Panasonic LCD/DVD Audio Home Theater
Building a state of the art home theater doesnt have to take a lot of
skull sweat if you know where to look.
And if you want to create one thats a real showcase, looking as good
as it performs, Panasonic is hoping youll cast a glance in its direction.
I did that recently, asking them for a couple of examples of their latest
wares and they indulged me with an incredibly slim direct view LCD television
and a home audio system that looks like it could compete in a design contest.
The TV was the TC-32H1, an HDTV-ready 32 inch 16x9 set that, while I still
dont think LCD is quite there yet, shows the amazing distance that the
technology has come. After all, it wasnt too many years ago that the only
time you saw an LCD (liquid crystal display) was on a wristwatch. Now, even
though I ran the unit side by side with an HDTV CRT (the old fashioned
type of TV) rear projector and it didn't match up, I was tempted to tell Panasonic
that burglars had taken it and theyd have to forget it ever existed.
But alas, Panasonic isnt that stupid or gullible
Anyway, the TV-32LH1 is a slim and handsome unit thats compatible with
regular television, DVDs (progressive scan and interlaced) and 1080i HDTV.
The latter is a terrific idea, but it also made me wonder. After all, the LCDs
specifications say it displays 1280 x 720, which means it wont put out
the 1080i picture at a true 1080i (NOTE: most HD-ready TVs to date dont
either). It does mean, however, that it should work fine for displaying a true
720p, except that it doesnt handle that format at all it doesnt
even dumb it down to 480p the way our reference set does. It just goes black.
Now, if youre going to support one HDTV format, 1080i is the one Id
choose, so Panasonic made the right decision; its just strange that they
eschewed the opportunity to offer both.
Then again, that would probably add to the price of the TV, and its
already pretty dear all things considered. It lists for about $4500US ($6600
Cdn), which prices it above most comparable CRT or plasma sets.
On the other hand, LCD does offer a couple of advantages over those other
formats. For one thing, you can display 16x9 or 4x3 pictures without having
to worry about burn in, so you dont have to stretch and/or zoom a 4x3
picture to fill the 16x9 aspect ratio screen lest it burn in the black bars
on the side.
Thats a terrific advantage. Panasonic also says that LCD technology
works better than plasma for personal TV applications (the kitchen,
office, or bedroom, etc.), because it offers better brightness in a bright room
and consumes less power. It also has terrific off axis performance,
so the picture doesnt drop off as severely as it does with a CRT projector
if you sit off to the side.
Then theres the weight. The TV-32LH1 weighs less than sixty pounds,
and its slim design makes it easy to pick up and move around if you have to.
Those are good selling points. Unfortunately, the tradeoff is in price and
contrast. While this TV looks terrific overall, its contrast ratio isnt
up to the standards of CRT or plasma. You can really notice this after youve
been watching it for a while, especially in a darkened room. LCDs are
also supposed to suffer from picture lag, but we didnt notice that this
was a problem during our time with it.
We tried a variety of video sources with the TV, from 1080i to DVD in both
progressive and interlaced variations. We liked it a lot, though when push comes
to shove our general consensus was Wow, have these things ever come a
long way but they arent quite there yet.
Thats so far as putting it in our main home theater is concerned. On
the other hand, it also isnt big enough for our main home theater, where
weve been spoiled by a 57 inch TV that we think is only marginally large
enough. But it would sure look and perform sweetly in our living room, where
the bright daytime light makes the RPTV virtually useless (assuming wed
want to carry it up there anyway!). It would also be a terrific bedroom TV,
though if we could afford that for our bedroom wed probably be retired
In our use tests, we noticed some small bright areas at top right and left
of the screen; not a big deal and we really had to look for them, but they were
there. Also, thanks to the contrast issues inherent with LCD, black areas tended
to disappear into a big black mass, with little nuance or texturing to them.
Color was excellent, though.
One thing we noticed, and this is a problem with many TVs regardless
of their persuasion (not necessarily LCD), was that the television
was set far too bright when I took it out of box. This is normal; TVs
seem to be set up to be seen in a brightly lit store, not a more intimately
lit home theater. So we hauled out the Digital Video Essentials disc and
ran through its excellent tests, discovering that most parameters other than
color (picture, black level etc.) had to be backed off nearly to their bottom
ends to give the best picture. Later, in everyday use, I ended up rejigging
it again, turning down the brightness and leaving the picture at its default.
In the end, I fiddled with the picture while watching Star Wars Episode II and
that brought about the most satisfying results.
The 32LH1 looks spectacular when the colors on screen are really bright (such
as bright daylight scenes, etc.) but it falls down at bit with night scenes
and overall dark stuff.
