Panasonic is investing more in its production of LCD TVs than ever before. Clearly, the company has realised that, as good as its plasma TVs are, there will always be some people who want smaller sets, and LCD technology is the best way to offer more diminutive screens.
The question is: who would pick a Panasonic LCD TV over one of the company's plasma tellies? We haven't always had good things to say about the company's LCD TVs in the past, and they've often played second fiddle to its superb plasma sets. But, in light of Panasonic's renewed focus on LCD sets, we're open to the possibility that the 37-inch, 1080p Viera TX-L37G20B with built-in freesat HD and Freeview HD tuners may be worth investing £950 in.
Doesn't look like a spaceship
Panasonic has got inoffensive design down to a fine art. Other companies --and even Panasonic with its high-end TVs -- often seem to be battling to turn their tellies into works of art. But the TX-L37G20B just looks like a TV, and nothing more. When you turn it off, it doesn't pretend to be a feature of your living room -- it's just a set that isn't on anymore.
The TX-L37G20B has four sockets for HDMI leads, and Scart, composite and component inputs too. There are two USB connections and an Ethernet socket, to keep the TV compliant with freesat HD and Freeview HD rules. As you'd expect, there's also a single satellite connector, for freesat, should you want to use that service.
Very flexible HD options
Offering both Freeview HD and freesat HD tuners is a fantastic idea. Panasonic has really pushed ahead with making high-definition content as easy to get on its TVs as possible. Assuming you have a satellite dish or live in a Freeview HD area, there's no reason why you can't be watching high-definition programmes minutes after you get the TV home from the shop.
Panasonic makes everything easy to tune in too. Press a couple of buttons and off the TV goes, looking for Freeview and Freeview HD signals, as well as spending a few minutes sniffing around for analogue channels. Freesat is kept separate, though. It's a shame that Panasonic doesn't simply lump all of these channels together in one interface, but it's not really a deal-breaker.
If you want to get extra from your TV, then the inclusion of Viera Cast in the TX-L37G20B might excite you. Panasonic's online service gives you access to a walled garden of online content. You can mainly watch YouTube videos, but there's also a Skype app that allows you to connect a USB camera to the TV and chat with friends over the Internet for free.
We've always liked the promise of Viera Cast, but Panasonic has been slow to populate it with premium content. Meanwhile, Sony and Samsung are both integrating LoveFilm and BBC iPlayer into their Internet-aware TVs. We hope Panasonic applies some elbow grease soon -- there is, after all, only so many times we can watch 'ninja cat' on YouTube before we get listless.
DLNA and USB media playback
The TX-L37G20B also comes with DLNA network support, so you can share content between the TV and other compatible devices over a network. It supports playing music, video and photos from USB-based storage too. This means that you can watch DivX HD, AVCHD and other video directly from a USB memory stick. Although we like the inclusion of this feature, it's not quite capable enough to handle video in the MKV format, which is enjoying a massive success online and becoming increasingly common.
Capital SD pictures
The good news for Freeview lovers and people who watch plenty of standard-definition video from other sources is that this TV does a great job with these types of video. We've criticised Panasonic's LCD TVs in the past for doing a horrible job with SD material, but the situation has improved a great deal, either because the IPS panel the company uses has got better, or possibly because Panasonic's picture processing is better able to cope these days. We had no problem with the picture on any broadcast channels, and even low-bit-rate video from More4 and ITV2 looked decent enough.