Panasonic Viera TX-L32E5B Review

Despite its 32in screen size and lowly position in Panasonic's TV range, the TX-L32ET5B comes with a surprisingly good-looking spec sheet.

There are smart features aplenty, network streaming, USB media playback and generous connections - not to mention a Full HD IPS LCD panel with edge LED backlighting - which isn't half bad for a set costing well under £500.

Sure, sacrifices have to be made. There's no 3D compatibility or built-in Wi-Fi, but if you can live without such frills then this looks like a solid, dependable set for day-to-day viewing.

Design and connections

It's also much better looking than you might expect for the money. The black bezel is surrounded by a transparent plastic rim, which might not sound particularly glamorous, but does add subtle sparkle. It sits on a basic rectangular stand, which is similarly understated and tasteful. And that's it - no bells, no whistles, just an attractive, understated TV that'll complement any living room.

The rear panel is teeming with connections. There are four HDMI inputs, one of which supports Audio Return Channel, and an SD card slot, which also takes SDHC and SDXC cards. They're joined by an optical digital audio output, Scart input (using a supplied adapter cable due to the set's 52mm profile), joint composite and component input (again with an adapter), a D-SUB PC input and an RF input.

You'll also find two USB inputs, which sounds generous but these could quickly be swallowed up by Panasonic's optional Wi-Fi dongle and Skype communication camera. That leaves nowhere to stick your flash drive for media playback, which means you could be forever swapping USB devices. You can of course use the Ethernet port to get online but that's a cumbersome solution.

Finally a CI slot lets you access pay TV channels, plus there's a panel of buttons to control volume, channel changing and input selection.

Features

We've mentioned the lack of 3D and built-in Wi-Fi, which reduces the set's convenience factor. But use the dongle or Ethernet connection to get online and there's a wealth of stuff to explore.

The highlight is of course Viera Connect, the Internet portal that brings popular sites like BBC iPlayer, Netflix and YouTube to your screen. Quick access to BBC iPlayer is always a bonus, but we're still not convinced by Netflix and its woeful movie selection. Frequent social networkers will appreciate having quick access to Facebook and Twitter apps, while the likes of Acetrax, Fetch TV, CNBC, Picasa and AUPEO! pad out the selection nicely. You can add more apps by visiting the Viera Connect Market, while Skype is bundled in with the other Viera Connect apps and boasts a very friendly GUI.

The TX-L32ET5B is DLNA certified and can stream files over a home network. We hooked up the set via Ethernet and it easily played MKV, DivX HD, AVI, WMV HD, XviD, AVCHD, MP3 and FLAC. A similarly wide range of formats is supported via USB.

Naturally the set is fitted with a Freeview HD tuner, and as a bonus you can use Skype, Facebook or Twitter while watching TV shows.

Picture-wise, the set features 100Hz backlight blinking as opposed to the 150Hz backlight scanning found on larger E5 series models. Image tweaks include Dynamic, Normal, Cinema and True Cinema presets and an advanced settings menu that lets you alter white balance and gamma - not too advanced perhaps, but then there's a ceiling on how good pictures can look on a 32in set. They're joined by noise reduction, Vivid Colour and C.A.T.S. (which automatically adjust colour and contrast respectively).

Operation

Panasonic's emphasis on user-friendliness is once again evident on the TX-L32E5B. Most menus react quickly and handle smoothly. The setup menu, accessed by a fairly inconspicuous button on the remote, is clear and easy to follow, using the classic left to right submenu structure. It's nothing flash but does the job. Setting the picture parameters is a little hit and miss as the bars have no numerical values.

The USB and DLNA playback menus are quite dreary but easy to digest, and the thumbnail stills are a nice touch. They could be improved with a search tool though, as it's very hard to find a particular track if your library is huge. Also a word on Viera Connect - it looks great, but splitting the apps onto different pages feels long-winded, it's occasionally slow to respond and entering text with the remote is time consuming.

Hit the Viera Tools button and a row of colourful icons pops up at the bottom of the screen, providing access to DLNA servers and content from USB devices. A contextual Options menu is also on hand to help, offering settings relevant to your selected input.

Panasonic's 2012 EPG is much improved, thanks to the removal of that god-awful advert block. Now the seven-channel programme grid stretches right across the screen with colour-coded options along the top, although it's still a little dull and there's no live TV screen.

We have few qualms with the supplied remote. The buttons are big and chunky, the labelling is massive and the direction pad is suitably prominent, with often-used buttons arranged in an arc around it. It's exactly the sort of zapper your Gran would love. If we're being picky, media playback is a bit clumsy due to the low placement of the buttons.

