Panasonic sneaked the Freeview HD compatible TX-L32S20 out to catch World Cup fever, but apart from that coveted tuner it appears to offer little in the way of thrills.
The question is, then, does its picture performance make up for its lacklustre spec in other areas?
The S20 isn't blessed with the good looks of the brand's high-end models, but the design is pleasant enough with its slightly textured finish on the frame around the screen and adding a blue-ish tinge across the bottom of the screen surround.
The most interesting aspect of the set's specification is obviously the HD tuner that enables you to pick up the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 HD channels via a standard aerial as long as you live in an area that's currently covered by Freeview HD broadcast.
We used the set in East London and had no problems getting strong reception for both HD and standard-definition broadcasts.
The set is rather short of fancy extras. It does have three HDMI ports, with one side mounted for easy access, but it lacks USB ports for digital media playback and, despite the Ethernet port on the rear, it doesn't have Viera Cast internet services and doesn't support media streaming from a PC.
There is an SD card slot, but this can only be used for viewing photos or playing back a very small range of digital video file formats.
Picture tweaking options are also rather limited as the set lacks greyscale, gamma and individual colour controls. However, there is at least a Game Mode that tweaks the TV's internal setup for faster refresh rates when used with games consoles like the PS3 and Xbox 360.
Ease of use
The L32S20 uses the Guide Plus+ EPG system, which annoyingly displays web style adverts in a box to the right of the screen. The look and colour scheme of the EPG is also rather drab, but it is fast and easy to navigate, and has a good search option for quickly finding upcoming movies or shows.
As with the EPG, the set's various menus also look a little bit uninspired compared to those on mid-range sets from the likes of Samsung and LG, but again they are pretty easy to find your way around.
The remote control is much more impressive, however. Panasonic's zappers are usually a cut above the rest and that's certainly the case here with a remote that's both comfortable to hold and has a good button layout.
As a result, the functions that you want quick access to, such as the EPG and programme info button, are always within easy reach of your thumb.
Panasonic's TVs have built up an impressive reputation for picture performance over the last couple of years and, thankfully, the S20 does the company's good name no harm.
The set uses a full HD IPS alpha panel, which has a wider than average viewing angle, so no matter how far off centre you sit from the screen, colours and contrast remain pretty consistent.
Panasonic's sets usually do a good job of flattering standard-definition content such as DVDs and Freeview broadcasts and the L32S20 is no different in this regard. It manages to sharpen up edges while simultaneously polishing out MPEG artefacts to deliver superb pictures that avoid taking on an overly processed look.
As you would expect, it's when displaying HD material that the set can really stretch its legs. While blacks still aren't at the level of those on the company's own plasma screens, they're pretty impressive by LCD standards.
Colours are beautifully realistic, too, and flesh tones look refreshingly natural. As a result, BBC HD from the Freeview tuner looks stunning with every ounce of detail beautifully rendered. And despite only having 100Hz processing, motion is also impressively smooth for a TV in this price bracket.
Unfortunately, the S20's speakers are the weakest elements of the TV. Like those on most smaller LCDs they lack any serious punch in the bass department so set pieces in action movies tend to sound rather flat.
Even cranking up the bass control fully doesn't help matters much. That said, the speakers are fine for day to day TV fair such as news broadcasts and soaps.
The S20 is a fine mid-range TV that delivers a great picture performance, but at present we think it's a little bit expensive for what you get.
Panasonic has obviously added a premium to this set by incorporating the Freeview HD tuner, so the price doesn't really reflect the fact it lacks extras such as Viera Cast and USB ports.
However, as the World Cup fever dies down you're likely to be able to pick up the set for around £100 less, which would make it a much more tempting proposition.
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