The Panasonic TC-L42D30 can play music and videos off a flash drive, an SD Card, or your computer (via your home network). It provides a broad selection of streaming Internet programming. Its audio capabilities are a feast for the ears (by television standards, at least). And this 42-inch HDTV does all of that while using very little electricity. But much of its behavior feels rough around the edges, as if Panasonic hadn't quite thought things through. And frankly, this set's image quality isn't exceptional enough to justify the $1079 (as of June 6, 2011) estimated street price.
The TC-L42D30 received an unexceptional score of 81 in our image-quality tests, doing particularly poorly in color and skin tones. One judge strongly disliked the color, finding it greenish and murky. Other judges objected to flat and muted hues.
In my own capacity as a judge, I found this HDTV at its most disappointing with Blu-ray discs, perhaps because of the more complicated images it had to process. In a bright daylight scene fromMission: Impossible III (chapter 7), the contrast was so extreme that faces looked as if they had been photographed at night, while the sky blazed white hot.
Motion also caused some problems. The judges noted shimmering and other artifacts in our football test, in a brick wall that the camera panned across in Mission: Impossible III (chapter 7), and in our diagonal-panning test movie.
Whatever faults the picture had didn't extend to the sound. Television audio has its compromises, and I always recommend that people who want the full home theater experience invest in a separate receiver and external speakers. But the TC-L42D30's sound system is good enough to help you delay that purchase. In our tests the sound was deep and rich, and I noticed subtle effects from ourPhantom of the Opera Blu-ray disc (chapters 1 and 2) that I hadn't caught before. Even with the volume turned all the way up, I heard distortion only once, and that was during a very loud organ blast. The simulated surround won't fool you into thinking that speakers are situated behind you, but it will help you feel immersed.
This is a reasonably easy HDTV to set up and use. The main on-screen menu is legible and attractive, and it includes some short but useful descriptions. It isn't always intuitive, however. For instance, pressing the right-arrow button won't take you to the next submenu; you have to press the OK button for that.
Neither button is convenient to press. Panasonic designed the remote control in such a way as to make the circle of arrows--with the OK button in the middle--too high for easy reach. On the other hand, the volume and channel controls are perfectly placed for quick access, and the numbers are reasonably handy, as well. A black ridge on the back gives the remote an unusually good grip. The remote isn't programmable, but almost every button on it is backlit.
When you press the remote's Input button, up comes a scrollable list of inputs to help you move the TV's attention from your DVD player to your game console to broadcast or cable channels. Nothing unusual about that, but the TC-L42D30's Input screen has some nice touches. From this screen, you can assign labels that will help you identify what's connected to each input. You can also select a 'Not used' label, which will save you from having to scroll past that particular input.
A separate Viera Tools button on the remote gives you a handful of convenient options. You can use it, for instance, to go to the HDTV's media player (more on that below), change the video mode, or turn on the Eco option, which can shut off the TV after 10 minutes of no signal or 3 hours of no activity.
Speaking of saving power, this Energy Star HDTV sips an astonishingly low 42 watts when on. (Many DVRs consume that much when off.) This result constitutes a PCWorld record, as the TC-L42D30 is the first HDTV to receive a PCWorld Green Score of 100. As with most modern sets, the amount of juice it drank while off was so small that our meters couldn't record it.
Perhaps the lack of Wi-Fi helps keep the power consumption down. You'll need to buy an ethernet cable or use a separate Wi-Fi adapter to get Internet access on your HDTV.
But once you do get connected, you'll find a nice batch of streaming video, audio, and data options. Among them are Facebook, Netflix, Pandora, Picasa, YouTube, two pay-per-view services (Amazon and CinemaNow), and weather and sports channels.
You can use the same network connection to enjoy photos, music, and videos off your computer--assuming that your computer is running a DLNA server. That's not much of a problem: Windows Media Player will work fine.
If you're not network-savvy, the TC-L42D30 also comes with both USB and SD inputs. That way, you can copy media files from your computer to a flash drive or SD Card, carry the small device into another room, and plug it into your HDTV.
Whether you use USB, SD, or DLNA, the TC-L42D30 does an exceptional job with photos. It finds all the .jpg files on your media, displays them in thumbnails, and lets you select one to view, or start a slideshow. You get plenty of slideshow options, including various transitional effects and musical choices.
It isn't so versatile with video or music, however. Rather than displaying all of the appropriate files, it forces you to drill down into folders to find movies and tunes. The only audio format it plays is .mp3. It listed but couldn't play the .mp4 files I gave it, and it didn't even see my test .avi and .mpeg files. The TC-L42D30's specs page promises support only for "AVCHD/MPEG2/JPEG/MP3 playback."
Panasonic doesn't give you much information online; as I write this, you can't even download a PDF version of the manual. Luckily, the print version that comes with the TV is well written and nicely illustrated, with a FAQ page and an index. The colorful quick-setup guide does a lot to help you get plugged in and going.
The Panasonic TC-L42D30 does many things well. But for the steep price, I'd want more.