Panasonic TX-L37E30B £850
18th Mar 2011 | 10:35
Advanced networking is the trump card of this connected LED TV
Panasonic TX-L37E30B: Overview
The TX-L37E30B puts LCD finally on a par with Panasonic's all-conquering plasmas. The LED-powered TV is positioned above a trio of HD ready models in 20 and 32-inch screen sizes and it has a lookalike 42-inch sibling.
It's far from a budget option at £850, but it offers advanced networking features and access to a new world of IPTV content, courtesy of Panasonic's new cloud-based Viera Connect service.
The TX-L37E30B may not have much truck with this year's other great obsession, 3D, but it is a handsome set. The finish is gunmetal grey, with clean sharp lines.
The topography of the back panel rather confuses depth measurements, bulging out to accommodate speakers at the base; at its deepest it's 75mm.
Panasonic TX-L37E30B: Features
The TX-L37E30B is well equipped to be the hub of any home entertainment system. Rear-placed connectivity is extensive, with three HDMI inputs, a PC D-sub connection, single Scart, Ethernet LAN, plus phono stereo and optical digital audio outputs. There are also two USB inputs.
As the set does not have integrated Wi-Fi, you'll probably want to use one of these for Panasonic's dedicated (optional) Wi-Fi dongle, the DV-WL10. The other is best partnered with the £130 TY-CC10 HD Skype webcam. This can be positioned above or below the screen and has a wide mic array.
The left-hand side of the screen offers auxiliary access, including a fourth HDMI input, a third USB slot for media playback, phono AV inputs, headphone jack, CI cam slot and SD card reader. The latter has the most sophisticated Viera media player software we've seen to date; you can browse digital still images using transitional Fade, Slide, Dissolve and Random effects, or opt for a slideshow option with background music (yes, you can choose your own track).
Fancy display options include a nine-photo grid, collage, drift effect and gallery. You can even view snaps through a sepia cinema filter. Alternatively, you can just play back your photos in rapid fire with the Burst mode. Naturally, the USB media player will also handle AVCHD movies shot on a camcorder.
The right-hand side of the TV offers on-set channel/volume controls, should you lose the remote down the back of the sofa. The key onscreen navigation area is the Viera Tools bar. It's from here you'll browse your media via dedicated Photo, Video, Music and Recorded TV icons.
An extra Media Server tab pulls up all the DLNA devices on your home network. This TX-L37E30B sample found all our devices without any hiccups. We chose to use a wired network connection.
DLNA compatibility is always something of a mixed bag, with variable results depending on what flavour and vintage of DLNA server you're running. New this year is the option to stream content from compatible Panasonic DIGA DVD and Blu-ray recorders.
Media playback on this set is extremely good. You can peruse music by folder, drill down to tracks and then play back with graphics. Audio support covers MP3, AAC and WMA (but not FLAC, Ogg or other exotica).
The screen found our music server without missing a beat, recognised album art when browsing tracks and displayed both art and artist when playing music. By way of comparison, a Samsung UE55D8000 sample could not manage this, failing to identify the artist metadata and display album art.
With this year's models, Panasonic has dramatically improved its video file support. Across our test network, the TX-L32E30 recognised all containers and played every video file in the networked test folder: AVCHD, DivX, AVI, MKV, MP4, MOV and MPEGs. It only tripped up on SRT subtitles. However, when we played back the same test file from a local USB drive, the SRT subtitle was immediately recognised.
The new Viera Connect IPTV and app portal is a significant advance over the previous Viera Cast system. While the two may seem stylistically similar, the scope and scale of Connect is seismically different.
BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Daily Motion, Acetrax and Cinetrailers offer immediate visual distraction, and there are social media apps for Facebook, Picasa and Twitter. The Connect Home page leads through to the Viera Market, which is a searchable, expanding content resource.
Panasonic TX-L37E30B: Picture
The TX-L37E30B , once you've reined in the Sharpness and calmed down Brightness, performs extremely well. Colours are vibrant, gradations are smooth and there's a decent amount of shadow detail. However, the screen is not preternaturally dark, meaning deep blacks aren't as persuasive as you might expect.
Picture parameter controls are extensive. Various viewing modes are available (Dynamic, Normal, Cinema, True Cinema, Game and Photo), some of which do a reasonable job. Dynamic, however, illuminated our viewing room like a distress flare. Not recommended for those with sensitive eyeballs.
Standard picture processing tweaks include C.A.T.S. (Contrast Automatic Tracking System), which adjusts settings depending on ambient room lighting, P-NR (Picture Noise Reduction) noise reduction and 3D-Comb, which makes a stab at reducing moiré patterning on slow or still images. A useful rule of thumb is to turn all of these off until you feel a need to reinstate them.
To help combat motion blur is a 200 BLB (100Hz with 100 cycle Blinking Backlight) iteration of the brand's proprietary Intelligent Frame Creation Pro picture processor. This offers a choice of gears: Off, Mid or Max. With IFC off, the motion picture resolution of the set drops from a static 1,080 lines to around 660 lines. Panning is inherently smooth and there are no artefacts.
With IFC on Mid, more detail is pulled into the image: motion resolution climbs to around 700 lines. However, at this point predictive ringing artefacts around moving objects – people, horses, anything with legs – become noticeable if you make a point of looking for them. Stepping up to Max with IFC brings yet more detail.
