Eyes on with the plasma taunting Panasonic VIERA AX900 LED TV – IFA 2014

Panasonic AX900 I was fortunate enough to be part of a small contingent who got a VIP tour of Panasonic’s latest flagship LED TV at Berlin’s IFA 2014. Needless to say that the AX900 (AX902 in the UK) looks good but is it good enough to actually give plasma a run for its money?

Slipping behind some black curtains in to an almost totally black room Panasonic had set out a triptych of TVs: a WT600 (2013 flagship 4K TV), the new AX900 (also 4K), and last year’s must have plasma, the ZT60. This set up is strange for a few reasons. The first one that struck me is that Panasonic was directly pitching the new LED set against their top plasma gogglebox. The other thing was the fact that they had decided to do this in the pitch black – the kind of room that would normally highlight an LED TV’s shortcomings in so far as how black the blacks really are, or aren’t.

Now, when I spent some time with the WT600 I found it fairly impressive but when it’s sat next to the AX900 it is definitely left found wanting. It’s not that the WT600 is bad, it’s just that the AX900 is so much better. When comparing the AX with the plasma it would be quite difficult to actually pick out which is the ZT60 and the AX900 if they hadn’t been labeled. Apparently, when Panasonic decided to halt its plasma production, those visual magicians were set to sort out the LED’s quality. It seems to me that they’ve done a great job.

AX900 display detailsThe AX900 has been blessed with the deep inky blacks  that I’ve only seen on plasmas before today. The test images included that of someone wearing a biker jacket and the immortal Spinal Tap phrase of “none more black” sprang to mind. As well as those impressive black levels there was a lack of the haloing you’d sometimes get around vivid bright colours and black backgrounds and the overall colour saturation was jaw dropping. Obviously the AX900 also trumped the plasma as it’s packing 4K (3840 x 2160p) whilst the plasma is ‘only’ dishing out 1080p.

wt600 ax900 zt60This peeper-pleasing picture-posing panel’s perfection is mostly due to what Panasonic calls Local Dimming Ultra. Rather than having the LED lighting elements either on or off as in some LED TVs with local dimming, each lighting zone on the AX900 can be varied in intensity to better match on-screen content. Panasonic says this gradation in backlighting allows them to attain high contrast between light and dark images without those annoying halos around bright objects. Also, Panasonic has enhanced its colour management in the AX900 to better reproduce colour throughout the brightness range through expanded colour lookup tables. This, combined with its “Ultra-Bright” LCD panel deliver vivid colours and gives it the skills to actually go toe-to-toe with the likes of plasma and OLED.

The AX900 analyses the incoming video signal not in traditional 3 x 3 matrices, but across 5 x 5 matrices of local dimming fields and adjusts the brightness level of each individual field by extremely fine degrees (i.e. not just on/off), providing smooth motion of bright objects, a high contrast ratio, deep, rich blacks and extremely fine gradation which retains detail even in the darkest scenes.

project carsOther cool bits to note are that the AX900 offers a DisplayPort connector (seeing Project Cars being played on a triple AX900 set-up was just a tad OMG!), something no other maker of 4K TVs does. Panasonic is also careful to note that all of its 4K sets gets four 4K 60p-supporting HDMI 2.0 connectors which are compatible with the HDCP 2.2 protocol. Oh, and it’s also packing wireless LAN and Full HD progressive 3D.

Panasonic has announced that Netflix 4K streaming will come at launch to the AX900 and, via firmware update, the existing AX800 (the US version of the AX800 already has it). Panasonic also promised Amazon’s 4K streaming would come soon to those two sets.

Naturally the AX900 gets all those Panasonic smart features – My Stream, which learns users’ preferences and displays a list of content recommendations, the Info Bar that quickly and conveniently displays new and useful information without even requiring the user to turn on the TV due to a proximity sensor coupled with Face Recognition, and lastly TV Anywhere. TV Anywhere cleverly squirts live TV and recorded content direct from your TV at home to your smart device anywhere in the world. What I love about TV Anywhere is that, once you’ve signed in and connected, you aren’t going via Panasonic’s servers, you’re actually connecting directly to your TV. Also, if you have a media server connected to your telly via USB, all the content on that drive is also accessible to you wherever you are.

All of this cleverness is handled by the Panasonic VIERA AX900’s brain, better known as the Quad Core Pro5.

The AX900 will be available in November and will be land in 55-inch (TX-55AX902) and 65-inch (TX-65AX902) sizes.

You can get more information here and there’s a real tasty competition here.

Keep coming back to GadgetyNews as I will have the inside track about Panasonic Viera TVs.