Mastering the magic?
What is the Panasonic TX-50CX700B?The Panasonic TX-50CX700B is an exclusive 4K Ultra HD TV available only at Currys PC World. It boasts a high brightness panel and intelligent local dimming backlight.
Panasonic are in search of the director's intent with the picture quality in their 2015 LED LCD TVs and the CX700 is no exception. At 50-inches this model represents the sweet spot in the exclusive retailer range and offers full resolution Ultra HD 4K Viewing and promises great black levels from its VA panel. It also employs an edge-lit backlight with a number of switchable zones working with the local dimming technology to further improve black levels and mixed on-screen content. The CX700 also employs the new Firefox operating system and a new Smart TV platform. Finally there is a nice contemporary design to the TV without any need to curve the screen.
With all the new technology and picture enhancements for the 2015 LED LCD models, can Panasonic achieve Plasma like images to keep the enthusiast market happy? Let’s find out!
Design and Connections
The CX700 employs a contemporary design with a thin bezel, brushed metal finish and solid build quality. Compared to the similar Samsung JU6400 we reviewed recently, the Panasonic certainly feels sturdier with a better mix of metal and plastic used in its construction. The back panel is solid plastic with various indents for connections, power connectors, and so on, plus plenty of vents added for cooling. Around the screen is a skinny bezel in a gun metal brushed finish, which is 7mm thick around the sides and top of the screen, and is slightly wider at 10mm on the bottom with the Panasonic logo in white at the centre.
To the left of the logo is the power indicator light which is red when off and green when on. The only other item visible on the TV are the stand feet which are positioned towards each end of the screen (and you can’t move them further in towards the centre, it is a fixed position). This looks slick but could cause some issues with those with thinner racks, like us. The space between each foot is 38-inches, so bear that in mind before purchasing or you might need to fork out for another TV stand at the same time. You can, of course, wall mount the CX700 and it has the industry standard VESA mount points.
Around the back we have the connections positioned towards the left hand-side of the screen (when looking from the front).
Here we find three HDMI 2.0 inputs (which are fully 4K HDCP2.2 ready) and HDMI 2 is ARC (Audio Return Channel) ready. Thankfully Panasonic has been listening to feedback about the location of the HDMI inputs and two of them are downwards facing with only one situated on the side. This allows use of bulky HDMI cables without them sticking out at the side of the panel. Also downward facing is an aerial input for terrestrial DVB signals, a LAN input and Optical digital output. To the side is a headphone jack, 3 USB inputs (2 x 2.0, 1 x 3.0), common interface and an SD Card slot. Rounding off the connections are legacy inputs for Scart, component and composite signals.
The remote control supplied with the CX700 is the traditional Panasonic design and layout. It is a plastic affair which is silver in colour and if you have ever owned a Panasonic AV product over the last 5 years or so, you will instantly feel at home with it. All the important function buttons are well placed and easy to find with added direct access buttons for Apps, Netflix and the Home screen. However we do have a slight gripe with the position of the Netflix button just above the directional and OK keys. On a regular basis we would select the Netflix option instead of the up key, commonly used to flick between Freeview channels. We like Netflix, but the more this happened, the more blue the air became as a result. Moving around the various menus and smart features was easy and we never felt at any time we were missing out on any fancy pointer or finger pad remotes.
Of course you can also use the Panasonic Remote App that is available on iOS and Android devices which does offer more interaction such as a trackpad and so on. You can also second screen from the TV and to the TV.
Features, Smart TV and SpecsThe CX700 is a 4K Ultra HD TV and features some of Panasonic’s new 4K picture technology to help produce what the company claims is immersive 4K. Using special colour phosphor technology called ‘Studio Master Colour’ the CX700 can produce a claimed 90% of the cinema DCI colour space. Unlike other LED LCD TVs, Panasonic claim that Studio Master Colour gives you a more subtle, naturally toned colour palette. Added to this is a Quad Core Pro engine to help with the 4K picture processing and other picture needs of the TV.
The CX700 uses a VA panel with the latest super bright panel technology incorporated which has been developed to allow a combination of a new driving system and a structure that lets more light through easily, married to an efficient backlight system which should help boost the contrast and brightness of images, without greying out the blacks. With an advanced local dimming backlight, Panasonic claim that the eight zones of LEDs in the backlight of the CX700 allows for effective control of the black levels while keeping the intensity of brighter areas of the image (Panasonic couldn’t tell us how many LEDs are in each zone when asked before publication, we will update if we get an answer to that). They also claim to produce this dimming without the usual side effects of haloing or blooming. Plus, the company also claim that uniformity, even off-axis, will be very good.
