Panasonic TX-L47ET60B 3D LED TV Review

Black Level

We always begin this section in the same way when we review IPS LCD products: with a reminder that black level isn’t what IPS excels at. Measured from the centre patch of a contrast checkerboard test pattern, and with its Backlight and Contrast controls aligned so that peak white was hitting our target brightness of 120 cd/m2, the Viera TX-L47ET60B managed to hold black down at 0.118 cd/m2. That’s a decent amount better than last year’s equivalent model (we reviewed the 42ET50), which gave us 0.160 cd/m2. Some of the difference is owed to the separately configurable digital white level (“Contrast”) and LED light intensity (“Backlight”) sliders, which allowed us to make an informed decision regarding the contrast performance of the IPS panel, and prioritise contrast performance from the panel over dynamic range.

It’s still a good number of times greyer than VA LCDs (which have deeper black level but poorer motion clarity, much poorer off-axis viewing angle, and typically more distracting uniformity errors). And, Panasonic’s own plasma TVs, which are the current market leaders in producing rich blacks, naturally trump Panasonic’s own LED LCD displays in this department (that’s last year’s models by the way – we look forward to seeing their 2013 line).

Don’t get us wrong, the contrast performance is by no means bad, and the other favourable attributes result in high picture quality, but you really do need a plasma for the very best images with giddily deep blacks. Although the ET60 could moonlight as a home cinema TV without raising too many eyebrows, we certainly agree with Panasonic that LED LCD technology’s place is in bright, daytime rooms. In those environments, the tables are turned, and a plasma’s reflective screen becomes a contrast liability, whereas an LED TV can pump out huge amounts of light to compete with the sun easily.

When a fully black screen is input, the screen dims to near-black, but the LEDs don’t shut off entirely. That mostly avoids the distracting “Whoah! Who turned out the lights?” moments during films which feature hard cuts to black, while still fulfilling the intended purpose of auto-dimming. (Whether that purpose is power consumption savings or fooling the few naive buyers who still assess black-level response with a black screen, we’re not sure).

Motion Resolution

IPS panels typically do well with motion when compared to other LCD types. The TX-L47ET60, like nearly every other LCD type available, manages to resolve 300 lines out of a possible 1080 using the trusty FPD Benchmark test disc. That’s the same as any other LCD type, but in practice, IPS LCD doesn’t suffer from distracting low-tone smearing (black objects leaving especially distracting motion blur): the blur is visible, but basically consistent, and therefore easier to mentally tune out.

Stepping the [Intelligent Frame Creation] setting up to its highest level gives you all 1080 lines, albeit with some slight white ghosting artefacts visible from time to time. Using motion interpolation modes mean that you trade LCD blur for digital processing glitches instead, but the option for whichever you prefer is here for you to choose. Just leave it off for films, and TV shows shot with a film look in mind, to avoid the motion becoming hyper-smooth and video-like.

One thing to note: enabling [1080p Pixel Direct] bypasses the video processing responsible for the motion interpolation (the menu options are still selectable, they just don’t do anything). So, if you want to use motion interpolation to fight the LCD panel blur, you’ll need to turn this feature off.

3D

Panasonic’s decision to use passive 3D technology on its entire LED LCD lineup this year will probably cause a few wry smiles from the competition: after all, Panasonic was among the most vocal detractors of passive technology back when 3D was positioned as the next big thing, due to the well-publicised loss of vertical resolution that results. We’re not sure if this is due to issues of panel supply, market forces, or both, but Panasonic has made the best of it by reminding us that it at least more clearly differentiates the “casual viewing” LED LCD and the “enthusiast” plasma ranges.

The loss of resolution is not the most visible disadvantage of passive 3D: that “honour” goes to the black lines that are visible over the picture. Because the lines intended for the left eye are blacked out when viewed through the right eye of the glasses, and vice versa, the entire image appears with dark alternating lines over it, almost like that of an interlaced CRT TV. Those are both a curse and a blessing in one, because since the remaining 540 lines in each eye are spaced out with black ones, the image doesn’t actually look blurred.

If you can tolerate this – and it appears that plenty of people are more than happy to given the other benefits – then passive 3D is all good news. The glasses are cheap, lightweight, available in plenty of styles, and don’t flicker at all. They also don’t need to be charged. And unlike an active 3D plasma TV, there is no decreased gradation, extra dither noise, or large drop in brightness to contend with.

