I've long felt that there was something slightly bipolar about Panasonic's current LCD TV range. There's nothing new in a company having one high-end range and one low-end range, of course - but there seems to be a rather greater gulf between Panasonic's upper (LXD500) and lower (LXD50) screens than usual.
Yet now it seems this gap might have been left for a reason; here is a Panasonic LCD screen that neatly bridges the gap between the LXD500 and LXD50 models - and in doing so could just offer Panasonic's best all-round LCD option yet...
Cosmetically, the 32in TX-32LXD52 matches the LXD50 range rather than the LXD500s. But this doesn't really matter; the LXD50's thin black frame and silver subsection are only marginally less attractive than the bigger, glossier duds of the more expensive model.
A search for connections reveals arguably the biggest single reason for the 32LXD52's existence: an HDMI socket. Upsettingly absent from Panasonic's LXD50 screens, this digital jack is essential if you want to assure yourself of compatibility with the next generation of high-definition TV sources.
The component video jack demanded by the industry's HD Ready specifications is also present and correct, as, pleasingly, are a trio of Scarts and a Conditional Access Module slot.
Panasonic has left a couple of reasons to tempt you up to the LXD500 models, though, since unlike that premium range, the 32LXD52 carries neither a VGA PC input nor an SD card slot for digital photo viewing.
The panel's native resolution is 1366 x 768, confirming its HD Ready status, and there's a built-in digital tuner with full 7- day Freeview EPG support together with the provision to filter programmes according to genre, and to set timer events simply by selecting them on the EPG listings. The EPG and various interactive digital channel services work faster than on many rival sets, too.
One particularly interesting feature is the set's colour management option. Kick this in, and the TV will attempt to determine the optimum colour tone and saturation levels for whatever source picture you happen to be watching.
More standard refinements include MPEG noise reduction for reducing the blocking artefacts that can afflict digital broadcasts and even the occasional poorly encoded DVD, and a standard noise-reduction system for reducing grain and dot crawl. The LXD52 does not, however, carry the picture-in-picture facilities sported by the LXD500.
One thing the LXD52 does share with its higher-end sibling, however, is classleading LCD picture quality. Particularly important to achieving this prowess is the set's black level response. The night into which Arnie rides on his new Harley near the start of Terminator 2 (D-Theater HD tape) looks as authentically dark as I've ever seen it on an LCD TV. Our Tech Labs measured real-world contrast at 660:1.
Panasonic's 32LXD52 has enough greyscale subtlety to make even the darkest of backgrounds look as if they're a fully integrated part of the image as a whole, rather than just flat 'black holes'. This combination of pleasingly-deep black levels and background texturing accordingly gives the picture an impressive sense of depth.
The 32LXD52's colour performance is also striking. The scene where Arnie shoots up a pile of police cars with a Very Big Gun, for instance, enjoys deep saturations for the police lights, but also good skin toning on the various diving cops. Even Arnie looks pretty human... considering he's a robot.
However, it's worth noting that rich greens and the occasional flesh tone can look a touch ripe. Similarly, while black levels are very good by LCD standards, they tend to flatten if you darken your room.
This Panasonic can also be considered above average when it comes to motion handling. Fast-moving football has long tripped up even the best LCD screens, but this panel failed to be disturbed by any serious motion blur, smearing or judder.
Thanks to the HD panel, image clarity is high. Particularly impressive were the immense amounts of picture texturing present during T2s desert sequences.
The 32LXD52 is equally adept with standard-definition sources, in stark contrast to many rivals that can sometimes blear-out quite badly with DVD and DVB sources.
Audio is fine. The stereo spread is wide and trebles are delicately produced with scarcely a trace of harshness.
The LXD52 is a superior 32in LCD. It delivers much of the key functionality (including full HD readiness) and all the performance prowess of the high-end LXD500, for a price that's hard to resist. Which all helps make it by far the most attractive 32in option in Panasonic's current range. Highly recommended.