Firefox OS and Home Screen 2.0
Panasonic has introduced Firefox OS to the majority of its UHD TVs in 2015 and that includes the TX-50CX700B. With an easy to use graphical interface, open source structure for developer use and what the company describe as intuitive usability, the system is certainly fast and as the TV has only just been released to the UK market in the last few weeks there are still more features to add over the next couple of months. Using the browser is intuitive but probably the weakest part of the experience on the CX700, as you really need a keyboard and mouse to fully utilise the functionality. The main plus point, however, is the speed of operation and the ability to pin items of interest to the home screen. Plus holding down the Home button for a few seconds opens up the 4 directional arrows so you can select weather, notifications, recommended and guide while continuing to have your current programme on screen.
As we are only into the first few weeks of this TVs launch to market we had to wait a little while for Netflix and You Tube 4K services to become available on the CX700. Amazon Prime Video is still not quite ready along with a few other apps but, up to now, when we have been told an update is coming, it has been delivered on time and with what was promised, so we see no reason that Panasonic will not fulfil its promise to populate the Apps system in the fullness of time.
Netflix and You Tube are very fast to use with content pages loading quickly and selected content starting within a few seconds. The 4K parts of the two apps also work very well, if you have the internet speed to support them, and they produce solid image quality with no buffering or compression issues once up to speed with your network connection.
There is a full Viera Apps market place available which offers further applications and games although you will need to sign up for an account to download these to your TV. However, looking through what is available at the moment all seem to be free to download at least.
The new Freeview Play service which launches in the next couple of months on the CX700 model offers all the major catch-up TV players such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5. The service combines catch-up services, along with on-demand and live TV, to make it easy to watch what you want, when you want with 7 day rewind. Projected availability is July 2015 and, as such, we have not been able to test it as part of the CX700. However, we will cover it as soon as it is available and update the review accordingly.
Playing back 4K and other files
Our first disappointment with the CX700 was the fact that it couldn’t recognise 4K video files from our Panasonic GH4 camera via the SD Card, so it couldn’t play these back. We were able to play back edited 4K footage in MP4 format from the SD Card slot. Panasonic state that the SD card reader only works up to 80Mbps bandwidth and the GH4 needs 100Mbps to work. They state that you need to use HDMI2.0 from the camera direct to display your GH4 footage on the TV.
Another issue we found was the inability of the review TV to playback 4K MOV files from a USB stick. These are videos I shot myself and they have played without issue on other 4K screens, like the Samsung JU6400, this TVs direct competitor. I had to change the file container to MP4 before the TV recognised them and played them back via the media player in 4K resolution. Panasonic state that they dropped the MOV file extension support back in 2013, so you will have to change your MOV videos to MP4 container and see if that works. Why Panasonic would drop a widely used Apple Quicktime wrapper like MOV is baffling.
As with previous Panasonic TVs there is the capability to record TV on to an HDD device via USB. You can read a more detailed review of Panasonic's Smart TV system for 2015 here.
Picture SettingsEvery TV, even those with the same screen size and model number will be different to the next. As such copying settings can in some cases make the picture look worse than the out of the box presets. With the 50CX700 we found that the True Cinema viewing mode, along with Warm2 colour temperature, a gamma of 2.2 and sharpness left at the default of 50 were the best settings out of the box.
You will need to set the backlight to suit your viewing environment and we found 8 was about right for dark room viewing and 20 was best for normal living room viewing in our premises. However you may find you need to go higher if you have lots of ambient light. Remember that using brighter and more vivid picture and colour modes will more easily highlight inherent LCD TV issues like uniformity, banding and so on. Setting your picture correctly will mitigate common issues as well as making poor content look slightly better. This includes switching off items like Adaptive backlight controls, ambient sensors and so on. We advise that you follow our Picture Perfect guide to set your TV for your room and lighting correctly.
You can see the settings we have gone with for this sample in the video.
As this is the first Panasonic TV we have seen this year, and with Panasonic going with the creators intent message, we were interested in seeing just how close to the industry standards the out of the box settings would get when set up for our room. They are the settings above for dark viewing.
Out of the box the CX700 gave us rather nice greyscale tracking which wasn’t that far away from being perfect. Errors were more than acceptable for an out of the box preset with all under 3 deltaE. Gamma was a little less co-operative with a well-defined S-curve and a washed out higher end. This wasn’t very noticeable with on-screen content, but we would want better.
