A low-end model shouldn't mean a low-level performance
What is the Panasonic A400?
Panasonic tends to be a manufacturer best associated with higher-end TVs but with their departure from the plasma market, the cheaper LCD models have now gained greater importance.There are manufacturers in the LCD market that have spent years fine tuning their lower-end models. The two Korean giants in particular have produced a number of budget models that despite their lower prices, still managed to deliver excellent picture quality, plenty of features and even calibration controls. So we were interested to see how Panasonic would fare with their lower-end models. The first example of this was the 32-inch A400, which Mark reviewed recently.To say it was lacklustre would be an understatement and the 720p resolution, poor video and audio quality, absence of features and lack of any calibration controls was a real disappointment. So when the TX-50A400B arrived for review we had a rough idea of what to expect, although the 50-inch model is slightly different. It's Full HD for a start but otherwise the rest of the specifications seems identical and at £499 it isn't exactly cheap. So let's see how the 50A400 measures up in our tests.
Design and ConnectionsThe base stand of the A400 fits directly on to the chassis of the TV, which makes construction very straightforward. Considering the price-point, the all black plastic construction is understandable but that does mean the A400 does have something of a budget feel about it, although the very narrow bezel is contemporary and reasonably stylish.
The connections are fairly basic but, once again, this is an entry level product. As such you get two HDMI inputs, along with SCART, component and composite video inputs. You also get a digital optical output and a headphone socket. Naturally there's a Freeview HD capable aerial terminal, along with a CAM slot and a USB port on the side for media file playback.
The remote control is basic but well-constructed and functions effectively. There are no real smart features to cater for, aside from the Media Player button, so despite the size you get large buttons that are easy to locate. The majority of the most frequently used buttons are also sensibly located near the centre of the handset. It isn't the most exciting remote but it gets the job done.
The emphasis is very much on simplicity with the A400 constructed primarily of glossy black plastic.
MenusThe menu system on the A400 is something of a throw-back to last year, with 2013's styling and a limited set of options. You do get the viewing modes that will likely be closest to the industry standards in the form of Cinema and True Cinema but there are no fine calibration controls, whatsoever, so we’ll have to hope one of them is reasonably accurate out-of-the-box. As well as the Picture Menu there are other submenus for Sound, Network, Timer and Setup, all of which are easy enough to follow.
FeaturesThe A400 doesn't have an 'S' prefix in the model number, so there's no real smart platform but you do get a media player which is accessible via USB and it has a reasonably solid set of file types supported. For photos there is just JPEG support but it's more generous with video and will playback most AVI, MKV, WMV, MP4 and FLV files you have. If for any reason you would want to playback music through the A400 you also have choices of MP3, AAC (m4a), LPCM (.wav) and FLAC to play with. However, we would only recommend this course of action if you have an external audio system hooked up to the TV because the built-in speakers are very mediocre, especially when you consider the screen size.
The smart features are almost non-existent but the media playback via USB is surprisingly good.
The True Cinema viewing mode proved to be the most accurate but that wasn't saying much and as the graph below shows there was a large excess of blue in the darker parts of the image, giving shadows and blacks a blue tinge. Whilst at the brighter end of the scale there was too much green and blue energy and not enough red, giving whites a very cyan hue. Perhaps even worse was the gamma which clips drastically at 90IRE, resulting in a loss of detail in the brighter parts of the image where everything is blown out. We were unable to eliminate this clipping by reducing the contrast control, which normally works, and the impact was obvious on some of our tests and with actual viewing material.
The colour performance wasn't as bad and a lot of the errors were directly related to the poor greyscale performance. The excess of blue and green energy in the greyscale was resulting in some sizeable errors in the secondary colours, whilst both blue and red were undersaturated. There were also errors in the luminance of green, yellow and cyan but overall most of the colours, with the exception of cyan and yellow, were delivering overall errors that were below three. However if you look at the tracking chart further down, you can see that the colours, red, blue and yellow in particular, are missing their targets by some margin. As a result the overall colour performance was poor in terms of accuracy and, as such, many colours appeared inaccurate.
The complete lack of any meaningful calibration controls meant that there was virtually nothing we can do about this performance and as such we were stuck with the inaccurate greyscale, gamma and colour gamut. We can think of plenty of budget TVs from other major manufacturers where the image accuracy is more precise out-of-the-box and often include highly effective calibration controls. This makes the A400 all the more disappointing and just because something is low-end that doesn't mean it should have a low-level performance. You can find some suggested picture settings for this TV here.
