This new 37in screen - as yet only the second such-sized plasma TV in the UK - has a lot to live up to.
Just like Panasonic's 42in model, the TH-42PE30, the TH-37PE30 is a beauty. The inclusion of a Freeview tuner built into the set is a definite selling point, as is the included stand, which is exactly the same as that which comes with the 42in model.
Behind the fascia flap on the front of the screen lies a SD card slot for reading and displaying images straight from a digital camera, and a common interface slot. The latter's main use is to connect to Top Up TV, which is a Freeview extender that gives access to channels such as Discovery and E4.
Hook me up
At the back of the screen there is a similar wealth of connections, which seems to be a standard feature on sets in Panasonic's Viera range of LCDs and plasmas. Three Scarts are joined by component video inputs that handle progressive scan, and an S-video input.
But sadly, the Panasonic doesn't boasts the digital connections DVI or HDMI. However, it is not much of a surprise, as the TH-37PE30 has a VGA resolution of only 852 x 480 pixels - which is fine for handling standard definition footage, but not enough to display high-definition material. This marks this screen as potentially problematic in around a year's time, if you want to take advantage of the planned high-definition broadcasts by Sky.
Living for the moment
The Panasonic may be limited in the long-term, but a run-through of our test DVD, The Day After Tomorrow, via a progressive scan video feed we can tell you that it's a wonderful performer in the here and now. The high contrast gives a lot of depth to the film's many dramatic CGI scenes, such as the multiple twisters ripping up Los Angeles and the completely CGI-created escaped wolves' dash through the wastelands of Manhattan's frozen streets.
All the while colours are vivid, but natural, and skin tones are subtle. The black level response is very good, and there's much detail apparent, even in the low-lit scenes from Manhattan Public Library, as the flood's survivors try to decide between burning books by Nietzsche or those on tax law.
It doesn't prove a difficult choice, and nor should deciding whether to adjust this screen's picture performance for TV sources - which do appear rather grainy. The rear's black extension circuitry includes manual and automatic gamma adjustments, to help lessen this problem.
There's no such quick fix to this set's audio set-up, however, which is functional at best. Not surprisingly, its 13W outputting speakers don't handle movie soundtracks too well, and do rattle and hum at high volumes. There's a Virtual Surround mode, which improves things slightly, but if you intend to watch a lot of DVDs then this screen demands to be hooked-up to a 5.1 speaker system.
If you're looking to upgrade in size, but don't want to go up to 42in, this is the best-value screen available, for now at least. Be wary, though, because in a few year's time, high-definition broadcasts will almost certainly be popular, and this set cannot take them - the screen is not a high enough resolution, and there are no digital inputs.
For now, though, this bright set is a stellar performer with DVDs, gives a decent TV picture and is a designer masterpiece. It all depends on your priorities.