In terms of colour gamut the True Cinema selection was again excellent for an out of the box preset and presented colours in a more than acceptable error range, especially with luminance. Blue had a large error in saturation but as we find blue difficult to see in slight variations, it will be unnoticeable in the vast majority of viewing material. If you were just going to go with the out of the box settings above, then the results with on-screen material are excellent if accuracy without a full calibration is important to you. But we should be able to eek some more performance out of the CX700 with a full calibration.
We managed to massage the greyscale tracking with just a two point calibration to get all errors well into the unnoticeable range under 2 deltaE and gamma tracking at around the 2.2 target which is good for normal viewing conditions. We could have used the further adjustments for gamma and the white balance and corrected each point further, but that wouldn’t be visible or noticeable when viewing material on-screen.
With the colour gamut we couldn’t really improve a great deal on the normal gamut selection as it was undersaturated at Green and over at Red, so we went with the native gamut selection which was wider and worked to get as even a result as possible. We accepted that we had to have some very slight undersaturation to get luminance and saturation tracking correct. In the end we managed to get a very reasonable and almost reference result with tracking at 25, 50 and 75% in most cases very close to targets (red was slightly undersaturated from 50% and above) and there was nothing that caused any concern in the final results for a consumer panel. Errors were low enough that most viewers would never see any issues with actual on-screen material.
Out of the box is very accurate for a consumer TV as long as you set it up correctly for the environment it is used in.
Input LagUsing our Leo Bodnar lag tester we recorded a time of 38.6ms which, while not as quick as recent Samsung sets, it is not overly laggy and more than respectable for the vast majority of gamers. There is a Game Mode on the CX700 but it doesn't affect input lag as we measured exactly the same result. We confirmed this with Panasonic who state that Game Mode only has an effect on Sharpness, Colour, Local Dimming and IFC, not on lag.
Sound QualityThere was nothing outstanding sound wise with the CX700 but it wasn’t as thin sounding as some sets. The chassis measures in at 4cm wide which gives the speakers some air to move and as such it provides a reasonable performance. Voices are natural and easy to pick up against background effects and music and if there is no scope to add an off board soundbar or similar, then the TV speakers are usable and don’t start distorting until they are pushed hard. There is little in the way of stereo separation given the width of the screen, so overall what sound you have is clear and functional for normal living room use, but no more than that.
Picture QualityWe tested the TX-50CX700 in two different environments while it was here with us. For the first part of our testing it was placed in a normal living room with two large windows and lots of light in the room. The last part of testing was done in our light controlled cinema room. We tested the CX700 with normal broadcast DVB, scaled SD content from DVD, 1080/24 Blu-ray discs and Netflix 4K plus native 4K material shot by us.
Panasonic are taking feedback from end users and the UK market in general seriously and as a result all their LED LCD TVs in 2015 are using VA panels for their strong black levels, but also using their own engineering to make the panel structure more transparent for efficient light driving married to the intelligent local dimming tech on board. As such, off axis is certainly not as bad as other VA panels we have seen recently from Samsung which points to the panel provider as someone else. We think it is probably a Taiwanese sourced panel although Panasonic haven’t confirmed that. But they have in the past said they will source panels that fit with what they want to achieve and then they will add their own picture processing and engineering to them, so panel source in their opinion is not important as it’s their own electronics driving the image quality.
Looking at black levels we measured a 0IRE raster at 0.02 cd/m2 and that remained the case with a chequerboard pattern. 100% white easily hit our 120 cd/m2 review point and in dynamic picture mode it is incredibly bright at 453.4 cd/m2 and even in a bright room that is just too high. Anyone running this TV in anything other than True Cinema/Cinema will start to highlight the downside of LCD tech and especially poor quality source material on screen. Set correctly the backlight uniformity is very good with just a little bit of light pooling seen on the bottom left and right of our TV when there was a black field or image on screen. During all other viewing in best out of the box and calibrated settings we didn’t find the backlight uniformity that big an issue at all on 99% of material viewed. With Football and other content with large areas of one colour on screen we also didn’t see any issues with banding or dirty screen effect.
