Although you might not realise from the relatively high £750 price tag, the 37-inch, 1080p, backlit LCD Viera TX-L37S20B actually sits towards the middle of Panasonic's current line-up of TVs. As such, it lacks some of the fancy extras you'll find on the company's V-series sets. Panasonic still thinks there's enough on offer here to tempt punters, but is that really the case?
Plain Jane Panasonic
Like many of Panasonic's mid and low-end TVs, the S20 is a bit of a Plain Jane when it comes to looks. The sculpting is pretty unimaginative and the standard-issue glossy black finish only narrowly avoids total blandness with a blue hue that runs across the bottom of the fascia.
The set isn't exactly laden with inputs, either. It only has three HDMI ports rather than the four you'll find on most other 37-inchers. Nevertheless, it does have a set of component inputs along with two Scart sockets and a VGA input for hooking up a PC or laptop. There's also an SD card slot, but this only supports a limited range of formats, including JPEG photos and AVCHD footage captured on camcorders.
In addition, the TV's digital-media support is rather poor, considering its mid-range price tag. There are no USB ports at all and, although the set does have an Ethernet port, this is currently unused. This means you don't get the DNLA media-streaming features or the VieraCast internet services found on the company's higher-end V-series TVs. The only reason for the inclusion of an Ethernet port seems to be that it's part of the Freeview HD specification and may be used for services like iPlayer or Project Canvas in the future.
On the plus side, the inclusion of the Freeview HD tuner does mean you get access to the three terrestrial HD channels from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. Once you've hooked up an aerial and tuned the channels, you'll find they appear alongside the standard-definition stations in the TV's electronic programme guide. Like the TV's menu system, the EPG is a bit drab-looking and, rather annoyingly, it shows Web-style adverts in a small box on the left-hand side of the screen. The EPG is fairly quick to use, however, and the layout is actually quite good.
The S20 uses a 1080p IPS-Alpha panel with standard CCFL backlighting. The advantage of IPS-Alpha technology is that it has a wider viewing angle than standard LCD panels and colours don't wash out at extreme angles, as they do on some sets.
In fact, the set's colour performance is rather good overall. Colours aren't quite as in-your-face as they are on many LED sets, but they're impressively punchy by CCFL standards. The TV doesn't over-egg the reds like some lesser panels, so skin tones look very natural. Although black levels don't reach the giddy heights of better plasma and LED screens, they're pretty deep by normal LCD standards.
The S20 uses Panasonic's V-Real Pro 4 processing rather than the Pro 5 version that you'll find on the V-series, but it still puts in a remarkable performance when it comes to upscaling standard-definition material. On standard-definition Freeview channels, it manages to smooth out MPEG artefacts without making pictures look overly soft. It also does a good job of limiting the appearance of jaggies in interlaced footage.
High-definition pictures from the Freeview HD tuner or a Blu-ray player look strikingly sharp and offer up a copious amount of fine detail. Fast pans and lots of motion don't look as smooth as perhaps they should, indicating the telly's motion resolution is a tad lower than on higher-end sets. Overall, though, the S20's picture performance is well above average.
Sound isn't so hot. Like an X Factor contestant who hasn't been run through Auto-Tune, the S20's audio is a bit thin and lacking in weight. The 10W speakers struggle to deliver much in the way of bass, even when you crank up the bass control all the way to the top. As a result, music and set pieces in action flicks sound a bit flaccid. This is a complaint you could level at any number of flat-screen tellys, however. The S20's audio does do a decent job of dialogue-heavy material like dramas and soaps.
The Panasonic Viera TX-L37S20B largely makes up for its lack of frills by turning in superb performance in the picture department. Its standard-definition upscaling abilities are impressive and it's also a bonus having an on-board HD tuner. At the end of the day, we still think it's a little overpriced for what you get.
Edited by Emma Bayly