Editors' note: The rating on this review has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace.
Coming from a company known more for its plasma HDTVs, the Panasonic TC-32LX85 is a pleasant surprise in the 32-inch LCD category. Attractively designed and well appointed with generous connectivity, it is also a good performer overall, although by no means perfect. I was particularly impressed with the set's color accuracy, which is something I really don't expect from entry-level displays. Compared with the competition, the LC-32LX85 represents a compelling value in small LCD screens when you consider its performance characteristics.
Basic in its design, but simultaneously elegant-looking, the TC-35LX85 has a glossy black finish, with a 3-inch-wide bezel surrounding the screen on all sides. It is a small and unobtrusive television that will fit into just about any decor nicely. Side panel AV inputs are neatly tucked away behind the right side of the screen.
The remote control is identical to Panasonic's current plasma line of HDTVs, with an excellent ergonomic design. It is on the large side, but slender enough to fit in the hand comfortably. Unfortunately, the remote is not backlit. The internal menu graphical user interface is also quite simple and intuitive to use and navigate.
The Panasonic TC-32LCX85's offers a fairly comprehensive feature package for an entry-level 32-inch LCD TV. Its native resolution is 1366x768, or around 720p, whereas many higher-end models have a 1080p native resolution. At this screen size, however, the benefits of 1080p resolution are nearly impossible to discern with moving video, whether standard- or high-definition. If you plan on regularly using your 32-inch LCD TV as a computer monitor, however, you might want to consider a 1080p model.
Picture adjustment options are OK, but not as extensive as found on the Samsung LN32A450 or LG32LG30 for example. Preset picture modes include Cinema, Game, Custom, Vivid, and Standard. Custom can be adjusted independently per input while the others can be tweaked as well and apply to every input. Selectable color temperatures include Warm, Normal, and Cool. The Backlight feature may be the most important in terms of optimizing the panel's picture, as it helps it achieve reasonably deep black levels when lowered from its factory setting.
Some dubious picture-adjusting features include Color Management and AI Picture, both of which should be shut off for optimum performance. AI is an auto-contrast feature that raises and lowers the light output of the panel depending on ambient room lighting. This ultimately makes black and white level a moving target, and both of these parameters really should remain constant.
In the Advanced menu there are two varieties of noise reduction, called Video NR and MPEG NR, and for high-quality sources both should be turned-off. Black Level should be set to Light for full shadow detail, although intuitively I would think Dark would be correct. (Panasonic always had Lighter and Darker settings that were intuitively correct at 7.5 and 0 IRE respectively in their DVD players. Strangely, for their TVs, it is backward.)
Connection options are generous enough on the Panasonic, although unlike most other small-screen flat-panel sets it lacks a VGA-style PC input. The rear panel does have two HDMI inputs, one component video input, one AV input with a choice of either composite or S-Video, and one RF input. One set of analog audio outputs, and one digital optical audio output for routing sound to an external AV receiver are also on tap. Side panel inputs include one HDMI, and one set of AV inputs with composite video only, and an SD Card slot on the right side of the panel for viewing your digital photos. We'd like to see a headphone jack on the side as well, but no dice.