If you ask us, there's something peculiarly right about the 37in screen size. Now that high definition is here, 32in just doesn't seem quite big enough to do the extra picture quality justice; yet 40 and 42in screens can tend to over-dominate all but the largest living rooms - especially if other members of your household aren't quite as into the whole 'big telly' thing as you are. So right there in the middle, looking like a perfect, keep-everyone-happy compromise is the 37in size.
The TV makers seem to agree with us, too, as 37in screens are starting to appear in ever-larger numbers. Which is great, except that it makes deciding which one to buy ever harder. So maybe we can help…
Price: £1,100 More info: Hitachi Size (WxHxD off stand): 934x647x106mm Weight: 25kg Native aspect ratio: 16:9 Resolution: 1366x768 Claimed max contrast ratio: 800:1 Claimed max brightness: 500cd/m2 Connections: HDMI input; component video input; composite video input; S-Video input; stereo audio output; stereo audio input; Two Scarts (both RGB); D-Sub PC input; headphone jack; subwoofer line out; RF jack
The 37LD6600 makes a good first impression with its cool, robust black finish and reasonably fulsome connections. There's only one HDMI when we'd have really liked two, but otherwise we're more than happy with the component video input, PC input, Scarts, and even a subwoofer line out for letting an external speaker take on the TV's bass duties.
Features are limited, though. The panel uses a proprietary 'In-Plane Switching' design, whereby the liquid crystals rotate parallel to the LCD panel substrate to achieve better crystal orientation and thus improve shadow detailing, brightness and colour tones. Plus there's a picture in picture facility and a few rather unnecessary and over-complicated user tweaks like a 3D comb filter. But otherwise we felt more struck by two things this TV does not have: namely a digital tuner and the impressive Picture Master video processing seen on Hitachi's higher-end TVs.
Even without Picture Master, though, the 37LD6600's pictures are respectable. Colours are exuberantly vibrant while retaining a likeably natural hue. Also, dark scenes largely avoid LCD's common greying over effect, as well as enjoying a good sense of scale thanks to the TV having the subtlety to portray small background details.
The worst weakness of the pictures is that they're really not very sharp at all. Standard definition images almost appear out of focus, while even high definition pictures lack that customary sparkle. Some pictures look noisier than we're comfortable with, too.
Sonically the 37LD6600 combines lots of raw power with an unusually far-reaching frequency range. The only disappointment is that voices sometimes get overwhelmed during action scenes.
Good price, attractively built, sound's OK
Pictures can look soft, and there's no digital tuner
Price: £3,000 More info: Loewe Size (WxHxD off stand): 990x680x90mm Weight: 31kg Native aspect ratio: 16:9 Resolution: 1366x768 Claimed max contrast ratio: 800:1 Claimed max brightness: 500cd/m2 Connections: HDMI input; Component video input; Composite video input; S-Video input; Two Scarts, one RGB; PC D-Sub input; Headphone jack; Loewe System Link jacks
Loewe Spheros R37
At a cool £3000, Loewe's Spheros R37 costs £700 more than the second most expensive TV in this group, and almost three times as much as the cheapest. But then this is a Loewe TV, after all… and the 'Loewe effect' is immediately apparent in the Spheros R37's sumptuous design and build quality. This is particularly true if you cough up even more (£3,200) on Loewe's High Gloss Basalt finish, but even the standard platinum looks spectacular.
This being Loewe you don't just have a choice of colour, either. There are also various stand/mounting options, and spending even more gets you a version with a built-in hard disk recorder!
Connections are a touch disappointing in that they only include a single HDMI and two Scarts, when at least one more of each would have been appreciated. But the set does carry a digital tuner, complete with a slot for adding subscription services and an electronic programme guide.
The Spheros R37's main other feature is Loewe's Image+ video processing. This applies reams of algorithms to improve - among other things - contrast, colour vibrancy/tone, and sharpness.
However, even Image+ can't help the Spheros R37 completely hit the picture spot. Yes, colours look exceptionally bright and polished without becoming unnatural, fine detail levels are excellent with standard and high definition alike, and moving objects look clear. But dark scenes grey over more than we'd like, the picture processing can cause shimmering noise, and HDMI pictures can look grainy.
There are no such qualms about the R37's sonics, though. In fact, it's very probably the finest sounding 37in TV we've heard.
Gorgeous to look at, fabulously built, amazing sound
Not cheap considering the pictures are only decent rather than great
Price: £2,300 More info: Panasonic Size (WxHxD off stand): 629x977x138mm Weight: 28.5kg Native aspect ratio: 16:9 Resolution: 1024x720 Claimed max contrast ratio: 10000:1 Claimed max brightness: n/a Connections: Two HDMI inputs, three Scarts (2 RGB), component video input, composite video input, S-Video input, D-Sub PC input, Stereo audio output, headphone jack, stereo audio inputs, CAM slot, RF input, SD card slot
The irresistible rise of LCD means that Panasonic is now the only mainstream manufacturer still using plasma technology at the 37in screen size. But is it right to stick by its plasma guns, or is plasma really past its sell-by date?
