For this review we tested the 42in model in the AS650B range, but it’s also available in 47in (TX-47AS650B), 50in (TX-50AS650B), 55in (TX-55AS650B) and 60in (TX-60AS650B) screen sizes. All models have identical specifications except for their dimensions and power usage. We’re confident that image quality will be practically identical across the range.
The Panasonic Viera TX-42AS650 is one of the cheaper 42-inch TVs on the market. It has all the smart TV features we’d expect and a great deal of image quality settings, too, so our first impressions it appears to be a strong mid-range set.
We’re now very familiar with Panasonic’s tablet-like interface, which is the first thing you’re presented with when you turn it on. The TV image is surrounded by buttons for apps and widgets such as streaming services, clocks and calendars. You can add and remove these to your liking, and even create multiple home screens with different content on each. It’s a little bewildering at first, but for those looking to use the device for more than just broadcast television, having an easily accessible link to BBC iPlayer or Netflix will be a boon.
The latest generation of Panasonic Viera Smart TVs now has access to Freesat Freetime, a catch up service integrated into the device’s electronic programme guide (EPG) screen. Freetime lets you scroll back through the EPG so that you can select a show and watch it, assuming that it’s available on a catch-up TV service. This is handy if you’ve missed the last episode of Eastenders or Coronation St, as you can scroll back, select the episode and watch it without having to enter a separate catch-up TV app.
Sadly, there’s currently support for 4oD or Channel 5 catch-up TV in the EPG; we had to open the 4oD and Demand 5 applications to watch them, and to see these you must visit another screen. Panasonic says you should be able to load 4oD and Demand 5 shows through the EPG after a software update in the late 2014.
The TX-42AS650 has a good selection of ports, too, with three HDMI ports, one of which is audio return channel (ARC) compatible. This means it can send audio from the TV back to the input’s source. ARC is handy if you’re using an external sound system, such as a soundbar, and want your TV’s sound to play through it without having to use extra wires. The TX-42AS650 also has Common Interface, Component and SCART connectors.
You can connect the TX-42AS650 to your network via its Ethernet connection or with its built-in Wi-Fi. It even has Bluetooth, which is useful for connecting wireless keyboards to the TV so that you can use various apps more effectively. We’d strongly recommend connecting a Bluetooth keyboard because neither of the two supplied remote controls made typing easy. The second remote control, which has a touchpad for easier navigation, also has a microphone built in to it so that you can issue commands by voice, but we preferred to use the traditional remote control.
We were disappointed with the way the TX-42AS650 upscaled standard definition broadcast, as we saw a lot of digital artefacts and noise, and we couldn’t remove these effects with any amount of image tweaking. Neither the MPEG Remaster nor Noise Reduction settings seemed to make any difference to the image quality.
Happily, the TX-42AS650 handled HD TV much better, with everything from brightly lit quiz shows to documentaries looking sharp. Only Blu-Ray video needed fine tuning. The TV has four preset picture modes: Dynamic, Normal, Cinema and True Cinema. The TV will conveniently remember your choice for each input, so you can have a different colour setup for your games console and Blu-Ray player, for example.
Of the four presets, we found Cinema to be the best starting point, but it needed considerable tweaking to suit our needs. There’s a huge array of adjustments that can be made, including the very useful 24p Smooth Film setting, which automatically adds frames to footage shot at 24 frames per second. We found the “Max” setting provided the best results, with onscreen movement appearing smooth without a hint of judder.
For broadcast TV, Panasonic has an Intelligent Frame Creation setting, which has the same effect as Smooth Film. We watched a football match in HD to test this setting, and setting Smooth Film to Max made it a lot more pleasant, with the ball very smooth. With other TVs, we’ve found these type of settings can make footage look too smooth, but Panasonic has got the balance just right.
Colour options range from simple brightness and contrast settings all the way up to colour saturation and luminance adjustments for individual colours. With careful adjustment of all of these settings, we calibrated the screen so that it displayed a respectable 96.8 per cent of the sRGB colour gamut, up from the 90 per cent it displayed out of the box.
The TV’s contrast and black levels could be better, however. Some of the darker shots in our reference movies were grey rather than black, which is not helped by the lack of selective backlighting, a feature found on more expensive TVs. Selective backlighting dims parts of the screen to boost contrast levels.
The TX-42AS650 uses passive 3D, so the two pairs of 3D glasses that come with the TV don’t need to be charged. As a result, you won’t have to pay so much to buy extra pairs. Sadly, the 3D experience provided by the TV isn’t particularly good. We saw a lot of crosstalk, an effect where you can see two images instead of one 3D image, on 3D objects that were in the foreground and in the background. Only objects and characters in the middle of an image appeared in focus.
The 3D effect overall is much less pronounced than you’d see with active shutter 3D glasses, and we don’t think this a television to buy for its 3D abilities.
The Panasonic TX-42AS650 is a well-built TV with a number of good smart TV features. Image quality isn’t as good as the best TVs, though. The excellent Freesat Freetime interface is a real bonus, however, and will be even better when 4oD and Demand 5 support becomes available.
If you want a TV with better 3D and a minimalist but easy-to-use smart TV interface, though, we recommend the Sony Bravia KDL-42W829B as an alternative, as it provides slightly better features for around the same price.