We ran both frame-packed (“Full HD 3D”) and side-by-side encoded 3D resolution tests on the Panasonic TX-L47ET60B, knowing of course that this is a passive 1080-line panel, so would never be able to show all 1080 lines anyway. What we’re interested in seeing is exactly how the two full 1080-line views are thinned out to be displayed on the passive panel. As it happens, the TXL47ET60 vertically pre-filters Full HD 3D images, which we assume has been done to prevent fine textures causing moiré when they interact with the resolution limit of the passive 3D LCD panel. When viewed through the glasses, images don’t suffer from any obvious vertical jaggedness (black lines notwithstanding), so it’s mission accomplished on that front. Bizarrely, it doesn’t quite resolve full resolution in the horizontal direction either. While we can think of no reason why that should be the case, it doesn’t actually pose a visible problem.

The Viera TX-L47ET60 also has no trouble with smooth motion in the third dimension, which isn’t too surprising given that it’s a passive 3D TV, meaning that it achieves a 3D effect spatially rather than requiring an overhaul of the panel’s motion driving. It can natively display European-style 50hz, US-centric 60hz, and the all-important film 24hz input signals without any judders, stutters, or dropped frames.

So, with all those tests done, how does three-dimensional content actually look? As we’d expect, it looks fantastic – again, provided you can accept the black lines overlaid on the picture by the passive 3D system (and for fairness, we should also say that the same is true of active 3D, “provided you can accept the flickering of the glasses”). Before calibration, our usual mix of 3-D test content appeared reasonably naturally, compared to some other 3D TVs we’ve seen (that’s still behind 2D standards, though). After calibrating to take into account the individual glasses – something we absolutely recommend 3D enthusiasts get done – colour accuracy was a visible match for 2D: tri-dimensional content appeared free of any sickly greenish haze, and as usual, was a real sight to behold. Crosstalk was very low, as we’ve come to expect from passive 3D IPS displays.

All things considered, the Panasonic Viera TXL47ET60B is a great performer within the limitations of passive 3D. However, it is definitely a step down in this regard when compared to last year’s active-shutter ET50 series, which is still one of the best 3DTV experiences we’ve ever seen, thanks to the combination of bright, full-resolution 3-dimensional video with no gradation or motion problems. IPS LCD plus active 3D was a winning combination for fans of extra-dimensional content, and it’s a shame to see it go, even if passive does have its own advantages. It’s up to the Panasonic 2013 Plasma range to keep the brand’s active 3D fans satisfied.

Standard Definition

Panasonic haven’t had many problems with SD upconversion for a few years now. The ET60 isn’t using Panasonic’s latest Hexa-Core video processor, and instead uses the older V-Real 3D Pro chipset. You would think that meant that its deinterlacing and scaling performance was exactly the same as older TVs – and as far as we can ascertain, you’d be wrong. Scaling is of a very high standard, with almost no diagonal aliasing. We’re not sure whether or not Panasonic have implemented a new scaling algorithm here, or simply added a secondary anti-aliasing step to an existing one, but we’ll probably get a better idea when we see what the new Hexa-Core models are capable of. Regardless of how it’s achieved or what differences we might see higher up the range, the TX-L47ET60B does very well here.

Deinterlacing performance is also good, with two out of the three rotating bars in the HQV test sequence appearing smooth, and the last bar appearing mostly smooth. The Panasonic TX-L47ET60 also correctly detects the presence of the most common film-to-PAL and film-to-NTSC (PAL and NTSC being the European and American standard-def TV formats) and reproduces them as best as a television is able, without throwing away any vertical resolution with unnecessary deinterlacing steps. Make sure [Film Cadence Mode] is enabled for that.

All in all, this is great standard-def performance, and we can’t think of anything that presents a problem.

High Definition

Before sitting down and assessing the TXL47ET60′s performance in a home cinema environment, we ran some “pre-flight checks”. First up, we fed it a luminance zone plate, to check that the HDTV could reproduce all the fine details in a 1080p HD source without exaggerating them (sharpening the picture) or blurring them out. The ET60 did a fantastic job here, with only a tiny amount of moire being visible on the outer edges of the chart. There were no strange “four leaf clover” artefacts around the centre of the chart as there were on last year’s midrange Panasonic flat-panel TVs (which didn’t translate into much of a real problem with content, but were a sign that Panasonic were taking part in some tinkering), and also no subtle boosting of tiny details – unless you want to enable that by turning up the Sharpness control (which now goes from 0-100 in single increments). This setup will please everyone, so bravo Panasonic.

