Panasonic Viera TC-L42E30 Review

Panasonic’s Viera TC-L42E30 offers very good picture quality in a bland (but unobjectionable) package.
Panasonic’s Viera TC-L42E30 offers very good picture quality in a bland (but unobjectionable) package.
Panasonic’s Viera TC-L42E30 offers very good picture quality in a bland (but unobjectionable) package.

Highs

  • Very good picture quality
  • Nice selection of apps
  • 4 HDMI inputs, SD card slot

Lows

  • Wi-Fi not built-in
  • Plain vanilla styling

Panasonic Viera TC-E30 series information: This review is based on our hands-on experience with the 42-inch TC-L42E30 TV. There are no other sizes under this particular Panasonic model number, however the 42-inch TC-L42E3 and 37” TV-L37E3 are very similarly featured. The two primary differences are that model reviewed here has a 120hz native refresh rate and 900 lines of “moving picture resolution” whereas the two comparable models have a 60hz native refresh rate and 300 lines of moving picture resolution. It is likely that the most notable differences in picture quality will revolve around motion artifacts.  

Panasonic has a new HDTV that’s low-priced, energy efficient and Internet enabled. Is it worth a second look?

Features and Design

Internet-enabled HDTVs are one of the hottest categories in a lackluster television landscape. The Consumer Electronics Association just predicted over 20 percent of the 25 million-plus HDTVs expected to be purchased this year will be Web-ready. Thanks should be given to speedy Wi-Fi routers and the fact that HDTV apps have advanced from the Stone Age. Although you won’t have access to the billion apps available at the Apple store, Panasonic’s TV apps are far better than just two years ago.

Panasonic Viera TC-L42E30 side viewNot only can you access the usual video-on-demand, pay sports leagues and music-library cast of characters, you can monitor your calorie burn rate or run indoors up a mountain trail of your choosing (from BodyMedia and iFit live). New apps are arriving almost weekly too, making for a much more enticing scene. Panasonic calls its Viera Cast Internet-enabled sets Easy IPTV (not the sexiest name in the world, but they’re not Coke or Pepsi marketers so we’ll cut them some slack).

Beyond the Web, the TC-L42E30 is an LED backlit 42-inch LCD television measuring 24.1 x 39.5 x 1.7 (W x H x D in inches) weighing 33.1 pounds without the supplied stand, 41.9 with. You’ll have no troubles assembling and putting it into position, even solo.

Just as Viera Cast Easy IPTV doesn’t sing like Lady Gaga, the design of the TC-L42E30 is plain vanilla — or should we say, “plain dark gray.” There are no curvy edges, touches of color, nothing. If you looked at it on the proverbial wall of flat panel TVs, you couldn’t tell it from a Philips or an RCA if the labels were covered. If you turned them on, it’s another story, but we’re getting a bit ahead ourselves.

The front of the TC-L42E30 has just a few logos, remote and Contrast Auto Tracking System (CATS) sensors and a couple of power LEDs. CATS adjusts contrast for ambient room light. On the right side (facing you) are controls you’ll never use unless the remote dies (power, channel up and down, volume, and so on). On the left is an SD card slot, as well as USB and HDMI connections. The rear has the remainder of the connections (three more HDMI, component, LAN, another USB and a PC terminal). Most of this is pretty standard, other than the card slot, which lets you watch JPEGs and play AVCHD videos on the big screen.

What’s in the carton

The TC-L42E30 box contains the panel, stand, bracket and screws to put them together. You also get a candy-bar shaped remote, quick-connection guide and a three-language owner’s manual (62 pages in English). The remote is fairly basic, and the keys are not backlit, which is disappointing. While not a smart remote, it can handle compatible Panasonic components with Viera Link HDAVI Control. If you don’t have an Ethernet cable near your set, a critical accessory is missing: the Wi-Fi dongle. The DY-WL10 wireless LAN adaptor costs around $80, and we’d have the retailer include it in the package at a discount if you buy this set. Given the state of the industry, ask for a couple of free HDMI cables, too.

DY-WL10 wireless LAN adaptorPerformance and use

We’ve been on such a 3D merry-go-round for several years, it was a nice change of pace just settling back and watching 2D video with nary a pair of active or passive glasses to be seen or dealt with. After putting the TC-L42E30 in position, we connected a FiOS cable box and a Panasonic DMP-BDT110P 3D BD player. It too was Internet ready, but needed a dongle, just like the television.