Anyway, the TV-32LH1 comes with about all the I/Os you could want, starting
with a 181-Channel NTSC Tuner thatll help you make the transition to HDTV.
Direct video inputs include the new HDMI audio/video interface, and two each
of the regular A/V jacks, S-Video and component video. Theres also a headphone
Speaking of audio, this set puts out pretty good sound, though in our experience
we could care less about what type of audio is built into a TV when the only
time we use the internal speakers is when were watching stuff where the
sound isnt important such as Jeopardy! or other TV
fare. When it comes to a program where we care about the sound, we fire up the
surround sound audio system and use that.
But not everyone has a surround sound system, of course. To that end, Panasonic
puts in a 15 watt, 6 speaker (with two woofers) surround sound system with dbx
noise reduction and artificial intelligence. It works well.
The bottom line with this excellent LCD is that we really liked it, and would
love to build a secondary home theater around it, but it doesnt make us
want to take a sledgehammer to our 57 RPTV yet. But that isnt really
a fair comparison, more like apples to oranges. For an LCD TV, this one is first
We were fortunate enough to be able to couple it to Panasonics SC-ST1
audio system. This $999US ($3300Cdn, which seems outrageous compared with the
US price) system is B&O-like featuring four graceful-looking
speakers on stands for the corner channels and another graceful main unit that
contains the receiver and DVD player. You also get a subwoofer unit that includes
the amplifiers and thats also where everything else (including the power
supply) hooks in and out.
The system looks terrific in the room and doesnt take up a lot of space.
Youre limited in where you can set the stuff up by the lengths of the
typically dinky speaker wires that are included, but of course you can always
get your own cables. Youll pretty well be limited to thin and cheap cables,
though, since the speaker connectors are those little spring loaded things that
are so common on mainstream equipment.
Setting the system up is pretty easy. The speaker towers come in two pieces,
a base and the speaker itself, and you can run the speaker wire into the base
and then up to the speakers on the inside, which makes for a nice neat look.
Theres one big multifunction cable that runs from the receiver unit to
the subwoofer, and it was plenty long enough for both of the locations in which
we tried it.
The center channel looks like the main speakers, but lays horizontally as it
The system claims a total power of 500 watts, which is plenty for most rooms,
and its flexible enough to handle all of these formats: DVD-Audio, DVD-Video,
DVD-RAM/R, VCD, CD, CD-R/RW, MP3, and WMA. We were delighted to see it accept
DVD-Audio discs and it did a nice job of them.
One thing that really bugged me, though theres no real way around it
considering the vertical design of the system, is the way you have to insert
discs. The tray swings outward from the bottom and you have to slide
the disc in carefully in a way that seems to beg fingermarks on the disc. Not
a big deal, of course.
Not only does the system handle all those abovementioned disc formats, it
also comes equipped to transmit Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby Digital and dts Decoders
, 2 & 6 Channel DVD-Audio, and custom sound modes. It also has built in
sound field controls such as heavy, live, clear, soft, disco, etc.).
As for video, the system plays 480i and 480p and outputs include composite,
component and S-Video. We used the component video connections to the LCD TV
and it worked just fine.
Other features include a Monitor Select which supposedly tunes
the system to the type of TV monitor youre using. Theres also a
variable zoom feature and a universal remote.
The remote, as is so often the case, is the weakest link. Its easy enough
to figure out, but (though it could have been operator error) I had trouble
getting either the audio systems or the LCD TVs remotes to work
both units; they seemed to fight each other. And the labels and buttons are
very small, for people like me who require reading glasses.
I also had difficulty with the on screen menu system, which wasnt nearly
as intuitive as Id have liked. It was no worse than many other components
Ive reviewed, though. This is a sore area with me in general
Audio quality is good, with excellent channel separation. I liked it a lot
when playing music, though in our second set up (In a rather live room, unfortunately,
and this could have colored the result) it seemed a little thin yet boomy when
I played Star Wars Episode II.
The soundstage is nice and wide, especially with DVD-Audio, and the fact that
all four main speakers are identical in size and height was wonderful. In that
respect, it was better than in our reference home theater, which has better
quality surround speakers, but hanging from the ceiling fine for movies,
but with surround sound DVD-Audio discs it can tend to make the rear channel
info sound more like a heavenly choir than an integral part of the music.
This audio system is a nice match for the LCD TV (and dare I say for many
others) because not only does it offer decent sound, but its cosmetics blend
in nicely with the slim lines of the TV. In our tests, they made a nice combination.
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think