Do you want 3D? Many don’t, it seems, and that could be something to do with the high prices of TVs and especially 3D glasses.
Panasonic – inventor of the pricey though often awesome Active Shutter 3D system has rather predictably taken commercial realities onboard and fitted its 37-incher with Passive 3D tech, which Panasonic calls Easy 3D.
The differences between the two technologies is explained here, though the use of Easy 3D on the TX-L37ET5 means that four pairs of featherlight 3D glasses are included in the box. Identical to the types used in 3D cinemas, the sheer number and breakability of these polarised glasses (they only cost a few quid to replace) immediately makes 3D more appealing to families.
Only kids’ films seems to make it onto 3D Blu-ray in any number, anyway, so we’d class 3D as a tech for families, not film buffs. A wise move, then, by Panasonic, though it does mean that the LCD panel inside the Edge LED-backlit TX-L37ET5 is sourced from LG, maker of the Film Patterned Retarder screen at the heart of the (once) rival 3D tech.
Elsewhere the TX-L37ET5′s key selling point is likely to be its Smart VIERA moniker, which comprises both home networking and a burgeoning on-demand hub called VIERA Connect. Thankfully fuelled by a built-in Wi-Fi module (it’s actually clipped onto the back), VIERA Connect has added not only a number of apps to its service (namely Netflix) to join the likes of the BBC iPlayer, BBC News and YouTube, but also a web browser and a shopping dimension that covers both games and hardware.
Looks-wise the TX-L37ET5 is nothing particularly special, although its use of a transparent plastic trim around the bezel is a good-looking move. Measuring 22mm wide, that bezel isn’t particularly slim, though the TX-L37ET5′s 40mm depth is reasonably good value on an entry-level TV that’s largely about features, convenience and value rather than no-holds-barred picture quality.
Despite claiming Edge LED backlighting, Full HD resolution and a Freeview HD tuner that can make recordings to USB, the headline act on the TX-L37ET5 is undoubtedly its Easy 3D system. Based around an alien panel – made by LG – this once-only replacement by Panasonic of its own active shutter 3D system isn’t quite as strange as it seems.
Easy 3D, which uses completely passive 3D glasses, is a softer experience altogether; the glasses are just £1 to replace (and there are four of them in the box already), lighter and more comfortable to wear, and there’s no need to recharge them. When compared to active shutter specs, which need syncing and even pairing with a TV if Bluetooth is used (which can get tricky, especially if you use them with multiple TVs), Easy 3D deserves its name.
Active shutter 3D tech can be disappointing on LCD panels – especially affordable types like this one – so Panasonic’s use of Easy 3D should be thought of as filling a gap in its range by speccing-up the reasonably cheap ET5 line-up.
The actual panel, which at 37-inch is perhaps a little small for truly immersive 3D, has a Panasonic GUI slapped over LG-made hardware that uses a blinking backlight to reach its 300Hz claim; this is actually a 100Hz panel.
Ins and outs include four HDMI slots – all housed in the TX-L37ET5′s side – accompanied by component video and composite video (which actually share the same input thanks to some proprietary adaptors), a D-sub 15-pin (again a ‘mini’ version) for attaching a PC, a sole Scart (via an adaptor), some phono inputs, an optical audio output (for taking Freeview audio to a home cinema), and a headphones jack.
There also an SD card slot and an impressive three USB slots, including two powered versions, which we assume is a legacy of the same chassis’s use on Panasonic’s active shutter 3D sets where the glasses need recharging via USB.
For the first time VIERA Connect includes a browser that’s compatible with graphics-heavy HTML5 sites, though not with Flash. The browser is a separate download – actually from the ‘games’ folder – amid quickly expanding Viera Marketplace, which includes a plethora of apps and accessories that can be purchased.
Set-up involves creating an account (that annoyingly needs a very long password and PIN number) and adding payment details. Games are limited to Asphalt 5 (€5.74) and some free versions of Uno, Let’s Golf and the usual chess and Sudoku, though a separate Shopping area sells games controllers and keyboards from Logitech, and Panasonic-made Skype headsets and 3D glasses.
Thankfully Wi-Fi powers all of this, and its DLNA home networking dimension, though a wired LAN option is also available.
