Now, this is more like it Panasonic!
What is the Panasonic AX630B?It’s a brand new 4K TV from the Japanese brand which is part of their new range of mid-priced Ultra HD televisions announced at IFA 2014. It sits below the AX802 and comes in three screen sizes – 40AX630, 48AX630 and 55AX630. The model up for review here is the 48-inch version and it is something of a milestone product, being the first 4K TV we’ve reviewed with a retail price under £1,000 (October 2014). OK, so it’s only a whisker under a grand but that’s still significant as it’s a price barrier that many never look above.
DesignThe 48AX630B follows a familiar design, much like the one used for the 1080p AS640, with a very narrow bezel surrounding the gloss black screen. The frame is two-tone, with a silver strip across the top and bottom and black ones running down the sides but the metallic effect doesn’t distract and actually looks very dark in low light conditions. The metal frame design of the AX630 is also very attractive and gives the TV a floating appearance although, of course, it doesn’t allow for any degree of swivel.
A very floaty base-stand!
ConnectionsThere are some small complexities you may need to address when hooking up the AX630 to your equipment. Two of the three available HDMI inputs are version 2.0 compatible, meaning if you have any 4K capable equipment, such as an AV Receiver, you will need to ensure the HDMI port is expecting a video signal that is HDCP 2.2 compliant. The choices in the user menus are ‘Auto’, ‘1.4’ and ‘2.2’ but we found that our Virgin TiVO kept cutting out the audio signal with it set to Auto, meaning we had to change it to 1.4 to get it working properly.
Elsewhere are all the connections you would expect from a Smart TV including 2 USB ports, legacy video connections in the form of Scart, Component and Composite inputs and a terminal for a Freeview HD aerial. You also get a Toslink S/PDiF digital audio output, for a soundbar, AVR or similar, and a headphone jack. The AX630 features both a wired and wireless LAN connection, built-in, and a Common Interface slot for premium digital services access.
Panasonic AX630 Remote ControlsAs is the fashion these days, the AX630 is packaged with a choice of two remote controls. There is the standard remote control, that will be familiar to anyone who has owned a Panasonic TV in the last ten years and is very easy to use, plus something they call the Touch Pad remote.The Touch Pad, as the name might suggest, features a section that allows for finger touch control, which is particularly useful when using the browser or scrolling around apps. It also features voice commands, too, but they are implemented nowhere near to the same degree of success found in competing smart remotes from Samsung and LG. The AX630 is still easy to use, however, and it features both tutorials and an eManual in case you ever get stuck.
Panasonic Smart TV AppsOK, we’ll get this out of the way first – the Panasonic AX630 does not feature the Netflix 4K App. We castigated the AX802 for the very same omission when we had it in for review and Panasonic responded by recently issuing an update in order for it to show the Ultra HD catalogue; but there seems to be no hope for the AX630 receiving anything similar. With such a paucity of native 4K content and sources as there is at present, this is a significant miss for this TV although there will be compatible 4K media players along soon enough.
You do get the standard Netflix app, of course, and there’s access to all the major UK catch-up services (BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, 4OD and ITV Player) through the superb Freetime app so there’s plenty to go at, if you’re not bothered about 4K – but why buy this TV otherwise? Other video streaming services include Wuaki TV and YouTube and like every other recent Panasonic Smart TV, the AX630B features the excellent myHome Screen interface and the equally impressive VIERA Remote App 2 for iOS and Android, which you can read more on in our dedicated Panasonic Smart TV platform review.
The lack of 4K Netflix is a disappointment
As ever for a Panasonic TV without either THX or isf pre-sets, the True Cinema viewing mode provided the most accurate images. There was a yellow tinge to whites, thanks to a small excess of green and red energy (and lack of blue) but it wasn’t overly noticeable with real world content. The colours were even more accurate, with just a slight lack of luminance all-round but with the controls available, there shouldn’t be any issues in fixing that.
With two and ten point white balance controls, a full colour management system and detailed gamma adjustments available, it’s no surprise we were able to dial in a reference level performance with the AX630. The white balance became perfectly atonal and all the colours lined up almost exactly where we would like so we have no complaints here whatsoever.
