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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Panasonic TX-L39E6 review: comprehensive new interface raises the profile of the inbetweener 39in LCD TV

Balham may be gateway to the South, but it’s the E6 that provides access to Panasonic’s recently refurbished smart TV portal. Or the Panasonic TX-L39E6, to give this model its full name.

While the enticingly affordable series of LED edge-lit screens doesn’t sport the high-spec IPS panel found further up the brand’s ranges, and they’re decidedly two-dimensional rather than 3D, we don’t think you’re going to mind when you kick back to browse iPlayer or stream a movie from Acetrax.

Indeed, you might well feel smug, having snapped up one what could prove to be one of this year’s best value flatscreens.

The E6 comes in five screen sizes, spanning 32- to 50-inches (officially that’s the Panasonic TX-L32E6, TX-L42E6 and TX-L50E6). The model we’re featuring here is the Panasonic TX-L39E6. Although 39 inches is an unusual screen size it’s not without bijou charm. It typically sells for £699 or less.

The Panasonic TX-L39E6 design is ace. The set has an ultra-thin grey/silver bezel with a trendy translucent lip. It’s also slim at just 37mm thick. If you don’t like silver grey, there are black and white finishes also available.

Connections include three HDMI, ethernet, SCART, component AV in and an optical audio output. There’s also a CI port and USB media reader, but no SD card slot. Wi-Fi is built-in.

While Panasonic may be using a journeyman panel with the Panasonic TX-L39E6, that doesn’t mean it’s a dud. Indeed, contrast is extremely good and the screen delivers seriously broody blacks, although these are rather sensitive to off-angle viewing.

While the set lacks the picture processing brawn seen on pimped-up Panasonics (there's no Intelligent Frame Creation), images are crisp and vibrant. If the set does have an Achilles’ heal it’s with limited motion resolution – there’s nothing above 850 lines when measured at 6.5ppf – but at this screen size that’s not really a problem.

Sonically, the Panasonic TX-L39E6 set is thin but functional, although we found one anomaly with the optical output. On any new Freeview HD screen we would expect to be able to route out Dolby Digital 5.1 from connected HDMI sources. However, we could only get stereo from the Panasonic E6. This would be an issue if you planned to drive a home cinema from the TV’s audio output.

Where this Panasonic TX-L39E6 really differs from last season’s models is the interface. There’s been a big drive to simplify and personalise the Smart experience. Once tuned in, a new Voice Guidance feature is on hand to give you a spoken tour of the TV’s features, which is nothing if not unsettling.

More significantly, the TX-L39E6 also debut’s Panasonic’s new My Home Screen interface. This is dramatically different from the old-style VIERA Connect interface offering a choice of three preset designs (with an emphasis on lifestyle, info, or TV content) as well as the option to configure your own, which is simply a case of selecting your preferred apps and streaming services onto an empty grid.

As far as personalised TV goes, the Panasonic TX-L39E6 is the most advanced out there – and optional, so you don’t have to have the Home Screen take over your TV by default whenever you turn it on.

There’s a broad range of streaming IPTV services available, including BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Netflix, iConcerts, Acetrax and DailyMotion, plus the usual social media clients.

Multimedia file playback support is excellent from USB, covering all key codecs and containers, although across a network MKVs aren’t recognized.

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