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Panasonic Viera TC-37LZ85 review: Panasonic Viera TC-37LZ85

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Despite the fact that other manufacturers have been proffering 37-inch LCDs for years, Panasonic's Web site proclaims "new size!" next to the TC-37LZ85. That's because the company best known for its plasma televisions, of which 42 inches is the smallest common size, is finally competing with the Samsungs, Sonys, and Sharps of the world for a piece of the LCD pie. The TC-37LZ85 is a solid, if undistinguished entrant, boasting 1080p resolution and little else to differentiate it from the veterans. Inaccurate color proves the Panasonic's biggest flaw, although relatively deep black levels and excellent screen uniformity help sweeten the pot.

OVR
6.6

Panasonic Viera TC-37LZ85

The Good

Reproduced relatively deep black levels; solid screen uniformity and off-angle viewing; good shadow detail; connectivity includes three HDMI, two component video, and one SD card slot.

The Bad

Inaccurate grayscale leads to reddish tinge; can't adjust color temperature; lacks an analog PC input.

The Bottom Line

Despite being saddled with inaccurate color, the Panasonic TC-37LZ85 remains an otherwise decent entry in the smaller-screen 1080p LCD race.

Design
Clad completely in glossy black, the thick frame of the Panasonic LCD doesn't do much to differentiate itself from the pack of similarly styled flat panels on store shelves or depicted online. One slight departure is found under the frame in the form of a squat oblong protrusion, sort of like a lower lip, that hides the speakers. The glossy stand slopes down from the front of the panel and matches it well, but lacks swivel capability.

Including the stand, the TC-37LZ85 measures 36.7 inches wide by 25.4 inches tall by 11.7 inches deep, and weighs 49 pounds. Remove the stand and it shrinks to 36.7 inches wide by 23.8 inches tall by 4.3 inches deep.

We're fans of the latest generation of Panasonic TV remote controls. The clicker included with the TC-37LZ85 lacks the capability to control other gadgets, but its layout is easy to understand and offers all the control you'll need without becoming overwhelming. We also appreciate the feel of the buttons, although we wish the Volume and Channel rockers would switch positions.

Panasonic TC-37LZ85
We liked Panasonic's simple, legible menu system.

Panasonic's internal menu system follows the same basic, no-nonsense design as the remote. Bold yellow-on-blue graphics make it highly legible, and everything appears where it should without requiring too much digging. We would have liked to see some kind of text explanation for some of the more obtuse menu items though.

Features
The TC-37LZ85 is Panasonic's least-expensive 37-inch LCD for 2008, but its feature set is complete enough for the breed. The first item on the specification sheet is the 1080p native resolution, although at this small screen size those extra pixels are exceedingly difficult to appreciate.

Picture control on the Panasonic LCD is relatively basic. Four global picture modes are available, each of them adjustable, and a fifth, called Custom, is also independent per input. The menu offers a choice between three selectable color temperatures, although there's no way to tweak the grayscale beyond those presets. A smattering of other picture controls are available, most of which we left off for critical viewing.

Panasonic TC-37LZ85
Advanced picture controls include a black level adjustment and a an HD Size control to ensure the TV displays 1080 resolution sources properly.

Like Panasonic's 1080p plasma TVs, you'll have to do some minor tweaking to ensure the TC-37LZ85 is displaying every pixel of 1080i and 1080p sources without scaling or some overscan. Go into the menu and find the "HD Size" option and choose "Size 2." That way, when you use the Full aspect ratio mode--one of four available on this set when displaying HD sources--you'll be seeing the whole picture. We recommend using Size 1, which introduces overscan, only if the program you're watching shows interference along the extreme edges.

Panasonic also touts the mysterious Game mode, which turns out to be little more than an easy way to engage a picture mode. If you label any of the inputs "Game," choosing one of those inputs automatically engages the Game picture mode. That mode is simply another collection of picture parameters, just like the "Standard" or "Movie" modes--it does not affect video processing or lag time between controller and screen.

Panasonic includes an energy saver mode on this television, in addition to the Home/Store option found on many other Energy Star 3.0-compliant HDTVs. Choosing Home automatically engages the Standard picture mode, which uses 28 watts less than Vivid, which is engaged if you choose Store. Check out the Juice box for more information on the set's power use.

Panasonic TC-37LZ85
The back panel of the Panasonic includes two each of component-video and HDMI jacks, but lacks a PC input.

Our only major complaint about the connectivity of the TC-37LZ85 is the lack of an analog PC input, which seems like a no-brainer on a 1080p TV of this size. Three HDMI inputs are available, two on the back and a third on the side, and naturally you can connect a PC via HDMI or DVI to one of those HDMI inputs if you want to display PC images (see below). The back panel also includes two component-video inputs, an AV input with composite and S-Video, an RF input for antenna and cable, and a pair of audio outputs: one analog stereo and one optical digital. The side panel adds another AV input with composite video, a headphone jack and an SD card slot for display of digital photos.

