Panasonic TX-50AX802B (AX802) Ultra HD 4K TV Review
What is the Panasonic TX-50AX802?
It would be fair to say that Panasonic’s first 4K TV, the WT600, didn’t really hit the heights we’ve come to expect from the company.But, new year, fresh start, and all that, and Panasonic are making bold claims around their Ultra HD line-up for 2014. The AX802 is the first instalment in the 4K product range with the AX902 following in the autumn of this year with a fancy sounding new local dimming system and a ‘Studio Master 2’ panel. The last Studio Master we saw from the company came equipped in the mind-blowing ZT65 but that was a plasma TV and that’s history now, as far as Panasonic is concerned. So, it is time to move on to fresh – and hopefully, for them, more profitable – pastures.
In our estimation the Panasonic plasma’s have been the benchmark in domestic TV production for the past couple of years, at least, so it’s good to know that some of the engineers behind them have been set to work on the LED/LCD models. As well as the TX50AX802B we have for review here, there is also the 55AX802 and the 65AX802 in the line-up with the smaller model retailing for around the £2,100 mark. This is much more competitive pricing from Panasonic, when compared to the WT600 so it’s time to see if it can match up to the (many) other 4K sets on the market in the other areas.
Design & Connections‘Flippin heck’ is the sanitised version of what we said when first assembling the 50AX802’s screen to its base-stand. We’ve never come across an LED LCD TV, in this size, of such weight in the past and it’s not due to the fact it has 4x the pixels in the panel. The panel itself is reasonably weighty but it’s the supporting base-stand, at the rear, which accounts for most of the mass. The frame-like stand you can see at the front has almost no bearing on the support, it’s really just for show, so if you’re concerned that it may not fit on your current AV stand, due to the width, you might be in luck. That is, if you can bare the aesthetic compromise of over-hang.
The chassis of the AX802 is also thicker than we’ve got used to over the last three years, or so, but we have absolutely no problems with that if it leads to good screen uniformity. We do have slight concerns that 3 of the 4 HDMI ports are located too close for comfort to the edge of the bezel and pointing out from the side, however, so there is the chance that they’ll stick out at the rear if you don’t utilise the unusual wire tidy system in the back stand. The other HDMI port, is your version 2.0 input with compatibility for HDCP 2.2 so it’s one of the ‘4K’ capable inputs, along with the adjacent Display Port input. Elsewhere are legacy video connections for component, Scart and composite – by means of adapters – a digital audio out and both wired and wireless LAN. You also get dual tuner satellite (Freesat) and DVB-T2 (Freeview) tuners, an SD card slot and 3 USB ports, so it’s quite the list!
Posh is the best word we can come up with to describe Panasonic’s new remote control. It’s a coffee table darling of a handset finished in brushed metal and presenting a very clean and easy to locate set of buttons. There’s also a backlight, for night time operations, and it’s really good to see Panasonic not scrimping on the conventional remote in favour of a ‘smart’ controller when we could level that accusation at some. There is a new iteration of their smart controller in the box, however, which allows for touch and voice control as well as offering a simplified set of controls. Finally, we’ll just note the inclusion of a built-in camera/microphone for Skype video calling but we’ll return to that later on.
A very swanky set of controllers and great connectivity options
MenusThere are a huge number of options in the 2014 Panasonic menus so we’ll just run you through some of the most vital. First and foremost, at this stage of the Resolution Revolution, you will probably want to ensure that the HDMI 4 input can take a conventional HD input by altering the HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) setting from its default of 2.2 to 1.4, in the Setup Menu. The very high chances are, you won’t have a source able to output that right now and when set at 2.2, it disables compliance with older HDCP versions.
The menus now scroll all the way from top to bottom, in one loop, and encompass all manner of setup options, our primary focus being the Picture Menu. We thought it was expansive in 2013 but this year we have even more options to check out. In truth most of the fancier sounding controls, e.g. Colour Remaster, Brilliance Enhancer and Resolution Remaster proved largely unneeded. In any case, you bypass most of these options by slecting either one of the THX or Professional Modes so we suggest that’s exactly what you do as they provide the most accurate out-of-box pictures anyhow.
FeaturesThe big new thing for Panasonic, this year, is the addition of the Freetime app to their Smart TV platform. This is rather a big deal as it means they can match Samsung in being able to claim possession of all the major UK catch up services, i.e. BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 40D and Demand 5. Elsewhere not too much has really changed from last year’s offering - and that’s no bad thing - so we retain my Home Screen and all that other good stuff but we’re at work on a dedicated review of the whole platform so we’ll spill all the beans in the very near future.
