Over the last couple of years Panasonic TVs have followed a pattern so simple, a caveman could remember it: Plasma good, LCD bad.
Not including one outlier, Panasonic plasmas have been uniformly excellent in our 2012 and 2013 reviews, the best on the market, averaging a score of 8.1. Its LED LCD TVs have been among the very worst according to our reviews, averaging a score of 5.3.
Now we've finally reviewed the Panasonic LCD outlier. The TC-LE60 is the only non-plasma Panasonic TV in two years to crack a 6 in our reviews, and it does so handily, with a combination of aggressive pricing and very good picture quality. It's not the equal of the company's like-priced S60 plasma, but it certainly trounces that TV in a very bright room.
Yes, the E60 also offers modern minimalist styling and a solid feature set, including non-fake 120Hz and the full Smart TV treatment. But this complete midrange LED LCD package distinguishes itself with its deep black levels, superb bright-room image and lack of other major picture quality flaws. Simply put, the E60 is one of the best LED LCD values of the year.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 50-inch Panasonic TC-L50E60, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
|Models in series (details)|
|Panasonic TC-L42E60||42 inches|
|Panasonic TC-L50E60 (reviewed)||50 inches|
|Panasonic TC-L58E60||58 inches|
|Panasonic TC-L65E60||65 inches|
Are you beginning to feel like all TVs look the same? Take it from someone who sees more than his fair share: they are. Panasonic's E60, with its ultrathin, glossy-black bezel and black pedestal stand, is no exception.
Put more charitably, the E60 is quite attractive in its minimalist simplicity, and will upstage neither the contents of its picture nor your room decor. In profile it's thinner than most TVs in its price range. Seen from the front, only accent is a strip of transparent plastic along the bottom edge that tends to catch whatever's behind the TV and distort it slightly. The stand doesn't swivel.
The nonilluminated remote is standard Panasonic fare. I like its logical layout, clear button differentiation, and dedicated keys for Netflix and eHelp, a comprehensive onscreen manual. Apps and Home, both part of the Smart TV suite, get too-prominent keys, while Menu is tiny. More than a few times I accidentally hit Home instead of the Up cursor.
The TV has two separate menu systems -- one for Smart TV and the other, accessible via that little Menu key, for more mundane TV settings like picture and network options. I thought the blue Settings icon from within the Smart TV system would take me to the TV's settings, but instead it took me to a configuration page for Smart TV itself. Once I found them, Panasonic's 2013 settings menus were a big improvement over last year's version, with easier navigation and sleeker design.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Edge-lit|
|Smart TV||Yes||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|3D technology||None||3D glasses included||N/A|
|Refresh rate(s)||120Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
|Other: Optional Skype camera (TY-CC20W, $130)|
Panasonic's entry-level Smart TV, the E60 still offers the higher-end edge-lit LED backlight, as opposed to the cheaper "direct" version employed by the entry-level lines of many TV makers this year. The thinner cabinet is the most obvious result; edge offers no picture quality benefits, and the E60 lacks any kind of local dimming.
Another picture-quality perk over typical entry-level models is a 120Hz refresh rate. While many TVs in its price range resort to refresh rate fakery, the E60 seems to legitimately be a 120Hz TV; see the Picture Quality section for more.
The E60 lacks the level of smartphone/tablet communication synergy-- such as screen mirroring and NFC -- seen on some competitors, but Panasonic's Viera Remote 2 app still enables functions like basic control and "swipe and share" to display photos and videos, and play music, via the TV (the app's unique advanced calibration capabilities are reserved for the VT60 and ZT60 plasmas as well as the WT60 and DT60 LCDs).
I was more successful with the app this time around -- Panasonic has updated it a few times since my ST60 review published -- but it was still unimpressive. The controls that duplicate what the standard remote can do were occasionally unresponsive, especially cursor navigation, so they're really only useful if you misplace the main remote. Swipe and share worked, to an extent, but delays were pretty common and annoying, whether between slides on the photo slideshow or waiting for the app to try dealing with long lists of photos and music. I also found the "swipe" action more awkward and unreliable than simply, you know, hitting a dedicated button. The videos I tried, sourced from my Note 2's HD camcorder, suffered stutter and dropout in both video and audio. The app also crashed a couple times in my brief test, its built-in browser (ostensibly available so you can swipe pages to the TV too) 404'd even when my Chrome app worked fine, and the keyboard functionality didn't work in Netflix for searches.
Smart TV: I'll get to the new Smart features in a minute, but first let me describe a couple of dumb additions. When you first power on the set you're greeted not by whatever source you last chose -- typically your cable box -- but instead by the home page for the Smart TV suite. Panasonic tells us this is a conscious design decision, meant to make users more aware of the existence of the Smart features and encourage their use. I consider it an annoying intrusion.
In addition, Panasonic is still the only smart TV maker dumb enough to show an actual banner advertisement (above) when you first turn on the TV. The banner's presence, which lasts about 5 seconds and appears when you first power up the TV as well as when you adjust volume, is enabled by default.
After you've dedumbed it by disabling those defaults, Panasonic's new interface is mostly good -- although I like LG's and Samsung's better. There are multiple "pages" available, and all show the currently playing input in an inset window along with a grid of apps. You can place any app anywhere you want on the grid, a welcome change from interfaces like Samsung's that offer only partial customization. Panasonic ups the custom ante further by offering three different templates for new pages you can create, custom backgrounds (including your own pictures), and the ability to name pages -- for example, each member of a particularly tech-savvy family could set up his or her own page.
There's also some bad. For someone used to swiping left or right on a smartphone to access different pages of apps, Panasonic's method isn't intuitive; you have to press the Home key again to switch between pages, rather than simply navigating among them directly. And it's potentially confusing that one page is actually the "Full-Screen TV" page, and that hitting Exit from another page doesn't take you there (you have to actively select the window). Conversely, hitting the "Return" key from within an app often exits it completely, as opposed to navigating up a level. I was also annoyed that you can't delete or change the default Info and Lifestyle pages, although you can rename them.
Navigation was relatively snappy on the pages themselves, but bogged down inside the Viera Connect market and many apps.
All of the apps from 2012 are still available, and it's a very healthy selection. Not much worthwhile has been added this year, however. Hit the apps key and you'll be taken to a page with a bunch of thumbnails showing preinstalled apps, such as YouTube and Netflix and a product support app, as well as a few custom utilities like a calendar, a memo app, and an event timer. It would be nice if they could tap into common cloud apps like Google Calendar or Evernote, but no dice. It goes without saying that typing a note using the remote and virtual keyboard is hardly worth the effort.