With Panasonic being so keen on plasma TVs, we're always thrilled to get our hands on its LCDs, which generally offer a nice alternative to plasma at smaller screen sizes.
The Panasonic Viera TX-37LZD80 offers all of the key features you should be looking out for, such as 1080p, 24p playback and x.v.Colour. For around £750, will it be a good alternative to the company's own 37-inch plasma TVs?
The LZD80 is easy on the eyes. An average-depth bezel surrounds the LCD panel, finished in piano black with a grey hat along the top. This is essentially the standard issue case for most new TVs. It also has a permanent pout, with a bottom lip sticking out of the underside and housing speakers and of course, attitude.
There's an off button and power LED on the left of the screen, and to the right-hand side of the screen are some rubberised control keys. You'll also find composite and S-Video inputs here for hooking up camcorders and the like. It's also the location of the third HDMI socket. At the rear of the set, you get the usual assortment of connections: VGA, two Scarts, two HDMIs and component video-in. You'll also find an optical digital audio output, for connecting the TV to an AV receiver.
The remote control that comes with the TV is the standard Panasonic affair. It's sturdy and the buttons are in the right place. We really like the Panny remotes; they have a feeling of quality about them, and the TV's menus respond quickly to button presses.
The Panasonic offers a full-range of support for pretty much every type of signal you can throw at it. Obviously, it's happy with every HD variant, including 24p playback from Blu-ray. This is great, but something we'd expect on a 1080p TV.
To help sound on its way, you also get BBE ViVA HD3D Sound, a processing system designed to provide a sort of virtual surround sound. Of course, this technique is never going to produce realistic effects behind you -- as a full 5.1 system would -- but we found it did improve the clarity of speech and increased the stereo separation.
As you would expect, the LZD80 has a built-in Freeview tuner, and with it an eight-day EPG, so you can look through the upcoming programmes and decide what you want to watch. You can also schedule timers to remind you when a programme is about to start -- handy if you're forgetful.
You also get an SD card reader for looking at digital photos, as long as your camera stores photos on SD. It goes without saying that Panasonic's digital cameras do.
In our Blu-ray testing, Casino Royale was full of all its usual charm. We ran some tests using the HQV benchmarking Blu-ray and were satisfied that the TV managed to perform pretty well on most tests.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse also looked good: details appeared in the early scenes before everything goes dark. We even noticed a squirrel that had escaped our attention in previous viewings. The colour was bright and vivid and we generally found the picture quite pleasing.
Freeview performance, on the other hand, was not up to snuff. The main problem with standard definition pictures on the Panasonic is that some aspect of the picture processing is destroying the fine detail. Looking at the TV close up revealed that things like hair are just represented as a giant smudge. Faces had an unnaturally smooth look.
At first, we thought it might be a menu setting causing all the problems. We increased the sharpness control, but that didn't make a massive difference, although there was a small increase in the detail levels. No matter what we tried, we just couldn't get the appropriate amount of detail on-screen. We did notice that when we sat a normal distance away from the screen -- a little under the couch-TV distance most people assume in their homes -- the picture looked okay, but we could still perceive the lack of detail.
Some of the problems that affected Freeview were also evident in gaming performance. Although Burnout Paradise looked and sounded great, we could tell that the image wasn't quite as sharp as it should be. In fact, this is much less of an issue than it would be for TV because games consoles sometimes output video that can look coarse around the edges. Here, the softening effect of this TV was more tolerable.
It's also worth us mentioning the TV's EPG and menu system are really good. The eight-day EPG looks amazing, and it's extremely well laid out. Using it was a real pleasure, and we do love a nice, simple menus.
Freeview performance badly lets this set down; the softness and missing detail in the picture means that we can't in good faith recommend it to most people. HD performance is much better, and if you are looking for a TV that will never be used to show Freeview or non-HD, then this one wouldn't be too bad. The fact remains that Panasonic itself has set the bar so high with its plasma range that it's slightly spoilt our eyes. There isn't really any compelling reason to get this over the plasma 720p TH-37PX80B.
Edited by Shannon Doubleday