Panasonic AX630: Video Review
AX630 Input LagUnfortunately, this TV isn’t one for the dedicated gamer. Even with the Game mode engaged from the Options area of the Picture Menu, input latency was around 77.3 milliseconds, which is noticeable with virtually all genres of games. If gaming is a major factor in your purchase, we’ve collated our current best choices here.
Panasonic AX630 Picture QualityPanasonic appears to be shunning the use of IPS panels in its 4K TVs and we can’t say we’re sorry. The result of this means we’re starting to see a steady flow of Panasonic TVs providing very good black levels and resultantly impressive contrast ratios. For those interested, we measured an ANSI contrast of around 3180:1 which is great for a LCD/LED TV and with an average black level of 0.039cd/m2, it’s the best 4K TV we’ve tested, in that respect.
In perhaps even better news, screen uniformity on dark screens was as good as we’ve seen for the technology. The AX630 employs direct LED backlighting and it evidently pays dividends in that respect, so we can’t wait to see what the upcoming AX902 is capable of, given its far more advanced local dimming system. The Active Backlight Control in the AX630 isn’t really worth the bother, it simply crushes details in dark areas of the image and since black levels and screen uniformity were so good, it wasn’t needed anyhow.
The best black levels of any 4K TV we've tested, yet
The majority of what we got to watch on the AX630 was 1080i or 1080p material and it looked excellent, with the scaling engine perfectly mapping to the 3840 x 2160 resolution. In fact, video processing, as ever for Panasonic, was excellent all-round with all the popular film cadences handled correctly and video deinterlacing near perfect. In real world terms this means your Blu-rays and DVDs will be presented as they should, and broadcast TV won’t be subject to any undue jaggedness.
As we can see from the technical section above, the AX630 also boasts incredibly accurate colours which team up with the strong contrast performance and superior video processing to provide top quality images. The lack of 4K Netflix meant we had to rely on testing its Ultra HD pedigree using some 4K clips we’ve squirreled away on a USB hard drive and, as you would expect, these all looked great but you are going to need to be sat pretty close to a 48-inch screen to notice an actual resolution upgrade. Still, you get a little more sense of texture and depth and with prices already tumbling it will soon become a case of ‘why not?’.
AX630: Any Issues?
Like most of the 2014 Panasonic’s we’ve tested – 4K or not – the AX630 doesn’t handle 50Hz signals as it should, without IFC (Intelligent Frame Creation) engaged. That means there’s a certain jerkiness and stutter most easily observable with content with lots of fast panning action. To be fair, with IFC at ‘Min’ it looked as we would expect without it on and as it is switched on by default in all picture modes, it’s not an issue many will encounter; still, we would like to see it rectified. The other small thing we noticed was a very mild dirty screen effect, also on panning shots, which seemed to exclusively happen with white screens. Even then, it was rare and didn’t really spoil the enjoyment.
- Class leading blacks
- Very accurate colours
- Superb screen uniformity
- Great price
- Good Smart TV features
- Is 48-inch too small?
- No 4k Netflix
- 50Hz issues
Panasonic TX-48AX630 (AX630) Ultra HD 4K TV Review
Should I buy the Panasonic AX630?As an entry-level 4K TV, you would struggle to do better than the AX630. It boasts a winning combination of great blacks, accurate colours, excellent screen uniformity and generally superb video processing, on the picture front, and a host of well implemented Smart TV features as icing on the cake. Yes, there’s no 4K Netflix but there will be a raft of affordable Ultra HD media players along soon enough and the (comparative) price of the AX630 is such that you can factor in that outlay as part of your budget. The other thing to consider is the screen size in relation to UHD content and there’s no doubt you will get more benefit by going bigger but that’s something for your own eyes to decide. In short we were very, very impressed by this TV – more than we expected to be, in all honesty!
What are the alternatives?The most obvious competitor we can think of is the Samsung 48HU7500. It too boasts superb colour accuracy and top-notch processing but its native black levels and contrast performance aren’t quite as strong as the AX630. On the flip side, the Samsung has a much better dimming system, better Smart TV features (including 4K Netflix) and, arguably, a slightly swankier design. The HU7500 does cost quite a lot more, however, so the decision between the two sure isn’t an easy one. There’s also the 49-inch Sony X8505 but that doesn’t have the dynamic range of either the Samsung or the Panasonic. To take a look at all our 4K TV reviews, see here.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level8
2D Picture Quality8
Ease Of Use8
Value for Money9
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.