Panasonic TX-L37DT30B £1099
25th May 2011 | 10:08
Excellent edge LED TV with BBC iPlayer plus built-in Freeview/Freesat HD tuners
Panasonic TX-L37DT30B: Overview
In some ways this 37-inch LED-backlit TV is all about convenience. We know – and Panasonic surely does, too – that 3D is much more impressive on bigscreen plasmas that hover around 50-inches.
So why bother with a 37-inch LED version? It's the holy trio at work once again in the flat TV market; the smaller, cheaper and thinner ethos are this set's core values, and that's obvious from the company it keeps in the DT30 range.
The TX-L37DT30B is joined by the 32-inch TX-L32DT30, which is also 3D Ready, making it one of the smallest such sets available. But this remains a premium TV with some exciting extra features that include Skype and a BBC iPlayer app.
The DT30 Series of edge LED 3D screens join a plethora of 3D plasma TVs in Panasonic's Viera arsenal, such as the VT30 Series (65-inch TX-P65VT30B, 55-inch TX-P55VT30B, 50-inch TX-P50VT30B and 42-inch TX-P42VT30B), GT30 Series (50-inch TX-P50GT30B, 46-inch TX-P46GT30B and 42-inch TX-P42GT30B) and ST30 Series (50-inch TX-P50ST30B, 46-inch TX-P46ST30B and 42-inch TX-P42ST30B).
The TX-L37DT30B may constitute an effort at getting 3D screens into the mass market, but there aren't any glasses in the box. Three-dimensionality, it appears, is just an option, though with the likes of Viera Connect apps, DLNA networking, SD Card/USB file playback and slinky edge LED backlighting, this LCD TV has plenty to offer.
Can Panasonic replicate its great work with 3D plasmas with LED-backlit success? Actually, it can.
Panasonic TX-L37DT30B: Features
The full HD panel of the TX-L37DT30B uses edge LED backlighting, which works thus: instead of an 'always on' fluorescent panel behind the screen a series of LED lights strapped around the – you guessed it – edges (in this case, just the top and bottom) of the panel fire light across the back to illuminate the panel.
Being able to switch on and off dynamically enables massively improved contrast compared with conventional LCDs, while the space-efficient diodes enable breathtakingly slender cabinets (just 72mm deep, in this case).
This is one of the most attractive TVs in the 2011 crop, with a rather classy fine titanium finish on the frame that's typical of the simple, subtle design.
Elsewhere on the picture side is high-speed drive system to get rid 3D of crosstalk – a major issue on sets like this during 2010 – and a dynamic contrast feature called Contrast Auto Tracking System (C.A.T.S.) that fans of moodier, more cinematic pictures will get an instant high from. Also here is Panasonic's 400Hz Intelligent Frame Creation circuitry, which is designed to prevent blur and image echoes during fast-moving scenes.
Aside from 3D compatibility, the best feature on the TX-L37DT30B is the Viera Connect online service, which now boasts a totally refreshed roll call of content providers. A load of free games and info-apps can be downloaded from an app store icon (all are free), but it's the appearance of the BBC iPlayer that alone makes this a genuinely engaging service.
If the chance to banish the laptop from the living room isn't enough, there's plenty more to divert you in Viera Connect; ignore the needlessly Euro-centric German and French language news services and head straight to streamed movies from Acetrax. It's an excellent service to rival Lovefilm and it's accompanied by apps for Screenrush (movie trailers), YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Picasa, Dailymotion, Euronews, Shoutcast and Bloomberg.
Skype video calling is also possible, but with both a compatible camera and a Wi-Fi dongle costing £130 and £80 respectively, we'll give them a miss.
The TX-L37DT30B sees the return to mainstream Panasonic TVs of a built-in Freesat HD tuner to accompany the must-have Freeview HD gubbins. Better still is the chance to record TV straight to an external hard-disk drive via a rear USB port, though even a cheap 2GB memory stick instantly creates a really useful pause/rewind TV experience. It's not exactly Sky+, but it's a feature that's thankfully fast becoming standard on mainstream TVs.
Other hardware strapped to the TX-L37DT30B includes four HDMI connections, component video, digital optical audio output, PC input, Scart, composite video and some stereo phono in and outputs. Audio, meanwhile, is graced with Panasonic's V-Audio ProSurround sound technology.
Panasonic TX-L37DT30B: Picture
The TX-L37DT30B churns out some very respectable 3D images indeed. Some of Avatar's more frenetic scenes that juxtapose light and dark images – such as the dog attack on Jake right before he's rescued by Neytiri – do promote some ghosting and can be hard to watch.
Conversely, super-sharp shots seconds later of the self-illuminating flowers on the riverside contain some stunning depth and contrast. No flicker issues or tired eyes there, though that's in a blackout; crack open a window and the light can cause a more visible flicker as well as some nasty reflections.
