Panasonic is now the only brand in the UK offering you a choice between plasma and LCD technologies at the 37-inch screen size. This inevitably adds a little extra bite to proceedings as we get our testing teeth into the brand's flagship LCD model, the £1,000 Panasonic Viera TX-37LZD800.
Although none of Panasonic's new flat screens have been remotely ugly, the 37LZD800 is definitely the aesthetic pick of the bunch. This is because it employs what Panasonic calls a 'Clear Panel' design, which helps the screen look a touch sharper and cleaner.
There's more to like, as the 37LZD800 serves up a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution and no less than four HDMIs. That's one more than the other sets across Panasonic's LCD range -- and one more than you'll find on most LCD TVs, full stop. These HDMIs are all built to the v1.3 specification too, permitting compatibility with the increasingly important Deep Colour picture format. Plus, they can take 1080p/24p feeds from Blu-ray players.
Another way in which the 37LZD800 differs from cheaper Panasonic screens is with its Advanced Smart Sound system. This separates out the speaker tweeters and woofers to deliver a more powerful, dynamic soundstage. Evidenced by the superb job the set does with the audio of even a tough action scene like the opening 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, this sound system really could be enough in itself to justify the 37LZD800's premium price to anyone not already owning or thinking of owning a separate sound system.
Panasonic has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at improving the 37LZD800's pictures too, including 100Hz processing to make motion look cleaner; Panasonic's proprietary V-Real 3 Pro image processing to reduce video noise and improve colours and detailing; a dynamic backlight system that helps deliver a high claimed contrast ratio of 10,000:1; and Motion Focus technology, which sequentially fires the backlight in a further bid to make motion sharper.
We're pleased to say that the combination of these high falutin' picture tricks really does result in some first class pictures. Colours, for instance, are positively radiant, enjoying outstanding vibrancy and fulsome saturations, but also proving able to be subtle where required.
More good news finds the 37LZD800 displaying hardly any trace of the sort of smearing, bleeding colours or resolution loss that usually accompanies rapid moment on an LCD TV. Clearly, the 100Hz and Motion Focus systems know their onions. This handy touch with motion helps HD pictures look likeably crisp and sharp on the 37LZD800 too, yet the V-Real Pro 3 system also helps it become one of the best LCDs around when it comes to showing standard-def material.
The set's black levels are the best Panasonic has ever managed on an LCD TV, showing dark film scenes with scarcely a trace of the all-too-common 'grey mist' problem.
Although the 37LZD800's AV performance is resolutely Premier League, it's not quite a champion. First and worst, the screen seems slightly more reflective of ambient light than we'd ideally like. Also, occasionally, a particularly fast camera pan can catch the image processing out, resulting in a slight flicker over bright edges.
Otherwise, our only concern is the 37LZD800's price. It's hard to ignore the fact that you can get your hands on one of Panasonic's own, excellent -- though not 1080p -- 37-inch plasma TVs for as little as £700 these days.
Panasonic continues to prove that its traditional love of plasma does not prevent it from turning out superb LCD TVs as well. If you can live without the 37LZD800's 1080p resolution, fourth HDMI and exceptional audio advantages, you might actually find Panasonic's considerably cheaper 37-inch plasma -- such as the excellent Panasonic Viera TH-37PX80B -- sets a more attractive option.
Edited by Shannon Doubleday