Almost every feature you would want bar Netflix 4K
The results seen below are based on the out-of-the-box THX Cinema Mode but the results are very similar to what you will get with Professional 2, bar a different (slightly brighter) gamma response, and very good they are too. There is a slight deficiency of red energy, and corresponding small excess of green and blue, throughout the greyscale but with delta Errors topping out at around 4, there’s no real visible lack of neutrality. Ideally we would want a gamma response between 2.2 and 2.3, for this TV in a darkish room, and THX Cinema has it closer to an average of 2.15 so it’s a tiny bit too bright to be ideal. In terms of colours matching the Rec 709 standard, we’re in good shape here too, bar a general over-luminance.
The ISF calibration controls are pretty great. We kind of wish the 10 point White Balance acted more like the Samsung equivalents in being meaningfully effective in affecting gamma response, as it can be a bit of a chore hopping between them and the 10 point Gamma adjustments but we really shouldn’t complain. The results speak for themselves and we were able to obtain perfectly flat greyscale tracking and a gamma curve exactly to suit.
Examining the colours and it’s a similar story of a reference performance. We can see in the CIE chart, above right, that at full saturation levels, deltaE’s were all-but non-existent. And, as the more expansive CIE chart below demonstrates, performance at less saturated levels was almost equally as impressive. Blue is having a little wander toward Cyan but you’d be extremely hard pressed to notice and it’s an exceptionally good set of results here for the AX802.
Contrast, Black Levels and Screen Uniformity
….But, the outermost 1/6 of the screen, on either side, were quite a bit brighter and paler than the rest of the screen so the edge-lighting dispersion mechanism isn’t quite doing its job, as it should. We actually compared the measurements taken above to those taken at the centre of the screen and whilst overall deltaE’s remained under 2, saturation errors went over 5 so definitely noticeable to the human eye. Big deal? Not so much. We really only ever noticed on the likes of the Netflix splash screen and our full-screen test patterns but it was of niggling concern…
However, it’s certainly not all bad news and it was an almost other-worldly experience to be witnessing a Panasonic LED/LCD TV with such great native contrast levels. What’s more, just as rare, is a Panasonic TV with a really good LED dimming system helping to give the dynamic range an extra helping hand. With Adaptive Backlight Control engaged into the, more-or-less, unobtrusive setting of Mid, we took an average black level of 0.058cd/m2 on from a chequerboard pattern and a resulting ANSI Contrast ratio very close to 2000:1. OK, it doesn’t compare to their plasmas of yore but it’s almost stellar performance compared to their older LCD TVs.
A Panasonic LED TV with great contrast performance is a fine sight to see
We were slightly intrigued by the sound of the ‘1080p Pixel by 4pixels’ option within the Picture Menu, with its promise to display like pixel by pixel on a Full HD resolution display but it proved not particularly interesting. All it does is make a cluster of 4 pixels equivalent to 1 pixel in 1080p and the results are not as good as the scaling of the processor so we’re struggling to see the point. Had it taken some burden off the processor for gaming, we could probably see one but it didn’t, so we remain slightly puzzled.
That aside, the general standard of processing is excellent and although there’s no denying the - relatively small for 4K - fifty-inch panel is going to be quite forgiving to lower resolution signals, it’s plain to see that the scaling performance was extremely good. It failed the PAL-centric 2:2 cadence test but you don’t really want to be feeding an Ultra HD TV with DVDs so it’s of no real consequence. Video deinterlacing performance was very good, however, so you’re broadcast HD (1080i) will be handled very well.
We like the fact that the Game mode can be activated in any Viewing Mode so we could play with a calibrated image and the AX802 proved quite a responsive TV, by Ultra HD standards. It returned a measurement a 37 milliseconds using our testing device which we would consider well within the tolerances of most gamers, and certainly adequate for our needs.
• Standby: 0W
The following measurements were taken with a full screen 50% white pattern:
• Out-of-the-Box – Normal Mode: 110W
• Calibrated – Professional Mode: 115W
• Calibrated - 3D Mode: 204W
Panasonic TX-50AX802 Picture Quality – 2DWe were hoping to be reunited with our new friend, Netflix 4K, during the course of this review but the AX802 is apparently incompatible. We’re told it might be something to do with a lack of CPU grunt but we think it might also be a question of lack of memory as the 4K app seems to buffer in the background, possibly on a predictive basis. On the recently reviewed Samsung's, almost the second you select the content it was at 2160p, provided it was the next episode of what you were previously watching or you were resuming mid-episode.
