Panasonic TX-L32X5 £449.99
23rd Jul 2012 | 14:00
A simple but well made HD-ready LED-backlit TV with Freeview HD
If neither smart TV, 3D nor even Full HD are on your radar, then this 32-inch LCD TV from Panasonic's X5 Series could be just what you're after.
Those super-slim, app-packed flagship TVs from the major brands may come with the latest picture and interaction tech, but for the average living room most are massive overkill.
Step forward the excellent quality Panasonic TX-L32X5, whose three-pronged assault on the mass market is likely to sell in droves; LED backlighting, a Freeview HD tuner and some rudimentary handling of digital files should make sure of that.
Design-wise it doesn't break the mould (though its gloss black screen surround and 53mm depth aren't too shabby), and nor are we expecting cutting-edge images from its basic 50Hz panel, though the latter is of the IPS Alpha variety, whose forbears have impressed us numerous times before.
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Separate from Panasonic's vast range of LED and plasma-flavoured Smart Viera TVs, the Panasonic TX-L32X5 - priced at around £450 in the UK or $400 in the US - is part of the Japanese brand's X5 Series, which also includes the 19-inch Panasonic TX-L19X5 and 24-inch Panasonic TX-L24X5.
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However, the X5 Series isn't Panasonic's cheapest – that honour goes to its C5 Series, which is comprised only of the 32-inch Panasonic TX-L32C5. It's fitted with a basic LCD panel – no fancy LED illuminations here – and thus offers lower contrast, with less powerful speakers and a larger 196mm depth, too. That said, Freeview HD still comes as a default feature.
Here you'll find Panasonic's Viera Connect interface of apps such as BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport, as well as a Full HD panel and a fourth HDMI slot, although the panel depth is an identical 40mm.
If you long for a 3D TV, or just want to future-proof from within Panasonic's ranges, think about either the ET5 Series or ET50 Series. The former uses passive Easy 3D tech – much like LG's Cinema 3D TVs – while the latter uses Panasonic's own Active Shutter 3D Full HD system. Good, typical examples of both collections include the 42-inch TX-L42ET5B and 42-inch TX-L42ET50B.
Despite being fitted with a Freeview HD tuner – a must-have – some LED backlighting and an IPS Alpha LCD panel that usually creates a wide viewing angle, the Panasonic TX-L32X5 is nevertheless firmly on the second rung of flatscreen TVs.
Its 50Hz panel and relatively primitive 1366 x 768 pixel resolution (which earns it merely HD-ready status) make sure of that, but there's still plenty onboard that makes this a sturdy choice for a living room or bedroom.
While most TVs now come with a connections box attached to back that puts all ins and outs either downward-facing or protruding from the side (though recessed, so invisible to the viewer), the Panasonic TX-L32X5 uses the older idea of cables simply sticking out of the back. Since the TV is not a super-slim model, and will therefore probably live on its desktop stand, it shouldn't make much difference.
Three HDMI inputs lead the charge, one of which is ARC (Audio Return Channel) compatible, and one mounted on the TV's side. Meanwhile there's an adaptor supplied for choosing either component video or composite video, while also back there is a D-sub 15-pin slot for a PC, an RF-in for fuelling Freeview HD, some analogue phono ins (no outs are included), and a digital optical audio output for routing sound to an AV amplifier.
Note the lack of both a headphones jack – which may irritate some – and the need to output audio via digital means only. It's also worth remembering that there's no internet dimension whatsoever, so Wi-Fi adaptors are useless; the USB slot simply won't take them.
Although this purports to be a basic living room television, it's good to see some decent support for digital files. While it doesn't have a web connection so can't interact with networked PCs or smartphones, the Panasonic TX-L32X5 does have a USB slot and that Panasonic signature feature, an SD/SDHC card slot.
The latter is useful for digital cameras, of course, though the TV's Media Player software can play a plethora of files from both USB and SD Cards; JPEG photos, MP3 and AAC music files, and AVC HD, AVI, MP4 and MKV videos are all played back. Most of those formats are now standard on most TVs, but it's always good to see MKV support (though it doesn't handle subtitles for MKV files).
