Panasonic TX-L37E5B £648.99
10th Apr 2012 | 14:20
Upscale 37-inch Edge LED set with engaging smart dimension
Better known for its plasma TVs, but now on its third generation of smaller-sized LED-backlit screens, Japanese manufacturer Panasonic here confirms that it's attacking on all fronts with this thoroughly versatile living room all-rounder.
At first glance the TX-L37E5B might appear to be almost identical to its same-sized counterpart in Panasonic's 3D-ready ET5 Series, the TX-L37ET5B, but there is one massive difference that puts them at opposite ends of most shopping lists.
As the TX-L37E5B doesn't have Easy 3D on board, the core panel is sourced not from LG (makers of all Easy 3D panels, which use the Passive 3D tech), but from Panasonic's own huge LCD panel factories instead.
Most importantly, that means that an IPS LCD panel has been used, which thus far have proved to be some of the best in the business for widening viewing angles and contrast-heavy visuals.
However, the 150Hz claim slapped on the TX-L37E5B isn't as significant a part of this panel's spec as it first might appear.
As is becoming the norm, backlight scanning is used to multiply the maths in the name of marketing hubris; the TX-L37E5B has a standard 50Hz panel, nothing more.
That the TX-L37E5B is completely Panasonic's own work is underlined by the inclusion of its refreshed VIERA Connect smart TV hub, a central screen that presents apps such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Acetrax, Twitter and Facebook.
Many more are downloadable from VIERA Connect's Marketplace, with shopping opportunities for actual hardware if you're prepared to set-up an account using a debit or credit card.
That way you can add a Skype camera for full screen calling – not a bad feature for a budget TV – and other accessories, though do note that one of them is a Wi-Fi dongle – out of the box this TV comes with a wired LAN option only.
Still, found for as little as £559 online, the Panasonic TX-L37E5B certainly looks good value. Just 40mm in depth with a bezel around the screen reaching 22mm wide, a slim transparent plastic rim catches light nicely.
Build quality is rather basic, with a desktop stand that feels a little flimsy, though you'd be hard pushed to find a TV at this price that matches the TX-L37E5B's overall construction.
Using Edge LED backlighting and sporting a Full HD resolution, this comparatively rare screen size competes against few others, though we'll also be judging it against the plasma tech Panasonic used in its 37-inchers until very recently.
Elsewhere in the E5 Series is the 32-inch Panasonic TX-L32E5B, 42-inch Panasonic TX-L42E5B and 47-inch Panasonic TX-L47E5B, all of which have identical specs and features.
Those after Easy 3D should investigate the ET5B Series, which comprises the 32-inch Panasonic TX-L32ET5B, 37-inch Panasonic TX-L37ET5B, 42-inch Panasonic TX-L42ET5B, 47-inch Panasonic TX-L47ET5B and 55-inch Panasonic TX-L55ET5B.
Step-up Active Shutter 3D tellies in Panasonic's arsenal are myriad, though begin in the ET50 Series that covers the 32-inch TX-L32ET50B, 37-inch TX-L37ET50B, 42-inch TX-L42ET50B and 47-inch TX-L47ET50B.
Unlike some of its 3D screens that use the Easy 3D system built around an LG-manufactured panel, the TX-L37E5B is pure and simple Panasonic.
It's got no 3D capabilities and neither does it have Wi-Fi connectivity (a separate DY-WL10E-K Wi-Fi dongle is available), though a wired Ethernet LAN port is enough to power arguably its most attractive feature; smart TV.
Here going under the moniker of VIERA Connect, Panasonic's own smart hub is one of the brightest and slickest around.
There's no Lovefilm, here replaced by Netflix and Acetrax, but the presence of the BBC iPlayer is reassuring. BBC News is also here, along with Facebook, Twitter, Eurosport and YouTube, among others.
The grid style home screen is one we like, though having to scroll through a carousel of screens – none capable of hosting icons for more than seven apps at once – can be a bit of a pain.
The centre space of every VIERA Connect screen is reserved for playing live video, complete with sound, from whatever input you look at last, such as Blu-ray, Freeview HD, or a set-top box, which subtly integrates the whole VIERA Connect experience with the rest of TV.
