Just as we never really expected Porsche to make hybrid cars, so we never thought Panasonic would make LCD TVs. But Panasonic jumped into the LCD arena because most people don't buy massive televisions, and screens of 37 inches and below are best served by this technology. The 37-inch, 1080p, LED-backlit Viera TX-L37E30B LCD TV is one of Panasonic's latest efforts, and will set you back around £750.
The first thing we noticed when we took the TV out of the box was how nice it looks. We use the word 'nice' deliberately -- it doesn't look cool or glamorous or like a work of art. It's simply the sort of TV that would look great in your lounge, or your mother's lounge for that matter. We approve of its dark grey finish, and the TV looks like it will last too.
The TX-L37E30B includes a Freeview HD tuner. That means you can watch BBC One HD, ITV1 HD, 4HD and BBC HD.
The set's high-definition picture performance is excellent, but we were also pleased to see that there's a decent level of detail in standard-definition channels too. Panasonic has got rid of the smoothing and blurring that was present -- and deeply upsetting -- in its earlier generations of LCD TVs.
Although Freeview HD yields a good picture on this TV, you have to fire up a Blu-ray to make it really sing. We used Spider-Man 3. Despite a high level of film grain, the image was very sharp and detailed.
The TX-L37E30B handles both detail and colour superbly, with high-definition images really impressing us in these areas. When it comes to displaying detail, a fairly small TV like this can please more easily than larger TVs, but we were still able to see the difference between Freeview, Freeview HD and Blu-ray.
Panasonic's previous LCD TVs have made us groan somewhat. Their slightly mundane design, coupled with sub-par performance, always made us wonder what the company was playing at. But, this year, the boffins in Japan have created an LED-illuminated LCD panel that's a match for others on the market.
One area of concern, however, is the viewing angle of this TV's IPS Alpha panel. The main selling point of such panels is that they have the best possible viewing angle. But, while the TX-L37E30B's image is still very visible at angles off dead centre, it also becomes very washed-out. In some rooms, this is unlikely to present a problem. It won't be an issue for people who like to look at their TV straight on, either. But, when there are numerous people watching the set, it might lead to a fairly disappointing experience for some.
This TV includes Panasonic's film-smoothing feature, Intelligent Frame Creation. It does what most of these processing modes do, which is make film look smoother and remove the inherent judder that you get with content that runs at 24 frames per second.
What it also does, as a by-product, is make all film look like video. That's good if you think video looks classy, but we don't, and we think the feature spoils the aesthetic of film. It also creates some weird shimmering around the edges of moving objects, although you may not notice this.
Basically, it's a question of personal taste. The feature certainly works, but, if you don't like it, you can turn it off.
We've previously torn Panasonic several new ones for its useless online portal. While we liked the way it operated, we were annoyed by the lack of premium video-streaming apps from the likes of the BBC. But firing up Viera Cast on the TX-L37E30B -- this TV doesn't have Panasonic's newer Viera Connect service -- we were thrilled to see BBC iPlayer finally listed.
The app itself is very fast and responsive, and the quality of streamed video is second to none. Unusually, the Panasonic iPlayer app also has an HD option, which you don't find on most hardware platforms that can access the service. We checked the quality, and it was very good indeed -- far better, in fact, than we've seen on other TVs with the service included.
We also love Panasonic's Skype app, which allows you to make video calls, via an optional camera, to anyone with the PC or iPhone app. It works well, and comes in really handy if you want to call remote friends and family.
As with most small TVs, the TX-L37E30B's sound quality isn't exactly excellent. Its audio is, however, decent enough to see you through an episode of EastEnders. This is pretty much all you can hope for with most TVs. If you're looking for great sound, then look to Philips, which gets this audio lark right pretty consistently .
In the past, we've complained that Panasonic's LCD TVs are too expensive. The company uses premium components, like IPS Alpha panels, but the bottom line is that its LCD TVs are pricier, on an inch-by-inch basis, than Samsung, and sometimes even Sony, models.
But, in our opinion, the Viera TX-L37E30B is the first of Panasonic's LCD TVs to justify its premium price tag. Panasonic finally seems to have sorted out the image issues we've noticed in the past. This TV does a pretty amazing job with Freeview, and Freeview HD looks even more superb.
The problem is that the general public is likely to compare it with cheaper models and assume it's overpriced. If you're in the market for a TV, please give the TX-L37E30B a second look, because we think it's has a tremendous amount to offer.
Edited by Charles Kloet