There's no support for lossless FLAC music files, as there is higher up Panasonic's TV ranges, but we're not particularly sad to see that go.
If you're wanting to wall-mount the Panasonic TX-L32X5, Panasonic makes the tilting TY-WK3L2RW, though it's got industry-standard VESA wall-mount fixings, so myriad other brackets will work, too.
Remembering that HD-ready TVs tend to cope far better with standard definition channels that Full HD televisions, we engaged the Panasonic TX-L32X5's Freeview HD tuner. It makes a good argument in favour of using an HD-ready panel in living room TVs.
High-definition channels appear detailed and clean with a bold colour palette, and so – remarkably – do standard definition channels. Surely as a result of that HD-ready panel, digital blocking is rarely visible, with The Big Bang Theory on E4 looking pristine. There is some motion blur, but it's not endemic. Black areas of the image – such as inside a car at night – seem profound, though empty of detail.
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With Ironclad on Blu-ray, the Panasonic TX-L32X5's weaknesses are immediately more obvious and distracting. A mixture of that low-res panel and some motion resolution loss means that during a scan from top to bottom of the Magna Carta the text isn't legible, while close-ups betray detail only in still shots.
Using the Cinema preset, colours can seem a little muted, partly because blacks are greyed over. Engage the True Cinema mode for a more profound approach to dark colour within a seemingly brighter image, although we did experience a slight yellowing of the rest of the colour palette.
Incidentally, during our review the Vivid Colour option appeared to make zero difference to images, while the Contrast Automatic Tracking System (CATS) - which monitors the ambient light and alters the panel's brightness accordingly - always reduced the brightness, although too often the sudden fluctuations proved distracting.
At all times blacks are a bit hollow and fake, with little shadow detailing. During one sequence the shadowed ruffles in a character's red robes all merge into one area of grey-red mush. However, despite that HD-ready panel, the detail in images is good, and though far less impressive than a bigger 1080p panel, nevertheless lends enough impact to close-ups.
The main issue is with motion, with the Panasonic TX-L32X5 producing a less than smooth picture from the simplest of shots, though it's most distracting during busy close-ups of actors moving around a shot. It's a shame, because the Panasonic TX-L32X5 otherwise manages a cinematic colour palette that befits the likes of Ironclad.
As usual with Panasonic's IPS Alpha LED panels, the viewing angle is good, with the pixel aperture just wide enough to enable contrast and black levels to hold up when watched from the wings.
During Ironclad we moved positions to the side of the room, and although there was a slight greying over of black areas of the image, and the lustre of colours did reduce slightly, we're talking minor changes here. That's a strength that you rarely get on no-name TV brands.
Although there's not much in the way of processing power-hungry features that sometimes create lag, we enacted the Game mode for a purer shot at glory on FIFA 2012 on an Xbox 360. During matches we didn't notice any lag, though there is loss of resolution and detail when the action hots up, with blur common on camera pans around the stadium, too.
Edges are often frayed and jagged – especially pitch markings, such as the touchlines and the spherical centre circle markings, which came apart and looked totally disjointed each time the camera panned across.
Still, the overall image is otherwise clean and unusually muted for a 'game' mode – most are so, so garish – with strong, true-to-life colouring, profound black levels and pristine peak whites within a clean picture. As an affordable television for occasional, casual gaming, the Panasonic TX-L32X5 just about passes the test.
Usability, sound and value
Although the Panasonic TX-L32X5 isn't a smart TV and doesn't pretend to offer the future of TV, it does lag behind some of the other key brands in terms of usability. It's not that it suffers from having an ugly, slow or hard to use on-screen interface, but it is a bit old fashioned.
Using blue and yellow graphics, it's interface takes a list-based approach that can be hard to operate from the off, though it's the electronics programme guide (EPG) for Freeview that has the biggest issues.
