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Panasonic 4K LED LCD first look – plasma quality from LCD

The Panasonic Viera AX800 may just ease the pain of no new plasma displays

We have to say that when Panasonic announced that it would no longer manufacturer Plasma TVs, we were a little concerned. Year-after-year, the plasma displays were our top-choice TVs, so what were going to do in 2014? Fortunately, our prayers seemed to be answered when Panasonic simply promised that it would deliver plasma-quality from LED sets. To find out if this was true we took at look at the new 4K UHD LED CLD prototype at CES 2014.

TV comparisons are notoriously hard to do at shows, as they tend to be set up to produce the maximum brightness and vibrancy. That combined with the harsh show lighting usually means it’s hard to tell the difference between one set and another.

Fortunately for us, when we looked at the new 4K LED, Panasonic had not only put it in a darkened room, but side-by-side with last year’s top-end plasma, the Viera TX-P60ZT65b, widely regarded as the best TV ever, and last year’s 4K LED TV, the WT600. Putting the new TV side-by-side with its best-ever plasma means that Panasonic is confident that it’s on to something special this year, giving us hope that even though plasma is gone, the image quality can still be had.

We have to say that our hopes were proved to be true. First, the WT600 looks washed out in comparison to the ZT65 and 4K LED. The WT600 is by no means a bad TV, but the AX800 and ZT65 are just that much better and it’s these two that needed to be compared more closely.

We have to say after staring at both sets that the 4K LED is a rather remarkable TV, setting out to do what Panasonic wanted. Close up, there are a few minor differences. The ZT65 still has the slight edge in black levels, although it’s an extremely close-run thing; however, the AX800 has a cleaner image (there’s none of the speckling you can get with plasma), is brighter and has more resolution (4K UHD versus Full HD). That’s impressive going, particularly has Panasonic has only had a year to really focus on its LCD technology.

The company has managed to do this with some clever engineering, designed to overcome LCD’s inherent weaknesses and give it plasma’s traditional strength. First up, Panasonic worked on a brand new colour system. As a result the 4K LED can produce 98 per cent of the DCI (Direct Cinema Initiative) standard, close to 20 per cent up on last year’s model.

The second area where plasma has always been better is in black level. To give the 4K LED better blacks and improve contrast, Panasonic has moved from edge LED lights to its Local Dimming Pro technology. This gives the TV 128 individually controlled zones, allowing the backlight brightness to be varied across the screen to match the intensity of each zone. Given that it’s an IPS panel inside, and that technology isn’t generally associated with brilliant contrast ratios, what Panasonic has done is even more impressive.

In addition to the new panel, the 4K LED will have Panasonic’s new smart TV features. These include Info Bar, which uses a heat camera to detect when someone walks past, automatically turning on the TV and displaying a widget bar with useful information, such as the local weather, video messages and the current time.

Panasonic 4K LED LCD

Panasonic is also introducing My Stream, which is its new recommendation service. This learns what you like through your watching habits and presents you with more choices. You can help the system to learn and make it more accurate by using the ‘like’ button on the new remote control.

Panasonic 4K LED LCD

We’ve been told that the TV will support Netlix 4K UHD when the service is available. For other apps and services available in the UK we’re going to have to wait a couple of months for the model range and smart TV portal to be finalised.

Considering that the TV we saw was just a proto-type, we have to say that we’re deeply impressed. Assuming that Panasonic can bring this image quality to a final product, suddenly the demise of plasma doesn’t seem quite as bad.

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