The Panasonic TX-32DS500B doesn’t impress on paper: it’s a 32in screen, has HD Ready resolution (which means it will accept 1080p videos, but won’t be able to display them natively), and costs just £300.
We've become so accustomed to testing the latest Ultra HD 4K TVs, the arrival of an old-fashioned HD Ready TV with 32in screen actually comes as a bit of a shock to the system.
But it’s a surprisingly likeable, easy-to-use TV with a compelling picture. It even has Netflix and all the catch-up TV apps.
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But first, let’s get the biggest issue with the Panasonic out of the way: the blacks don’t go deep or subtle enough.
That becomes a problem when you’re watching a TV show or Blu-ray film with a lot of dark scenes – The Dark Knight Rises (opens in new tab), for instance, or the interior scenes in Firefly (opens in new tab) – as you lose a lot of detail and don’t get that exciting, punchy contrast.
The lapels of dark suits, the finer detail in strands of hair, textures of metal or wood – they all tend to blend into the background in dark or shadowy corners.
The edges of objects aren’t easy to distinguish in the gloom, and you also lose that sense of depth between characters and the background.
Bright colours, such as the vivid yellow prison jumpsuits worn in Guardians Of The Galaxy, don’t get the chance to pop as much when they don’t have solid blacks surrounding them.
But things improve in brighter or daylight scenes, where the contrast is a lot more balanced. You don’t notice the weakness of dark areas when the rest of the scene shines brightly and shows off the screen’s better talents.
Objects look a lot more solid outdoors, and you can see just how nicely balanced the colour palette is as well.
Foliage looks natural, the textures of clothes are distinctive and conveyed with a good amount of detail, and skin tones are almost realistic – though they look slightly flushed as if everyone’s been out in the sun for a bit too long.
Edges of objects could be crisper, but we don’t find the picture noisy or fuzzy.
We would normally brace ourselves for a dip in quality when watching standard definition on a Full HD or 4K screen, but the HD Ready resolution works in the 32DS500B’s favour: the picture remains clear and stable, with plenty of detail to keep your interest hooked when watching MasterChef on BBC iPlayer or Friends repeats on non-HD channels.
All the Panasonic needs is some final detail to deliver a more realistic and immersive picture. Lamps and light sources need more punch and intensity to be convincing.
The rival Sony KDL-32WD603 (£300) is more discerning, and has a better grasp on its contrast – its blacks go satisfyingly deep while also displaying plenty of shadow detail.
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The Panasonic delivers an engaging performance at this price, and sounds good, too. We think it’s down to its chunky build that the TV has such a robust sonic character (unlike the tinny sound we encounter from slim flatscreens).
The 32in TV’s sound is similar to the 4K Panasonic TX-40DX600B (£500 (opens in new tab)), with a decent weight and no hint of sharpness meaning it is comfortable to listen to for long periods of time.
Dialogue is heard clearly above solid-sounding effects, and we don’t find ourselves immediately thinking about hooking up a suitable soundbar.
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Unlike the TVs higher up in Panasonic’s 2016 range, the TX-32DS500B doesn’t come with the colourful, bubble-filled Firefox OS interface that we’re so fond of.
Instead, it has My Home Screen – multiple screens that you can customise to a specific theme or person in the household.
The modular screens are useful. The channel or Blu-ray you’re watching will always take centre stage, and you can have shortcuts to your most used apps or a list of channels surrounding it.
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Apart from sometimes being a touch slow to move around the screen, it’s not complicated to use. It might not be as elegant and slick as Firefox, but it’s handy for having your favourite apps and programme guide within easy reach.
Along with Netflix and Amazon video apps, you get all of the UK’s catch-up TV apps (BBC iPlayer, the ITV Hub, All 4 and Demand 5), something that its rivals from Sony and LG don’t have.
The built-in wi-fi works just fine when watching iPlayer streams, but we’d use the wired ethernet port for the most stable connection.
Build and connectivity
Connectivity is rather sparse on the TX-32DS500B. You have two HDMI inputs and one USB port, which isn’t enough if you want to keep your Blu-ray player, Sky box and games console plugged in at all times.
A couple of analogue inputs, a digital optical output for adding a soundbar (if you wish to in the future), and the Freeview HD tuner are the only other connections you’ll find at the back of the TV.
Though it looks rather chunky, the set itself is light but never feels flimsy. The build quality is decent, and with a simple but stable stand that’s easy to screw in.
It’s an easy set to get to grips with from the start, with a sturdy remote control included that works reliably when scrolling through the integrated Freetime programme guide.
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The Panasonic is a fine choice if you’re after a small TV for your bedroom or kitchen.
You get a fair amount for your £300: HDMI inputs (although we could do with just one more), all the best video on-demand and catch up TV apps, a Freeview HD tuner and a satisfyingly solid sound quality.
Its biggest rival is the Sony KDL-32WD603, which offers a subtler, more natural and exciting picture for the same price.
But if you can live with the not-so-deep-or-subtle blacks of the Panasonic, its likable picture and interface is worth considering.
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See all our Panasonic reviews