So we were back to our accumulation of test clips and, as you would expect, they all looked great with rich textures and nuanced lighting. Naturally the accuracy of the AX802 also reaps dividends in getting the most out of the 3840 x 2160 pixels too, and the solid blacks help underpin everything with the kind of impact we like. The dimming system, mentioned earlier, is very good, too, and nullifies the slight inconsistency in panel brightness between sides and centre during dark scenes.
Will you be able to pick out every last drop of the resolution hike from a ‘normal’ sitting position? Probably not, but the other qualities noted lift it above 1080p and, such is the quality of the scaling, you’ll be losing nothing watching your Blu-rays, compared to your 1080p TV, whilst gaining a degree of future-proofing in to the bargain. On the subject of Blu-rays, we were pleased to see Panasonic has included a letterbox dimming feature which disables the pixels corresponding to the ‘black bars’ in scope movies. And it works really well so movie watching, in the (near) dark is just that bit more immersive.
Pictures are rich in contrast, highly accurate and detailed
Motion handling is one of the topics du jour at the time of publishing, with the World Cup within touching distance and we found engaging IFC (Intelligent Frame Creation) in its low setting gave a helping hand to the footie, whilst not looking overly smoothed. Avoid it’s equivalent 24p Smooth film, which appears for 1080p24 sources, as it ruins the look of movies, whatever setting you choose. Whilst motion handling was totally acceptable, we did pick up on a slight dirty screen effect on panning shots, but this is certainly not an uncommon LED TV trait and one of the compromises in the take-off of 4K.
In terms of picture quality, there is most certainly much more to like, than not, with the 50AX802 and we think it’s a massive step-up on the WT600. That’s not to mention just about every other LCD TV the company has produced in the last few years, so we’re pleased to see them at least back in the game, on the image quality front, when we feared they may struggle in the post-plasma era.
Panasonic TX-50AX802 Video Review
Panasonic TX-50AX802 Picture Quality - 3DDespite being more personally suited to passive 3D than active-shutter tech, it was still a bit of a disappointment that all of last year’s Panasonic’s 3D LED TVs went with the former route. The previous year’s range had some great active-shutter sets and the AX802 is a definite return to form. The presentation is bright and engaging, from the off, with the THX mode offering colours that looked almost spot-on. Motion handling looks good, whether with Blu-ray or (what’s left of) broadcast content and whilst we could just see a whisper of crosstalk on the tram lines in our Wimbledon test footage, it proved fleeting and non-distracting. We like the supplied specs too. OK, they are extremely uncool looking but, face it, if you’re sat at home wearing a set of 3D glasses, chances are you’re somewhere at least close to ‘nerd’ status.
- Highly accurate colours
- Very good native contrast
- Effective dimming system
- Super video processing
- Lovely remotes
- Tons of Smart TV features
- Some uniformity issues
- Netflix 4K seems a very big miss
Panasonic TX-50AX802B (AX802) Ultra HD 4K TV ReviewPleasant as the mostly decorative front stand is, it’s the one round the back that takes the breath away – literally, as it weighs a ton! Other than that, the AX802 looks every bit the flagship TV and the inclusion of an HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 compatible port, underlines its status as an Ultra HD model. The inclusion of two very swanky remote controls also help to promote a top-tier feeling to the package, as does the extremely comprehensive set of ISF calibration controls amongst the vast amount of options in the user menus. Said controls allowed us to fine tune picture accuracy to reference levels and combined with the effective dimming system and fine video processing, allowed for pictures that were great in whatever definition.
The Panasonic TX-50AX802B is a pleasing return to form for Panasonic’s LED/LCD TV division. It has the looks, with an attractive front stand and narrow bezel. It has the connections, with one of its 4 HDMI ports being version 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 compatible. It also has most of the Smart TV features you could ever want too. It is also - unlike the WT600 at launch - competitively priced and capable of producing really great pictures, packed full of detail and contrast, blessed with extreme accuracy and delivered by more than competent video processing. It isn’t perfect, nothing is, and we’d have liked to have seen less niggling uniformity issues - and compatibility with 4K Netflix - but it’s still a fine entrant to the Resolution Revolution and well worth your consideration.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £2,099.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level8
3D Picture Quality8
Ease Of Use8
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
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