-Minolta CS-200 ChromaMeter, and Spectracal's CalMAN software. After setting the color temperature to Warm and performing a basic brightness and contrast calibration, the L42ET5 reached a peak brightness of 292.50 cd/m2 and a peak black level of 0.03 cd/m2, for an effective contrast ratio of 9,750:1. Colors were very accurate, with greens registering as just slightly warm. The chart below shows the screen's values compared with the CIE standards, represented respectively by the colored dots and boxes.
Despite good numbers, the L42ET5's picture has some quirks. Off-axis viewing distorts color, causing the picture to look pale and indistinct if you look at it from any view wider than about 45 degrees from the center. While the HDTV has a dark enhancement mode, we recommend turning it off and setting black levels to "light," because the mode severely clips shadow detail and makes very dark objects disappear. It showed no noticeable clipping in highlights, though.
I watched Piranha on Blu-ray on the L42ET5, and the picture was bright and colorful. The sunny, alcohol-fueled party segments were eye-catching and vivid, though skin tones looked slightly muted. Under the water, the picture wasn't quite as good, as the shadows and dark objects in the murk became muddled. Despite a good contrast ratio, the L42ET5 doesn't excel at shadow details.
Unlike other Panasonic 3D HDTVs, the ET5 uses passive 3D instead of active 3D technology. This means it uses inexpensive filtered glasses instead of electronic shutter glasses, and comes with four pairs in the box. The 3D effect is very good if you look at it straight on, and even passable if you look at it from the sides. If you move higher or lower than the screen, however, crosstalk becomes heavy, making the picture look little different than if you weren't wearing glasses at all. I watched Sharks 3D on Blu-ray, and the schools of fish popped out of the dark blue of the ocean when I sat directly in front of the screen with my head at its level. When I stood up, the number of fish doubled and the picture gave me a headache. This can be a problem if you want to wall-mount the HDTV and sit on a couch to watch a 3D movie.
The L42ET5 doesn't have many energy saving settings, but it's still relatively efficient. A single Energy Saving mode slightly dims the screen but keeps it very watchable. With the mode turned off, the L42ET5 consumes an average of 82 watts under standard viewing conditions. With the mode turned on, that number drops to 70 watts.
The Panasonic TC-L42ET5 is an inexpensive 3D HDTV with a good picture if you look at it straight on. While its passive 3D technology is convenient and economical with the included glasses, it suffers from distinct crosstalk and poor viewing angles. This means in a large group, a few viewers will be disappointed. For a budget 3D HDTV, the 55-inch Vizio M3D550KD (4 stars) remains our top pick. The 55-inch Panasonic TC-P55ST50 (4 stars) is a larger, more expensive plasma screen that doesn't come with the active 3D glasses it needs to show 3D movies, but it offers a superior picture to Panasonic's passive LED screen. Even so, if you're on a budget and want a connected 3D TV, the ET5 is worth considering for its solid feature set and low price.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.