Panasonic TC-L47DT50 3D LED/LCD HDTV Reviewed

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Panasonic TC-L47DT50 3D LED/LCD HDTV Reviewed


Panasonic-TC-L47DT50-3D-LED-HDTV-review-front.jpgWhen I first heard that Panasonic was going to introduce larger-screen LCDs, it made me nervous. In the past, Panasonic kept a clear screen-size delineation between its plasma and LCD TVs. LCDs were never larger than 42 inches; plasma was the company's only option in the larger sizes aimed at the home theater crowd. So, when Panasonic announced at CES 2012 that it would add 47- and 55-inch models to its LCD lineup, I feared what it could mean for plasma technology in general. The day that Panasonic decides to give up on plasma is likely the day that technology will die, which would make me and most of the video reviewers I know very sad.

Additional Resources
• Read more LED HDTV reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com's staff of writers.
• Explore more reviews in our 3D HDTV Review section.
• Compare the TC-L47DT50 against the plasma alternative.

Naturally, I wanted to get my hands on one of these larger-screen LCD models to see how its performance measures up. Panasonic sent me the 47-inch TC-L47DT50. The DT50 Series is the lower-priced of the two larger-screen LCD lines; the top-shelf series is the WT50. The TC-L47DT50 is an active 3DTV that uses edge LED lighting (no local dimming), an IPS LED panel to improve viewing angle, 240Hz technology to reduce motion blur and film judder, and the 8-Train speaker design with a super-slim subwoofer. It includes Panasonic's VIERA Connect Web platform with built-in WiFi, a Web browser, and DLNA media streaming. The TC-L47DT50 carries an MSRP of $1,899.99.

After spending several weeks with the TC-L47DT50, I have one thing to say to Panasonic: Keep dancing with the one who brung ya.

Setup & Features
Thanks to its edge-LED design, the TC-L47DT50 has a thin, lightweight form, measuring just 1.1 inches deep and weighing 28.7 pounds without the stand. The "Glass & Metal" design combines a brushed-metal frame with a clear acrylic panel that runs beneath the bottom of the screen. There's only about a half inch of bezel around the 47-inch screen, and the matching brushed-metal stand is a swiveling model with a traditional square shape. All in all, it's a nice-looking package, although not quite as sleek and eye-catching as some of the competition.

The TC-L47DT50's remote control is identical to that of the TC-P55ST50 I recently reviewed - i.e., it looks similar to previous Panasonic remotes, but the button layout has been slightly tweaked to be more intuitive. Panasonic recently updated its VIERA Remote app for iOS and Android devices. The new v2.02 offers a game-pad layout for VIERA Connect games, an integrated Web browser and a media viewer. It also allows you to flick content from your mobile device to be displayed on the TV (and vice versa). The app includes a virtual keyboard for easier text input, and this TV also supports the addition of a USB keyboard.

In the connection department, you'll find four HDMI inputs, three USB ports, and an SD card slot running down the left side channel of the connection panel. Both the USB ports and SD reader support media playback, and you can attach a Web camera or the aforementioned keyboard to the USB ports. Along the bottom are a PC input, a component video input that requires use of a supplied breakout cable, and a single RF input to access the internal ATSC and Clear-QAM tuners. For network connectivity, you can choose between wired Ethernet and built-in WiFi.

Given this TV's price, the picture menu is surprisingly lean on advanced adjustments. You can start by choosing from five picture modes: Vivid, Standard, Cinema, Game and Custom. Either the Cinema or Custom mode is a good starting point from which to make further adjustments - too bad there aren't more options. Yes, you get basic controls like contrast, brightness, color, tint, sharpness, color temperature (Standard, Cool and Warm presets) and noise reduction. There's also a manual 100-step backlight control, or you can engage C.A.T.S. to automatically adjust the backlight based on room lighting. What you don't get are advanced white-balance controls, individual color management tools, or gamma adjustment. Panasonic does include a tool called A.I. Picture that provides limited automatic brightness/gamma adjustment, and there's a very basic Color Management tool that "enhances green and blue color reproduction" when enabled (I kept it off).

Panasonic-TC-L47DT50-3D-LED-HDTV-review-1920-Backlight-Scanning.jpgTo describe its blur-reduction technology, Panasonic uses the phrase "1920 Backlight Scanning," which is the combination of a true 240Hz refresh rate and an eight-phase backlight scanning/flashing system (240 x 8 = 1920). In the picture menu, Motion Picture Setting is the control that enables blur reduction - you can leave it set for Off or choose between Weak, Medium and Strong modes, all of which employ some degree of frame interpolation to reduce blur, which will alter the quality of motion with film sources.