The local dimming was evident in use and when switching inputs such as Netflix main menus to actual content watching with visible dimming between the mode switches. However during actual content we didn’t feel that it got in the way or distracted at any point. Our only other real comment about the backlight is when you have an all-white screen (some adverts have such things) the very far edges of the screen appear darker than the centre of the screen. Again, this is only visible with an all-white source. During end titles (back background with white text) of films or TV shows you could also spot that whites were dimmed and it was possible to make out the backlight zone as there was a slight halo. However, once again this was only visible if you looked for it and with specific scenes or instances that make up very little of your overall viewing material. These comments are again made in best settings and calibrated picture modes and in rooms with ambient lighting. Watching in pitch black conditions and haloing and other issues were slightly more visible. Use dynamic or natural with brighter backlight settings and issues like these, or downsides of LCD tech, in particular, will be made even more obvious by over-driving the image.
In terms of viewing angles we found that the CX700 certainly held up better than the recently reviewed Samsung UE40JU6400. Image integrity held well up to around 30 degrees before wash-out and navy blacks started to set in. For a VA panel that is quite good. Of course watching on-axis offers perfect viewing conditions, so always make sure that the main viewing position is dead on with the TV.
Testing motion and the figures with Intelligent Frame Creation(IFC) switched off (as it should be in most cases) hit the expected 350-ish lines in our tests. With actual content we didn’t really notice any issues with Blu-ray 24p and 4K material in terms of blurring, even in fast moving action scenes. It is there but with normal viewing it doesn’t stand out unless you are specifically looking for it. There were no major problems that stood out during testing or just normal viewing with the CX700. Adding in IFC as you would expect shows up 1080 lines of resolution. IFC and other picture processing, like motion issues, are a personal thing and down to the end user in how they decide to set things up. Just be aware that using any high settings will add in artefacts and make movies look very strange. We can confirm the Panasonic performs as expected in all the set up options we tried and tested.
As this is a 4K TV the video processing on board is very important as 90%+ of viewing will still be a mix of HD upscaled and SD. Let’s start with Standard Definition from the DVB tuner and how only a few channels are really watchable without major issues due to poor sources. No amount of processing can fix most of the lower end channels and unlike a 1080p plasma screen where images could be made watchable with a degree of softness to hide the nastiness that is not the case here. Using a Sky or PVR box outputting a scaled 1080 image works slightly better than the DVB tuner alone, but lower end SD will always look bad on a set like the CX700. With DVD, HD channels, Blu-ray and 4K it is a different matter altogether. The 50CX700 passed all our video processing tests as we would expect and apart from the obvious with poor SD material, everything else looked very good with no obvious issues.
HDTV faired far better on the CX700 with some nature documentaries looking especially good with accurate images, good black levels, and shadow detail and colour reproduction. With some broadcast HD there were some issues with compression artefacts, like the BBC show Shark. With deep blue oceans and light spilling through the water, you get gradations of the colours and with poor compression you get obvious steps in those gradations. A TV like the CX700 really shows up the faults with the source material and while watching the documentary I kept wishing I had the 4K Blu-ray version! And, moving to normal Blu-ray was another pleasing experience with the Panasonic. Detail levels were excellent, motion was good with no induced judder and there were no instances of any sharpening or backdoor processing going on. A screen like the CX700 has to manage with HDTV and Blu-ray until 4K becomes more mainstream and it does so without any problems. Any issues seen are in the vast majority of cases down to poor source material and not something the TV is adding.
When we finally get around to 4K content it does look very good from streaming services like Netflix (Amazon Prime has been delayed but is coming for the CX700). As with any streaming service, your internet speed is a factor when it comes to 4K and if you are going to to get it. Thankfully our internet here is fast enough to cope and watching sequences and clips from shows like House of Cards and Breaking Bad highlights the possible future for streaming. Detail is good and image quality is better in some instances than a Blu-ray, which is high praise for a compressed streaming service. We didn’t have any issues streaming with the CX700 and with the copy settings ability it was easy to get image accuracy spot on.
Finally, we moved on to footage I had shot in Canada last year with the Panasonic GH4 camera. I had edited the footage and colour corrected it especially to use as test material for 4K screens while we wait for more readily available content. The reproduction on the CX700 of this footage actually surprised me more than when I saw it on the Samsung recently. That is probably down the screen size, but I also felt that there was more depth, when sat dead on to the CX700 and colour looked sublime. As you would expect the detail levels from normal viewing distances were superb with native content and highlights one of the plus points of UHD. This panel is not HDR ready, however, but it does have a wider gamut. However, as all material we are viewing at this time is still Rec.709 for colour (including 4K sources at this point) we had calibrated for that. Plus, out of the box settings also follow Rec.709 when in the normal gamut mode.
