Panasonic Viera TC-L32XM6 LED TV Review
Little screen, big big picture
The L32XM6 (MSRP $349.99) is a small, low-end LCD from Panasonic. While a budget model, it's still fitted with the narrow bezels and slim design that modern consumers have come to expect.
We didn't expect what a solid performer this little Panasonic would be. From a company that specializes in plasmas, and with some basic calibration, this LCD produces a very respectable picture. If you're looking for a secondary display, the XM6 series is a good place to start.
A handsome little devil
The L32XM6 is neither very large nor very expensive; its design aesthetic is poised to match. Like Johnny Cash, this Panasonic LCD is dressed all in black—chintzy black plastic, that is. Nevertheless, it's a sturdy product once assembled: The thin panel is held firmly in place by a thick, triangular neck rooted to a flat pedestal.
We can say with certainty that this TV is not at the forefront of flexibility where connectivity is concerned. A modest two HDMI inputs and a single USB make for limited device integration. Panasonic has also included the usual hooks: shared component/composite, digital audio out, and antenna/cable in. It's enough for the basics, though, which is likely all that consumers interested in this set will need.
The one atypical design element we noticed was the XM6's on-set controls placement. Rather than embedded within the lower edge of the panel's backside, the control buttons are strung vertically towards the top. This actually makes a lot of sense, considering the size and height of the TV. If you're not keen on looking for buttons, though, the included remote is a fine tool. Its buttons are clearly labeled, evenly spaced, and provide responsive travel.
An impoverished feature set
If a high-end HDTV is a baked potato with chives, bacon bits, and sour cream, the XM6 is a raw russet. Beyond its on-board software, the only extra function you'll be able to squeeze out of this TV is USB playback, a feature that's been standard for at least three years now. We're not knocking the XM6, just making clear how bare bones it is.
The TV's on-board software allows for standard picture adjustments— Backlight, Contrast, Brightness, and Color all make an appearance. There are also a number of picture mode pre-sets: If you choose Cinema for movies, Standard for TV shows, or Game for video games, you'll be on the right track.
The software also allows a few audio adjustments, namely treble and bass emphasis/de-emphasis. TV speakers are notoriously bad, so control over high- and low-end sounds is a boon. Overall balance can also be shifted between the left and right speakers. Unfortunately, there's no full equalizer here, so control is somewhat limited.
Once you've got things set up the way you like, you probably won't be spending much time in this TV's menu. If you're looking for more to do, though, you can always plug in a USB storage device and take a look at your photos, or listen to some music. I imagine it would take more effort than it's worth to transfer and arrange the photos you want onto an external device simply for this task, but at least the option is there.
Surprisingly good picture for the price
The L32XM6 boasts a 720p (1366 x 768) resolution, putting it at the lower-end of LCD panel investment. On the other hand, this small-screened display utilizes a 120Hz refresh rate, something you usually see on higher-end TVs. Oddly enough, the hardware serves this TV quite well: The XM6 looks good.
Our first test of this Panasonic's dynamic ability produced excellent results. A solidly-dark black level ensures that Darth Vader looks appropriately darth... er... dark, and his accompanying Storm Troopers are refreshingly bright, thanks to the TV's commendable peak white level. Unlike other TV techs, the liquid crystalline XM6 doesn't limit brightness based on screen real estate, so you can expect a healthy contrast ratio regardless of how much of the screen is white.
Of course, being an LCD isn't all a walk in the park. The technology's usual shortcoming—a narrow viewing angle—rears its ugly head.
While most people will probably be watching the 32-inch XM6 solo, anyone planning a group movie night should take note: Watching this TV at even moderate off angles results in contrast degradation.
The XM6's most-impressive performance aspect is, surprisingly, how it handles motion-based content. The TV's 120Hz refresh rate makes mince-meat of all but the most intensive, complex scenes—providing a smooth, blur-free experience. Expect a high degree of retention, which keeps important minute details, like wood grain or grass on a football field, sharp and visible most of the time. This is one of the most important tests for a low-end LCD, and the XM6 came out on top.
Last but not least, this little TV adheres to international standards for color integrity, producing the full range of colors expected from modern HDTVs. The XM6 balances its red, green, and blue sub-pixels admirably, producing a picture that's both vibrant when highly saturation and detailed when not. From scenes rich in shadowy detail, to shots aglow with vivid color, the XM6 performs like a much more expensive TV.
A smart investment
The XM6 may be cheap compared to the most ludicrously-priced TVs on the market, but let's be honest: For most of us, $350 isn't chump change. If you're going to buy a smaller TV like this one—be it for the guest room, the kitchen, or your cousin overseas—you want something that's going to provide a pleasing picture for years to come.
This Panasonic does exactly that. While it may not have any fancy extras, it's got heart—we tested performance above and beyond both our expectations and the competition. If the 720p resolution is deterring you, keep in mind that you're not going to notice the reduced pixel count on a 32-inch screen. Almost everything else about this TV's picture is worthy of praise.
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