Panasonic has made a big boast this year that its new Viera TVs contain both Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners - and it’s the only brand to do so. The S20 line-up, however, is the only range from the Japanese giant that contains "just" a Freeview HD tuner. Check you can receive Freeview HD broadcasts (find out at www.freeview.co.uk) before even considering buying a TV like this because that all-new tuner does add a smidgen onto the price.
The emphasis with this 32-incher is on Freeview HD, though to call the TX-L32S20B basic would be to forget how far flatscreen TVs have come in the last year or so; a Full HD resolution and 100Hz Intelligent Frame Creation Pro scanning - both high-end features until recently - are also included alongside a 100,000:1 contrast ratio.
Inside is also an IPS LCD panel, which has been around a while but still proves useful for widening the viewing angle; watch the TX-L32S20B from the side and although black areas of the picture take on a slight blue-ish hue, it’s nothing serious and mostly the picture stays together.
In terms of design, the TX-L32S20B is nothing special. It’s a rather chunky fellow with a depth of 83mm (or 217mm on its desktop stand) and its standard gloss black frame is interrupted by a textured black overlay that doesn’t seem to serve much purpose, aesthetic or otherwise.
The same goes for its Ethernet LAN port on the rear - it’s there only for future additions to Freeview and can’t indulge in DLNA home networking. Nor does this TV feature Panasonic’s Viera Cast broadband TV platform. Another omission is a USB slot; instead the TX-L32S20B carries a SD card slot, though it only deals in JPEG photos - no video or MPe files are playable.
Instead of relying on Freeview’s own schedules, Panasonic has plumped for Guide Plus+ on its latest TVs. Sadly its 7-day EPG is overcrowded, with schedules across seven digital channels shoved into a panel that occupies only around a third of the screen. Most oddly of all though, instead of a thumbnail image showing what’s currently playing on your channel of choice, there’s a rolling roster of advertisements for everything from Aviva insurance to the Radio Times iPod App and RAC membership. All very strange; the EPG panel in question has been greyed-out on other Panasonic TVs we’ve recently tested, so we can only imagine that this rather unwelcome "service" has just begun. Press the "option" button and the EPG is replaced by a panel containing more details about the product or service … is this the future for interactive TV?
Picture-wise the TX-L32S20B is hard to challenge; the TX-L32S20B is capable of some seriously deep shades that contain detail we’ve not often seen on a LCD TV. Colours across the spectrum are impressive, too, though our favourite aspect of the TX-L32S20B is its stunning treatment of Freeview channels. Both SD and HD broadcasts look exquisite, and make that squashed EPG worth putting up with.
Blu-ray impresses too, with the 100Hz feature (which can also be successfully employed while watching Freeview) helping to create smooth, blur-free pictures, though it’s best left on its mid setting - any higher and flicker around actors and fast moving objects can get distracting.
There’s no 100Hz option while the "game" mode is being used, which proved relatively useful at making a sequence of Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 seem more fluid, more contrasty and more together than on other modes - though it does bring a slight softness to the picture.
Audio isn’t great, though there’s enough low frequency sound to cope with most Freeview fare and the V-Audio Surround option drags out some detail from the backgrounds and shoves it around the sides of the audio mix. It’s not effective enough for movies, but it works well for games.
It’s ironic that the birth of LED technology - which tends to produce deep, more believable blacks (as well as achieving a slimmer design) - has become popular just as old-fashioned LCD tech has got its act together on that front. And while this chubby Full HD LCD is bereft of digital age add-ons such as USB, internet TV and DLNA, Panasonic has combined a Freeview HD tuner with some stunning upscaling tech and a classy Blu-ray picture. The list price is too high, but if you can find it online for a more realistic £599 (we did) the TX-L32S20B makes a lot of sense.