Panasonic AX802 4K TV review
I have spent the last two weeks living with the Panasonic AX802 ultra HD (4K) television. Yes, this 50-inch gogglebox is large, especially when placed within the environment of my tiny London flat, but is it any good?
This has been the first year in which Panasonic has not had a plasma TV in their line up. The sad news was announced late last year with operations finally ceasing in March but they have deployed their boffins to sort out the Panasonic LED LCD range.
The Panasonic Viera AX802 (also known as AX800 in North America and Europe) series of 4K Ultra HD TVs is available in three screen sizes: the 50-inch TX-50AX802B, the 58-inch TX-58AX802B, and the 65-inch TX-65AX802B. Thankfully I have the 50-inch flavour else I might have had to get rid of a sofa in order to get any other version in to the room.
As a member of the Viera VIP Club I have already met the AX802 and AX902 in the flesh, so to speak, and was suitably impressed by the displays. The thing is, we all know that there’s quite a bit of difference between seeing a set in near-perfect surroundings with specialist technicians on hand to tweak out any imperfections to having it sat in your living room complete with awkward viewing angles and inconveniently placed windows.
The other difference in living with a television on a day-to-day basis is that it won’t just be me using it so it has to be useful for someone who is… less tech savvy, shall we say.
I knew that a 50-inch screen might be a tad unweildly and perhaps a little on the heavy side, but the weight of this set in its box was quite surprising.
Granted, the screen did weigh quite a bit but the pedestal stand was something else!
It might have the footprint of a decent-sized hardback book but it weighs about the same as a small planet. Fortunately Panasonic has actually fitted it with two recessed handles to make it easier to lift and manoeuver in to place. The weight of this stand acts as ballast for the 4K panel which is tilted slightly backwards and rests on a bar that runs the full length of the panel.
The panel slots in to the stand and is then fixed by four screws. There is a what I like to call a ‘modesty panel’ which clicks in to place and hides all the fittings away to leave a nice and tidy rear.
Whilst at the back of the AX802 it’s a good time to point out the three HDMI 2.0 ports and one HDMI 4 which is 4K-capable – the others will support up to 3840×2160 resolution at 4:4:4, as does the DisplayPort socket which you’ll also find residing here.
Wi-fi is built in, although you get an ethernet socket too for a wired connection to the interwebs.
At launch, the AX802 was not able to stream 4K from Netflix, which is one of the only sources of 4K footage at the moment. Since then, Panasonic has released an update to rectify this issue.
The whole point in getting a Smart TV is for its smarts and from the off the Panasonic AX802 welcomes you with the ‘My Home Screen’. This area, if you’re unaware of it, lets you choose from pre-set home pages, for want of a better description, or you have the option to build your own.
Preset ‘My Home Screens’ include one dedicated to the Freetime TV guide, with an on demand shortcut, search, and curated content showcase. Of course you don’t need to use any of the presets, as it’s simple enough to build your own. Just arrange whatever apps you use most on a blank grid surrounding the live TV window. If you like to stream files from a NAS, just place the media server app on your Home Screen launch page and Robert is your mother’s brother.
‘My Stream’ offers suggestions for online and tuner content based on things you’ve marked as favourites. You can tune recommendations by ‘starring’ them with the touch pad remote Bluetooth controller; the more you favourite, the more accurate the set’s recommendations become – a bit like Amazon does.
The thing that you’ll be most likely to show off with though is the Info Bar. This all-knowing kit is ready to activate the telly when someone comes in to the room. The AX802 needs to be sat in Standby, and when the camera’s proximity sensor detects someone the TV will offer up the time, a local weather forecast, a ‘my stream’ highlight and skyped messages. I can only imagine what fun cats and dogs will have with this feature.
Slightly more useful is TV Anywhere, which lets you stream live or USB-based content to your smartphone or tablet wherever you may be from the huge telly sat back at home.
The Panasonic looks great and thanks in part to the warm colour reproduction and ink-deep blacks, could easily be mistaken for a Panasonic plasma at first glance. Yup, the colour reproduction is that good and no doubt the set’s 4K Studio Master Drive has something to do with this.
It’s the AX802’s black level performance which is the real clincher which is impressively produces deep, smooth shades of dark.
The set earns a 2000Hz BLS (backlight scanning) rating, the fastest in the Panasonic fleet. It also boasts the brand’s Local Dimming Pro technology and a dimmer function, which turns down the edge-lighting above and below a letterboxed movies for better border blacks and contrast.
Flicking through House of Cards on Netflix 4K, as well as some other 4K clips and those on Panasonic’s own channel, I was simply wowed, not just by the colour reproduction, but also the richness of the palette.
Contrast is excellent throughout and there is a nice and natural feel to the overall sharpness of the picture.
Blu-rays and Freeview HD are upscaled with aplomb. I was also loaned a Panasonic GH4 system camera in order to create some 4K content of my own. MP4 h.264 2160/30p and MOV files captured at 2160/24p were displayed with impressive levels of clarity. Unfortunately, the camera and TV together could not help my dodgy skills behind the lens.
Being a Smart TV you can also access 2160p clips from YouTube’s 4K channel which, depending on the encoding, generally look fantastic. There’s also a 4K web browser available.
As for 3D, you get two pairs of active-shutter glasses. There is a degree of image instability in action scenes but you do get an amazing sense of depth. It’s not something I could see myself using regularly but I can imagine it being a good way to keep the kids occupied.
Viewing angles proved to be fine in my little living room and whether watching from the dining area or the sofa (granted only a few feet apart), the picture didn’t suffer from washing out or other acute viewing gremlins.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from this set on the audio front. Let’s face it, most of the latest generation TVs are expecting to be at least paired with a soundbar.
The thing is, you can’t have a skinny telly and expect it to be packing room filling speakers.
On the AX802 Panasonic have fitted a pair of 4w downward firing drivers and a rear-facing central 10w mid-range driver. This set up performs pretty well and should prevent you having to run back out again in order to purchase the aforementioned soundbar. Thanks to a range of on-board processing these speakers have a reasonably wide soundstage and, for most programmes, will do a decent job but you might want to add that soundbar or other speakers for the full Hollywood blockbuster experience.
The simplified smart remote was pretty good but voice control felt weird to start with. Also, the little track pad didn’t always want to do what I was trying to get it to do.
If you want your My Stream recommendations to get better you need to use this one for the the star button.
I did find myself using the main handset for the most part though, and the lovely metal finish and clear layout makes it look and feel like a premium item and all this together definitely went towards it to becoming my go to remote.
Originally the Panasonic TX-55AX802 was unable to handle 4K from Netflix which may have been a deal breaker in many potential buyer’s minds but, now that the TV has been updated and this is no longer an issue, I dare say that the AX802 will feature quite highly in shopper’s lists.
It has some great features not to mention a very impressive picture.
There is no doubt that the Panasonic AX802 is a beautifully-engineered television that’s more than capable of producing absolutely gorgeous images.
I’d dare say that I could even see Samsung and Sony fans checking out the Panasonic and possibly being drawn away from their default choices.
The Panasonic AX802 retails for around £1300 in its 50-inch guise.