The epitome of mid-range?
What is the Panasonic TX-55CS520B?The Panasonic CS520B sits bang in the middle of the manufacturer’s TV line-up for 2015 and, unusually in terms of the review samples supplied to us this year, it’s not an Ultra HD TV, just plain old 1080p. That’s not a complaint, just an observation, and we fully understand that this set will suit most people’s current requirements. This model also comes in 40- and 50-inch versions, with the 55-inch model under review here commanding a suggested retail price (August 2015) of just under £800, although it's drifting around online between £650 and £799 so it's worth looking out for a deal. That’s no small change for a Full HD TV, these days, so it had better put in an impressive all-round performance to be regarded as value. Let’s put it through its paces…
DesignThe TX-55CS520B sports a fairly unremarkable design, with a very narrow black bezel surrounding the top and sides of the screen and an underscore of silver at the bottom. The base-stand features a cut-out design in a rectangular shape which doesn’t allow for any swivel, so you might need to give room placement some consideration as viewing angles in this panel aren’t the widest. The CS520 isn’t the most slender TV on the market so it won’t present the sleekest wall-mounting option but it’s not exactly portly, with a maximum depth of 56mm.
Connections & ControlWe realise that not everyone has the amount of HDMI enabled devices as us but the two ports on offer around the back of the TX-55CS520B is a meagre offering, by anyone’s standards. Joining those are some legacy video connections (Scart/Component/Composite), a Toslink digital audio output, a headphone jack and a terminal for an aerial connection. There’s also a USB port and a LAN connection with the CS520B also supporting dual-band (2.4/5Ghz) Wi-Fi.
There is nothing at all spectacular about the supplied remote control but it certainly gets the job done via its well-placed – and well-spaced – set of buttons; there’s one dedicated to launching Netflix, placed very prominently just where your thumb naturally hovers. If you fancy a more contemporary means of control, the CS530B is compatible with Panasonic’s latest TV Remote app – available on iOS and Android – which also allows you to ‘swipe and share’ media files to and from your mobile device and the TV.
Features & SpecsThe TX-55CS520B doesn’t feature Panasonic’s latest Smart TV platform, it’s a throwback to the 2014 version. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, however, and you still get apps such as YouTube, Wuaki, Amazon Instant, BBC iPlayer and the previously mentioned Netflix, so most of the key video streaming services are covered. As also previously stated, the CS520 sports a Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution panel, which is a VA variant for the UK market, and Panasonic marks its ‘Adaptive Backlight Dimming’ capabilities as a key feature of the set; we’ll see how that performs below. The panel can refresh at up to 200Hz using backlight modulation when used in conjunction with the Intelligent Frame Creation (IFC) feature, which uses frame interpolation techniques to smooth out motions; again we’ll put that through its paces later in the review.
Picture Settings Out-of-the-BoxBy far the best starting point for an accurate out-of-box image is the True Cinema mode which does most of the hard work of disabling the unnecessary processing options for you. It does leave IFC/24p Smooth Motion engaged, however, and we recommend you disengage unless you’re a fan of overly smoothed looking images; it makes films look as though they were shot on a phone camera although we can see the argument for using it on Low with fast paced sports, where motion blur can become an issue. Other than that, you can get pretty close to accuracy by following the steps in our Picture Perfect Guide.
The factory settings in True Cinema weren’t too far out, in terms of the greyscale, but the green pixels get way too bright at full stimulus levels and, as a consequence, Magenta and Yellow – that are 50% composed of green – suffer the same fate. In fact we have a delta Error of nearly fifteen for green, at full saturation, which is a long way beyond the considered tolerable level of three! The issues that were there in the greyscale also centred on green with slightly too much of it right from black to white.
Not as accurate as most Panasonic's we see
Picture Settings CalibratedWe’ve become accustomed to Panasonic equipping their TVs with near state-of-the-art calibration controls but, like the Smart TV system, the ones in the TX-55CS520B are a bit of a throwback. It doesn’t matter all that much, really, as we’d imagine the number of these TVs ending up being calibrated, in the UK, will be countable on the fingers of one finger, i.e. this one. You get two point white balance sliders, a three axis colour management system to manipulate the primaries, plus various global gamma pre-sets.
As we can see from the RGB Balance graph, above-left, the white balance controls proved effective in reducing greyscale errors to, mostly, imperceptible levels and changing the default gamma setting, plus reducing Contrast, helped us get a more even response. The colours, as shown top-right, proved more difficult to correct and we ended up with some compromises. We could have reduced the green luminance error to zero at full saturation but that completely messed up performance lower down.
Panasonic TX-55CS520B Picture Settings Video
Out-of-the-Box PerformanceConsidering the issues in green, noted above, you wouldn’t really notice when watching most content. Only the greenest of greens had such significant over-luminance so it’s with something like a snooker table, sports pitch, or other grassy areas, where it becomes easily noticeable. On the whole, however, colours were on the right side of believable and images natural and convincing.
