The best Panasonic LED LCD TV yet?
What is the Panasonic TX-50CX802B?The CX802 is Panasonic's current top tier offering, unless you fancy the curved CR852, so naturally it's an Ultra HD television but it also sports more recent innovations by virtue of being ready for HDR video and capable of displaying a much wider colour gamut than conventional TVs. With 4K Blu-ray just around the corner and the streaming services also readying themselves to offer high dynamic range content, both of those facets are important if you want to be right up to the moment with the latest TV technologies and viewing 4K in its fullest glory; whilst standards for HDR aren’t completely finalised, Panasonic claims the new Studio Master 4K Processing and Super Bright Panel will be ready for whatever they are.
This being a high-end set, there’s a matching high-end price tag and at the time of publishing (June 2015) the 50-inch CX802 is widely available for just under £1,700. Whilst not an inconsiderable amount, it’s definitely more competitive than some of Panasonic’s pricing of previous years but with so many great TVs already out there in 2015, it’s still got its work cut out.
Design & ConnectionsFirst and foremost, you will need to ensure your AV unit has the necessary width to accommodate the CX802 safely; there’s a curved stand propping up the panel at a slight lean-back angle, which runs right to the extremes of the chassis. Said chassis is precisely 112.1 cm in width so you might find it’s touch and go with your existing furniture and you can’t afford any overhang else the unit becomes unsteady. The design decision really begins to make sense when you have a low-slung soundbar in your set-up, as you should find it will nestle in the recess nicely.
Other than that, the looks are fairly unremarkable but that’s a good thing as all we want to do is focus on the picture. The minimalist, micro-thin, gun-metal bezel certainly aids that cause. We were quite disappointed that the CX802 only has 3 HDMI ports, although I do realise that I’m probably quite unusual in having at least 8 HDMI sources on the rack at any given time. Still, once you’ve hooked up a soundbar, set-top-box and a games console, that doesn’t leave you much room for manoeuvre. In short; it’s a bit stingy for a flagship product.
On the plus side, all the HDMI inputs are HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2 compliant, so are able to receive up to 4K video signals at up to 60Hz. Note: we have contacted Panasonic to ask whether the HDMI ports can be made 2.0a compatible (to be able to receive external HDR sources) and we should have an answer soon. There are also all your usual assorted legacy video connections, 3 USB ports – including one V3.0 – a Toslink digital audio and headphone out, plus a terminal for Freeview HD broadcasts. The CX802B is also noteworthy in the fact it’s one of the few TVs supporting Freesat, in 2015, and there’s the corresponding pair of dish connections at the rear.
Remote controlsPanasonic provides a nice brace of controllers in the box; they’ve redesigned their smart controller so it curves to the contours of your palm, whilst retaining the cutting edge control schemes that make the feature set more usable. There are a set of stripped down basic controls at the top, complimented by voice, touch-pad and navigational buttons lower down. The touchpad is particularly useful when using the browser and the voice recognition works with impressive accuracy, allowing you to change channels and search for content. The ‘standard’ remote is impressively heavy and sports twin infra-red emitters so you don’t have to be too concerned at pointing it straight at the screen. Other than that, it’s a remote – what else do you need to know?
The screen might not be curved but one of the remotes is
Panasonic Smart TV AppsPanasonic has introduced Firefox OS to the majority of its UHD TVs in 2015 and that includes the TX-50CX802B. With an easy to use graphical interface, open source for developer ease and what the company describe as intuitive usability, the new My Home Screen 2.0 looks as good as it ever has.
Content in the platform is divided into easily navigable ‘decks’. There are three default decks – the Live TV deck, the Apps deck and the Devices deck - and you can also personalise your home screen by pinning your favourite content and apps to it. The platform also includes a new search tool, allowing you to easily locate content from a variety of video services, websites and any external devices you may have connected to your TV.
Added to the decks is a new search tool via my Home Screen 2.0 that allows you to find and access content from all available source options, including internet video services, websites and any external devices you may have connected to your TV. When you’ve found what you’re looking for, you can bookmark your favourite channels, apps, web pages and connected devices by using the Pin function for quick access at a later date.
Freeview PlayFinally we have the new Freeview Play service which launches exclusively on the 2015 line-up in the UK. Freeview Play offers all the major catch-up TV players such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5. This Play service combines all the catch-up services along with on-demand and live TV to make it easy to watch what you want, when you want. Unfortunately the launch of Freeview Play has been put back until July 2015 so we'll have to test it at a later date.
