Panasonic would probably rather not make LCD TVs, being happily wedded to plasma, but it understands that if you want to capture the lucrative small-screen market, you have to make some concessions. The result: a range of LCDs that, while perfectly respectable, hasn't greatly inspired us -- so far.
The Viera TX-L32X15B is a tidy little TV that will cost you between £500 and £600 online. It's a mid-range screen, but one that will struggle to compete in a crowded market that's dominated by the likes of Sony and Toshiba, whose primary focus is LCD. As such, those companies spend far more on R&D, resulting in impressive picture quality at ultra-low prices. So how does the Panasonic measure up?
Styling and connectivity
Once we'd got the TV out of the box, we found it was pleasant enough to look at. The styling is the traditional Panasonic fare, simple and reasonably elegant, but there's no risk-taking here -- par for the course with the Japanese giant. We don't think that's a bad thing, because not everyone wants to go down the Korean route of blinging up TVs with a splash of red or blue in the bezel. Indeed, such low-key styling is probably why Panasonic's LCDs sell.
At the back you'll find a pair of Scart sockets and a pair of HDMI inputs. There's a third HDMI on the side. We think three HDMIs is more than enough for a TV this size, and we're pleased Panasonic hasn't skimped here with fewer. You also get the usual VGA and component video inputs too, which means you can hook up a PC and other analogue HD devices.
The remote control is the same as you'd find on any Panasonic TV. It's comfortable to hold and easy to use, even if you're 'blessed' with chubby fingers -- as most men are. The menu systems are simple too, with Panasonic not offering too many configuration options. The basics are all covered, but this TV is not aimed at the sort of person who wants to adjust settings for hours on end, so we like the simplicity.
Picture and sound quality
As always, our first experience with the TX-L32X15B was with Freeview. Sadly, the Panasonic doesn't do an especially good job with this material. We found pictures in standard definition lacked detail -- meaning it looked very soft, almost mushy.
We can't help but compare this to a much larger Panasonic plasma TV that managed to extract more detail and still blow a standard-definition image up to 50 inches. There's a world of difference here. Compare this 32-inch LCD to the 37-inch plasma in the range: the gap between them is incredible, and the plasma is not significantly more money.
With HD video, things improve significantly. Our Blu-ray copy of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon looked very respectable indeed. Colour was bright, but still accurate and there was more than enough detail in the picture. Of course, being downscaled to 720p does reduce the impressiveness of the HD picture quality, but that's fine on a smaller TV such as this.