Until the second wave of manufacturers is announced early next year, Panasonic stands alone in making TVs with Freesat reception built-in (including HD).

The Panasonic TX-37LZD81 is one such set.

Last summer saw the appearance of the PZ81 series, all boasting excellent AV performance to match their TV receiving prowess.

Now the company has followed up with two mid-range LCDs in modest 32in and 37in screen sizes and, like the plasmas, they also sport Freeview and analogue tuners.

Picture processing

The Panasonic TX-37LZD81 has a pretty wide footprint, with a stand design identical to that of the PZ81 range plasmas, and its thick bezel is topped off, predictably, with a piano black finish.

It has a full HD panel with a contrast ratio of 10,000:1. Picture processing is handled once again by Panasonic's Intelligent Scene controller and a V-real Pro 3 processor delivers improved motion handling, deeper blacks and SD upscaling.

There's also 24fps Real Cinema support for smooth playback of Blu-ray discs.

Wealth of connections

Connection-wise, it's sufficiently well-stocked with three HDMI outputs (two located on the rear,
one along the right hand side), component video inputs, two RGB Scarts, an S-video input, composite video output and XGA PC inputs. On the audio side there are optical and stereo phono outputs.

Add to these a common interface slot suitable for sliding in a CAM for terrestrial pay TV options such as Setanta Sports or other satellite pay TV services (Sky excluded). There's also an SD card reader for JPEG image display and an ethernet port, which will find a use once Freesat launches its promised broadband on-demand services.

Viera Link support, meanwhile, enables you to use the remote to control other Panasonic devices connected via HDMI.

Freesat EPG

The remote control shares the same design as that found on many of the company's recent sets and it's reassuringly chunky and responsive. Jabbing the TV button at the top brings up the option to switch between the three tuners.

When first switched on, the TV tunes into satellite (it's a lot quicker compared to some of the dedicated Freesat boxes we've seen), then terrestrial channels.

Freesat gets its own full-screen EPG showing seven days of information at a time and this can be scrolled through day by day. You can view a grid of data for several channels or view lists of programmes for each channel.

You can also highlight broadcasts according to type (eg sport) or view channels grouped by category (eg Free). Manual timers can be set up and a favourites list created.

Freeview features

Analogue and Freeview channels are listed in a separate Guideplus+ EPG, although no information is available for the former.

You can view channels in full screen in a grid or as programme lists and view programmes by type and channels by category. You can also set a manual timer and create up to four 'profiles' (essentially favourites lists), for which you can view a guide for your chosen channels only.

It's not as attractively presented as the Freesat effort, but it still manages to be a cut above that found in many other flatscreens.

Crisp pictures

While not exactly a knockout, the LZD81 gives admirable picture performance for the money. Analogue and especially Freeview and Freesat SD pictures are fairly colourful and crisp while managing not to appear overly processed-looking, even with noise reduction turned up fully.

High-def broadcasts from BBC HD varied in quality during our test: footage of The Kooks performing on Later ... with Jools Holland has a slightly pixellated sheen, while the rest looks exceptionally sharp.
We're inclined to put that down to the quality of satellite broadcast rather the TV.

Switching to our Yamaha Blu-ray player, the panel proves adept at faithfully reproducing fine details such as the black uniforms of our heroes in X Men 3, while also smoothly keeping up with hectic action scenes.

The 'cool' picture preset is our preferred picture setting throughout, as it seems to ensure that all types of images look reasonably natural.

Decent audio performance

The 10W speakers generate a fairly robust audio performance across the board.

However, we're not entirely convinced about the pseudo surround modes, which can leave things sounding deep but rather thin at the same time. Best bring your own surround system to the party.

A full HD TV with three tuners, including HD satellite reception, for around £1,000 is hard to criticise really and the Panasonic TX-37LZD81 has the performance to match.