With a lack of uniformity issues when set up correctly for the room, along with few instances of any other known LCD technical drawbacks, like motion resolution, we really struggled to find issues with the CX700 that would put us off in living room use when sat directly in front of the screen and with ambient light. There is a limited viewing angle with the VA panel but it is not as bad as the recent Samsung JU6400. Black levels are very good and as long as you switch off the various contrast enhancement features etc. the local dimming works well without making itself stand out. There were no examples of brightness pumping from the backlight, but depending on some material there are instances of dark edges on white screens (like a very subtle vignette effect) and with bright white against black, some instances of haloing which get more visible if watching in pitch black surroundings. But as we have set the TV to match our environment and viewing material, we are not over-driving brightness or other settings and as such any technology drawbacks don’t appear very often. Use natural or higher viewing modes and you will likely start to find some issues. It is possible to set up any LCD to look like a dog’s dinner. Remember in Dynamic mode the panel brightness is very bright and that is never a good thing when it comes to critical viewing.
Panasonic didn't supply any active 3D glasses with the CX700 but we used a set of JVC glasses to test the image quality. As the backlight can go bright there wasn't any issue about brightness, but when pumped up like that colour accuracy is non-existent. It is possible to get more accurate looking images at the cost of image brightness and this is more appealing as it also prevents uniformity issues and haloing becoming very obvious at the higher brightness levels. Overall once set up correctly the CX700 presented a compelling 3D image with only a few instances of crosstalk and blurring.
How future-proof is this TV?
4K Ultra HD Resolution HDR Support Colour Space (percentage of DCI - 100% best) 50% 10-bit Panel HDMI 2.0a Inputs HDCP 2.2 Support HEVC Decoding 4K Streaming Services Smart TV Platform Picture Accuracy Out-of-the-Box (score out of 10) 9 What do these mean?
- Excellent out of the box accuracy
- Excellent calibrated performance
- Good black levels and shadow detail
- Good backlight uniformity
- Very good video processing
- Decent input lag
- Very good build quality
- Some backlight clouding and haloing when viewed in completely dark surroundings
- Dynamic mode is terrible
- No MOV file support
- SD card media player limited to 80Mbps so some 4K content might not playback if it requires more bandwidth
- Only available from one retailer
Panasonic TX-50CX700B (CX700) 4K Ultra HD TV ReviewAs this is the first of the new 2015 line from Panasonic we have reviewed we were quite anxious about what we were going to get in terms of performance and picture quality. It is probably safe to say that 2014 was a very mixed year for the company and while some of their LCD line-up were better than average, the higher end products didn’t quite set the world on fire as Panasonic probably hoped they would. Indeed the range topping AX902 arrived late and with the wrong panel to make any serious stab at the top LCD TV spot.
Well we are happy to report that the TX-50CX700 is a great midrange TV that in LCD terms turns in a very respectable picture performance along with interesting technology and smart features that will count, like 4K Netflix. There are a few issues highlighted above, but these are far from any deal breakers as far as we are concerned. Set up correctly the CX700 manages to provide very good black levels, shadow detail, colour accuracy and acceptable backlight uniformity. Switch off all the contrast boasting features and image sensors and the backlight manages to provide strong black levels without many instances of image blooming or haloing from the local dimming.
Getting such a high quality 4K UHD TV with a 50-inch screen under £1k is certainly a turning point for the market in general and we have also seen other manufacturers, like Samsung, also entering this section of the market with highly specified competing models. This model is only available from Currys, which may mean that discounting is not as easy to negotiate, but there are deals running or about to start where you can claim a soundbar when buying this model (May 2015).
As it is also a new model to the market there are still some items missing that will arrive over time. While we had the TV there was a major update to add Netflix and You Tube 4K Apps and Amazon Prime 4K and Freeview Play (BBC iPlayer, All 4, Demand 5 and ITV player) will follow soon.
Overall the CX700 is a strong proposition with FirefoxOS and quad-core processing power offering fast access to Apps and other features on the TV. Add in very good picture quality, 4K resolution and local dimming technology and the Panasonic offers good value at its market position and when set up correctly we didn’t find anything to worry about in terms of image quality. If you are looking at a 4K UHD future solution for a living room (or second room) for under a grand, we can recommend the Panasonic TX-50CX700.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level8
2D Picture Quality8
3D Picture Quality8
Picture Quality Out-Of-The-Box9
Picture Quality Calibrated9
Ease Of Use8
Value for Money9
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