Panasonic is now the only manufacturer still making 37-inch plasma TVs, and the Viera TX-P37X20B is the only offering of that size in the company's 2010 plasma range. Therefore, if 37 inches is your preferred screen size, and plasma rather than LCD technology is your bag, the HD Ready TX-P37X20B is now your only option. This entry-level TV is available for around £600.
The TX-P37X20B certainly doesn't offer designer looks. The black bezel feels rather flimsy and the whole set has precious little flair.
More annoying, though, is that the TX-P37X20B's lowly status denies you a D-Sub PC port. You can use one of the set's three HDMI ports to hook up a computer, but the video formats supported via this route are limited. This won't matter if you never intend to connect a PC to the TV, but there's no denying that the vast majority of other TVs, including budget models, do carry dedicated PC inputs.
While we're on the subject of connections, the TX-P37X20B also doesn't have a USB port for multimedia playback. But there is, at least, an SD-card slot capable of playing back JPEG photos and AVCHD videos.
Viva la resolution
Unlike similarly sized LCD sets, no 37-inch plasma TV has ever squeezed 1,920x1,080 pixels into its frame. Indeed, the TX-P37X20B's 1,024x720-pixel resolution will instantly put some people off. The TV does have a huge claimed contrast ratio of 2,000,000:1, though. That's the sort of figure that you'd be extremely hard-pressed to find in a budget LCD TV.
Panasonic also says that the set is 'viewing-angle free', and it's not just marketing fluff. You really can watch the TX-P37X20B from pretty much right angles without its pictures losing contrast or colour in the way routinely seen with LCD TVs. That makes this TV a good choice if you have a small living room or large family, and someone will regularly have to watch TV from an angle.
The TX-P37X20B also offers 100Hz processing. On one level, this judder-reducing, stability-boosting feature is pleasing to find on such an affordable 37-inch TV. But, at the same time, all the models further up Panasonic's new range offer 600Hz sub-field processing.
Once you go black, you never go back
The TX-P37X20B delivers a rather mixed performance. Its greatest strength by far is its contrast performance, or, more specifically, its ability to reproduce convincing, deep blacks.
This plasma-related strength gives the set an immediate and key advantage over any affordable LCD model, especially if you love Blu-ray movies, which routinely feature extreme contrast levels. As well as letting dark scenes look more natural, the TX-P37X20B's black-level prowess helps it produce more subtle detail in dark scenes than your average LCD model. Plus, there's absolutely no sign of the backlight inconsistencies common to LCD TVs.
The TX-P37X20B also defies expectations with its sharpness when showing high-definition sources. Good-quality Blu-rays really don't look any less sharp on this HD Ready set than they do on the vast majority of affordable 1080p LCD TVs. In fact, with plasma technology's ultra-fast response time helping the TX-P37X20B avoid the motion-blurring that often afflicts LCD TVs, there are times when its HD pictures actually look sharper than those of 'Full HD' LCD sets.
For an entry-level TV, the TX-P37X20B is able to render colours shown in HD material with impressive subtlety and reasonable accuracy. The set's colour performance declines markedly, however, when you switch to standard-definition material, with some rogue tones creeping in.
Other issues are a degree of judder when showing horizontal motion, despite the 100Hz processing, and two problems which might make the TX-P37X20B an unsuitable option for people with bright living rooms: a lack of brightness once you've calibrated the image properly, and a tendency for the screen to reflect lights and objects in your room.
The TX-P37X20B's audio is rather hit and miss too. It produces distortion-free sound, but it's limited in the amount of bass and treble it can produce.
The Panasonic Viera TX-P37X20B won't suit everyone. But it's still a good HD performer, and the advantages of its now unique 37-inch plasma screen should be enough to persuade many people to part with their cash.
Edited by Charles Kloet