Panasonic TX-L32E5B £489.99
10th Apr 2012 | 11:40
Smart looks, smart pictures and smart TV on this Edge LED stunner
Your average 32-inch TV rarely gets our pulses racing. While the headline-grabbing big screens get smart TV, 3D and swanky controllers, sets like the TX-L32E5B usually end up with far less attention and price cuts a-plenty.
Thankfully we're now seeing some of those high-end features trickling down to smaller screen sizes, but the TX-L32E5B does that rarest of double-acts – it comes with smart TV features, networking and a relatively low price from the off.
Its native panel tech isn't bad either. Built around a step-up IPS LCD panel and fitted with Edge LED backlighting, with smart TV services in the guise of VEIRA Connect, a Freeview HD tuner and some handy digital file playback and streaming options, the TX-L37E5B will be a tempting all-in-one upgrade for living rooms after something a bit more core quality.
There's no 3D, of course, and nor is there built-in Wi-Fi, but the TX-L32E5B is an attractive proposition in more ways than one.
Stretching back around 40mm – not exactly the slimmest Edge LED in town, then – a thin transparent rim clings to the entire product's edge. It catches the light nicely, and though it's plastic, like the rather flimsy desktop stand, lends an unusual (though hardly 'out there'), understated look.
Elsewhere in Panasonic's huge range of Edge LED TVs are a number of significantly more expensive options.
Most significant is the 32-inch TX-L32ET5B, which for a few hundred pounds extra adds Easy 3D. Shipping with four pairs of 3D glasses, this passive 3D set is built around an LG-made LCD panel.
On connections the TX-L32E5B almost excels.
Up on a side-panel above four HDMI inputs is an SD card slot (which also supports SDXC cards) and a slightly disappointing total of two USB inputs. Usually that would be fine, but with the TX-L37E5B able to be fitted with both a Skype camera and Wi-Fi dongle – both of which demand a USB slot – the provision of just two seems a little stingy.
Elsewhere the TX-L37E5Bhas it covered, with a shared input for component video and composite video (using a proprietary adapter because of the TV's thin profile – though we have seen far slimmer models not resort to adaptors), some analogue audio ins and outs, an optical digital audio output for hooking up a home cinema, a mini D-sub 15-pin input for attaching a PC, a scart (again via a very thin adapter cable) and a headphones jack.
Most importantly, the undercarriage of the TX-L37E5B houses not only an RF port for fuelling its Freeview HD tuner, but also an Ethernet LAN port for powering the VIERA Connect content and DLNA home networking.
We're also slightly confused as to why its four HDMI inputs are fitted on the side of the TV, but they are recessed just enough to make wall mounting possible you could use Panasonic's TY-WK3L2RW wall bracket for that, though myriad other third-party options are available) while retaining a clean look.
While it's great to see the likes of YouTube and BBC iPlayer, it's worth dwelling on some of the apps you might be less familiar with in VIERA Connect.
Netflix continues to make inroads into the UK video streaming market, and its inclusion on most smart TV platforms gives it one-up on Lovefilm, but we're not convinced about its content, which does appear to be very TV-centric, and not really about the latest 'flicks' at all.
On VIERA Connect the app itself works well; a £5.99 monthly subscription paid, the app brings up an interface that's dominated by DVD cover art separated into genres, though it lacks a bookmark facility, as well as must-see titles.
Eco Navigation is simply a gathering of energy saving features; once activated in the main menu, it switches on the C.A.T.S (Contrast Automatic Tracking System) feature (an ambient light sensor that reduces the brightness of the panel when possible) and engages the standby power save, auto standby (after two hours of inactivity) power save, and intelligent auto standby (which detects whether you're actually sitting in front of the TV or not).
If you're the type of person that puts the TV on and wanders around the house, I guess Eco Navigation could reduce your carbon footprint, though it's hardly going to prevent a global catastrophe.
The remote is slightly slimmed down on previous years, with the number buttons narrower, though the quality of construction remains.
Shortcuts to VIERA Connect, that Freeview HD EPG and streaming goodies (for some reason called VIERA Tools, and highlighted by a green button despite being a somewhat niche feature) are clustered around the directional keypad.
It's a relatively fast, responsive and easy to understand remote, though Panasonic has also made an app available.
Audibly buzzing upon pressing each virtual instruction, the rather confusingly named Remote 2011 – once downloaded to an iPhone 3S – in our test identified the TX-L32E5B as VIERA E5 Series over a Wi-Fi network.