That's something the drab Freeview HD tuner can't offer; it cuts out both sound and picture when inspected via the remote's 'guide' button.
Marketplace – accessed via a link at the bottom of screens – is home to a plethora of apps and accessories.
All of the apps are divided by genre, and aside from a repetition of stuff already on the TV we discovered downloads for Screenrush, Viewster, Ustream TV, Vimeo and even (rather clunky) web browser software.
Most are free and download in seconds, though the Marketplace is also a place to make purchases. Simply log in, create an account and attach some payment details and you can browse and buy software (games) and hardware (gamepads, keyboards and 3D glasses).
This is something not offered by Panasonic's Blu-ray players and home cinema systems, which are all fitted with a 'lite' version of VIERA Connect that can't handle cash.
Strapped with the modestly named 'Brilliant Contrast', the TX-L37E5B has the anti-blur Clear Panel feature as well as Smart VIERA Engine Pro and Vivid Colour Creation, though performing a proper calibration could be easier.
Hidden away in the main menu's set-up tab is an 'advance (calibration)' option that has to be toggled on. Once that's done, the 'advanced settings' on the Picture tab hence contains tweaks to both the white balance and gamma levels.
The TX-L37E5B has ins and outs galore, with four HDMI inputs leading the charge, though we're not sure that its twin USB slots will be enough – especially if you decide to add a Wi-Fi dongle and a Skype camera, both of which demand a USB slot.
The TX-L37E5B puts on the kind of picture performance that's sadly lacking on too many so-called all-round TVs.
Colour tones across all sources are precise yet subtle, with none of the 'in-yer-face' antics of some LED-backlit tellies, though the merely average black levels do sometimes interrupt the otherwise natural-looking image.
A shot of the cockpit in a Super Constellation plane during Legends of Flight on Blu-ray shows signs of washed-out areas of black, with only major delineations between shades obvious.
Elsewhere we're impressed by the detail from good sources of HD – such as from our test disc Avatar – whose forest scenes are well rendered and involving.
We've seen sharper, but there's nothing to worry about in this regard.
However, the TX-L37E5B is not perfect.
We've not been blown away by Panasonic's frame interpolation tech – called Intelligent Frame Creation – on some of its other LED TVs, but it's sorely missed here.
During a scene from Legends of Flight where a glider flies past a rocky outcrop of a mountain in the background, the latter judders severely, while in a graphics-heavy sequence some brightly lit lines against a pure black background aren't always clear.
Judder is most evident during horizontal camera pans. There's also some blur, though for most scenes it's not a continual problem.
This is footage that contains a lot of challenging sequences, and the TX-L37E5B does do really well, but it's a good value performance rather than a pitch-perfect one.
Fine, bright lines against black backgrounds move quickly and are rendered not spotlessly, but accurately enough for the money – and that's the key.
Blacks aren't pure, but they're almost there.
The judder in Blu-ray discs is actually the biggest problem, and we know some viewers after 'cinematic' pictures couldn't care less about that. What everyone will love is the reassuringly wide viewing angle.
Images from Freeview HD are solid, with a lot less picture noise and jagged edges on show, but the HD broadcasts just don't seem to be as detailed as they should be.
Pointless on BBC One HD lacks any kind of sparkle, but switch to a standard definition channel – in this case the same programme broadcast on BBC One – and the flaws start to creep in.
Covered in mosquito noise and a tad over-saturated, the picture is softer than it should be on a 37-inch panel.
In retrospect the HD performance doesn't seem as bad, though the flaws remain.
DVD upscaling isn't quite as soft as SD (Standard Definition) telly, though a sheen of picture noise lays across the top.
A blast of The Apprentice in HD from VIERA Connect's BBC iPlayer app appears crisp and contrasty, if slightly noisy, with jagged edges, though the only problem with an MKV trailer of Star Trek is that previously spotted film judder.
While it might seem strange to praise the TX-L37E5B for a problem it doesn't have, it's nevertheless quite a shock to see that those LED clusters around the edge of the LCD panel don't lead to an unevenly bright panel, and there's zero light leakage. That's rare – and it's one less thing to worry about in a thoroughly good value picture performance.