Firefox OS presents a nice UI and we get UHD Amazon and Netflix
Panasonic TX-55CX802B Picture SettingsGiven the generous, almost bewildering, array of controls contained inside the picture menus, and the fact that they actually do work as intended, you are able to get an extremely accurate image from the Panasonic CX802. There are three/four accurate viewing modes amongst the options and by choosing THX Cinema or either of the Professional modes, you’ll be going a long way in to extracting the best performance. To take it that bit further, you can set Backlight, Contrast and Brightness to suit your viewing room, as per our Picture Perfect guides, and if you fancy trying out our calibrated settings, check out the video below.
Pre CalibrationWe used the Professional (isf) 1 mode as our starting point which provided a solid foundation for an extremely accurate – and refreshingly frustration free – calibration. It was fairly obvious from the outset that the greyscale was somewhat green tinted, especially with bright whites, but it was also almost equally as obvious that colours were extremely faithful, right out of the box. These observations were borne out under examination and, as we can see from the charts that there is an excess of green energy almost throughout the greyscale. The matter is slightly exacerbated by a relative lack of red and with delta Errors as high as six, we are well in to the territory where the eye can pick up on the error.
Turning to the colour performance, measured against the HD Rec.709 Standard, and we literally have a prettier picture. The largest overall error, with Cyan, is quite comfortably under the tolerable deltaE level of three. Given the wide native colour gamut of the panel, it’s a little surprising to note the slight under-saturation in red, green and yellow but then adjustments are being made in software and we should be able to rectify the errors using the generous built-in colour management system.
Post CalibrationThe two point white balance controls proved sufficient to get delta Errors below one across the greyscale, but we needed to lean on the ten point, fine-tuning options to get gamma tracking as desired and extract maximum neutrality from the panel. As a result, we were able to obtain essentially perfect greyscale tracking, save for a gamma response slightly under the targeted value. We could actually get the column to hit the yellow line, shown in the Gamma Point Chart beneath, but in doing so we are starting to introduce slight chromatic (magneta/green tinging) errors in to the darker elements of the picture. They’re barely noticeable, to be fair, but why introduce them when there’s no real need?
It would have been extremely disappointing had we been unable to hit similar reference levels of accuracy with the colour gamut, given the CX802 was close to begin with, and the fact the greyscale calibration had nudged it closer still. We couldn’t quite find a balance of perfect hue and full saturation for red but it’s really not a noticeable error.
Looking at the CIE tracking chart below gives us a better picture (unavoidable pun) of how the 50CX802 handles colours throughout different levels of saturation and, if anything, this impressed us even more. It’s relatively straightforward for the manufacturers to produce TVs with low colour errors at full saturation but not so at lesser levels. Panasonic has in fact been making some big claims about this element of the CX802’s performance, in particular, and it’s no hot air. Not only were lesser saturated colours pretty much perfectly on point and on-hue but they were also largely hitting their luminance targets, and this is something very rare in a consumer TV.
Out of interest, more than anything as we’ve nothing to actually watch mastered in the standard, we checked Panasonic’s claim of being able to reach around 90% of the DCI P3 colour space. Going forwards with Ultra HD Blu-ray (and streaming), the ability to hit a wider gamut standard is going to become important and the CX802B makes a good fist of things. Red and Green are, as Panasonic says, about 90% of the way there to full DCI saturation targets and Blue – and the secondaries containing it - are pretty much there. Good stuff!
Panasonic TX-50CX802 Input LagThe marker for 4K TVs has been set high – or rather low – by both Samsung and Sony, in terms of responsiveness when gaming. Both have produced Ultra HD TVs with input lag in the 20-30 millisecond range but the best the CX802 could manage was an average 49.6ms. Depending on what you play, that’s probably not a game killing figure and for the majority of titles it’s easy enough to compensate with that kind of lag. Mileages will vary here and those taking keen interest in this section are likely to know their own tolerances.
Panasonic TX-55CX802B Picture QualityThis is, without doubt, the best Panasonic LCD LED TV we’ve ever clapped our eyes on; no question. In fact, it has very little you could take it to task over and, to be honest, that doesn’t make writing a review any easier. We’d normally set aside two to three paragraphs screen real estate for ‘issues’ but we’ll be lucky to eek out half of one here.
