Who's it for: No one.
Panasonic was a venerable name in the days of plasma TVs, and the company still puts out some nice LED-LCD models — at least in larger sizes. So we expected at least respectable performance from the roughly $300 Viera TC-32A400U. That was not the case. The only entertainment it provided was the comically skewed colors. On top of that, the set's resolution is just 720p, and it lacks smart TV capabilities, while TVs at about the same price provide 1080p resolution and Internet entertainment apps.
Design: Plain but Serviceable
Panasonic's set has a plain plastic, thin-bezel frame with a sturdy wedge-style base supporting it on a single column. All hardware buttons have been removed, a sore point for me as I like a backup for lost or broken remotes.
(Click images to enlarge.)
At the rear are just two HDMI ports along with analog audio and video inputs, a digital audio output and a USB port.
MORE: Best 32-Inch TVs
Ease of Use: Bare Bones
Setup on the Viera TC-32A400U was plug-and-play fast, and the menu system is a no-frills, text-based list. Unfortunately, the settings you'll want to use most frequently — Audio and Picture — are tucked away a few button presses deep.
So swapping between media sources, which sometimes requires changing picture and sound modes for best performance, means going into the menu system, scrolling, selecting, switching and backing out again (see Remote, below). It's tedious and unfriendly.
Remote: Comfortable but Limited
I like that Panasonic opted for a smaller-size remote that's not so skinny as to get lost between sofa cushions. Its buttons are nicely arrayed for easy, no-look control.
Less great is the selection of shortcut buttons to access settings. So while there's a mostly useless screen format button, Panasonic didn't include dedicated audio or picture mode buttons, forcing users to go into the menu system to swap settings for different source material.
Image Quality: Lower Your Expectations
I had modest expectations for Panasonic's entry-level 720p set, and even those proved too high. Colors on the Viera TC-32A400U were all over the place, shadow detail was often nonexistent, and the picture tended to be hyper-sharpened, perhaps to make up for a lower-resolution screen and weak contrast. (For details on our evaluation methodology, please see How We Test TVs.)
Color: A Spectral Crapshoot
While many other sets have an obvious best picture preset for getting the most balanced picture right out of the box, Panasonic's set was a crapshoot. Movie mode was my favorite — and also fared the best in our instrument tests (though that's not saying much) — but skin tone was way off and far too orange, or, in the case of darker complexions, red.
Swapping to Vivid and Standard modes produced a fluorescent dance party of color, though Game and Custom were at times serviceable. Until they weren't, which is the issue with the Viera TC-32A400U. There's no comfortable medium to be found.
Detail: Resolutionally Challenged
It's not a surprise that a 720p resolution display would suffer from stair-stepping of onscreen graphics and text (the block-style steps of pixels along angled lines, such as the sides of an A). The degree of the effect with the Viera TC-32A400U, however, was still disappointing.
Watch any sporting event and the score, the network logo, the news ticker, stats, and all the assorted graphics cards are blocky and look dated. You may not see it at first; but notice it once, and it's all you'll see.
MORE: Best Shows to Watch on Netflix Now
More crucially, this set is unable to produce balanced sharpness or detail. To make up for it, Panasonic has seemingly jacked up the contrast and employed excessive sharpening, to disastrous effect. For instance, in Skyfall, the face of M (Dame Judi Dench) was a pink patchwork of severe gouges and ravines so awful and artificial it might be the basis for a defamation suit.
Contrast and Black Levels: A Silver Lining
The ability to display deep blacks without having to drop the brightness was the Viera TC-32A400U's one virtue, and, in fact, it outpaced several of the higher performance sets in this category. It was instantly evident in Gravity, with outer space a nice deep black instead of splotchy or washed-out gray.
Contrast levels, as noted above, were only middling to low and meant that subtle shadow details were mostly nonexistent. Instead, there's a grainy quality that's especially evident in low light. For instance, the big battle at the end of Skyfall, set in misty Scotland in a dark castle, looked like a blotchy murky mess.
Audio Quality: Not All Bad
This set's audio performance was a step up, and engaging surround sound added a decent pop with some reasonable separation. It also had decent power, thanks to a pair of 10-watt speakers (double some of the other lower-end sets). However, the sound began to noticeably distort when we pumped it up loud (above 62 of 100).
It's clear that 720p TVs are now meaningfully outclassed by 1080p ones, and with price differences that are reasonably close. Even if that weren't the case, though, the Viera TC-32A400U has so many flaws — a poor user interface, lack of smart controls, and, basically, poor color and shadow detail — that even a lower price wouldn't justify a buy recommendation, under any circumstance.
- Buying a TV: The 8 Most Important Things to Know
- Best Indoor HDTV Antennas
- The Best Online-Original TV Shows
Follow Jon Chase @thejonchase. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.