Possibly the best LED LCD TV we've seen
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13,036It was a strange CES for Panasonic, who literally only had two TVs at the show.The first was the CZ952 Ultra HD 4K OLED TV that we reviewed towards the end of last year and the other was their new DX902 Ultra HD 4K LED TV. The general absence of an actual range of US Panasonic TVs at CES was slightly worrying and certainly doesn't bode well for the manufacturer's future in that part of the world. In fact they are already only selling via online retailers in the States, so any announcement that they plan to withdraw from that market wouldn't come as a surprise. Thankfully Europe and the UK remain important markets for Panasonic and we will be getting a full line-up this year. In fact the European Convention at the end of February will be more important than ever because it will be our first chance to get a look at the actual Panasonic line-up for 2016. However if the DX902 is anything to go by, we're in for a treat. After all, if you're only going to show one new TV at CES you'd better make sure it's a good one.Since they had almost nothing on the actual show floor, Panasonic arranged for a editors demonstration of the DX902 and their new DMP-UB900 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player. AVForums Editor Phil Hinton had seen a prototype of the DX900 last summer, so our expectations were high and the new panel didn't disappoint. Panasonic had two 65-inch DX902s setup next to a competitor's TV from last year, along with two Sony OLED professional monitors, which would set you back a hefty £30,000 each, one for standard dynamic range (SDR) content and the other for high dynamic range (HDR) content. Panasonic were clearly feeling confident about the capabilities of the DX902 and, as we found out later during the demonstration, their confidence was completely justified.
What makes the DX902 different from other LED TVs in the market place is the way that the backlight is constructed. For a start it uses a backlight array that consists of 512 separate LEDs, which will provide the local dimming with a greater level of control. That isnt particularly revolutionary but the TV also uses a unique honeycomb structure with each LED inside its own recessed area, which is designed to significantly reduce light leakage and thus haloing. Finally there's a specially developed diffuser filter that helps eliminate problems like banding caused by the LEDs being visible behind the panel. The DX902 uses a VA panel of course but Panasonic have also capitalised on their years of plasma experience to ensure that the DX902 can deliver the kind of shadow detail, contrast ratios and gradations in black that enthusiasts expect. Along with a superior black performance for an LED TV, the DX902 also delivers the superb colour accuracy that we have come to expect from the Japanese manufacturer.
However the DX902 doesn't just draw on the experience of the past, it's also a TV that is designed for the future. As such Panasonic have been able to push their phosphor technology to deliver 99% of the DCI-P3 colour space, meaning it will be able to take full advantage of upcoming Ultra HD 4K content. The panel itself is 10-bit and the DX902 can support HDR 10 for High Dynamic Range content, delivering a peak brightness in excess of 1,000 nits. It's also able to retain this brightness over a larger area of the picture than much of the competition. Panasonic feel that since they aren't just trying to hit a target, the DX902 can deliver a superior HDR performance in terms of both peak brightness and colour accuracy. In recognition of it's capabilities, the DX902 is among the first LED LCD TVs to be awarded Premium UHD status by the Ultra HD Alliance, which means it meets certain criteria such as 10-bit processing, a colour space that's at least 90% of DCI-P3 and 1,000 nits of peak brightness.Along with the DX902, Panasonic were also demonstrating their DMP-UB900 Ultra HD Blu-ray player; allowing may of those present to see the new 4K disc format in action for the first time. The UB900 adheres to all the standards established by the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) which includes support for Rec.2020, High Dynamic Range, HEVC decoding, 100Mbps, 10-bit and up to 60Hz. It also includes high precision chroma processing to convert the 4K 4:2:0 signal on the disc to 4:4:4. The UB900 is intended to be a high-end player with a better level of build quality, an isolated power supply, analogue audio circuits, 7.1-channel outputs and twin HDMI outputs. The latter allows Ultra HD HDR video to be sent via one HDMI output and audio via the other, handy for those whose AV revivers or soundbars don't support HDMI2.0a or HDCP2.2. In fact the only feature the UB900 doesn't have is Dolby Vision but none of the first wave of UHD Blu-ray players supports that version of HDR.
The demonstration itself started with HDR footage of a firework display at night and it's a credit to Panasonic that they were prepared to use such challenging material to show the full capabilities of the DX902. Although there was a tiny bit of haloing it was barely noticeable, and there was almost no difference between the DX902 and the OLED monitors, aside from the blacks being a shade darker on the OLEDs. Panasonic then showed a clip from the Ultra HD Blu-ray of Mad Max: Fury Road (easily winner of 'most played film' at this year's show) and the results were superb. The wider colour gamut was impressive, as was the marvellous level of detail, but it was the HDR that made the scene pop, with the metal on the cars glinting in the sunlight and the flames pouring from the guitar appearing highly realistic.
After that Panasonic showed some specially shot HDR footage on both the SDR OLED monitor, the HDR OLED monitor and the DX902. What was immediately apparent was how much more impact the HDR content had, there was a realism to the way that sunlight fell across a seated Japanese woman and the light picked out highlights in her kimono. There was also far more detail in bright objects such as the headlights of an oncoming train or the way those headlights reflected off the tracks. Just comparing the SDR to the HDR version showed the true potential of increasing the dynamic range of an image. The DX902 held up extremely well against the £30,000 professional OLED monitor, with the two looking very similar and again only the OLED's slight edge with blacks showing through. The same was true with the colour accuracy and again, there was very little difference between the professional monitor and the DX902, which is incredible when you consider the price differential.
It's a testament to the quality of the DX902 that Panasonic were prepared to not only show challenging content but also put the TV up against professional OLED monitors. The DX902 came through with flying colours, if you'll pardon the pun, and certainly appeared superior to the competition - although you never know exactly how things are set up at these demonstrations. It's fair to say that Panasonic's first foray into high-end LED TV - the AX902 - wasn't a huge success, arriving late, costing too much and being hampered by an IPS panel. Last year's CX802 was a big improvement, it arrived earlier, was cheaper and used a VA panel but it only had 8-bit processing. It appears that Panasonic won't be making any of those mistakes this year and based upon what we've seen so far, the DX902 could well be the LED LCD TV to beat in 2016.
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