Preview: Panasonic's New Flagship Ultra HD TVs

Panasonic launched its new flagship 4K Ultra HD sets, the 65-inch TC-65AX900 and the 85-inch TC-85AX850, at a press event in Los Angeles last Thursday. The two models are similar in many ways, including their Ultra HD capabilities, THX certification, HDMI 2.0, HDCP 2.2connectivity, and H.265 (HEVC) decoding, which is planned for upcoming 4K source material, but not yet universally used in the limited consumer 4K material presently available) The TVs also incorporate Panasonic’s quad-core, Pro5 processor for their “Beyond Smart” feature set.

But it’s the smaller, 65-inch AX900 that appears to be the more technologically sophisticated when it comes to basic picture quality, and is the subject of the rest of this blog. For starters, it includes full-array backlit LED local dimming, claimed to include a more sophisticated sampling of adjacent pixels to minimize halos around bright objects against dark backgrounds. The set offers a Studio Master Drive feature, said to provide more accurate color with finer gradations, and ISF certification with Day and Night calibration modes. You can also access all of the controls on your tablet or smartphone using a dedicated app, allowing for changes without having control indicators on the screen covering up what you’re trying to adjust and perhaps affecting the results.

The AX900 is said to be capable of a color gamut reaching 98 percent of the DCI (Digital Cinema Initiative) specification, though this will be of value only if DCI is chosen as the color spec for Ultra HD (still under discussion, with B.T.2020 also a candidate) and if the set can accept a native DCI source and pass it through to the panel without modifying it in any way, apart from the effects of the user controls. We are inquiring with Panasonic to find out if this is the case.

A Dynamic Range Remaster (DRR) circuit (hopefully defeatable) is designed to restore the brilliance of bright highlights in the picture that are lost in today’s image capture and source material. High Dynamic Range (HDR) has become a hot topic in video recently, thanks to Dolby Vision, which is designed to work both at the source and display ends of the process. Panasonic’s DRR process operates only at the display end, simulating what the processor calculates the image should look like, using algorithms based on the (more or less) known limitations of current cameras and video transfer equipment. If Dolby Vision becomes a consumer reality (and we suspect it will) Panasonic’s DRR circuitry will not respond to it, but rather will treat it as an ordinary source and apply its own playback-only algorithm. This limitation will also be true of other non-Dolby, high dynamic range, display-only technologies (Sony also offers such a feature in its flagship set).

Another important feature of the AX900 is its IPS LCD panel. IPS panels offer much better performance than the VA panels more widely used in consumer sets, but they also have inferior contrast. But with a well-implemented local dimming scheme, the latter is not an issue. I noticed that the AX900’s image darkened somewhat when I moved 20-degrees or so off axis, but didn’t suffer color wash out in the same way that a VA LCD panel does.

The event included a side-by-side comparison of, from left to right in the image above, the flagship set from brand S, a small OLED monitor, the TC-65AX900, a Panasonic TC-65AX800U (edge lit local dimming) and a (now discontinued) Panasonic TC-65ZT60 plasma (the latter not visible here). All of the sources were 2K, upconverted to 4K in all of the sets except the ZT60, which is a 2K set.

Screen shots such as those above are a notoriously poor way to judge sets, but the variations you see in this shot are similar to what I saw, differing only in overall degree and in the resolution of a point-and-shoot camera image reduced in resolution for Internet display. In its black level, color, and other qualities, even in the vivid mode used for some of the tests, the AX900 looked clearly as good or better than any of the adjoining sets.

My only question involves setup. Comparisons such as this are incredibly difficult to administer correctly and fairly (I’ve done it myself many times), and those done here involved the sets in their out-of-the-box default modes. The black level on the 2K ZT60 looked to be a bit too high (on one brief dark scene it was distinctly inferior to the other sets, and I know this should not be the case). The plasma also had its motion interpolation turned on (motion compensation on a plasma is equal to a moustache on the Mona Lisa); it was turned off at our request.

Panasonic’s TC-65AX900 looks like a winner, and we look forward to doing a full review sometime after it comes out in late November. The only catch will be the price, which has not yet been set but will likely be between $8,000 and $9,000.

notabadname's picture

Such a bummer if the larger screen won't incorporate local dimming as well (with full-array).

Thomas J. Norton's picture
My understanding is that it will not, but rather is edge lit. The likely reason is price. A screen with 70% more area will require a lot more local dimming zones and be significantly more complicated to build. But I agree that FALD would be nice to have on the bigger screen.