The Panasonic Viera LE50 presents an intriguing compromise between performance, features and cost. That puts it on the short list for those on a budget but looking for more than a bare-bones set -- as long as expectations are kept reasonable. Three screen sizes are available: the 42-inch Panasonic Viera TC-L42E50 (*Est. $650), the 47-inch Panasonic Viera TC-L47E50 (*Est. $740), and the 55-inch Panasonic Viera TC-L55E50 (*Est. $1,200).
Performance is anything but perfect, but is still good for its class. In absolute terms, there are a lot of holes in Panasonic's game when it comes to the LE50. Blacks are lighter than those of the best TVs, and there's an issue with the set's color curves that could lead to a banding artifact in certain circumstances (colors that are close together lose definition, meaning gradations show up as contour bands rather than flowing smoothly from one to the next).
How big a deal these and other shortfalls are lies in the eye of the reviewer, and perhaps in the peculiarities of the individual sets being tested. For example, TelevisionInfo.com raves about the LE50's accurate colors, while CNET rails against its lack thereof. The same is true with screen uniformity: CNET complains that it sees lots of the bright regions specifically at the set's edges -- a typical thorn in the side of sets that use edge-lit LED technology. Meanwhile, over at TelevisionInfo.com, uniformity is roundly praised (though Josh Fields errs in crediting the backlit technology used, saying it is full array -- it is not). The reflective screen helps blacks (a little) in dark rooms, though it's a liability in well-lit ones. For their part, user reviews indicate that whatever technical flaws professional reviewers find, their satisfaction with the LE50 is pretty high.
Internet streaming is a plus. TelevisionInfo.com praises the LE50 for being one of the few available TVs that gives you a robust Internet streaming feature without also saddling you with the premium a 3D feature would add. Viera Connect (what Panasonic is calling that feature this year) has a good though not class-leading complement of streaming providers. The interface isn't the fastest, and the design is relatively quaint compared to those of other brands, but it is also pretty straightforward to use. Panasonic does not include a browser in this set, but that's not much of a loss. What is a loss is the lack of built-in W-Fi -- you'll need to go out on your own and buy a compatible USB Wi-Fi radio if you need to connect wirelessly. Calling this TV Wi-Fi-ready did annoy some owners in reviews we saw.
Beyond that, there's not much to see on the features front. One big thing, however, is the 120 Hz enhance refresh rate to reduce blur during fast motion (such as during sports). To Panasonic's credit, it's a true 120 Hz rate, not a 60 Hz panel ginned up to a so-called effective 120 Hz through some technical trickery, such as quoting the spec as a combination of the actual rate and the backlight's scanning speed -- something several of the company's competitors are now doing.
A step ahead for the price class and the maker. Panasonic has certainly not been in the forefront in recent years when it comes to set designs, but that seems to have changed. While the LE50 doesn't enjoy the elegant styling of some of the company's higher-end offerings, the clear accent bezel that joins the traditional black bezel imparts at least a little panache. Connectivity is ample. The remote is unexciting and a little cramped, which CNET says makes it easy to hit the Internet key by mistake -- enforcing a wait while that interface loads.
Not the cheapest set you can buy, but pretty good bang for the buck. You can certainly pay less for a set, but reviews -- and especially user reviews -- say that you get a pretty capable set for this price class.
From the above, it's pretty clear that the Panasonic Viera LE50 is not a top-of-the-line set by any means. However, when framed by the context of its price tag, things look a bit shinier. The decision to include Internet features but not 3D gives Panasonic the ability to trim costs, while giving buyers the feature (of the two) most seem to prefer. If 3D is a desire and your budget allows, we'd suggest also looking at the slightly more expensive Vizio M3D0KD. It's more feature packed (including passive 3D) and is drawing some rave reviews. Otherwise, the Panasonic LE50 is a solid choice for those who need to carefully watch their dollars.
Excellent CNET doesn't care very much for the picture quality of the 47-inch Panasonic TC-L47E50, but says that it at least outperforms the company's DT50 sets, which reviewer Ty Pendlebury outright dislikes. The feature lineup, sans 3D but with Internet connectivity, is solid for this set's price.
Review: Panasonic TC-L47E50 Review, Ty Pendlebury, July 9, 2012
Excellent Though Josh Fields says that the 42-inch Panasonic Viera TC-L42E50 "isn't a complete joyride," he finds enough positives to say that it's a solid performer that "hits most of the right notes." The inclusion of Internet connectivity is a definite positive, and he adds that it's "refreshing" to see a TV that has that feature without forcing you to also spend the premium needed to get 3D, which he notes is expensive relative to its usefulness
Review: Panasonic Viera TC- L42E50, Josh Fields, July 6, 2012
Excellent ConsumerReports.org includes the 42-inch Panasonic Viera TC-l42E50 among the sets it currently reviews. Though testing isn't as extensively detailed as at other sites, results are presented in a way that makes them easy for non-videophiles to understand. Discussion is relatively brief but significantly more detailed than in the past. Access, however, is limited to subscribers.
Review: Panasonic Viera TC-L42E50, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, Not Dated
Very Good Nearly 100 owners of the various screen sizes of the Panasonic LE50 series weigh in here (reviews for all are grouped together). The 4.3-star overall rating indicates general satisfaction with the TV. Complaints are relatively few, and some refer to sets damaged in shipping. Some feel misled about the TV's lack of built-in Wi-Fi.
Review: Panasonic Viera TC- L42E50, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of Aug. 2012
Very Good Fewer review the Panasonic LE50 here than at Amazon, but altogether more than 50 leave feedback on this landing page for the 42-inch TC-L42LE50, and 20 on the landing page for the 47-inch screen size in the series (elsewhere on the site). If anything, overall satisfaction is even higher, with well over 90 percent saying that they would recommend the sets to a friend.
Review: Panasonic - Viera - 42 " Class - LED - 1080p - 120Hz - Smart - HDTV, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of Aug. 2012