Although we’re chomping at the bit to try out the TX-L37ET5′s Easy 3D system, it’s immediately obvious that this TV has a well-made LED-backlit LCD panel at its heart; there’s no light leakage from LED clusters at the extremities of the panel, though that’s tempered by a quickly fading image if you watch from the wings. Contrast suffers particularly on a set that doesn’t deliver inky tones even viewed from the centre, though black levels are the right side of acceptable.
A tight viewing angle aside, Freeview HD channels sparkle, with lots of vibrant colours and plenty of detail, but the latter takes a slight dive with our 2D Blu-ray test disc, The Rum Diary. As Kemp is egged-on by Chenault in a ‘who screams first’ contest, the speeding red Austin-Healey remains intact thanks not only to judicious braking, but also Intelligent Frame Creation, which we used on its lowest setting to banish blur and judder.
Sadly the whole scene – including close-ups – suffers from what looks like ‘jaggies’, poorly defined horizontal lines. It’s down to the make-up of the polarising filter on the front of the TV – and it’s much more of a problem on DVD and standard definition sources.
It’s perhaps the same physical attribute that takes something away from SD channels; Empire on BBC One looks noisy and lined, in complete contrast to a HD broadcast, though DVDs and a clutch of DivX files are upscaled relatively cleanly.
To see how the TX-L37ET5 handles 3D we engaged IMAX favourite Legends of Flight on 3D Blu-ray. In a bright scene (though slightly dulled by the donning of the 3D specs) of a glider swooping past the Rocky Mountains it’s obvious that this is a relatively soft 3D image. Not only is there noticeably less detail, but the horizontal lines of the picture are constantly visible.
We also spotted some double imaging, or crosstalk, both at the tips of the wings as they swing past close to the camera, and in some of the mountainous background, though it’s only a seriously distracting problem on extreme foreground objects. It’s an issue that gets more serious if you watch the image from anywhere else but dead centre.
Most importantly, the experience is never tiring, 3D depth effects are mostly impressive, and it’s all a lot more versatile than active shutter; we watched Piranha in 3D with sun streaming in through windows without any problems.
We also put the TX-L37ET5 into 3D conversion mode, and the results with The Rum Diary were rather good. Slight, perhaps, but easy to watch with inconsistencies in depth effects less obvious than on active shutter 3DTVs. In one scene as Kemp and Sala walk around a palm-fringed crescent beach the various lines of trees are separated from each other and really do standout as 3D elements. It’s a neat trick on a TV that struggles to impress us on any one aspect, but remains a great all-rounder.
Usability, sound and value
The initial set-up is a cinch; choose your country, and the TX-L37ET5 immediately goes into DVB-T2 mode, tuning-in as many digital TV channels as it can find. In our test it found the entire roster of SD and HD channels inside a few minutes, and ordered them by signal strength.
The latter is useful if you plan to use the TX-L37ET5 in a room with dodgy digital TV signals (we’ve all got one of those). The TX-L37ET5 then gives us a choice of linking to a wired or wireless network before performing a short connection test.
The success of the user interface hangs on a remote control. The one that ships with the TX-L37ET5 is a slightly smaller version than in previous years, and more like the style included with Panasonic’s Blu-ray players.
Smaller numbered buttons is the biggest change, which will make VIERA TVs instantly less appealing to those with poor sight. Ironically, the TX-L37ET5 does have an all-new Voice Description feature, which works by announcing on-screen information using synthetic speech and gives clear instructions on how to navigate around the TV menu.
Elsewhere the remote seems a little lop-sided; the usual navigational arrows and OK button are flanked by the less-than-necessary VIERA Tools shortcut, and buttons for Internet (VIERA Connect) and Guide (Freeview), while the more important Menu button is more anonymous.
The 8-day Freeview guide is strictly functional, with a spreadsheet look to it that covers two hours of scheduling for seven channels, killing both picture and sound when activated. How quaint. Selecting a programme to watch is somewhat fiddly, too, with a screen popping-up offering to set a view or set a timer to record; the latter ought to be assigned to a coloured Fastext button, though at least it flags-up the TX-L37ET5′s ability to record Freeview programmes to a docked HDD or USB thumbdrive.