The main screen is largely just for gestures, and we managed to scan around digital TV channels, inspect the now/next information, call up a list of favourite channels, and re-tune to another channel just with touch.
We also managed to fire up MP3 playback via a VIERA Tools shortcut, though it wasn't obvious how to either activate VIERA Connect or change inputs to wake up a connected Blu-ray player.
Although the TX-L37E5B is relatively light on picture tech, it does have a few notable features to boost clarity and colour.
Clear Cinema – an anti-blur feature – makes up its 'advanced' settings almost alone, though in truth the panel is natively very stable and free from ghosting and after-images. That's best left switched on, though Smart VIERA Engine Pro's other flag-waver, Vivid Colour Creation, is a matter of personal taste. When activated it does bring some more vitality to blocks of colour, but can overcook things.
Talking of which, the TX-L37E5B does include some useful presets comprising Dynamic (best avoided), Normal, Cinema, True Cinema and Game, though they need to be used with care.
Unusually, Cinema and True Cinema actually increase the brightness, the latter bringing a yellow tinge; we stuck with the Cinema mode, though couldn't resist upping the contrast a tad.
Elsewhere on picture tech, we disabled C.A.T.S. as it caused the picture to visibly change in brightness rather too obviously for our tastes.
Freeview HD fare – in this case The Great Barrier Reef on BBC One HD – are immensely colourful, boosted by lots of strong black elements and bags of detail.
Though the latter tails off noticeably on a standard definition broadcast of The Voice, the image remains clear and clean.
It's with our Blu-ray disc of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that the TX-L37E5B does its best work, with not a whiff of judder, and an impressive amount of contrast on show that doesn't drain too much when watched from a narrow viewing angle.
It's not unaffected, of course, but it doesn't hamstring this TV in the way it does many LCDs. Black levels are impressive, too, with a rare inkiness to dark areas, though there's a lack of detail within those sectors.
However, though black levels are more profound than we'd normally expect to see at this price, what we did notice in dark scenes were LED light leakage problems both along the top and in the bottom right-hand corner.
When watched from viewing positions slightly above or below the screen, the lower leakage problem appears to stretch a patch of brightness towards the centre and sides of the panel.
In practice this physical issue is only visible during dingy sequences.
Ultimate mixed brightness scenes excel, too; at one point in Crouching Tiger a bright lantern is shown amid a jet-black night. The contrast and accuracy are impressive indeed.
An MKV HD trailer of Shutter Island excels, with a rare stability, crispness and a smooth, clean finish, though a drop down the food chain to Land of the Lost Wolves on the BBC iPlayer brings some dirt and low bitrate chunks, but not enough to ruin anything.
Upscale a DVD and the effect is polished and free from noise – this is one versatile panel.
Usability, sound and value
The TX-L32E5B's user interface is nothing particularly special, but in sticking with what it knows works, Panasonic's engineers have made a wise move.
The blue/yellow/grey graphics will need a complete overhaul soon, but for now just about hold together some disparate, and rather advanced, features.
We're still a tad confused as to why a bright green button for VIERA Tools – a pop-up taskbar with icons leading only to digital file playback from either USB or a networked computer or NAS drive – is so prominent on the remote control.
It should probably contain an icon for VIERA Connect (which is given the rather underwhelming 'Internet' shortcut on the remote), and neither is it particularly clear that 'video' means video only from a USB stick, while 'media server' involves a further hurdle of choosing between music, photos and videos before streaming can begin.
Hurdles jumped, in our test we played MP3, M4A and lossless FLAC music files (note the lack of WMA support) from a USB drive, as well as JPEG photos and AVI, AVC HD, MKV, MOV, MP4, MPEG and even WMV and WMV HD files.
Over a network, meanwhile, we played MP4, MPEG-2 and DivX video (in MOV, ACV HD and AVI containers), which are nicely presented with a picture-and-sound moving thumbnail, as well as MP3 and FLAC music, and JPEG photos.
As well as the built-in apps, such as BBC iPlayer, YouTube and Skype, VIERA Connect's Marketplace contains further apps to download, as well as paid-for games and even some hardware (Skype cameras, and games controllers, mostly).
The free roviGuide app presents a Freeview HD EPG that's far more polished than Panasonic's own effort, which is drab, lifeless, and has to be navigated without sound or picture.
Perhaps that's why it's included, though roviGuide is partially integrated into the TV's architecture, too; choose a particular programme that's currently showing and roviGuide quits and we're returned to the VIERA Connect home screen while the selected programme plays in the central window.
