The best way to judge a TV like the Panasonic TC-32A400U (MSRP $249.99) is to see how it stacks up against its peers. That said, and despite its attractive price point, the TC-32A400U doesn't hold up against the competition. The picture quality is poor, it lacks smart features, and for about the same amount of money there are much better options on the market.
In order to assess a TV's out-of-the-box performance, we run performance tests prior to calibration; but to measure a TV's full potential, we calibrate it in compliance with ITU Standards to see how close it can get to international ideals.
The TC-32A400U was not a difficult TV to calibrate but the results were not impressive. The most notable changes were to the television's RGB balance and white point.
We started in the TV's "Cinema" mode, boosted the backlight from 50 to 65, and lowered the brightness and contrast (to 40 and 72 respectively.) We were unable to adjust the gamma and the color, however, since the TC-32A400U does not offer these customization options.
It's so plain you might forget it's there.
Aesthetically, the TC-32A400U is about as basic as televisions come. Black trim, a black bezel, and a black stand constitute the TV’s frame, and a beefy plastic panel weighs the ensemble down even more. This design scheme won't be earning style points anytime soon, but that's no surprise, given this TV's entry-level status.
The user interface is also lacking in the beauty department, but thankfully, excels on a purely utilitarian level. Navigation is a piece of cake. Likewise, all of the TV's ports are conveniently located and easy to find. On the back left side, you'll find 2 HDMI ports, AV component ports, a digital audio out, and a USB port.
As for the remote control, it's the essence of basic, but it gets the job done.
The little Panasonic that couldn't
Being an entry-level TV, we knew that the Panasonic TC-32A400U wouldn't exactly be wowing us in the performance department. That said, we were hoping for results that were at least somewhat comparable to its peers.
Right from the start of the race the TC-32A400U tripped over some hurdles. During our performance tests I noticed that certain shades of gray appeared peach-tinted, and as a result, images with shadows or characters with gray clothing or hair didn't appear true to life. Our black level tests revealed what was obvious from the moment we switched on the panel: The TC-32A400U doesn't correctly display low-light content, which hampers the overall contrast against bright, vivid highlights. Worse, since a TV's black levels are tantamount to great image quality, areas of shadow look anything but deep or authentic on the TC-32A400U.
Sports fans will immediately notice issues with the way this TV displays motion. While assessing the television's motion performance, I noted that flickering candle flames, billowing smoke, and swaying trees seemed to hop from frame-to-frame in a jerky, staccato fashion.
As far as color performance goes, the TC-32A400U again misses the mark. Even if you were to calibrate the settings as carefully as I did, the colors remain skewed. It might be adequate for basic cable in a kitchen or secondary guest room, but this TV isn't properly suited for Blu-Rays. There are simply too many unsalvageable color issues that will leave Gandalf the Grey looking like Gandalf the Peach.
One of the problems that plagues TVs comparable to the TC-32A400U is a trace amount of LED light that manages to sneak into the sides or corners of the panel. Thankfully, the TC-32A400U does not run into this issue, and in fact, the distinct lack of light and shadow in the black bars above and below the picture is one of the TV’s only graces. Another surprising attribute is the TC-32A400U’s ability to communicate an image consistently regardless of a person’s viewing angle. Viewers will be able to sit further from the center than usual without noticing a distinct drop-off in picture quality.
Measuring grayscale error is a litmus test for determining how well a television balances its red, green, and blue sub-pixels. Since the red, green, and blue sub-pixels mix to produce black, white, and gray values, we can assess the grayscale to find out how evenly the TV emphasizes its primary colors. Therefore, if a TV overemphasizes red sub-pixels, black and gray colored images might appear red-shifted. As you can probably imagine, this is a huge bummer and we'd like to avoid this.
To that end, we measure the TV's grayscale error ("DeltaE") across a 10-point scale (dark to light).
For this test an ideal result would be a DeltaE of 3 or less. Before calibration, the Panasonic TC-32A400U had a DeltaE of 9.99. After calibration, we measured a reading of 7.87 — certainly better than the pre-calibration measurement, but not particularly good.
During calibration, we found that while TC-32A400U lacks white balance controls, dropping the contrast helped reduce its grayscale error.
The chart below represents the TC-32A400U before and after calibration. Ideally, we'd see an even distribution of red, green, and blue across the midsection of the graph, indicating an even RGB balance and an unpolluted grayscale.
Unfortunately, even after calibration, the TC-32A400U underemphasizes blue on the lower half of the grayscale. At around the 80 IRE level (approaching peak whiteness) the red sub-pixels take a hit and the TV begins to overemphasize green.
There's almost no reason to invest in a Panasonic TC-32A400U, even when one factors in the affordability. It simply does not perform as well as other televisions in the same price and performance range. Even if you're just looking for a secondary TV for a guest room or kitchen, there are other models that vastly outperform the 32A400U in almost every category—some of them, such as Vizio's E480i-B2, even include smart features.
Between the questionable picture quality and the lack of features, there is no justifiable reason to purchase a Panasonic TC-32A400U in 2014.
As we mentioned in the review, one of the few redeeming factors of the display was how little variance there was in picture quality when accounting for different viewing angles. However, although viewers might be able to watch the TV from a number of different angles, the screen is small enough that this is almost a moot point.
I tested a total viewing angle of 178° (or ±89°) which is pretty good compared to comparable TVs.
The TC-32A400U's black levels are brutal, to say the least. Compared to its peers, its deepest black isn't that deep and its brightest white isn't that white. I measured a contrast ratio of 608:1, which doesn't even come close to, say, the Vizio E480i-B2's contrast ratio of 3404:1 (which itself is fairly average).
A lack of contrast this significant results in muddy shadows and dark colors bleeding into one another. It's simply not a good look, especially for Blu-Rays.
A color gamut is a way to visualize the color output of any given TV. Ideally, each color point would fall right into place based on international HDTV standards, and the center points (which represent black, gray, and white) would occupy the center of the color gamut (since the grayscale is made up of each individual color).
A look at the Panasonic TC-32A400U's pre- and post-calibration color gamut reveals the limitations of its customization menu.
The TC-32A400U was all over the place before and after calibration. The most notable correction made during our color calibration process belonged to the white and gray points. I calibrated color by adjusting the contrast, but the secondary colors (yellow, cyan, and magenta) proved unsalvageable due to the TV's lack of a color management system.
Meet the tester
Senior Staff Writer@Reviewed
Michael Desjardin graduated from Emerson College after having studied media production and screenwriting. He specializes in tech for Reviewed, but also loves film criticism, weird ambient music, cooking, and food in general.
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