Smaller screens have always been the domain of LCD TVs, with plasmas being more comfortable in the larger sizes. Lurking around in the background were 37-inch plasmas, but they generally weren't good value in comparison to LCDs of the same size. Now, Panasonic has a TV that should offer people who want smaller screens a credible alternative to LCD TVs.
The TH-37PX80B is still more expensive than a budget 37-inch LCD but as we discovered, those extra pounds could translate to extra happiness when you see what this TV can do. It's available for around £750.
As it sits at the bottom of Panasonic's range, we wouldn't expect a huge song and dance about the design of this TV. With its piano black finish, though, the 37PX80 will look great in any room. The bezel is rather thick, which does hint at its non-premium roots as it's more expensive to make it thinner, but does that really matter?
Another visually appealing attribute is the near-invisibility of the speakers on this television. Sadly, it's a disaster for sound quality -- more on that later.
The remote control is sturdy, with large buttons that are easy to press. The TV also responds quickly to any commands you issue, which can be a problem on some makes of TV -- sometimes, it feels like you could squeeze in a short holiday during the time it takes to switch from one menu item to another.
All of Panasonic's plasmas have 100Hz refresh rates included. Panasonic calls this feature 'double scan' and it does a pretty good job, too. We like that it seems to take a very moderate approach to adjusting the picture, meaning that movies don't suddenly start looking like video, but have a nice smooth motion to them.
At the front of the 37PX80 is a slot for an SD card and the TV even supports SDHC for extra capacity. We took some shots with a Panasonic Lumix in 16:9 mode, played them back via the TV and were amazed by the quality. Imagine -- your TV, the massive photo frame! If you have a camera that shoots on SD, it's a much better way of viewing your photos than having the whole family crowd around a 51mm (2-inch) camera screen. The only disappointment is that the TV refused to play a short video we'd shot with the camera.
The setup procedure for the 37PX80 is amazingly simple, too. The moment you turn it on, it begins searching for channels -- both digital and analogue -- and has everything tuned and stored within a few minutes.
After setup and making a few small adjustments to the picture settings, we plugged in an HD DVD player, flung The Matrix Reloaded into the disc tray and fired that bad boy up. It's not an exaggeration to say that we were blown away by -- we must point out -- what is essentially a low-cost plasma TV.
We were absolutely enchanted by the startlingly sharp picture. This is most obviously apparent from the TV's menu system, but looking at the on-screen HD DVD menus in the Matrix films, we were amazed at the sharpness of the text.