Not just a way to peruse the TV schedules in a slightly more attractive way, we also like how it puts a colourful full-screen EPG and keeps the live source playing – complete with audio – in the bottom left-hand corner.
Select a programme due to be shown in future and choose the 'watch' button and it presents a list of future transmission times. Handy, though shouldn't this kind of functionality be in the TX-L37E5B's native EPG?
iConcerts and Fetch TV (www.fetchTV.co.uk) are also worth a look – and the web browser really is not (navigating web pages with a hard-button remote? Really?) – while the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Euronews, Skype, CNBC Real-Time, BBC News and Dailymotion all make up an increasingly interesting service once you've spent a little time customising.
There's little in the way of advanced picture settings, but tweaks in general aren't always easy to make en masse.
Choose to tinker with contrast, for instance, and the entire interface screen disappears, replaced by full-screen video and a 'progress bar' showing roughly where the contrast level is set. We say 'roughly' since there's no number value, just a guestimate that's tricky to work out since that progress bar is relatively narrow.
Seeing the image while you tweak the contrast is great if you want to play with just one setting, but if you have a multitude of changes to make (or you already know which set of parameters you want to try) it can be a long-winded process.
We love the fact that Panasonic's 2012 tellies all support lossless FLAC music files, but there's zero point unless you hook up the TX-L32E5B to a decent sound system.
Relatively sharp with impressive treble detailing, the soundstage for music is nevertheless rather thin and almost completely devoid of low frequencies.
Engage V-Audio for a more together, fuller sound, which is also what we'd recommend for movies.
There is a V-Audio Surround option, but for music this spaces out the stereo effect haphazardly, and it doesn't appear to offer anything resembling surround effects when used with movies.
While the built-in speakers do an acceptable job on the TX-L32E5B and dialogue for digital TV is fine, it can sound harsh, and always thin.
It would be wise to use external speakers in order to match the onscreen quality with equally strong sound.
A slight step up in terms of both price and core panel quality, we'd rate the TX-L32E5B as fine value.
The 32-inch size is still the most popular, and there's not much – aside from Wi-Fi – obviously missing from the TX-L32E5B.
Loaded with top-rate smart TV content, a superb performance with all sources, a Freeview HD tuner and even some nifty recording, digital file playback and networking features, what's not to like for this kind of money?
The rather underwhelming speakers are nothing unusual on a TV of this size, price or depth, so it would be harsh to judge the TX-L32E5B negatively on that front.
Perhaps it's the relatively small size of the TX-L37E5B's panel that plays down its weaknesses, but we're struggling to think of a better value all-rounder for a living room than this almost immaculate 32-incher.
Versatility is rare on LCD panels, but this Edge LED-backlit screen handles both low bitrate and hi-def sources with impressive clarity and stability.
Always watchable and often with deliciously coloured, contrast-heavy images that don't suffer from blur or judder, VIERA Connect's slick style and content is the icing.
There is some LED light leakage and black levels can feel a little forced, though that's nit-picking on a TV of this price.
Our biggest criticism goes to the TX-L37E5B's Freeview HD electronic programme guide, which is dull and lifeless – and eons behind those found on the likes of Samsung and Sony TVs.
VIERA Connect is hard to fault lest for a request for Lovefilm and some more terrestrial on-demand services, such as Demand 5, 4oD and ITV Player.
Achieving greatness with almost all sources, and with no discernable weaknesses in the picture department, it's left to the TX-L37E5B to assert its all-round worthiness with some engaging smart TV shenanigans and reliable handling of digital files.
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With profound blacks, natural colours and impressive hi-def sharpness, and a judder-free performance with Blu-ray, the TX-L37E5B is a worthy addition to any living room after that extra slab of quality where it counts.
It also helps prove that IPS LCD panels are at their best in smaller sizes.
The 32-inch LCD TV genre is awash with options, but watch for budget buys from no-name brands – they might 'do a job' in a living room, but they usually struggle to make non-HD sources watchable.
If you're not much interested in smart TV, the Toshiba 32RL858B might suit; its stab at online apps via Toshiba Places is lacklustre, but it's elsewhere thoroughly versatile and good value.
Those after something more high-end should look no further than one of the best-looking, best made 32-inchers around – the Philips 32PFL7605H – though smart TV is done better on sets such as the Sony KDL-32EX524 and Samsung UE32D5000.