Mainly a producer of plasmas, Panasonic has now broken its mould and introduced a 32in LCD to its Viera range of flatscreens. The TX32LXD1 looks similar to those Viera plasmas because it has the same black and silver colour scheme, but there's one key difference. The bulk of the silver content is found on the speaker-bearing 'wings' jutting out from either side of the screen frame, making it look bigger than the average 32in flatscreen.
Connectivity is a mixed bag. There's a set of component video inputs able to take progressive scan signals. There's also a slot for a Conditional Access Module, indicating the presence of a built-in Freeview terrestrial tuner.
The downers begin with the lack of PC sockets, while the absence of any digital input, be it DVI or HDMI - which means no compatibility with Sky's upcoming high-def broadcasts - is upsetting on a supposedly cutting-edge TV. The lack of any stereo audio inputs associated with the component video feed is irritating too, as it means that to receive audio with a component feed you have to connect your source to the TV via the third Scart. You might also find that you require a special adaptor, if your component source doesn't have a Scart output.
Things got considerably better when we gave our test disc, Bubba Ho-tep, a spin. We were immediately struck by the image's intensity, as rich, radiant colours join forces with a storming brightness output to create a dazzling first impression - even though much of the on-screen action takes place in the depressing surroundings of a convalescence home. The complete lack of interference is also outstanding (provided you stick with an RGB/component source, or the digital tuner) - the picture is so clean that you feel like you're staring through a window at what you're watching rather than experiencing it on a screen. The quality of the processing - as well as its inherent response time - is also evident in the absence of smearing and dot crawl. And finally with the good stuff, Panasonic has developed an 'Overdrive' system for tackling LCD response time issues, and on this evidence it works a treat.
The screen isn't quite perfect. Colours looked a touch unnatural in the scene when Elvis and JFK venture outside to tackle the Egyptian Mummy in the flesh (or what's left of it, anyway). Skin tones on the two living characters don't always look too special, and there's also a slight lack of fine detail - although that's not to say the image is soft.
If you're wondering why we haven't mentioned the high-def performance, it's for the simple reason that we couldn't get the Panny to take our D-Theater high-definition source - the pictures refused to sync properly. And this happened with two separate TX-32LXD1 samples, proving it wasn't just a problem with our model. We have to assume that it can only take still HD pictures through card slots, and not video.
Sonics are less impressive than images. In spite of the size of the speakers there's a lack of frequency response, leaving the soundstage thin and compressed. Trebles are tinny, the dialogue boxed in, and the rumble never really kicks in as it should.
The lack of digital inputs - and therefore high-definition compatibility - means that the TX-32LXD1 just misses out against some stiff opposition in this market. If you look past this and the merely average audio performance, however, it remains a impressive achievement by Panasonic and, at the low prices we saw quoted online, should be on anyone's 'screens to test-drive' shortlist.