But let’s start with the good stuff! Panasonic has specifically ensured that the entire UK range has been fitted with VA panels, rather than the IPS ones they’ve mostly gone with in years gone by. Why should you care? Well, the inherent deep black levels afforded by this panel technology make all the difference in terms of delivering excellent contrast performance and that’s the key element the eye is drawn to in an image. It gives the pictures a stand-out quality that you don’t get when black levels are weak. For those that like the numbers, measuring from a chequerboard, we got average black levels at 0.021 cd/m2 and a full screen black measurement at 0.0067cdm/2, although that’s not especially representative of real-world performance. Tellingly, the CX802 was able to maintain the same measurement for peak white on a full screen pattern as it was from the chequerboard (we calibrated the night time setting to @130cd/m2) giving an ANSI contrast ratio of nearly 6200:1; when you consider previous generations of Panasonic LCD TVs struggled to top 1,000:1 it gives fair indication of the improvements Panasonic has made in the department for 2015.
The TX-50CX802 benefits from extremely reliable edge-light technology and the results were a screen that looked completely uniform on dark scenes, without a sniff of clouding, edge-bleed or any other unpleasantness. We could, just now and again, make out the panel structure on brighter scenes with panning shots but you would need to go looking to spot it. This seems like as good a place as any to mention viewing angles which, whilst not IPS level, are slightly better than some of the 4K TVs we’ve seen this year – we’re looking at you Samsung. Contrast and colours stay fairly true to around 40 degrees of access and then gradually tail off but given the right room placement, this shouldn’t really pose too many issues.
Depth, detail and dynamism - what's not to like?
The dimming system definitely isn’t as sophisticated as some we’ve seen – notably from Samsung & Sony – so there’s definitely room for improvement here. Even with Adaptive Backlight Control in its lowest setting we did note quite a lot of backlight pumping during dark scenes where there is complex lighting to deal with; in something like Game of Thrones, where the light sources are generally fire or torch, the CX802 really did struggle to keep up so we ended up using Adaptive Backlight Control on a case by case basis. In terms of overall screen uniformity, however, we would rate the CX802 as excellent and certainly better than the LG EC960V OLED TV we recently looked at, in that regard. Yes, the CX802 can’t go OLED black but most people don’t watch a TV in anything like ideal conditions, i.e. dimly lit, so the differences are, for a large majority, practically negligible. Even with just a lamp on behind the 802 we were happy with the blacks, and the excellent low luminance performance of the panel really helped deliver pictures bristling with dynamic range.
Another area where we found the 50CX802B extremely strong was in its handling of sub Ultra HD resolution content – i.e. 99.X% of what you can actually watch as of June 2015. Specifically, we were hugely impressed by the way the 802 displayed broadcast HD signals. For the most part, the 4K TVs we’ve tested have struggled somewhat when asked to portray fast moving video that has to be both scaled and deinterlaced, with somewhat (technical term) fuzzy results. That’s not so with the Panasonic, which maintains a level of clarity and sharpness of image we’ve not really seen in the sector before. With the IFC (Intelligent Frame Creation) feature set at ‘Min’ we were hugely entertained by the weekend’s Champions League and French Open finals but there is the odd hitch with motion, where action will sometimes stutter and splutter when there’s a change of camera, scene or framerate. It’s especially easy to reproduce following slo-mo footage and very similar to something we’ve seen in older Samsung TVs equipped with CMR tech; we can only surmise there is a degree of background motion processing going on, as it appears to be outside of the scope of the IFC settings. We only saw it with content at 25p/50i also and 1080p24 and 2160p24 appeared unaffected.
Speaking of Ultra HD, as you would expect the Panasonic TX-50CX802B looked absolutely superb with native content and my 4K watch-list is starting to fill up nicely. I’ve got to admit to having already become a UHD streaming snob and with four Episodes of House of Cards and seven of Daredevil left over from the last time a 4K TV graced the house; my dance card was fairly busy during the review process. Well HoC can now be chalked off (now replaced by Marco Polo – although should I wait for the HDR version?) three to go with Daredevil and the only thing I could consider reporting as an ‘issue’ is the size of the screen. The stunning colour palette combined with the highly satisfying contrast levels and extra resolution produces pictures that you just want to swallow you up and 50-inches just doesn’t seem quite enough. They say it’s always good to leave them wanting more but when it comes to buying a TV, I’m not so sure that’s true. In terms of being able to deliver HDR content, going forwards, it’s a difficult one to assess at this time, not least because we’ve no material to watch. We measured peak light output at just under 320cd/m2 in the Professional modes, which wouldn’t be sufficient, but then the test pattern covers the entirety of the screen and doesn’t contain the HDR metadata needed to trigger the circuitry in to action. Let’s face it; it’s all a bit of an unknown quantity at this time.
