Panasonic's 32-inch, 1080p Viera TX-L32X20B is an entry-level LCD TV. As such, it eschews many of the fancy features found on the company's higher-end TVs, such as LED backlighting and Internet connectivity. Consequently, Panasonic has been able to keep the price down -- you can currently pick this set up online for as little as £310.
'Stunning' isn't the word that springs to mind when you first clap eyes on this telly. Like many of Panasonic's lower-end sets, its design is very dull, especially when compared to similarly priced offerings from companies like LG and Samsung. Panasonic has tried to jazz things up slightly by adding a dimpled pattern to the glossy finish on the front, but the results aren't all that inspiring. The TV uses traditional CCFL backlighting so it's quite porky too, measuring 83mm thick. Its mundane appearance does mean, however, that the TV will look inconspicuous in the average lounge.
On a more positive note, set-up is a breeze and there's a decent line-up of connections for a 32-inch model, including three HDMI ports, a pair of Scart sockets, and a set of component inputs. There's also an optical audio output so you can feed sound from the on-board Freeview tuner to an external surround-sound system.
Unfortunately, the Freeview tuner is standard-definition only, so you can't use it to view the high-definition channels from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. Also, there's no Ethernet port for Internet features and no USB port for digital-media playback either, although you can play JPEG pictures and AVCHD videos from SD cards. Bizarrely, you can't play MP3 files.
The set's menus look rather drab, but they're easy to navigate and give you access to all the picture- and sound-tweaking options you're likely to need. As with Panasonic's other TVs, this one uses the Guide Plus+ system for its electronic programme guide. The colour scheme is pretty lacklustre and, rather annoyingly, some space on the left-hand side of the EPG is given over to Web-style adverts. But the guide does make it easy to hop around channels and, on the whole, it's quite easy to use.
To keep the price down, Panasonic has used an HD Ready panel with a 1,366x768-pixel resolution, rather than a 'Full HD', 1080p one. It's also used traditional CCFL backlighting, instead of opting for the LED edge lights that you'll find on its more expensive sets. We can live with the lower-resolution panel on a screen of this size, especially as HD Ready sets often do a better job with standard-definition material than cheap, 1080p ones. Certainly, standard-definition channels from the TX-L32X20B's Freeview tuner look more than acceptable. Some MPEG noise is visible, but this is the case even with sets that cost more than twice as much as this one.
Perhaps more surprising is just how sharp and detailed high-definition content looks, whether it be BBC HD, fed via Sky+HD, or the likes of X-Men Origins: Wolverine on Blu-ray. The relatively small physical size of the screen helps, as the pixels are closely packed together, but you do get a real sense of sharpness, especially on close-up shots of faces, which let you pick out almost every pore.
Panasonic TVs have a reputation for being particularly good when it comes to producing rich and engaging colours, as well as realistic skin tones. Thankfully, this model doesn't disappoint in this department. Black levels are solid too. They're not as deep as those you'll get from the latest LED sets, but neither do they have the greyish look that afflicts many budget models from rival manufacturers.
Contrast performance is also impressive, with the TV avoiding the muddy visuals that some cheaper sets suffer from. It's also worth mentioning just how good this TV's viewing angles are. Thanks to its IPS Alpha panel, colours remain very consistent across the image, even when watched from a pretty extreme side angle.
The set's audio may not have your neighbours begging for mercy, but the down-firing speakers are loud enough to fill a sizeable lounge. What they lack in bass, they largely make up for in clarity and mid-range presence.
The Panasonic Viera TX-L32X20B doesn't offer much in the way of fancy frills, but we don't expect a budget set to do so. What we do want to see is good picture quality, and this is where the TV excels, thanks to its natural colours, crisp detail and pleasing black levels. Overall, we think it offers impressive value for money.
Edited by Charles Kloet