If you prefer operation to be a little more 21st century, then you can download the 2012 iOS/Android app on your smartphone or tablet. On our iPad, the set appeared as 'Viera E5 series' and the app works brilliantly, allowing you to swipe and tap to your heart's content. We couldn't work out how to access Viera Connect, but apart from that it's very cool indeed.

Performance

In terms of picture quality, we were a lot more impressed by the TX-L32E5B than we expected to be. After judicious tweaking - and deactivating the automatic contrast and colour modes, which made the picture stray too near the garish Dynamic preset - the set can produce vibrant pictures with superb black depth and wonderful clarity.

First up we fed the Panasonic some torture tests from a Samsung reference software disc. Its sharpness tests reveal the set is a whizz with fine detail, resolving the most complex and textured objects with pleasing crispness.

It easily ekes out the individual strands of fur on fluffy cats, while shots of trees are similarly bursting with detail. It blurs slightly when the camera moves, but within acceptable limits.

We're also impressed by black level handling. Blacks are dense and free from misting but nicely nuanced too, picking out shadows and textures within shots of black objects against black backgrounds. The screen retains this density when viewed off-centre, thanks to the 178-degree viewing angle of the IPS panel.

Skin tones look natural and bright colours are bold, although not quite as dazzling as some LED panels. We can't discern any banding within tonal gradations either.

Its greatest crime is judder - fast pans look like the cameraman's been on the sauce, while moving objects rhythmically lurch forward, but that's only to be expected from a set with no sophisticated motion smoothing tech on board.

Switching over to a Blu-ray movie - in this case Iron Man 2 - this judder didn't mar our enjoyment too much. The movie's mix of dazzling colours and intense detail is expertly handled, looking consistently sharp, subtle and rich in colour.

We're equally enamoured by high-definition Freeview pictures. Shows like River Cottage Veg Heroes (don't ask) on 4HD, or Grandma's House on BBC HD have that shiny, through-a-window quality that keeps your eyes glued to the screen, anchored by solid blacks.

The set's Achilles heel is SD, bringing a little too much attention to the inherent block and mosquito noise of Freeview pictures and DVDs to a lesser extent. That said, the images are natural and easy to watch.

The quality of video files from USB, DLNA and Viera Connect is mixed. A hi-def MKV trailer for The Inbetweeners Movie looks amazing, but YouTube clips and low-bitrate DivX encodes look smudgy - there was nothing that made us turn off the TV in disgust though.

Sound

As we discovered on the TX-L37ET5B, the set's built in 2 x 10W speakers are lacklustre. Iron Man 2's raucous action scenes come over bright and treble heavy, with very little bass presence to balance it out. The V-Audio and V-Audio Surround modes add width but not depth.

The set fares better with TV shows, where that strong treble and midrange helps speech burst through cleanly, although there's still a compressed feel to it. This doesn't help when playing MP3 or FLAC music from USB or DLNA, which struggles to stir the emotions. A decent sound system or soundbar is mandatory if you're mad about movies or music.

Verdict

Despite its sonic shortcomings, the TX-L32E5B is a solid LED set, offering terrific pictures for the money. Hi-def images boast levels of sharpness, black depth, contrast and colour vibrancy you wouldn't expect at this price (helped no doubt by the small screen), and although SD pictures are noisy they're still watchable. It struggles to suppress judder but on most other counts it's an assured performer.

On the features front, Wi-Fi and 3D are inevitable casualties of the low price tag, but the presence of Viera Connect, Skype, DLNA streaming and media playback keep the value factor high. There's still room for improvement in the operating system, but we're nit-picking - on the whole the TX-L32E5B is a top-drawer 32in TV at a great price.

Score: 9/10

Manufacturer: Panasonic

Price: £498.99

Specifications:

Panasonic TX-L32E5B

Screen size (inches)

32

Resolution

1920 x 1080

Backlight technology

Edge LED

Panel

IPS LCD

Picture engine

Smart Viera Engine Pro

Digital tuner

Freeview HD

3D ready

No

3D technology

N/A

3D glasses supplied

N/A

2D-to-3D conversion

No

Wi-Fi

With LAN adapter

Online content

Viera Connect

DLNA streaming

Yes

Smartphone control

Yes

Contrast ratio

Brilliant Contrast

Brightness

Not given

Refresh rate

100Hz (backlight blinking)

Speaker power

2 x 10W

Energy efficiency class

A+

Dimensions (with stand, W x H x D)

764 x 519 x 230mm

Dimensions (without stand, W x H x D)

764 x 473 x 52mm

HDMI

4

Component

1

Composite

1

Scart

1

Digital audio output

1 (optical)

PC input

1

USB

2

SD card slot

Yes

Ethernet

Yes

CI slot

Yes