In terms of chroma resolution (coloured details), the Panasonic TX-L47ET60B resolves all that a Blu-ray Disc can hold, when the [1080p Pixel Direct] mode is enabled. It’s common for HDTVs to horizontally blur the fine coloured details out, presumably because engineers typically don’t see the point in going to efforts to preserve them, so it’s nice to see Panasonic bucking this pointless trend and delivering every pixel to the display.

Skyfall

We had a look at the recently-released Blu-ray Disc of Skyfall on the TX-L47ET60 and, viewing it in a daytime environment, were very happy with what we saw. This is a gorgeous disc that shows the lifelike, wide dynamic range that the Arri Alexa digital cinema camera has become known for, and the TXL47ET60B doesn’t squander it. It’s also packed full of high frequency detail, meaning that we were more than happy to have the ET60 set up with its [Sharpness] set to 0 – which instructs it to neither blur, or exaggerate the details being fed to it.

Chapter 29 is an impressive test; without giving away the end of the film, it involves a lot of firey-looking fog. There’s a light coating of dither that’s been added to these scenes to prevent banding (either during the film’s post-production stage, or during the creation of the 8-bit Blu-ray Disc), and the Panasonic TX-L47ET60B left it alone instead of trying to scrub it out, like some competing TVs do. With a few small deviations over the years, Panasonic does seem to be the manufacturer that best grasps the often misunderstood art of leaving high quality video alone rather than needlessly poking at it. There are also no motion problems either, with the 47ET60 reproducing 24fps film content without any irregular judder.

Skyfall screenshot 2

Our only complaints related to the slight purple tinge added to shadows, and the “acceptable-rather-than-great” black depth, both of which are imposed by the blue-coated LED light source and IPS LCD panel. The former of those is visible in a bright viewing environment if you look for it, and both will be apparent in a dark room. Also, the use of LED edge-lighting did result in a mild “dirty screen” effect, which could be seen during some shots (typically those with skies or other flat details, and low texture, which make the slight unevenness more apparent to the eye).

Console Gaming

Compared against a CRT display, the Panasonic TX-L47ET60, in its fastest configuration, lagged by an average of 34ms. The fastest setup is to have [Game Mode] enabled, but, bizarrely, to have [1080p Pixel Direct] off (this does increase lag very slightly). Having the Pixel Direct mode on is the only way to get full 4:4:4 chroma, but responsiveness is more important for gaming, and turned off, the loss of chroma resolution is small, anyway.

Subjectively assessed, gaming performance was good, but in first-person shooters (Halo 4 is what we’re playing at the moment), the game was less responsive than on a fast plasma television. That’s probably owed a lot to the screen refreshing method (subfield drive versus an LCD’s top-to-bottom drawing), and the psychovisual ramifications of each. Fast plasmas are still in the number one spot for sheer fast-paced gaming enjoyment, but the TX-L47ET60B does a good job, too.

Conclusion

Panasonic’s TX-L47ET60 is a very capable LED LCD TV, and serves as an excellent example of the IPS LCD format. We absolutely agree with the company’s own recommendation that these screens are best installed in bright environments, where IPS’ inability to show truly deep blacks won’t be a problem (with edge LED TVs, blacks appear as more of a dark purple when viewed in a dark room).

Install a TX-L47ET60B in a bright environment, and you’ll be treated to gorgeous video with accurate colours, full detail, and what essentially amounts to untampered-with reproduction of HD content. The main drawback that comes to mind – other than the black level limitations of the IPS LCD technology and the resolution constraints inherent to Passive 3D – is the TV’s price tag. From what we gather, at launch, the price is going to be around £1000. The value-for-money proposition is not on the same level as Panasonic’s own plasma televisions, and unlike their NeoPlasma technology, IPS LCD is not exclusive to them (LG Electronics is another TV maker which uses this LCD type almost exclusively).

However, with the TXL47ET60, Panasonic are offering hands-off video processing that doesn’t damage the picture quality for the sake of marketing purposes, as well as truly sleek “glass and metal” styling. That makes the Viera TX-L47ET60B a safe bet for users looking to install an incredibly eco-friendly HDTV in a bright environment.

Recommended

Back to: TX-L47ET60B Review