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Panasonic TC-L32C5 review: Panasonic TC-L32C5

I don't expect much from a $300, 32-inch LCD TV, but they can be better than the Panasonic TC-L32C5.

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
5 min read

I don't expect a great picture from a $300 TV, but it can be better than this. Panasonic's TC-L32C5 is the company's least expensive 2012 television, and on paper it looks just like the competition's cheap 32-inchers. In person, however, it's just as disappointing as the company's other, more expensive 2012 LCD and LED televisions, and nowhere near as worth recommending as its plasmas.


Panasonic TC-L32C5

The Good

The inexpensive <b>Panasonic TC-L32C5</b> can produce a shade of black that's not as washed-out as some other low-cost TVs. The remote has a fine layout.

The Bad

Poor shadow detail and even worse color accuracy hurt this TV's image quality compared with its entry-level peers.

The Bottom Line

Shoppers for bargain-basement 32-inch LCD TVs can do better than the Panasonic TC-L32C5.

The picture is hampered by murky shadows and unnatural color that the meagre controls can do little to improve. Yes, the TC-L32C5 does cost less than some other major-name 32-inch TVs, but it performs worse than almost all of them, making it a questionable value despite the low price.

If you've seen one thick-framed glossy black TV, you've seen them all. If I had to choose on looks alone I'd pick this Panasonic over the Toshiba 32C120U by virtue of the Panny's squared-off stand base and angled and otherwise unaccented bottom strip, but the two look basically the same. Neither can hang with the Samsung EH4000 in terms of style.

Panasonic TC-L32C5 bares its unimpressive all (pictures)

See all photos

Panasonic's remote is a step up from Toshiba's, with better use of spacing, shape, and size to differentiate the keys. I also prefer it to Samsung's packed-in grid, but Samsung's clicker has a trump card nearly unheard-of at this level: full backlighting.

Key TV features
Display technology LCD LED backlight N/A
Screen finish Matte Remote Standard
Smart TV No Internet connection No
3D technology N/A 3D glasses included None
Refresh rate(s) 60Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing No
DLNA-compliant No USB Photo/Music

The metaphorical loincloth keeping this stripped-down TV from being completely bare of features is a USB port, allowing the display of JPEG photos and audio files from attached thumbdrives. Otherwise it's got the minimum for a modern HDTV: 720p resolution (1,366x768 pixels), a backlight that employs fluorescent illumination and not LEDs, and a refresh rate of 60Hz.

Picture settings: This entry-level Panasonic won't satisfy discerning picture-tweakers. The ability to adjust all four picture modes beyond the default settings is a nice plus, but on the other hand, it doesn't have the advanced controls found on a few other entry-level sets, like the Toshiba and Samsung mentioned above. The Game mode is just another picture setting with presets for contrast, color, and so on; Panasonic makes no claims that it affects input lag delay (we don't test for such lag).

Connectivity: You get two HDMI ports, one each component- and composite-video, an RGB-style PC input, and a USB port. That's standard for a cheap TV.

Picture quality
The worst color accuracy we've seen in the entry-level class combines with murky shadow detail to render the TC-L32C5 one of the least palatable TVs we've tested this year. I did find one or two nice things while watching it, namely OK black levels and uniformity, but those can't overcome its deficits.

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration.

Comparison models (details)
Samsung UN32EH4000 32-inch LED
Sony KDL-32BX330 32-inch LCD
LG 32CS460 32-inch LCD
Toshiba 32C120U 32-inch LCD
TCL L40FHDP60 40-inch LCD
Samsung LN46D630 46-inch LCD
Panasonic TC-P65VT50 (reference) 65-inch plasma

Black level: At first glance, in a dark scene, like when the bad guys camp out under Katniss' tree in chapter 11 of "The Hunger Games," you might think the TC-L32C5 delivered decent black levels compared with the others in our lineup. The deepest shadows among the trees and the letterbox bars, for example, looked darker than the Sony's and close enough to the LG's and even the Samsung EH4000's for government work -- although the Samsung D630's, Toshiba 32C120U's, and TCL L40FHDP60's were a good bit deeper.

A second glance, however, reveals terrible shadow detail. The slightly brighter areas among the trees, the shaded parts of Katniss' face, and the leaves on the forest floor were all subsumed in murk, victims of the TV's too-dark gamma near black. The only remedy is increasing the brightness control (from my calibrated 47 to about 60) but that makes the image look even worse; black levels wash out badly and the too-red lower grayscale (see next section) kicks in with a vengeance.

Color accuracy: As poorly as the TC-L32C5 fared in the shadows, it was worse at maintaining accurate color. In the most accurate color-temperature setting the darker areas of the picture were tinged a garish red, turning Katniss' brown locks auburn and the shadows around her eyes and chin way too flushed as she berates Gale (5:08). The green leaves of the forest looked too bluish, and even the black of the letterbox bars, tinged blue-red, looked less accurate than on any of the other TVs in our lineup. Oversaturation was also an issue, but it wasn't as noticeable as the L32C5's other color woes.

Video processing: Like the other 32-inch sets in my lineup the Panasonic failed to properly handle 1080p/24 material -- not surprising since it's a 60Hz TV. Instead the flyover of the Intrepid from "I Am Legend" chugged along haltingly without the film-correct smoothness of, for example, the D630. Also as you'd expect from a 60Hz TV, according to test patterns the Panasonic failed to deliver much in the motion-resolution department, although as usual I found blurring difficult to detect in program material.

Uniformity: From off-angle the Panasonic was among the worst in our lineup, losing black-level fidelity from either side more quickly than most of the others (notably the LG and the TCL). I did appreciate the lack of blotchy, brighter areas on the screen, however; the set maintained its brightness consistency well from edge to edge.

Bright lighting: The Panasonic's screen finish is as matte as any of its 32-inch brethren, so it diffused and dimmed reflections well. Its lighter black levels were a liability, however, and unlike Samsung's, Panasonic's screen finish doesn't help in this department, making for a middling overall bright-room image.

Geek box: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.0278 Poor
Avg. gamma 2.167 Good
Near-black x/y (5%) 0.2648/0.1951 Poor
Dark gray x/y (20%) 0.3435/0.299 Poor
Bright gray x/y (70%) 0.3104/0.3235 Poor
Before avg. color temp. 6657 Average
After avg. color temp. 6602 Good
Red lum. error (de94_L) 3.009 Poor
Green lum. error (de94_L) 1.3266 Good
Blue lum. error (de94_L) 2.6009 Average
Cyan hue x/y 0.2042/0.3238 Poor
Magenta hue x/y 0.3399/0.1615 Poor
Yellow hue x/y 0.4063/0.4821 Poor
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Fail Poor
1080i Deinterlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 300 Poor
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300 Poor

Panasonic TC-L32C5 CNET review calibration results

Read more about how we test TVs.


Panasonic TC-L32C5

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 5Performance 4Value 5