The Full HD, 1080p24-capable, Panasonic 37LZD85 is a cracking set. Mostly.
This Panasonic's picture props are partly due to another rising fad in the liquid crystal display business; 100Hz processing.
Panasonic's other offerings
Window shoppers may already know that Panasonic has a similarly-specc'ed and designated screen, the LZD80, and may be wondering what the differences between the two are...
Well, it's 100Hz, basically. Motion Picture Pro2, the fancy name for the tech as employed here, is in evidence in this set and not on its sibling. In all other respects they are identical.
Actually, there's one other disparity; price. So, is the frame-rate doubling picture processing worth the extra £100 (a pound per Hz)?
Picture processing technology
That actually depends on what you'll use the screen for. If you're a devout gamer or footy fan (or, like me, both) then you'll probably turn the mode off so often it's barely worth having in the first place.
Unfortunately, and this is a standard complaint with the technology involved, while Motion Picture Pro2 undoubtedly reduces smearing and judder on fast movement, caveats include the occasional doubling (or tripling) onscreen of a football, for example.
And with HD games actually being rendered in real-time at 50-60Hz (as with the Xbox 360), it strikes me as lunacy introducing interpolated frames that needn't exist.
But if you're more likely to spend your time viewing normal digital broadcasts, DVDs and HD movies, like a majority of people, then the system works a dream.
Great Blu-ray images
A simple visual test of switching it on and off during movie playback, which I performed with the Blu-ray edition of Dragon Wars, illustrates some of the benefits.
There's a lot of fast action in that movie, and a hell of a lot of crisp-edged CGI effects. With the mode switched off, the fastest panning shots break up a touch and edges can smudge and shiver.
The problems are less severe than with a vast majority of rival screens, but enabling the 100Hz option brings instant results; smoother motion and less stutter.
More dramatic improvement, while using Panasonic's proprietary version of the picture processing wizardry, is in evidence during regular television viewing, specifically with channels or shows that use horizontally-scrolling text.
Info channels, such as Sky Sports News, often employ a 'roller' across the bottom of the screen, which is the arch enemy of LCD.
It's renowned to twitch and convulse like a sack of cats, but not so with the processor working its pixie magic. This may even provide the justification to warrant the extra shekels.
Strong colour fidelity
Fancy frame rate-doubling aside, all other aspects of the picture quality are excellent. I've seen slightly better, especially with the sharpness and field of depth of high-definition images, but not at this price point.
The dynamic contrast does a decent job of adapting levels on the fly, (we measured contrast at 1,000:1 with the Dynamic system off), and colour fidelity is as strong as a Texan farmhand. The backlight does glow a bit when ambient light is low, spoiling the edges of black scenes a touch, but I'm paid to nit-pick.
I'd be happy to have a 37LZD85 in my living room. For one thing, I'd certainly be able to hook up all my equipment.
Where some rival sets can seem a connectivity desert, this Panny, in comparison, is a socket-spattered Amazonian jungle. It's almost over-adorned with the regular jacks, ports and inputs, including three HDMIs that are v1.3 compliant.
One of them is side-mounted, so you could end up with ugly cable trails, as are the only composite and S-video ins, but at least they're handy for HD camcorder and games console hook-up. And there's an SD card slot, compatible with SDHC, to boot.
Strangely, though, the one aspect of the entire TV that impresses me most is in audio representation, which is ironic as I rarely use anything other than a 5.1 setup for movies and gaming.
But Panasonic has invested a lot of money and time in designing and implementing this clever stereo speaker system and it shows, (or sounds)...
V-Audio surround with BBE ViVA HD3D Sound may be far too many acronyms, but it provides the best pseudo-surround effect I've heard from a two-channel telly in some time.
There's even an option in the menu to set whether the walls are within 30cm away or not, so the TV can adjust to suit. Although there's no action in the rear, the front soundstage is wide and immersive.
Video adjustability isn't quite so well-served. Indeed, a glance at the picture option screen will send tweak-aholics running.
There are four picture presets, which include the useless (unless you live in a Comet showroom) Dynamic - which makes everything seem so, well, garish - and fine-fiddling is restricted to standard fare; contrast, brightness, sharpness, colour, etc.
It would've been nice if there were more advanced alternatives for proper calibration. The panel itself is an IPS Alpha design which translates to excellent off-axis viewing.
A top TV
Personally, I'm at an en passé as to whether the 100Hz mode is value for money. As a fervent football fan I can live without 100Hz processing - even my favourite film is Escape to Victory.
And when I'm not tuned into Argentinian soccer at 3am on a Tuesday night, I'm probably playing Pro Evo 2008 on my Xbox 360. But I'm definitely in a minority.
Regular cinephiles will benefit from having smoother motion on pictures, and an extra £100 is reasonable if you're already willing to invest a grand. Either way, you're getting a top TV.