In the 3D realm, the TC-L47DT50 is an active 3DTV that employs frame-sequential 3D technology, in which the TV alternately flashes a full-resolution left-eye and right-eye image. Panasonic does not include any active-shutter 3D glasses in the TV package. I used the same glasses that I employed for my review of the ST50: The TY-ER3D4MU glasses communicate with the TV via Bluetooth, weigh just 27 grams and have a new Quick Charge feature (a two-minute charge gives you three hours of use); the MSRP is $79.99 per pair. The 3D setup menu includes 3D Adjustment to adjust the left-eye vs. right-eye depth to produce a more desirable 3D effect, the ability to swap the left/right images if it seems like the depth perception is off, a diagonal line filter to remove jaggies, and the ability to enable 2D-to-3D conversion and adjust the depth. You also have the option to output 24p Blu-ray 3D content at 60Hz or 48Hz. In terms of picture adjustments, when the TV detects a 3D signal, it automatically switches to a 3D picture menu in which you have access to all the video controls I listed above for 2D content.

The new 8-Train speaker system can be found in both the plasma and LCD TVs. It features eight dome-type microspeakers that measure only about 8mm thick and run along the bottom of the front panel, plus an 11mm-thick subwoofer that's mounted to the rear surface of the panel. New "sound lifting" technology is designed to more effectively redirect the sound to the center of the screen. The audio setup menu lacks preset sound modes and equalization tools, but includes bass, treble and balance controls, as well as a basic surround mode. The Distance to Wall setting adjusts the low-frequency level based on whether the TV is on a stand (over one foot tall) or wall-mounted (up to one foot). The new speaker/subwoofer design produces solid dynamics and adds more meat to the mid and lower frequencies, producing a less tinny sound than you'll often get from flat-panel TV speakers.

As I mentioned, you can add the TC-L47DT50 to your home network via a wired or wireless connection. This year's VIERA Connect platform uses a cloud-based architecture, so there are no memory limitations to the amount of apps and services you can add via the VIERA Connect Market. Apps that come preloaded on the TV include Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Skype, YouTube, CinemaNow and the full sports suite (NBA TV, MLB.TV, MLS, and NHL). This TV lacks the new VIERA Touch Pad controller and the dual-core processor (to allow for multitasking) found in the step-up WT50. For a full review of the 2012 VIERA Connect platform, as it appears on this and other new Panasonic TVs, click here.

Performance
Panasonic will face no shortage of competition in the 46- to 55-inch range. I compared the TC-L47DT50 to the two most recent LED/LCDs I've reviewed: the Samsung UN55ES8000 and LG 55LM6700. Both of those TVs are also available at the 46-/47-inch size, and the Panasonic's price falls in between the two (it's closer in price to the higher-end Samsung than the mid-level LG). I also compared the LCD to Panasonic's own TC-P55ST50 plasma (also available in a 50-inch size).

Read more about the performance of the TC-L47DT50 on Page 2.

HTR Product Rating for Panasonic TC-L47DT50 3D LED/LCD HDTV

Criteria Rating

Performance

3.5

Value

2.5

Overall

3

Disagree with our product rating? Email us and tell us why you think this product should receive a higher rating.


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Panasonic-TC-L47DT50-3D-LED-HDTV-review-angled.jpgBeginning with a black-level comparison, the TC-L47DT50 simply could not compete with the other displays. Even at its lowest backlight setting, the Panasonic's black level was fairly light, looking more gray than black. As a result, the image didn't have as much contrast and depth as the other TVs. Darker film content looked flat and washed-out, especially when viewed in a dark room. Going further, black detail was sub-par. Fine black details in my demo scene from the opening of The Bourne Supremacy were basically non-existent until I turned on the A.I. Picture function, which automatically boosted the bright elements within the scene. This feature can improve the visibility of fine black details, but sometimes made backgrounds too bright, hurting black level all the more.

The TC-L47DT50 did a better job when I switched to a bright-room environment. At the higher backlight settings, this TV produced a good amount of light output, and the Clear Panel Pro screen did a nice job rejecting ambient light to help the black level look darker during the day. These attributes helped it to perform well with brighter sports and HDTV content in a medium to well-lit room. The TC-L47DT50's bright-room performance was better than that of the LG LCD and Panasonic plasma, but not quite as good as that of the Samsung LCD, which appeared to have better overall brightness and did an even better job of improving contrast in a bright room.

In the color realm, I originally set the TV's color/tint using Digital Video Essentials and a color filter. I had to push the color control up to about 75 (out of 100) to get the DVE test pattern to look correct. When I made the jump to real-world content, I quickly saw that this color setting was incorrect. Colors were much too saturated, and skin tones had a very orange-yellow push. I therefore dialed the color back to around 45, which resulted in a more natural-looking image with generally neutral skin tones. The color temperature looks close to the 6500K standard across the board; the image did not have the yellow/green tint of the ST50 plasma and its blacks did not have the bluish tinge I noticed in the Samsung. Likewise, the color points, while not perfect, don't veer drastically off the mark.