Panasonic TC-37LZ85
A third HDMI input is available on the side panel, along with a headphone jack.

Performance
All told the Panasonic TC-37LZ85 delivered a middling picture, displaying fine depth of black and uniformity but color temperature that was among the least-accurate we've seen from a name-brand LCD in awhile.

Because of the lack of detailed color temperature adjustments, all we really did for our standard calibration on the Panasonic was to put it into the Warm preset, reduce light output for our darkened viewing environment, and tweak a few of the other controls. We chose the Light option for Black Level, for example, because it brought out the best shadow detail. For our complete picture settings, check out the bottom of this blog post.

For our comparison, we lined the Panasonic up next to a few competing, smaller LCDs, including the 37-inch Vizio VOJ370F, the Hitachi UT37X902, as well as the 32-inch Sony KDL-32M4000. For reference (not to represent comparable models) we enlisted the Samsung LN52A650 LCD and the Pioneer PRO-111FD plasma. To perform the majority of image quality tests, our film of choice this time was Bangkok Dangerous on Blu-ray played via the Sony PlayStation 3.

Black level: In dark areas, the Panasonic delivered a relatively deep shade of black--just a tad darker than the other small-screen displays. During the dark intro when Cage first arrives in Bangkok, Thailand, as the coolies unload the truck and the cityscape passes by his car window, the shadows looked dark enough, although they lacked the depth of either of the reference displays. A larger difference between the 37-inch models was distinguishable in the arena of shadow detail. The dark jackets of the two mobsters discussing Nicholas Cage's reliability, for example, seemed somewhat more realistic-looking on the Panasonic than on the others.

Color accuracy: The TC-37LZ85 evinced an overly-red grayscale that didn't help its performance in this department. The reddish tint was most obvious in skin tones, which made Cage's face appear relatively ruddy instead of the sickly greenish look the director intended--judging from our reference and the other displays. Dark and black areas also appeared too red, although they weren't as objectionable as the bluish and greenish tinge seen in dark areas on the nonreference displays.

We elected to turn down the color control to minimize ruddiness in skin tones, and as a result colors looked more muted than on the other competing LCDs. The golden light of the Buddhist temple, for example, seemed a bit less intense on the Panasonic, and also tinged too red compared with the yellowish gold of the other displays. Primary colors were relatively close to the HD standard, but they couldn't make up for the Panasonic's other color accuracy issues.

Video processing: The Panasonic successfully resolved every line of a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution test pattern, correctly deinterlacing video but not film-based sources and scored between 300 and 400 lines on our motion resolution tests. As usual, none of these resolution characteristics was distinguishable in program material; the 1,366x768 resolution Sony, for example, looked just as sharp as the 1080p displays in our comparison.

Uniformity: Panasonic's LCD excelled at delivering an even picture across its screen, with none of the brighter or darker areas that were visible on some of the other LCDs. From off angle it maintained black levels about as well as the Hitachi and better than the other comparable LCDs, although it did suffer from bluish discoloration from more extreme angles.

Bright lighting: The TV's matte screen evinced the usual stellar performance under high ambient conditions with afternoon sun coming in through the windows. The screen attenuated reflections as well as the other matte LCDs in the lineup and better than the glass-screen plasma or the shiny-screened Samsung, although the latter maintained black levels better in bright lighting.

Standard-definition: The TC-37LZ85 scored below average on our standard-definition tests. It didn't quite resolve every line of the DVD format, and details in the stone bridge and grass from the HQV's detail test clip appeared a bit softer than the other displays. We did appreciate its capability to remove jaggies from spinning diagonal lines. However, the stripes of a waving American flag evinced more jagged edges than we saw on the Vizio, for example. Noise reduction was solid, squelching motes and snow from skies and sunsets better than the Vizio, but not quite as effectively as the Hitachi set. The Panasonic's film mode processing eventually kicked in to remove moire from the grandstands behind the race car, although it wasn't as quick as some of the other displays.

PC: When connected via an HDMI input, a PC with a digital output set to 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution was displayed perfectly on the Panasonic's screen, which is exactly what we expect from a 1080p LCD. The TV resolved every line with no overscan or edge enhancement.

Test Result Score
Before color temp (20/80) 5654/5592 Poor
After color temp N/A  
Before grayscale variation 864 Poor
After grayscale variation N/A  
Color of red (x/y) 0.634/0.337 Good
Color of green 0.3/0.623 Good
Color of blue 0.15/0.066 Good
Overscan 0.0% Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Yes Good
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps Pass Good
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Fail Poor

Panasonic TC-37LZ85 Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 142.69 92.59 118.57
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.24 0.16 0.2
Standby (watts) 0 0 0
Cost per year $44.17 $28.66 $36.70
Score (considering size) Good
Score (overall) Good
*Cost per year based on 2007 average U.S. residential electricity cost of 10.6 cents per kw/hr at 8 hours on/16 hours off per day.


How we test TVs.


OVR
6.6

Panasonic Viera TC-37LZ85

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 6