Although Panasonic has, thankfully, now abandoned the old Gemstar system, the replacement won't wow you. It's not even up to the standard of a cheap standalone set-top box. TV schedules for seven channels over two hours are nicely presented, but the graphical quality is poor and – by far the worst crime – there's no live TV thumbnail screen.
Fancy perusing the next eight days' TV schedules in complete silence? Of course you don't.
Forget iPhone apps or fancy touchpad remotes, the remote control offered here is the basic, smaller Panasonic model used for a few years now. The strong points – large number buttons and obvious channel and volume rockers – remain.
But new commands for activating both Media Player and, rather pointlessly, Viera Tools (repetitive shortcuts to video, music and photos stored on a SD card or USB flash drive) now circle the directional keypad. As traditional remotes go, there are few better.
Media playback is a year behind the curve, with the Panasonic TX-L32X5 performing exactly the same as its 2011 TVs with both SD cards and USB flash drives. There's no support for lossless FLAC music, though MP3, purchased M4A and WMA files all worked fine.
JPEG photos (only) can be scrolled through as a slideshow – set to some elevator music – while video codecs cover AVI, MOV, MP4, WMV and, thankfully, MKV.
Although everything is handled well and plays without a hitch, the remote's navigational buttons refused to play ball.
As a default, the Panasonic TX-L32X5's speakers include speech (harsh and tinny), music (preferable for dialogue-heavy fare, in our opinion) and user (a full equaliser can be accessed) modes, but it's seriously worth considering something separate.
V-Audio adds a little oomph for movies and creates a more balanced sound, though not so you'd notice if you're used to a good sound system or home cinema.
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The Panasonic TX-L32X5 is not a bad TV – far from it – but we struggle to see why anyone would plump for this particular model when better choices exist in the same brand's collections. For example, take the Panasonic TX-L32E5B, which for an extra £20/$30 or so adds smart TV and a Full HD resolution.
What the Panasonic TX-L32X5 does achieve is a more versatile approach to all sources; Full HD is great only if you watch Blu-rays, and such a hi-res panel can still leave standard definition looking ropey. So if the living room in question has little interest in gaming, Blu-ray, or smart TV apps, then the Panasonic TX-L32X5 should do the trick.
More ambitious viewers ought to spend a little extra, though that conclusion does leave the Panasonic TX-L32X5 looking a little overpriced.
It's been a while since we reviewed a TV with a basic HD-ready resolution, but the 1366 x 768 pixels on offer in the Panasonic TX-L32X5 – which constitute a one-megapixel image to a Full HD TV's two megapixels – will be fine for small spaces.
Well made and easy to use, there are enough pixels here to get a noticeably sharp picture from HD channels fetched from its built-in Freeview HD tuner, while standard definition fare was well treated. Colours are good, the viewing angle is wide, 'game' mode is surprisingly cinematic, and the SD card slot is a nice extra.
Endemic motion blur is the biggest issue, although only an issue when watching Blu-ray discs. Blacks can look a little forced, sound is poor, and there's no FLAC music file support, but in terms of everyday use it's the isolated, cut-off electronic programme guide for Freeview HD that's the biggest disappointment.
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Choosing an HD-ready TV over a Full HD version is risky if you plan to watch Blu-rays, but this 32-inch television from Panasonic's low-resolution panel proves capable at hiding the video nasties emanating from the soft, low resolution, low bit-rate standard definition channels that still make up the majority of most people's TV viewing.
There is some endemic motion blur on the Panasonic TX-L32X5 and it's a shame the Freeview HD electronic programme guide lacks a live TV thumbnail, but overall this is a reasonably good value attempt at a living room telly.
The 32-inch TV sector no longer gets the attention it once did, but there is still some serious value in the former family-favourite size. Toshiba's 32DL933B also has an HD-ready resolution, although it adds a built-in DVD player, and sells for less than this Panasonic. Toshiba also makes a Full HD upgrade, the 32-inch 32HL933.
Samsung's UE32D5000, a benchmark product from last year, is still on sale for a similar price as the Panasonic TX-L32X5.