- Supreme colours
- Excellent blacks
- Superb screen uniformity
- Top-notch video processing
- Easy to use Smart features
- Good connectivity
- Ultra HD Streaming services
- Some stuttering motion apparent
- Dimming system is flawed
Panasonic TX-50CX802B (CX802) 4K TV ReviewThis television ticks many a box in emphatic style. It’s got the modernist understated looks, although you’ll need to ensure you can fit the arching, lean-back stand which is as wide as the panel. The CX802B also has three HDMI 2.0/HDCP ports to accept Ultra HD signals at up to 60Hz. There’s also 3 USB ports (including one version 3), Bluetooth, Toslink digital audio, Freeview and Freesat HD, plus a selection of legacy video connections. The CX802 also boasts an intuitive Smart TV system, based on Firefox OS, including UHD streaming from Amazon and Netflix. Soon to come will be Freeview Play to join the Freetime app which will provide the full suite of major UK terrestrial catch-up apps.
But, forget all that, that’s really just the trimmings as the CX802B fulfils its primary objective of producing outstanding pictures with a rare panache. Beginning with what’s generally available to watch in the here and now, i.e. sub Ultra HD content, the 802 processes the material as well, and in most cases, better than the other Ultra HD TVs on the market. The handling of broadcast HD, particularly sports and fast paced video, is certainly on another level to any 4K TV I’ve had in the home; and I’ve had a few.
The detail retained during motion is truly noteworthy, although whatever special sauce Panasonic is applying to make it look so good comes at the cost of the occasional bout of jitteriness following scene and/or framerate changes. There can be a micro-stutter for a micro-second here and there but it’s far from a deal-breaker. The scaling performance of the CX802 was also incredibly strong and anything from a (really) good DVD upwards could look great.
To be honest, we would hope anyone shopping at this end of the market would be savvy enough to at least be seeking out the wealth of HD content available because you can’t realistically expect an image comprised of more than 8 million ‘made up’ pixels to ever really make the grade. In short, if you’re watching SD on a 4K TV for any other reason than total necessity, our sympathy levels are low; bordering on non-existent. With any content 720p, and up, the CX802 produced stunningly detailed images and, naturally, native Ultra HD material was an absolute treat, although the 50-inch screen size won’t reveal all that extra detail, at typical viewing distances. Still this TV has both HDR and the ability to deliver a very wide colour gamut so, when the material arrives, it will able to boast more than just the extra pixels over your everyday TV.
It’s not just the video processing that impresses; the CX802B presents an absolutely beautiful colour palette, whatever the lighting of the scene. The pre-launch marketing talk from the company over just such a capability proved well-founded and the results are simply glorious in terms of delivering added dynamic range, detail and just sometimes, a bit of vibrancy in to what would have otherwise been a gloomy scene. Thanks to Panasonic’s panel choice for the UK market, the CX802B is also blessed with really good black levels - and thus great contrast levels – that add a real stand-out quality to the majestic colour palette.
The dimming system is reasonably effective, although certainly not perfect, but it does gives a nice little boost to contrast, without nobbling detail in the shadows. It’s not without issues, however, and we did note several brightness fluctuations on dark to light scene transitions, as well as it struggling with flickering flames, and the like, so it’s not something we could recommend the blanket use of. More importantly, as far as we are concerned, the full array backlighting system provided superb – near spotless, actually – screen uniformity in the darker scenes. We did see very fleeting signs of the panel structure with panning shots on brighter backgrounds but these instances were rarer still than the other two minor grumbles we have with the CX802.
Let’s not end this review on a negative point; it would be far from in keeping with our general impressions of the Panasonic CX802. Overall, the CX802 is right up there with the best available right now at its price-point and confirms Panasonic has made a timely return to form with a new generation of television technology. How far can LCD technology be pushed? We’re not sure but we think Panasonic are getting as close as anyone to discovering - so welcome back to the top table. Highly Recommended.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level8
2D Picture Quality9
Picture Quality Out-Of-The-Box8
Picture Quality Calibrated10
Ease Of Use8
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
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