Editors' note (March 4, 2010): The rating on this product has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace, including the release of 2010 models. The review has not otherwise been modified..
Suddenly, electronics store shelves seem flooded by iPod-friendly HDTVs. OK, not exactly flooded, but at least two contenders are busily competing to be the place where your precious iPod or iPhone nestles nightly, charging and serving up yummy music and videos onto a much bigger screen than iTunes or your favorite video conversion software ever intended. The Panasonic TC-LX1 wasn't quite as friendly as the JVC LT-P300 we tested earlier, although it's still mighty convenient. The Panasonic's picture quality also lagged behind, but its relatively low price could overcome those issues for iPod-centric buyers.
Editors' note, November 20, 2009: This rating on this review has been updated since its initial publication to reflect changes as a result of further comparison testing with more recent reviews of like-priced 32-inch LCDs. Its features score was raised from 7 to 8, to give credit for iPod compatibility, but performance was lowered to a 5, to reflect differences between comparison models. The review also initially reported that photos from an iPod cannot be viewed on this TV; that is incorrect, and the correction has been applied to the text.
We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 32-inch Panasonic TC-L32X1, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series, namely the 26-inch Panasonic TC-L26X1 and the 37-inch Panasonic TC-L37X1. The three sizes have identical specs and should offer very similar performance.
Editors' note: Many of the Design and Features elements are identical between the Panasonic TC-LX1 series and the Panasonic TC-P50X1 we reviewed earlier, so readers of the earlier review may experience some déjà vu when reading the same sections below.
Shiny black plastic covers the entire frame of the TC-LX1, which is relatively compact and rounded-off at the edges, down to the gently curved bottom edge of the panel. Speakers are invisible from the front--they're mounted along the bottom edge of the panel and face downward--and controls and inputs are tucked to either side, hidden from view. All told, the TV's styling is understated and probably won't draw many "ooohs" and "ahhhs" from guests. The matching oval stand does not swivel.
Unlike the iPod-friendly JVC LT-P300 series, which has an iPod dock integrated into the TV itself, the Panasonic TC-LX1 series relies on an external dock. We prefer the integrated version since it's cleaner and more convenient, but the external dock is functional enough (if you're wondering, no other iPod dock works with this set, just the included Panasonic one). Unlike the JVC, the dock on the Panasonic doesn't call for a separate dock adapter.
As soon as you insert the iPod into the Panasonic's dock it begins charging, and remains charging regardless of whether you access its content or whether the TV's power is turned on or off. Although the iPod menu pops up automatically when you insert a compatible 'Pod (as long as the "Plug and Play" TV menu item is selected), we would have liked to see a dedicated "iPod" button on the remote--you have to use the "Viera Tools" button instead.
To break down playable content, Panasonic's iPod menu system offers Music, Videos, and Podcasts categories. Music is categorized by playlists, artists, albums, songs, and audiobooks. We appreciated that you can page up or down long lists using the remote's soft keys, but we would have liked to see cover art supported. To shuffle or repeat songs you'll have to get to the "settings" menu--we preferred the JVC's method of offering shuffle in the main music menu. The Video section offers categories for movies, music videos, TV shows, video podcasts, and rentals, and the Podcasts section gets video and audio categories.
Videos begin playing in the inset screen to the right of the menu structure, enabling you to browse during playback. You can expand the videos to full screen, but unfortunately aspect ratio control is not supported (see below). Dedicated transport keys on the remote let you pause, rewind, and fast-forward videos and music, and unlike the JVC's remote, Panasonic also offers forward and reverse skip.
You can also operate the iPod using its own control system, be it the touch screen of an iPhone/iPod Touch or the scroll wheel of a conventional iPod. The only real reason is to access digital photos stored on the iPod, a function that's not available using the TV's on-screen iPod interface. To do so you'll have to engage "remote" mode from the main menu. You can initiate a slideshow as normal on the iPod and the images display on the big screen, and you then skip, pause and resume playback of the slideshow using the remote's keys. Running additional slideshows is again handled via the iPod's controls.
The remote is dominated by a trio of keys--Viera Link, Viera Tools, and SD Card--that arc above the central cursor control. Aside from Viera Tools for iPod access, each of the three provides direct access to functions we'll warrant most users won't access frequently, and the important-yet-tiny Menu key takes a secondary spot near the top of the clicker. We like the feel of the keys, and appreciate the size, color, and shape differentiation that helps us forget that none of the buttons is illuminated. The remote cannot control other devices via infrared (IR) commands, but it does allow some control of compatible HDMI devices connected to the TV via Viera Link (aka HDMI-CEC).
Panasonic tweaked its main TV menu design for 2009. The same yellow-on-blue color scheme is in evidence (albeit a lighter shade of blue) and navigation is basically unchanged, but the main menu actually has a couple of icons now, and edges throughout are a bit more rounded. Overall it's still one of the more straightforward, basic-looking menus on the mainstream market, but we still wish the company would see fit to include onscreen explanations of more-advanced items.
iPod access is the LX1's main selling point, and the TV offered most of what we expect in an iPod dock. It's compatible with most newer iPods for music and videos, so check out the compatibility chart for full details. iPods not listed, mainly older ones, are not compatible, although our testing with an iPhone went well despite the fact that it's not on the chart and the company doesn't "officially" support it. You can't display other content (such as apps, the browser, or e-mail) from your iPhone or iPod Touch on the big screen, and some older iPods won't output video.
The Panasonic lacks a few of the JVC's tricks, however: the capability to sync the iPod with your PC via USB, replace a TV show's audio with that of the iPod, or adjust audiobook playback speed. We did appreciate that the Panasonic's digital audio output fed iPod audio to external devices, allowing you to play iPod music via the TV through your home theater system, for example. Most video and audio settings, aside from aspect ratio, can also be applied to iPod content.
In addition to its role as an iPod dock, the Panasonic TC-LX1 series is also a fully functional HDTV. It lacks the 1080p native resolution found on many step-up models, but we don't consider that a big deal, especially at this screen size. The Panasonic can neither accept nor display 1080p signals, so make sure your HDMI gear is set to 1080i or 720p before you connect it to the TC-LX1.
Compared with a lot of other name-brand HDTV makers, Panasonic offers far fewer picture adjustments. Yes, the basics are there, including Contrast, which the company was calling Picture for years. We liked that all four of the global picture modes are adjustable and that the fifth, called Custom, is independent per input. The company's Game mode is basically just a picture mode; it doesn't eliminate video processing like some other makers' Game modes.
Beyond the basics there are three color temperature presets, of which Warm came closest to the D65 standard, although unfortunately no further provisions for tweaking the grayscale exist. An A.I. picture function dynamically adjusts the backlight according to program content; a Color mgmnt. control affects color decoding; a pair of On/Off settings reduce video noise; and another allows you to set black level (the Light option exposed the correct amount of shadow detail). That's about it--there's no gamma, detailed color management, or other more advanced settings.