Usability, sound and value
The TX-L37E5B is straddled by a yellow, blue and black user interface that's instantly recognisable to owners of Panasonic TVs from years gone by.
A VIERA Tools menu has been added to the bottom of the screen – complete with a shortcut on the remote – but it contains only lesser-used functions to do with viewing digital files and streaming.
The ability to rename the individual inputs thankfully remains – we adore this feature (it cuts down on explaining time when less than tech-savvy relatives and friends come to stay).
However, fiddling with the picture, sound and settings menus immediately produces a progress bar along the bottom of the screen, which is a long-winded way to make changes.
With the latest firmware downloaded (an all too common occurrence for smart TVs) and the TX-L37E5B re-booted, VIERA Connect impresses.
The success of the platform isn't in doubt, and though some don't like the way it's split between screens – and several screens, at that, if you download a lot of apps – it's easily customisable to bring the heavyweight services on to a single screen.
What is a bit of shame is that a specific arrow icon has to be scrolled to, to go back or forwards a screen; it would be far easier just to point the remote's arrow keys either up or down.
The VIERA Tools pop-up menu only works from the live TV screen, but only presents shortcuts to playing photos, videos and music from a docked USB device, or via the flaky media server function.
From a USB stick we managed to play FLAC and MP3 music alongside JPEG photos, AVI, AVC HD, MKV, MOV, MP4, MPEG and even WMV and WMV HD files. Impressive – and so is the thumbnail treatment – and it gets better using DLNA to hook up to a PC.
In our test, we homed in on a Samsung netbook sporting Windows 7, from which the TX-37E5B played MOV, MP4, AVC HD and AVI video files.
Its twin 10W speakers are hidden beneath the screen, though engaging V-Audio mode (using the remote control's 'Surround' toggler) does appear to lift the sound somewhat.
Treble effects, which are pretty detailed though a tad harsh at high volumes, are pushed nicely to the sides to open the soundstage.
V-Audio Surround doesn't make much difference and certainly doesn't bring any sense of rear surround effects, but it's worth trying out.
Overall the speakers are just about powerful enough for using with movies; we'd recommend using the 'normal' mode for general TV duties and V-Audio for movies.
The TX-L37E5B is a relatively high-end option when compared to the £300 supermarket cheapies, but it's eons ahead of that kind of competition.
With a relatively wide viewing angle and a decent all-round performance, it excels with good HD sources but has enough in the way of colour and contrast to please most viewers most of the time.
Having said that, it's probably the luscious-looking – and relatively content-rich – VIERA Connect smart TV dimension that will convince most potential buyers to upgrade from a cheaper model.
It may not have any kind of 3D gubbins onboard, but that has arguably helped Panasonic develop a better quality panel with an image that's both more consistent and more impressive than some of its recent 3D attempts.
Is this the step-up smart set that your living room has been waiting for?
Best TV 2012
All the buying advice you need to choose a new HD TV in the modern era!
Thoroughly smart in both looks and apps, it's the TX-L37E5B's core panel quality that make it a great step-up all-rounder.
Also adept with digital files via USB and DLNA, this increasingly rare size of TV has just enough detail and contrast to get the most from Freeview HD and Blu-ray sources.
It's also got both better speakers and a wider viewing angle than most of its competitors.
For those of us who need to put a TV far from a router, the omission of built-in Wi-Fi effectively makes VIERA Connect an optional extra, while it lacks in ultimate contrast and detail.
Upscaling SD sources is also a bit of a letdown, as is the appearance of some judder in Blu-ray discs.
Performing best with HD sources though with a decent all-round performance, it's this reasonably slim 37-incher's smart TV talents that most lend it an upscale appearance.
See our '10 best 37-inch LCD TVs in the world today' for identically sized competitors, though we'd judge the TX-L37E5B's opponents to be not just the 3D-ready Panasonic TX-L37ET5B, but also sets from Toshiba and Sony.
The Toshiba 37RL853B has a better upscaler, but a woeful smart TV dimension when compared to Panasonic's VIERA Connect.
Sony's KDL-37EX524, meanwhile, adds an excellent black level response to its 'Lovefilm included' Bravia Internet Video Service smart TV hub, though does have issues with both brightness and motion blur.