Aesthetically, the 37PX600's rather plasticky, predominantly grey finish makes it look a touch bland if we're honest. Though things improve considerably if you use it with Panasonic's optional floorstand option. Connections brook no complaint though by delivering twin HDMIs, component video jacks, three Scarts, and even an SD card slot for playing or recording MPEG 4 movies and JPEGs.
The 37PX600 sports a digital tuner, complete with electronic programme guide and timer recording memory, while pictures are (hopefully!) boosted by a new Panasonic processing system called V-Real. Among V-Real's many talents are better black levels, a colour range of 29 billion hues, and the introduction of extra fine detail information.
And judging by the 37PX600's pictures, V-Real really knows its onions. Jaw-droppingly good, for instance, are the TV's black levels. No LCD TV we've yet seen can rival this Panny in this critical respect.
The Panasonic also delivers a remarkably wide-ranging and beautifully authentic colour palette that really helps deliver that 'window on the world' feeling when watching high definition. In addition, motion looks crisp and clear, and standard definition pictures look better than on any of our LCD models.
Really our only complaints would be that HD pictures don't look quite as sharp as with the best LCD sets, and that colour blends occasionally appear in stripes.
Thanks to a new 'Smart Sound' speaker system the 37PX600 is a superb audio performer, combining power, subtlety and clarity almost as well as the imperious-sounding Loewe Spheros R37.
Superb picture quality, great connectivity, excellent sound
It's not cheap vs LCD rivals, you have to be careful about screenburn (as with all plasmas), and colours occasionally band.
Price: £1,500 More info: Toshiba Size (WxHxD off stand): 920x633x112mm Weight: 29kg Native aspect ratio: 16:9 Resolution: 1366x768 Claimed max contrast ratio: 1000:1 Claimed max brightness: 500cd/m2 Connections: Two HDMI inputs; Two Scarts (1 RGB); component video input; composite video input; S-Video input; D-Sub PC input; Stereo audio output; headphone jack; stereo audio inputs; CAM slot; RF input
With plasma TV perhaps surprisingly currently leading the way in this 37in flat TV group test, it falls to Toshiba to get the LCD flag flying again. And the 37WLT66 gets of to a solid start with a subtle and space-saving design, and the inclusion among its connections of two HDMIs. It's not all good news at this early stage, though, as there are only two Scarts and, unusually, no 4-pin S-Video jack.
A digital tuner leads out the 37WLT66's features, hotly pursued by Toshiba's Active Vision LCD image processing system. In keeping with most rival processing systems, Active Vision is the umbrella name for a host of tweaks with effects such as richer, more natural colours; a greater contrast range; extra texture and sharpness; and smoother, cleaner motion handling.
In action, the 37WLT66 proves comfortably the best of our LCD contenders. For starters, colours are every bit as vibrant as any we've seen on a flat TV. But crucially they also enjoy outstandingly natural tones that suddenly make those of our Hitachi and Loewe contenders look slightly average.
So far the 37WLT66 has built up a clear advantage over our other LCD models, but still trails slightly behind Panasonic's plasma contender. But Toshiba has an ace up its sleeve: outstanding clarity and sharpness with high definition sources. By outperforming even the Panasonic in this department, it's bound to attract anyone wanting to show HD off to its best advantage.
Sonically this Toshiba is a touch disappointing, with a shortage of bass leaving movie action scenes sounding a bit congested and unclear. That said, it's absolutely fine during most ordinary TV viewing.
Stunning HD pictures, fair price, twin HDMI connections
No 4-pin S-Video input, only average sound
Two general points come out of this group test. First, it's really striking just how fast LCD prices are falling - especially at the 37in size point. Second, LCD shouldn't be the only flat TV technology you should consider, as that old favourite plasma still has plenty to offer to the discerning viewer.
Getting more specific, despite its remarkably cheap price, we have to put the Hitachi 37LD6600 in last place. It's certainly not a stinker in any way, and offers a level of all-round performance that still makes it worth thinking about if £1,100 is as far as your budget will stretch. But there's no avoiding the fact that all the other sets within this group test simply deliver better pictures.
Third place belongs to the Loewe Spheros R37. In the end its beautiful design and amazing audio aren't quite enough to justify its £3,000 price tag. To achieve that it would have had to offer better picture quality too.
Picking between first and second is really tough - so much so, in fact, that we're not going to do it! All we'll say is that if you want the absolute best all-round performer, you should probably err towards the Panasonic. But if you can't run to the Panasonic's £2,300 asking price, the Toshiba will still give you fabulous pictures - especially with HD - for a cool £800 less.