The 2D image, meanwhile, is as good as, if not better than, any of its competitors. A blast of ProEvolution Soccer from an Xbox360 provides some evidence of accurate colours as well as some nifty upscaling; the deal is sealed by a DVD that's made to look not only near-HD, but almost as clean as a Blu-ray disc. Unlike with 3D, the small-ish size of the screen helps in this regard, but native scaling skills aren't in doubt.
Nor is its ability with fast-moving video. With 400Hz Intelligent Frame Creation engaged there is little loss of HD resolution compared to the eye-popping still image, which is hugely impressive, given LCD technology's innate weakness in this area.
Frame insertion technologies can create an artificial look and many a flicker and tear over quick movements, but chase sequences through the jungle of Pandora in Avatar retain a natural and vibrant feel. A rich coloured, contrast-heavy movie such as Avatar really benefits from the TX-L37DT30B's C.A.T.S. feature, though even on everyday Freeview channel it introduces a welcome cinematic balance.
This set's novel 2D-to-3D conversion doesn't compare well at all to a native 3D presentation, though an episode of Game of Thrones comes alive. Depth is created, but only between the foreground and the background, while these conversions tend to bear a very noticeable flicker. If the cameraman decides to indulge in some changes in depth of field in his 2D original, the converted 3D shot just looks plain confusing.
In general though, the TX-L37DT30B's pictures are stunning.
Panasonic L37DT30B: Sound, value, ease of use
Armed with two 10W speakers, the TX-L37DT30B seeks to succeed where so many have failed, but comes up short. The default music or speech presets are treble-heavy, while the step-up V-Audio proves the most powerful, adding a dollop of bass and placing dialogue noticeably at the front of the mix.
V-Audio ProSurround is less successful, appearing to widen the soundstage only very slightly; it's too subtle for movies. Overall though, the audio performance of the TX-L37DT30B isn't too bad.
In the world of 3D where bigger is most definitely better, the TX-L37DT30B is a small TV, so although it may not always convince, there's no doubting the precise quality of its good value 3D images.
Premium-priced it may be, but the TX-L37DT30B crams in so many easy to use features – the most useful three being BBC iPlayer, pause/rewind live TV and DivX playback – that it's hard to call this edge LED anything other than good value.
Ease of use
Viera Connect is built around a user interface that's impossible to fault. Which is more than can be said for the menu system of the TV itself, which – despite representing a marked improvement on desperately drab previous efforts – is still rather conservative.
Picture presets include two industry standards from the Imaging Science Foundation, ISF Day and ISF Night, as well as a True Cinema setting. Tweakers will welcome the presence of 'advanced' menus that give access to gamma levels, colour management and white balance. Also tucked away here is a choice between 'mid', 'max' and 'off' for the 400Hz IFC mode, though no dedicated 3D settings aside from auto-detection.
Panasonic's GuidePlus+ seven-day electronic programme guide for Freeview suffers from a squeezed design and kills dead the live channel being watched. Rivals such as Sony and Samsung are eons ahead in this regard. USB recording/pausing/rewinding proves fairly straightforward once the HDD or USB stick is formatted, though playback of digital files is less simple.
We managed to play DivX, DivX HD, MP4, MOV and WMV video, MP3 and WMA music, and JPEG photos. Not a bad haul, though it's a different experience on DLNA streaming. Hooked up to a iMac running TwonkyMedia we streamed DivX (AVI), AVCHD and MOV video, MP3 music and JPEG photos only. Why no DivX HD over the network?
Panasonic TX-L37DT30B: Verdict
If this 37-incher was a little larger, it would compete with Panasonic's barnstorming 3D plasmas – and it would come second judged on 3D images. Against other 3D LCD TVs, it's a competitive performer that pairs excellent 3D with quite wonderful 2D – and plenty more exciting features besides.
With deep blacks, BBC iPlayer, a clean and effective anti-blur system, HD sharpness and some striking colours, there's not much to complain about on this well-specified living room TV that covers all the bases.
Too small for 3D? Perhaps, and although the size helps hide negatives on a very positive 3D performance, we're still not convinced about the whole system's performance in bright living room conditions, either; this TV simply isn't big enough to be considered as a home cinema display where a blackout might be possible.
There's a slight question mark over the viewing angle, but other criticisms are few – though the TV's central user interface and digital EPG are looking a tad tired.
Panasonic's first 3D LCD is a huge success. So good is the TX-L37DT30B that we have little issue with declaring it the finest 37-incher in the business.
If we view the 3D features as a futureproof add-on that will probably come in handy one day (when 3D glasses get cheaper), there's little not to like about this package of easy to use online content – BBC iPlayer in particular – and a decent all-round performance with digital media.
But it's that sparklingly clean and precise 2D picture from all sources that is this edge LED TV's headline act.
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