Panasonic’s decision to go with VA panels, as opposed to the IPS ones they used to favour, reaps dividends with the TX-55CS520B producing very good black levels, and resultantly, fairly strong image contrast performance. For those that care about the numbers, the CS520B registered an average black level of 0.054cd/m2 from a chequerboard pattern; this was against an average peak white of 120 cd d/m2 although this TV can go much brighter than that, if needed. So that’s an ANSI contrast ratio of (notably) 2,222.22*:1
Whilst native black levels were on the good side, the same could not be said of Panasonic’s ‘local’ dimming technology. It’s labelled Adaptive Backlight Control in the menus and it’s about as local as Christchurch, NZ, is to me. It does, in fact, work on a global basis with the entire image dimmed or brightened, dependent on content, so whilst it might look OK - and even more punchy - sometimes for much of the time it’s just hiding details at either end of the picture luminance spectrum. Moreover, it’s very slow to react on scene transitions so will fluctuate the picture brightness very noticeably, at times. At least you don’t have to have it on as the blacks are decent enough for most.
In a more positive vein, Panasonic’s excellent video processing heritage is present in the CS520B with it fully capable of detecting the key film cadences. It was also impressive with deinterlacing duties at both 576i and 1080i, meaning your broadcast content will look as good as possible, also thanks to some excellent scaling algorithms. There’s only so much that can be done with some of the rubbish in Freeview but the CS520B will definitely score over an Ultra HD TV if a lot of your viewing material is still standard definition orientated. We should also give praise to the excellent screen uniformity present in the TX-CS520B which was only marred by the occasional spot of dirty screen effect on large patches of bright colour – yellow in particular, for some reason.
Calibrated PerformanceWe’ll be honest and say that there wasn’t a huge difference in the before and after calibration results and probably the most impactful changes were achieved with the basic Backlight and Contrast control. By knocking both back we are actually able to increase the dynamic range of the images by revealing more details in the brighter portions of the picture. It also had the handy side-effect of improving black levels, and thus contrast, although displaying the details that should be present in the shadows could not be listed as a strength of the CS520B. It was nice to rid the whites of the green tinge and reduce slightly the over-luminance of greens and greeny-blues but that didn’t really make an awful lot of practical difference, it has to be said.
The pictures are generally good but lip-sync is a major issue
Sound QualityThe TX-55CS52B packs in a couple of down-firing 10W speakers that actually give a fairly decent account of themselves. That little bit of extra room in the chassis allows just enough air to be moved around to create a solid, if hardly dynamic, soundstage. The screen size allows for sufficient stereo separation and dialogue always remains clear but there is a major issue with audio synchronisation, most noticeable with voices being out of time with lip movements. This didn’t happen via the internal DVB tuner but anything externally connected was out by at least 50 milliseconds.
Panasonic TX-55CS520B Video Review
Input LagThis is not exactly a stellar gaming TV, in terms of controller input latency, but the fact you can use the most accurate picture mode, together with the Game Mode in the Picture Options submenu is a bonus. With this combination we measured an input lag of 54-55 milliseconds, which is quite poor by 2015 standards.
How future-proof is this TV?
4K Ultra HD Resolution HDR Support Colour Space (percentage of DCI - 100% best) n/a 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) 7 What do these mean?
- Great screen uniformity
- Mostly believable colours
- Strong video processing
- Decent black levels
- Most key video streaming apps present
- Poor audio sync from external sources
- MSRP is toppy
- Occasional dirty screen effect
- Some colour issues
Panasonic TX-55CS520B TV Review
Should I buy one?It’s a difficult one to call for a couple of reasons; first - the manufacturers would rather send us their Ultra HD TV for review and second – the TX-55CS520B has a suggested retail price of around £800 which could get you a decent 4K TV, albeit in a slightly smaller screen size. The attraction of being better future-proofed is certainly alluring so you will need to ask yourself how much UHD means to you.
The general picture performance of the CS520B was very solid, however, with good black levels and contrast and a mostly convincing colour palette. The out of box accuracy was reasonable, although certain greens were too garish and whites also tended toward that colour. The screen uniformity was also very good, with just a slight dirty screen effect on large patches of bright colour but the local dimming system is weak and too slow to react to changes in scene lighting. Probably the worst trait of the CS520B was the poor lip-sync from external sources which was not correctable in the menus and distinctly off-putting.
The TX-55CS520B sports an inoffensive design and a reasonable set of Smart TV features, although this is strictly last year’s platform so you don’t get Firefox and Freeview Play, as per the higher-end models. Still, there’s Netflix, iPlayer, YouTube and Amazon, so it will suit a lot of folks and the processor seems well up to the job of running them smoothly. It’s not so hot with video games, though; with the input lag measuring around 55 milliseconds.
The Panasonic TX-55CS520B is pretty much the epitome of a mid-range TV with absolutely no major negatives, in terms of picture performance, against it although sound delay issues are a problem. In the current market conditions we do think it struggles to represent real value, at its current price, when you can pick up a comparable Ultra HD TV for just a little more.
What are my alternatives?As said above, Full HD samples are a bit thin on the ground this year but if we were going Full HD, then the 55-inch version of the Samsung J6300 is worth a look at merits its current (August 2015) online price of £800. In terms of putting your money where our mouth is when it comes to getting an Ultra HD TV for not much more, then the 50-inch CX680 from Panasonic, themselves, is available at £799, right now, and we have a review coming up on that very soon. We won’t give the game away but you might want to read it before deciding.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level8
2D Picture Quality8
Picture Quality Out-Of-The-Box7
Picture Quality Calibrated8
Ease Of Use7
Value for Money7
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