Panasonic Viera TC-L42E30 LED LCD HDTV Page 2

There are additional noise reduction controls in an Advanced picture menu, along with Color matrix, Black level, and 3:2 pulldown adjustments. When they were accessible (depending on the source), I left all of these in their default positions.

The Panasonic can refresh the source image at either 120 hertz or 96 Hz. With the Motion Picture Pro 4 control in either Weak or Strong, the Panasonic interpolates additional frames for each real source frame to bring the source’s refresh rate up to either 120 Hz or, for 24-fps material, 96 Hz. Motion interpolation controls like this are now common in LCD designs, and as with the others, Motion Picture Pro 4 produces glassy-smooth, almost unnaturally fluid motion. But, also like other motion interpolation solutions, it significantly alters the look of film-based material and gives it a video-like character. You either like this effect or you don’t, but at least you can turn it off, as I did. In that case, the set simply repeats frames as needed to match the above refresh rates.

Panasonic doesn’t offer a number of controls that are found in many sets. There’s a three-position Color temperature control (Cool, Normal, Warm—choose Warm), but white balance adjustments are only available in a code-locked service menu, where they are best left to a qualified technician with the right test gear. (Stumbling blindly around a service menu is an invitation to major repairs—or a fast track to an expensive boat anchor.)

There’s also no color management system (CMS). Panasonic provides a “Color mgmt.” control; while this simple on/off adjustment subtly alters the color, it cannot correct a skewed color gamut like a true CMS can. Nor are there any optional gamma settings.

Other features that you do get include input naming, On/Off timer, PC input adjustments, parental controls, closed captioning, and the option of attaching a keyboard via a USB input.

The remote is a familiar Panasonic design. The company hasn’t made dramatic changes to its HDTV remotes in years, and that’s a good thing. While the TC-L42E30’s remote isn’t backlit, the size, spacing, and shape of the buttons is varied enough to make for easy use in the dark—at least with the most commonly used features—once you become familiar with the layout.

Going for a Spin
The Panasonic’s video processing is generally good (see the Video Test Bench chart), though not exceptional. It failed 2:2 pulldown in HD (and in SD as well, not shown in the chart) and failed the 480p-to-1080p scaling test. The latter produced a bit too much moiré in the test patterns to earn a passing score. There was also more rolloff in chroma resolution than usual. But that’s unlikely to affect color to a noticeable degree on real program material.

The set’s off-axis performance isn’t the equal of Panasonic’s plasmas, but thanks to its IPS panel technology, it’s well above average for an LCD. Few viewers seated at any practical viewing angle will likely complain.

In some important respects, the TC-L42E30’s basic video performance raises a never-resolved question that’s applicable to both video and audio: In the final analysis, do your eyes (ears) or your meters take precedence? But let’s begin with the parameters about which both our eyes and test bench results agree: black level, contrast, and shadow detail. On the upside, the uneven screen illumination common to edge-lit sets was only mildly evident here. On the downside, that’s because the set’s high black level masks it.

In all fairness, I could always make out what was happening in dark scenes, which isn’t universally true of sets with low contrast. But the real-world scenes I favor for testing a set’s black level and shadow detail, including cuts from Stargate: Continuum and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, looked bland. I clearly saw the foggy quality common to sets with poor black levels on such material. In addition, black bars on 2.35:1 or comparable widescreen titles were clearly gray and not black.

Panasonic’s Website appears to claim that this set performs some form of local or zone dimming. (“The backlight is adjusted to maintain a brightness that is optimal for each area [of the picture.”]) But I saw no visible evidence of this. Indeed, if it were the case, it would be a cost breakthrough. Local dimming, even in its more limited edgelit LED version, is generally found only in the most expensive LCD designs.

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