Despite the fact that other manufacturers have been proffering 37-inch LCDs for years, Panasonic's Web site proclaims "new size!" next to the TC-37LZ85. That's because the company best known for its plasma televisions, of which 42 inches is the smallest common size, is finally competing with the Samsungs, Sonys, and Sharps of the world for a piece of the LCD pie. The TC-37LZ85 is a solid, if undistinguished entrant, boasting 1080p resolution and little else to differentiate it from the veterans. Inaccurate color proves the Panasonic's biggest flaw, although relatively deep black levels and excellent screen uniformity help sweeten the pot.
Clad completely in glossy black, the thick frame of the Panasonic LCD doesn't do much to differentiate itself from the pack of similarly styled flat panels on store shelves or depicted online. One slight departure is found under the frame in the form of a squat oblong protrusion, sort of like a lower lip, that hides the speakers. The glossy stand slopes down from the front of the panel and matches it well, but lacks swivel capability.
Including the stand, the TC-37LZ85 measures 36.7 inches wide by 25.4 inches tall by 11.7 inches deep, and weighs 49 pounds. Remove the stand and it shrinks to 36.7 inches wide by 23.8 inches tall by 4.3 inches deep.
We're fans of the latest generation of Panasonic TV remote controls. The clicker included with the TC-37LZ85 lacks the capability to control other gadgets, but its layout is easy to understand and offers all the control you'll need without becoming overwhelming. We also appreciate the feel of the buttons, although we wish the Volume and Channel rockers would switch positions.
Panasonic's internal menu system follows the same basic, no-nonsense design as the remote. Bold yellow-on-blue graphics make it highly legible, and everything appears where it should without requiring too much digging. We would have liked to see some kind of text explanation for some of the more obtuse menu items though.
The TC-37LZ85 is Panasonic's least-expensive 37-inch LCD for 2008, but its feature set is complete enough for the breed. The first item on the specification sheet is the 1080p native resolution, although at this small screen size those extra pixels are exceedingly difficult to appreciate.
Picture control on the Panasonic LCD is relatively basic. Four global picture modes are available, each of them adjustable, and a fifth, called Custom, is also independent per input. The menu offers a choice between three selectable color temperatures, although there's no way to tweak the grayscale beyond those presets. A smattering of other picture controls are available, most of which we left off for critical viewing.
Like Panasonic's 1080p plasma TVs, you'll have to do some minor tweaking to ensure the TC-37LZ85 is displaying every pixel of 1080i and 1080p sources without scaling or some overscan. Go into the menu and find the "HD Size" option and choose "Size 2." That way, when you use the Full aspect ratio mode--one of four available on this set when displaying HD sources--you'll be seeing the whole picture. We recommend using Size 1, which introduces overscan, only if the program you're watching shows interference along the extreme edges.
Panasonic also touts the mysterious Game mode, which turns out to be little more than an easy way to engage a picture mode. If you label any of the inputs "Game," choosing one of those inputs automatically engages the Game picture mode. That mode is simply another collection of picture parameters, just like the "Standard" or "Movie" modes--it does not affect video processing or lag time between controller and screen.
Panasonic includes an energy saver mode on this television, in addition to the Home/Store option found on many other Energy Star 3.0-compliant HDTVs. Choosing Home automatically engages the Standard picture mode, which uses 28 watts less than Vivid, which is engaged if you choose Store. Check out the Juice box for more information on the set's power use.
Our only major complaint about the connectivity of the TC-37LZ85 is the lack of an analog PC input, which seems like a no-brainer on a 1080p TV of this size. Three HDMI inputs are available, two on the back and a third on the side, and naturally you can connect a PC via HDMI or DVI to one of those HDMI inputs if you want to display PC images (see below). The back panel also includes two component-video inputs, an AV input with composite and S-Video, an RF input for antenna and cable, and a pair of audio outputs: one analog stereo and one optical digital. The side panel adds another AV input with composite video, a headphone jack and an SD card slot for display of digital photos.