Panasonic TH-37PX80 television

With the number of brands abandoning plasma altogether growing by the month, you’d be forgiven for thinking that LCD technology is now the undisputed choice for flatscreen TVs. The last man standing - in Japan, at least - is Panasonic, whose TH-37PX80 is yet another example of the brand’s plasmas that take apart that assumption.

It’s true that plasma tech is being squeezed out by LCD - and is increasingly rare under the 50 inches size - but that’s solely down to production costs and commercial realities. LCD TVs are much cheaper to make than plasma TVs. Unless you have a factory capably pumping out over 10 million plasmas a year, that is. Luckily, Panasonic has just that and is about to double production. Although Panasonic also makes LCD TVs, it’s clearly banking on plasma, and the TH-37PX80 is why.

There are two reasons why this is a much better all-round TV than any of its size rivals. Its contrast ratio is 15,000:1 and unlike many LCD TVs (including those in Panasonic’s Viera range) it can produce almost total black. Switch off the lights and the TH-37PX80’s blank screen is far dimmer than an LCD TV. It can also re-produce an image that’s bright in places, dark in others, so during a film it’s capable of displaying detail within dark areas, such as shadows. It may seem a mere detail, but the end result is a highly cinematic picture - and with no risk of screenburn.

Step into a dedicated home cinema room and you’ll find a plasma much like the TH-37PX80. But this is no high-end screen. At just £650, it’s also better value than similar-sized LCD TVs. Or is it? Behind an oh-so-simple gloss black design is a HD Ready panel that measures just 1024 x 768 pixels - a good deal less than the Full HD 1920 x 1080 panels now being flaunted by most 37-inch LCD TVs.

So will you miss out on extra detail if you opt for the TH-37PX80 over a Full HD LCD from, say, Sony, Sharp or Toshiba? No way. The TH-37PX80 contains the best-ever picture quality on a TV this size. Behind that success - and the second reason why the Panasonic is convinced of plasmas’ worth - is the fact that what detail the TH-37PX80 can technically show, it consistently displays. There’s virtually no blur compared to many LCD TVs, something that regularly makes largely pointless the extra detail found in Full HD images from Blu-ray discs or games.

Combine its skills with contrast and reliable detail and you get a natural picture with a lot of depth. And that counts across many sources. The V-Real 3’s Freeview software may appear a little clunky, but the image is clean. DVD is very impressive and even compressed video files from a PC, such as DiVX, look almost as good. That’s thanks in part to its resolution and some decent picture noise-suppressing circuitry.

Colour, too, is treated well by the TH-37PX80’s built-in picture engine, AKA V-Real 3. Other features include three HDMI inputs, an SD card slot (capable of playing JPEG and MP3 files), 24 frames-per-second mode for Blu-ray discs and 100Hz processing. It’s all here - and it all works a treat.

Here at Pocket-Lint we’re not plasma-obsessed - there’s a few 37-inch LCD TVs on the market, most notably from Philips - which can challenge the TH-37PX80’s picture quality. But they cost twice the price, which makes this particular Panasonic a candidate for TV of the year.

Verdict

For anyone searching in vain for a screen genuinely capable of handling Freeview, DVDs and high-def, there’s only one choice. Panasonic’s 37-inch plasma - among the smallest plasmas around - beats its LCD TV rivals hands-down with both Freeview and high-def. And its price tag makes it impossibly attractive.