As the third and most expensive Panasonic LED TV CNET has reviewed this year, the WT50 faced high expectations. They went mostly unfulfilled.
Like its brethren, this television delivered picture quality a notch or three below what competing LED TVs can muster, and so far behind Panasonic's plasmas that it's almost a joke. The WT50 does have one plasmalike saving grace -- superb fidelity when seen from positions outside the sweet spot directly in front of the TV -- but that isn't enough to overcome its flaws. When you consider its high price, Panasonic's WT50 joins the ranks of flagship LED TVs that simply aren't worth the money.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 47-inch Panasonic TC-L47WT50, but this review also applies to the 55-inch member of the series.
The two sets have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
The WT50 is one of the nicest-looking TVs on the market, falling just shy of Samsung's UNES8000 and LG's LM9600, both of which scored a 10 in this category. The WT50 earns its 9 with a vanishingly thin black bezel edged in silver, but while some might like the strip of clear plastic protruding from the bottom, I think it's more tacky than classy. I do like the stand, however, a splayed V of rounded, tapering silvery legs that terminate in a swivel base at the crux. The overall effect is understated and high-end, with a grace that befits a flagship LED TV.
The WT50 comes with two remotes: the standard clicker that comes with models like the DT50 and a little puck with a thumb touch pad just like a laptop computer's. Unlike the touch remote included with Samsung's high-end TVs, this one's actually as responsive as I'd expect from a modern touch pad, making it fun to use in many circumstances. It was at its best zooming through groups of thumbnails on the Netflix and Vudu apps; for browsing the Web, while better overall than the standard remote, it has its issues (see below). It's Bluetooth instead of infrared, so it doesn't need a line of sight to operate.
There's a sensitivity adjustment (I stuck with medium) but even so I can envision people who aren't touch-pad veterans becoming frustrated with it. And, of course, if you're keen to minimize coffee table clutter with a universal remote, the puck will probably just end up gathering dust.
Panasonic also tried to jazz up its standard remote this year, but the newly glossy face serves mostly to show fingerprints. We like the rest of the changes, though, from the nicely differentiated button sizes and groups to the extensive backlighting to the new dedicated Help button.
Panasonic's menus remain unchanged: an all-business yellow-on-blue that still seems a bit dated compared with Samsung's and Sony's user interfaces, but gets the job done. One great addition is the Help section with an onscreen user manual, which isn't as complete as the included print version but still covers most of what new users will want to know.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Edge-lit with local dimming|
|Screen finish||Glossy||Remote||Standard and touch-pad|
|Smart TV||Yes||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||No|
|Refresh rate(s)||240Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
|Other: Optional 3D glasses (model TY-ER3D4MU, $65 each), Skype camera/speakerphone (TY-CC20W, $130), network camera (wired BL-C210; $199; Wi-Fi BL-C230, $299); compatible with USB keyboards|
The main extra that separates the WT50 from its less expensive brethren in Panasonic's LED TV lineup is local dimming. Its edge-lit LED backlight is said to be able to adjust the brightness of 16 independent zones across the screen. In practice, this implementation didn't do much to improve picture quality (see below).
Panasonic claims its 240Hz panel is augmented by high-speed "1920" backlight scanning for higher moving-picture resolution and smoothness during fast action scenes. It divides the screen into eight parts and the backlight turns off for the portions being scanned.
Turning to features that don't affect picture quality, Panasonic includes a dual-core processor, which joins the touch-pad remote among the WT50's step-ups over the DT50.
I was disappointed in the lack of 3D glasses; even Samsung's least expensive 3D TVs come with two pairs, while LG and Vizio passive 3D models usually include four or more. Like all 2012 Panasonic active-3D TVs the WT50 complies with the Full HD 3D standard, so in addition to Panasonic's own 2012 glasses it also plays well with others, namely the $20 Samsung glasses. Check out my comparison for reviews of each.
Smart TV: Last year I ranked Panasonic's Smart TV interface, called Viera Cast, highest for its simple layout and ease of use. The company didn't change much beyond the name -- it's now Viera Connect -- for 2012. I like the fact that you can easily shuffle the items you want most, like Netflix, into prominent positions. Navigation and app launching were a bit faster than on the ST50 plasma, likely thanks to the dual-core processor, but once I was within an app I didn't notice any differences in reaction time. The WT50 also gets "multitasking"; when I hit the tools key a virtual page flips up to reveal the most recently used apps, providing quick access.
Panasonic's content selection is top-notch since it added Vudu, although I'd like to see a dedicated 3D app like the ones LG and Samsung offer. There's a new-ish Social Networking app that lets you combine live TV, Twitter, and Facebook on the same page. Audio apps include Pandora, Shoutcast, and a karaoke app as well as a new addition, Rhapsody, which should be a boon to subscribers of that service.
The Viera Market has a solid selection of apps, although I didn't appreciate having to sign in to an account to download even the free ones. There's also a real shopping section with overpriced Panasonic gear and other sundry hardware like keyboards (which help if you're the one guy who really enjoys tweeting on your TV).
The company says it will add new apps, including a partnership with MySpace touted at CES and an exclusive with Disney digital books, soon. It also offers a remote control app for iOS, Android, and BlackBerry.
The Web browser is almost as good as the ones on Samsung and LG TVs as long as you use the touch-pad remote, but that's not saying much since no TV browser can hold a candle to any phone, tablet, or laptop browser. Clicking over to CNET.com, I found I couldn't navigate down the page until it finished loading, which took forever (about a minute). I tried to scroll down by moving the cursor to the bottom of the page but it wouldn't respond. Instead I had to use the scroll bar on the far right.
Entering text via the onscreen keyboard, a painful necessity, was actually much easier via the standard remote since the touch clicker has a tendency to overshoot, and the lack of autofill is incredibly annoying. Load times were hit or miss -- mostly miss.