Tuesday, 17 June 2014

2014 Panasonic Viera A400 Widescreen LCD TV (50" and 42" Models) - A Review

I wanted to live with this 2014 Panasonic Viera A400 LCD Television Set (50" Model) for a few weeks before doing a review and I'm glad I did. In a nutshell - I'm really pleased with it and enjoying its huge range of facilities - but there are few things worth discussing and pointing out for prospective buyers.

Our home was previously the proud owner of a Sony BRAVIA LED 42" TV for over five years and going to another brand was going to be a gamble. So why move? The reason is price. These big televisions used to be £2000 two years ago - now the 2014 42" Panny is £350 and their 50" model is less than £500 (we actually got ours for £480 through a large retailer). That's incredible value for money for what you're getting.

The first couple of days made me feel disappointed after the clarity of the Sony - but of course it took a while for the screen to burn in and the picture quickly graduated to gorgeous. For instance the World Cup on ITV HD looks fabulous - as clear and as steady as you could hope for. But when you go back to Freeview and standard mode on Terrestrial TV - the quality naturally dips. But this will be the same on all TVs - and that's unfortunately a source problem few of us can do anything about (once you discover HD - you'll find it hard to watch anything else).

It's wide and skinny - and despite the sheer size of the outer box - deceptively light. The Panasonic has 5 Picture Aspects to choose from - Dynamic, Normal, Cinema, True Cinema and Game. I personally found anything except Dynamic too dull for my tastes. There are controls on Backlight, Contrast, Sound and even a Child Lock (and loads more). The 'Guide' Button throws up a TV Channels Menu that is easy to use and very clean once onscreen - and I personally like that the remote is small rather than long (easier to navigate). The set itself comes with its own stand (two people needed to mount it) or you can wall hang too of course (needs brackets). It searched out the channels during set-up automatically and we were off and running in minutes.

It has 2 HDMI sockets at the rear (when ideally it should be three) - so when both your DVD/BLU RAY player and your set-top box are plugged in - both HDMIs are used and there's no room for a games console. You can of course remove one HDMI lead and stick in another but that's a hassle few want. Machines with three HDMI sockets usually cost more. With regard to socket connectivity - here's what you actually get on the rear panels:

1. Digital Audio
2. Two x HDMI
3. AVI (Scart)
4. Ethernet
5. AV2 (Component / Video)
6. Terrestrial Aerial Socket
7. Headphone Jack
8. USB Port
9. CI Slot.

There is also Media Player Aspects to the television accessible via the remote. Insert a USB Flash Memory Stick and you can use Photo, Music and Movie Modes. I couldn't detect any Apps other than Freeview (I'm open to correction on this) - we get iPlayer etc. via our BLU RAY player.

The next thing to discuss is size. It depends completely on the room you're in. If you're telly room is small - then go for the 42" version of the A400 and don't think twice about it. It's truly staggering value for money and when using full 1080 HD - has a picture to die for. But if you've a room large enough to accommodate the 50" and enough distance to sit away from it - then go for that because it's a game changer - especially when you're viewing movies either from a download or a DVD or BLU RAY.

To give a simple example of this - I bought the BLU RAY reissue of "One Fine Day" starring George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer - which looked very good indeed on the 42". It's defaulted to Full Aspect Ratio so the picture fills the entire screen. But when allowed the stretch to 50”, which extends the view on both the left and the right - it becomes an altogether different cinematic beast. It absolutely rocks because it's the first time we've felt cinema has actually come into our home. The detail and hugeness is amazing. Of course - it can also have the opposite effect - be 'too' big. Stretching of the image can be a problem - and you do need space away from the screen to 'not' see the blemishes. But in truth - once you've gone big (if you'll forgive the phallic pun) - it's hard to go back to the little guy. In place of a Soundbar - we've also hooked the stereo (via a Marantz Amp) to the speaker jacks at the back of the telly (using QED Silver Anniversary cables with quality plugs) and the audio is rocking too.

The other aspect to all TV sets nowadays is downloads. As there are no Apps on the Panasonic (this is not one of the Sony Smart TVs that charges you handsomely for the privilage) - we used our cheap £70 Sony BLU RAY player to stream BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Amazon's Love Film/Prime. I find the quality on Amazon to be average at best - and the TV choices old and useless. In comparison to Netflix they really need to get their act together. They also charge handsomely for anything that's relatively new or half decent and their 'no pence' film offerings are uninspired and often dire.

Netflix is the opposite. Whoever chooses the movies for them looks for goodies the viewers have either forgotten or not seen at all ("Ondine", "IQ", "The Secret In Their Eyes", "Dot The I", "Love Is All You Need", "Gone Baby Gone" etc.) Also - when you're downloading from Netflix the Super HD mode will kick in - and this Panasonic with its full 1080 HD quality puts a picture on screen that defies belief (Season 2 of "Orange Is The New Black" and "House Of Cards" both look incredible). You're sat there thinking - is this really a download - because its hard to tell the difference between a stream and a BLU RAY. Good examples of films looking stunning on the Panny from download are "Seabiscuit", "Priceless", "Moonstruck", "Populaire" and "The Giant Mechanical Man" (or "Love In Detroit" as its called in some territories - see review). For TV with super picture quality - check out "Parade's End", the BBC's "Emma" with Romali Garai and Jonny Lee Miller and of course "Breaking Bad". 

Overall - this is a fabulous television set that's within most people's budget. Whether you chose a 50" or a 42" model - these new Panasonics make for a dynamic duo indeed...

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