Panasonic seems keen to prove it can make an LCD TV as well as the next company. This year it's releasing LCD TVs like the 32-inch, 1080p Viera TX-L32D28 with LED edge lights. This is good news, since LED-illuminated LCD TVs can provide more contrast than traditional CCFL LCD sets.
There is a downside, though. Panasonic is asking around £1,000 for this TV. Given that you can get a 37-inch TV with a standard backlight for this price, or a 42-inch plasma set, the TX-L32D28 seems rather expensive. Still, that's for you to judge once we've told you if the TV is any good.
Get it in not-black
TV designs are boring. During the late 1980s, TVs were made of black plastic. In the '90s, they were all made of silver plastic. When flat-panel TVs arrived in the middle of the last decade, everyone went bonkers for shiny black plastic. Now it seems we're heading back towards silver. What we're saying is: this TV isn't black.
But what colour is it? Well, the bezel seems to be a very light silver, but it's so light that it looks white. The rest of the box is a more traditional silver colour, as is the remote control. Does any of this matter? No, not really, but, while we think this TV will look totally awesome in your bedroom, we aren't so sure it's well-suited to every living room.
Podgier than rivals
Let's make one thing clear -- this TV is no fatty. It's got a pleasingly thin body, and it's lightweight too -- the stand accounts for the majority of the weight, so the TV doesn't blow over when you sneeze. The problem is that TVs with LED edge lights are usually wafer-thin, and the TX-L32D28 isn't.
While the TX-L32D28's relative chubbiness doesn't affect its operation, Panasonic would probably sell more units if it were really thin. After all, market research tells us that you, the consumer, care more about size and style than most other features.
Freeview HD and freesat HD
As is becoming common with Panasonic TVs, the company offers a great selection of options for receiving programmes. There's a standard Freeview tuner, as you'd expect, and a Freeview HD tuner too. This means that, if you live in a region that has access to Freeview HD (here's a coverage checker), you'll be able to get three high-definition channels over the air for free. BBC HD, ITV1 HD and 4HD all broadcast various amounts of HD material throughout the day. ITV and Channel 4 also use their HD channels to upscale standard-definition content too, which is a good way of getting better Freeview picture quality.
If you aren't lucky enough to live in an area served by Freeview HD, then you can, instead, use the freesat HD tuner to get BBC HD and ITV1 HD via satellite. You'll also get a selection of SD channels too, which is good news if you're a telly addict. Panasonic keeps the tuners for Freeview HD and freesat HD separate, so you'll have to switch between them to see what's on via the electronic programme guide. You can, however, do this with a simple press of the 'TV' button.
Panasonic LCD TVs are an enigma. Some do a good job with SD material and some manage better with HD. We hadn't really seen one handle both well until we came across the TX-L32D28. We're not saying this TV is perfect, though -- it still has some traditional Panasonic LCD problems. For example, the image is quite soft and lacks detail with Freeview and SD video. This can be corrected somewhat by increasing the sharpness and turning down the noise-reduction settings though, and that's encouraging.
Hi-def content looks good and sharp on this TV, which isn't surprising, given that it has a 32-inch, 1080/24p panel. We checked the opening sequence of Casino Royale, and found the expected levels of film grain. We were impressed, but we still had to tweak a few settings before we were really happy.
Panasonic's 'intelligent frame creation' mode is designed to smooth film motion, and make movies look as silky as video. The TX-L32D28 suffers from quite bad distortion around moving objects when this mode is turned on, however. This issue is pretty common with frame-creation modes -- we're baffled as to why these features are included when they harm the picture quality.
Freeview HD content looks good. It's just a shame that there are so many idiotic shopping channels on Freeview. Perhaps if there were less of these, we could have more HD.
For general viewing purposes, the TX-L32D28's audio is perfectly acceptable, but you're going to be disappointed if you try to watch a movie on it. We're getting sick of hearing ourselves say it, but you really need external speakers to get acceptable sound from flat-panel TVs. You don't have to spend much, but it's worth looking into something simple, like a soundbar, to add an extra dimension to your entertainment experience.
Skype and YouTube
At the time of writing, the Skype app on the TX-L32D28 wasn't enabled. When it is, though, you'll be able to buy a USB camera from the Skype store, and connect it to your TV, enabling video chats with distant friends and family. Thanks to the YouTube app, you'll be able to watch videos of cats until your head explodes.
The Viera Cast online platform offers other services too, although there's a general lack of diversity at the moment. Samsung and Sony are both adding BBC iPlayer and LoveFilm to their online services. We hope Panasonic does the same soon, as these features are real draws for people looking to get more out of their TV.
If you want to access the online services, then you can do so either via the Ethernet connection on the back of the TV, or via an optional USB Wi-Fi dongle. The TV has two USB sockets but, if you use one for a Skype camera and one for a Wi-Fi dongle, you won't have any spare sockets to let you connect an external storage device and watch videos, listen to music or look at photos.
For a 32-inch TV, £1,000 is a great deal of money. But the Viera TX-L32D28's price is bumped up by the wealth of features that Panasonic has stuffed in. The inclusion of built-in freesat HD and Freeview HD tuners is superb, as it makes a massive selection of TV channels available. It's also pleasing to see DLNA support and Viera Cast included. But it's hard to ignore the fact that Panasonic offers bigger TVs with all the same features for the same -- or even less -- cash.
Edited by Charles Kloet