A test pattern developed by the Advanced PDP Development Centre, featuring an ever-decreasing graticule grid, confirmed motion resolution to be high on this setting, between 900-1000 lines, when scrolling horizontally at 6.5ppf. We noted only a slight loss of clarity when we accelerated the test pattern to 12.5ppf. Unfortunately, motion artefacts caused by IFC become quite intrusive at this level.
One telling motion test involves horizontally scrolling English and Japanese text, of variable size. At 50 per cent luminance, with IFC on Max, the smaller characters begin to smudge, making for bleary reading.
In addition to Intelligent Frame Creation picture processing, there's also 24p Smooth Film and Clear Cinema. Essentially, these are the modes you'll want to use if you're keen for all feature films to have the video sheen of a soap opera.
For HD sources it is advisable to disable the Overscan option in the Advanced Settings of the Picture menu. Usefully, this can be memorised for just HD content. You can also choose from a selection of aspect ratios (assorted picture zooms, 4:3, 14:9 and 16:9) when required.
The LED light source is generally uniform when viewed square on, but it is directional. This is because the screen is lit by a strip of LED bulbs across the bottom. Glance at the screen top down and those LEDs will make their ghostly presence felt, particularly on the lower right hand side of the screen. This directionality should be factored into any placement.
Panasonic TX-L37E30B: Sound, value and ease of use
Despite its booty bulge, this is not a particularly bombastic box. It's capable of some stereophonic imaging, but there's no subwoofer for mid and low bass. The set's two 10w speakers are bolstered by a trio of acoustic settings: Music, Speech and User.
The latter enables you to tailor the sound of the TV using a simple equalizer for bass and treble. The preset Speech mode is rather telephonic, but Music is a decent all-rounder.
There's also a 'Surround mode' but this doesn't contribute anything meaningful. There's a selection of Audio Description controls. You can select AD to run automatically, as well as route it to the headphone output.
Coming hot on the heels of last year's bargain-tastic TX-P37X20 plasma (which typically sells for less than £500), this new, thinner LED set appears distinctly overpriced. But there is some justification for the ticket.
The screen is well built with a forward-looking feature set. The TX-L37E30B 's video streaming talents are the best we've seen from the brand, the user interface has matured and Panasonic's Viera Connect proposal is looking extremely exciting.
Picture performance is accomplished, with good colour fidelity and crisp detail, although crank up IFC and you'll start to notice unpleasant artefacts: sticking with IFC at Mid should help to alleviate this.
Ease of use
Panasonic has been steadily improving its UI over the past 12 months, away from the generic windows of old but never staying too far from its salary-man demeanour. With the TX-L37E30B even more visual flair has crept into its presentation.
There are no big changes for the set's EPG though: it's still one of the least attractive around. There is no Live TV window (fast becoming standard on rival sets), and the space turned over to an advertising banner not only compromises the amount of room given to timeline listings, but is also intrusive on a conceptual level.
You can filter the Guide listing by Favourites and Free channels to make it more manageable. You can also hide unwanted DVB channels – adios, shopping channels – as well as editing position numbers. There is a Search function that enables you to scan programme titles for a keyword.
For those without a dedicated PVR, the TX-L37E30B will record to an external USB hard drive. The drive needs to be formatted by the TV and content is then locked to that specific set for playback (you can't take recordings on the road to watch on other devices). If you want the external drive to work with a PC again, you'll need to reformat it.
Be warned that XP won't recognise a Panasonic-blessed drive, which could be problematic. Of course, once the DVB tuner is committed to a recording onto an external HDD you can't then watch another channel. You can however pre-program recordings using the seven day EPG.
The TV ships with a standard generic Panasonic remote handset. We suspect there's a factory pumping out millions of these things, and the brand now has a bit of a surplus. This is the only reason we can think to explain why the zapper still has a button designated 'Viera Cast'.
Naturally, the TV is compliant with CEC HDMI interoperability. Panasonic calls it Viera Link, but it's a fair bet that other branded gizmos will work with this screen's CEC codes.
Panasonic sells a dedicated wall-bracket, the TY-WK3L2RW, if the pedestal is not to your liking. Other commercially available mounts are widely available.
Panasonic TX-L37E30B: Verdict
The TX-L37E30B is an enticing upmarket LED LCD TV noteworthy for its outstanding network file support, rich Viera Connect IPTV and app portal.
Picture quality is above average, although you should keep the IFC set to Mid to avoid predictive ringing artefacts. Once calibrated, Freeview HD channels and Blu-ray look particularly handsome.
Outstanding network file support makes this set a good choice for those with video downloads stored in NAS devices and on PCs.
The new Viera Connect IPTV and apps portal are both useful, the Freeview HD tuner offers some futureproofing and the overall picture performance is solid.
IFC motion resolution artefacts are irksome, black levels are slightly limited and some rather generic social media apps don't augment TV viewing to any meaningful degree.
If you can look beyond its high price, the TX-L37E30B is an attractive LED television.
Picture performance is above average but not quite class leading – blacks just aren't deep enough for unqualified praise and there are motion artefacts if you crank up IFC – but network media support is first class. Panasonic's new Viera Connect service is also shaping up to be a tempting proposition.
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