The TC-L47DT50 produces a nice level of detail with both HD and SD sources. It did a better job of upconverting 480i content than the ST50 plasma did, both in detail and processing. As with other Panasonic displays, the TV's film mode needs to be set to "On" as opposed to "Auto" for the most reliable handling of 480i and 1080i signals. With the anti-blur function turned off, the TC-L47DT50 exhibited a lot of blur with fast-moving content. It created blurry lines all the way to VCR 240 in the motion-resolution test on the FPD Benchmark BD. When I set Motion Picture Setting to the Weak mode, it reduced blur significantly, cleaning up the lines to HD 720. The Strong mode actually produced a cleaner, more razor-sharp pattern than even the ST50 plasma. Too bad the Strong mode also makes motion so awkwardly smooth with film sources that I found it to be unwatchable. The Weak mode strikes a very good balance, minimizing the blur while remaining subtle in its de-judder smoothing. Still, I wish Panasonic had included a blur-only option that does not use frame interpolation. Other LCDs at this price point from LG and Samsung offer the ability to customize the blur/judder controls.

Panasonic-TC-L47DT50-3D-LED-HDTV-review-3D-diagram.jpgFor 3D content, I set the backlight at its maximum to help offset the brightness that's lost through the active-shutter 3D glasses. I felt the TC-L47DT50 offered ample brightness for viewing 3D content in a dark room and solid brightness for 3D in a bright room. As with 2D content, the Panasonic's higher black level produced an image that wasn't as rich and saturated as I've seen elsewhere. On the plus side, the active-3D image had excellent detail, and I saw virtually no crosstalk.

Panasonic is one of the few LCD manufacturers that is committed to using In-Plane Switching technology to improve viewing angle. IPS changes the orientation of the liquid crystals to reduce light leakage at wider angles. Indeed, the TC-L47DT50 has one the best viewing angles I've seen in an LCD, far outperforming the Samsung LCD in this respect. Image saturation, even with darker content, remains good at wide angles.

Low Points
As I mentioned above, the TC-L47DT50's black level is not very deep. In truth, it's the lightest black level I've seen in an LCD in a long while. As a result, the TC-L47DT50 lacks the contrast you can find in the better performers, especially with darker film content in a dark room. Furthermore, edge-lit LED models often suffer from a lack of screen uniformity, and the TC-L47DT50 is no different. A lack of screen uniformity means that certain areas of the screen are clearly brighter than others. Panasonic tries to disguise this somewhat by forcing the black level down when an all-black signal is displayed; however, the TV doesn't always accomplish this act quickly enough, so you can still see the unevenness. In my review sample, the entire right edge of the screen was notably brighter than the rest. The lack of uniformity isn't really obvious with brighter content, but you will notice it in darker scenes.

The Clear Panel Pro screen is highly reflective, which can be distracting when trying to watch darker scenes in a well-lit room. You need to be mindful of where you place this TV in a relation to light sources.

I'm not sure why Panasonic opted to exclude advanced picture adjustments. This omission is forgivable and expected in a budget TV, but it's hard to overlook in a TV at this price point. Even though the TV's color, white balance and gamma look pretty good as is, there's always room for improvement. The more advanced user should have the option to fine-tune these if desired. If you want a more precise adjustment of color temperature, gamma and color points, you will have to employ a professional calibrator who can get into the service menu.

Panasonic also doesn't include any pairs of active 3D glasses. The Panasonic glasses will run you around $80 each, which can add a lot to the bottom line if you need to buy multiple pairs of glasses. You can find cheaper universal glasses from XPAND for less money.

Competition and Comparison
Compare the TC-L47DT50 to its competition by reading our reviews of the LG 55LM6700 (link tk), Samsung UN55ES8000 (link tk), and Panasonic TC-P55ST50. You can get more information about all of the 3D-capable TVs we've reviewed here.

Conclusion
With the TC-L47DT50, it's really a tale of two viewing environments. The combination of a high black level and lack of screen uniformity mean that this TV is a poor choice for the movie lover who plans to watch a lot of films at night, in a primarily dark environment. On the other hand, the TC-L47DT50 is well-suited to display sports, games and brighter HDTV content in a bright environment, and its wider viewing angle is a plus for the more casual viewing space where people will watch TV from a variety of positions in the room. Still, I can't help but feel that a TV in this price range should offer more balanced performance. As I write this in early July, the TC-L47DT50's street price isn't too much lower than its $1,899.99 MSRP. You can find similar Web features, better (or, at the very least, comparable) all-around LCD performance, and a better assortment of picture controls for less money. And let's not forget Panasonic's own plasma TV line. The TC-P50ST50 has a larger 50-inch screen, offers more balanced performance, and has an MSRP that's $500 lower than the DT50.

I will add that I've seen at least one positive early look at Panasonic's step-up WT50 LCD. The WT50 adds local dimming, which should improve the black level a bit and could lessen the screen-uniformity problems for dark-room viewing. It also adds ISF calibration settings and advanced adjustments for white balance, color and gamma. Of course, those improvements add about $400 to the bottom line. If you want to see the best that Panasonic has to offer in its new larger-screen LCD entries, I suggest you start with the WT50.

Additional Resources
• Read more LED HDTV reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com's staff of writers.
• Explore more reviews in our 3D HDTV Review section.
• Compare the TC-L47DT50 against the plasma alternative.


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