Before getting into the video, let’s discuss the online portion: As we said, you need a Wi-Fi dongle, and here it gets interesting. There are two USB ports—on the side and the rear and both have issues. If you insert it on the side, it sticks out with the text on the bottom of it facing out. Picky? Yes but something Panasonic could have dealt with. If you use the one on the back, there are real problems if you’re using the two HDMI ports underneath: It won’t plug in due to the rounded shape of the dongle. Lord have mercy.

Jack jostling aside, connecting to your networks is very simple. We entered our WEP key via the remote and that did the trick. We still prefer the HD quality of Verizon FiOS VOD, but apps for Netflix, CinemaNow, Amazon VOD and so on are hard to beat.

As for the display itself, the 1080p TC-L42E30 features an LED-backlit IPS Alpha panel that delivers a solid 178-degree viewing angle. The panel is highly light transmissive, so combining it with LED backlighting gives you better contrast and energy efficiency. Also important is the 120Hz Picture Pro 4 circuitry that ostensibly eliminates blur in fast-moving scenes. These are the claims and theories, folks. Let’s see how it handled real world video.

Panasonic offers a nice palette of preferences for those who like to tweak their pictures. Although it doesn’t have a THX setting, the Cinema preset is very good for everyday viewing. If that’s not to your liking try Standard. There’s also a Game mode if your Xbox or PS3 is connected. Beyond the presets, you can make even more adjustments (contrast, color, tint, sharpness, etc.). You can adjust the amount of the Pro 4 setting (weak, strong) and black levels. We did most of viewing in Standard and Cinema, with Black Levels set to light, and Pro 4 to weak.

The TC-L42E30 has a typical 10 watts x 2 channel audio system that’s adequate. There’s a faux surround mode that adds a little spaciousness, but you really need a decent soundbar or 5.1-channel system for best results.

First up was some cable offerings, including ESPN and local sports networks in order to see how the display handled “live” motion rather than CGI. A blazing fastball or blasted home run are good tests for an LCD TV, as are NASCAR racing and soccer games. For the most part, there were few issues, although plasma still reigns supreme for motion, and overall quality too, but that’s another story.

Panasonic Viera TC-L42E30 front display blackWe surfed through a wide variety of programming and the set delivered at the level of the source material, which is all you can ask for in an HDTV. Talking-head “live” news sparkled, while older television reruns were flat. You’ll be fine watching TV.

It was a relief passing on Avatar and Alice which have become staples for our 3D tests. We’re tired of all things blue, and even Johnny Depp can’t carry Alice. Insytead, we popped in some old standbys such as Watchmen, Iron Man, The Dark Knight as well as the 2D version of Tron Legacy. All of these films have several things in common: lots of CGI, plenty of dark scenes, as well as outlandish colors. For the most part, the Viera did a good job with all of these tasks. Contrast and black levels were strong, not muddy, while colors had some pop. Off-angle viewing was spot on; you don’t have to sit dead center in the “sweet spot.” Just like watching television, settling in for nights of BD viewing will be quite enjoyable. And the HDAVI worked seamlessly between the BD player and display.

Conclusion

Panasonic’s Viera TC-L42E30 offers very good picture quality in a bland (but unobjectionable) package that retails for around $799 at legit online dealers. One of our biggest complaints is the fact you have to buy a Wi-Fi dongle for around $80 if you don’t have a LAN cable nearby. Built-in Wi-Fi should be a given as it is with competing sets in this price range. Vizio’s M420SV even costs $50 less, while a 40-inch Sharp Quattron has built-in Wi-Fi as well. Are there better HDTVs out there? Of course. We prefer the real pop of Sharp Aquos Quattrons in the LCD camp and Panasonic’s competing plasmas top the TC-L42E30 for black levels, color accuracy and handling motion. In fact, for just a little more you can get an Internet-ready Panasonic TC-P42ST30 plasma with 3D capability, while a 2D 40-inch Quattron with built-in Wi-Fi is around $950. So we’re rather torn about this HDTV. It’s not a slam-dunk winner or loser. Shop around, then let the best deal win.

Highs:

  • Very good picture quality
  • Nice selection of apps
  • 4 HDMI inputs, SD card slot

Lows:

  • Wi-Fi not built-in
  • Plain vanilla styling
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