Contrast, Black Levels and Screen Uniformity
Things didn't improve in this section, with the black level measuring at 0.13cd/m; whilst the A400 struggled to even reach 120cd/m2. We needed to max out both the backlight and contrast controls to hit our 120cd/m2 target but that wasn't what was causing the clipping. If we moved those two controls down the clipping was still there but now the image was dim. It's unusual for an LCD TV to struggle in the brightness department but this certainly seemed to be the case with the A400. The on/off contrast ratio measured at 923:1, whilst the check board pattern delivered an average black of 0.15cd/m2 and an ANSI contrast ratio of 800:1. That's a fairly poor performance which meant the images produced lack dynamic range and thus impact. The 50-inch screen also had some clouding and dirty screen effect, which means that not only was it not ideal for watching TV in low light conditions but it also struggled to compete with brighter environments.Picture Processing
At least the 50-inch A400 uses a Full HD panel and as such the video processing was superior to its 32-inch sibling. Overall the video processing was quite good and regardless of whether you were watching standard or high definition content, the A400 was capable of handling both. The deinterlacing and scaling was good, as was the motion adaptive deinterlacing and the Panasonic had no trouble with 2:3 or 2:2 cadence. It also handled mixed film and video material well and was just as effective with 1080i content, deinterlacing the material without any issues. When we moved on to 24p content, the results were just as good and overall this was a reasonable performance from the A400. The motion handling was also quite good for LCD TV, which is just as well as there is no frame interpolation feature. The clipping tests on our review discs immediately showed up the problems identified by the gamma curve measurements.
This is the one area where the A400 did excel and the lack of any major picture or video processing features meant that it was capable of delivering a low input lag. When we switched into the Game Mode from the Options submenu in the Picture Menu, the A400 displayed an input lag around 28 milliseconds, which should be low enough for even the most demanding of gamers. In fact the A400 would make for a good gaming display if it wasn't for the poor picture.
- Standby: 0W
- Out-of-the-Box – Normal Mode: 57W
- Calibrated – Professional Mode: 45W
Panasonic A400 Picture QualityIf you've already read the Test Results section of this review, then you will already have a good idea of what to expect. The picture performance of the A400 was poor because of all the issues we have already identified. Sometimes a TV has issues that are identified using test patterns that rarely manifest themselves with actual viewing content but that was not the case with the A400. We could clearly see the blue tones that permeated the blacks and dark greys, whilst there was an obvious cyan push to the whites. The image managed the remarkable feat of looking blown-out and lacking in detail whilst not even appearing to be particularly bright. Whilst the blacks were more a dark grey a lot of the time, thus robbing the A400 of much of its dynamic range and thus impact. The Panasonic struggled to deal with excessive ambient light but also failed to deliver an acceptable image at night - not helped by the clouding in places.
The errors in the colour gamut were also easy to spot on regular viewing material and overall the picture was very disappointing. As mentioned previously, the video processing wasn't too bad, so even standard definition material could look reasonable and the motion handling was good for an LCD TV. The Full HD panel was able to retain high definition detail, whilst the Panasonic could also handle 24p content. However in every other aspect the A400 delivered a picture that failed to impress and generally reminded us how good some the budget TVs from the competition actually are. Not to put too fine a point on it, if Panasonic hope to be successful in the budget LCD TV market, they will need to deliver better models than the A400. We know the Japanese manufacturer can and the 42-inch AS600 that we reviewed at the same time delivered a vastly superior picture, as well as smart features, for the same price.
The picture quality is poor, with inaccurate colours and a very limited dynamic range.
- Decent viewing angles
- Good media file support via USB
- Easy to construct
- Low input lag
- Weak blacks
- Excessive clipping
- Inaccurate colours
Panasonic TX-50A400 (A400) TV ReviewWe have seen a number of excellent TVs from Panasonic this year but sadly the TX-50A400B is not one of them. In fact it's one of the worst TVs we have reviewed so far, failing on almost every level to deliver the kind of performance, value and features we would expect from even a budget TV. The design itself isn't too bad, with contemporary lines and a glossy black plastic construction and the build quality is acceptable for the price point. There are only two HDMI inputs but the remote control, whilst small, at least gets the job done. The lack of an 'S' suffix in the model number means that the A400 has no real smart features but at least the media player via USB is very effective. The sound quality was passable but for a TV of this size it really should have been better. At least the energy usage was minimal and the input lag was excellent at 28ms but that's about it for the positives.
Once we move onto the picture quality, things take a serious turn for the worst. The greyscale performance was very poor, with a huge excess of blue in the darker parts of the image and a cyan tinge to the whites. The gamma was clipping hugely in the brighter parts of the image, robbing it of detail and the black levels were very poor. So the dynamic range was very weak and as a result the images had no impact at all. The colour accuracy was also poor and made worse by the issues with the greyscale but, with no calibration controls, there was absolutely nothing we could do about either. At least the video processing and Full HD panel weren't too bad, although the motion handling was also very mediocre. Ultimately the Panasonic TX-50A400B delivered a very weak image that disappointed, even for a budget TV, and at £499 it isn't even that cheap. Frankly, there are plenty of better and cheaper alternatives available.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level6
2D Picture Quality5
Ease Of Use8
Value for Money6
Our Review Ethos
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