VIERA Connect is the finest smart TV interface around, at least in looks. The nuanced graphics and the recessed, almost 3D look to them is really quote stunning although moving between the separate screens is a bit of a pain. It’s best to spend a bit of time customising exactly where the icons for each app go so to keep all of your favourites on the start-up screen.
From a networked PC we managed to stream AVC HD, MOV, MP4 and AVI video files, FLAC and MP3 music, and JPEG photos, while from USB it also supported MKV video.
With two 10W speakers the TX-L37ET5 is perhaps a tad more powerful than most 37-inchers, and it results in a typically (for Panasonic) impressive – that’s to say, just above average against some pretty lowly competition – audio performance.
A shortcut on the remote control for Surround toggles between ‘normal’, V-Audio and V-Audio Surround modes. The latter splices-up the soundstage but never lives up to its name; best rely on V-Audio, which provides a consistent and versatile balance that gives a fuller sound to dialogue, just enough mid-range and fake bass for the odd film to sound acceptable, and a decent stereo image.
It’s hardly a replacement for a decent soundbar or home cinema, but it’s a good all-round performance that will suit a lot of smaller living rooms. There’s also a music setting, which is more engaging for tunes.
Panasonic is selling the TX-L37ET5 for a touch under £850, though a quick browse online finds it for as little as £749. That’s fair value for a nicely design TV that’s fitted not only with a family-friendly, convenient 3D system, loads of online goodies on VIERA Connect and some reasonable networking and even recordings features.
Chuck in a generous collection of ins and outs that will allow changes in set-up and situation, and we’d judge this a good value all-rounder.
Easy 3D may not be able to match the ultimate detail of active shutter variants, but who cares? It’s err, easier to live with and, let’s face it, 3D as a format is only ever going to make an occasional appearance in the living room. Who wants to shell-out £50 on 3D specs when £1 will get you a performance that’s at least half as good? Not families, that’s for sure.
Packed with features and nothing if not good value, the TX-L37ET5 marries Easy 3D to an excellent smart TV dimension and a versatile, if occasionally flawed, treatment of myriad video sources.
Nicely designed and well built, this set features a great online hub and we like its support of MKV files, too. 3D pictures and hi-def fare well, and even the 2D-3D conversion worked relatively well in our test. Meanwhile, VIERA Connect continues to expand in a thoroughly slick manner.
The 3D image isn’t as sharp as on active shutter 3DTVs; the horizontal structure of the image is obvious, though arguably the panel’s lack of contrast is just as much to blame for the lack of immersion. Though DVD looks OK, standard definition channels lack pizzazz.
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- Nicely designed
- Well Built
- Great online hub
- Decent 3D & hi-def pictures
- 3D image isn't as sharp as on active shutter 3DTVs
- Standard definition channels lack pizzazz
It might lack star quality, but this versatile 37-incher brings 3D – and much more besides – within a tempting package. VIERA Connect is fast becoming our favourite smart TV hub, and while regular TV channels can look ropey and the viewing angle is narrow, the TX-L37ET5 puts in a family-friendly and exceptionally good value performance.
Though is doesn’t come in a 37-inch size, LG’s LM670T Series is a close competitor to this Panasonic effort. Toshiba’s 37UL863B is a fair choice for those after Freeview HD – and even Freesat HD – though it lacks any 3D angle.
Toshiba’s VL9 Series is worth looking out for, though this passive 3DTV line-up starts at 42-inch. Philips’ upcoming 6000 Series of Edge LED TVs, which includes a 37-inch version, will comprise Easy 3D and the brand’s unique Ambilight system as well as WiFi and Skype.
Although the use of Passive 3D on the this ET5 Series range of LED TVs could be construed as something rather important, Panasonic has actually churned-out several other ranges of LED TVs, all of which embrace Active Shutter 3D.
Passive 3D is reserved for this low-end Series, which also includes the 32-inch TX-32ET5, 42-inch TX-42ET5, 47-inch TX-L47ET5 and 55-inch TX-L55ET5. Active Shutter 3D fans should suss-out the ET50 Series’ 32-inch TX-L32ET50B, 42-inch TX-L42ET50B and 47-inch TX-L47ET50B.
For a non-3D variant, the 37-inch TX-L32E5B costs a few hundred less. It’s joined in the E5 Series by the 32-inch TX-L32E5B, 42-inch TX-L42E5B and 47-inch TX-L47E5B.
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