Panasonic TH-65EX780A

Panasonic's TV line-up bifurcated some years ago when it began introducing LCD TVs into a range that had, until then, consisted exclusively of plasma TVs, some of which were among the very best on the market. But plasma has long gone now, and Panasonic had, by last year, brought LCD/LED TV technology to a level which performs well beyond the best it had achieved with plasma, instantiated in 2016's astonishing Viera TH-65DX900U with its honeycomb cell technology and 512 individually controlled backlights.

Now Panasonic's TV line-up is in bifurcation again, this time between LCD and OLED. Its top two ranges are OLED; the rest are LCD (the top two ranges of those with LED backlighting). Honeycombs with two-to-the-7th backlights are gone, now, or so we’re told. Witness this Viera TH-65EX780A LCD/LED TV.

Equipment
First, I'll note that there are three models in this range, this being the middle of the three. There's a 58-inch model which is distinguished, apart from size, by the inclusion of an extension section for the stand, so it can placed directly on the floor. Using the smaller neck it sits conventionally on a bench. This larger 65 inch/163.9cm model, with the extra weight, doesn't have the floor-standing capability. But it does swivel on its X-shaped stand. Then there's also a 75 inch model — no swivelling, no extension there just a massive picture.

Panasonic TH-65EX780AThe stand is a heavy thing, with some of the parts looking almost like industrial machinery. They're all hidden by a snap-on cowling. There are also two panels to hide the rear panel connections.

From the front this is a modern, elegantly-styled TV with its gloss metal base and narrow brushed aluminium bezel less than 15mm wide at the sides and top, and less than 25mm wide at the bottom.

The TV packs two TV tuners — a very nice feature. Jumping ahead, briefly, to actual use, it really does allow viewing one channel while monitoring or recording another. You can have one station dominating the screen and the other appearing in a window, or have them side by side. Even with HD stations, you're still getting full resolution on both in the latter mode. The TV seizes full control of whatever storage you attach to the TV for this function.

There are four HDMI inputs, all supporting full Ultra HD Blu-ray functionality. Three USB sockets (one 3.0) and built in dual-band WiFi (topping out at 802.11n support) and Ethernet (up to 100Mbps).

The UHD display supports HDR and HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma), but not Dolby Vision.

We've currently in a weird home entertainment state where several of the major brands are abandoning 3D, but movie distributors are still releasing them — on my shelf are shiny new 3D versions of 'Kong: Skull Island' and 'The Lego Batman Movie'. This TV supports 3D using an active (ie. LCD shutter glasses) system. No glasses were supplied so I don't know how well it supports 3D, but the fact that it does at all is becoming a rare skill.

I should also note that when researching the features of this TV, I made extensive use of its 'eHELP' system, a kind of on-screen manual, initially using its search feature with the remote, arrowing around a virtual keyboard, but then rather more smartly with a Logitech keyboard/touchpad combo, its USB dongle plugged into the TV for typing search terms with greatly improved efficiency.

Great news: according to the press release from a couple of months ago, the RRP of the TV was $4499. But now the price had been reduced by $650. Perhaps the rumours of upcoming TV price increases (by, er, ourselves) are not (yet) to be given credence.

Panasonic TH-65EX780A

Performance
Routine picture set-up is required, of course. Quickly, before doing anything else, turn the 'Sharpness' setting down to 0 where it belongs. The unfortunate Panasonic quirk of default overscan remains in place, so you’ll need to switch it off for 1080i and 1080p video, otherwise there is a slight, pointless, picture-quality-diminishing scaling up of the image with those inputs. They should be mapped 1:4 to the screen (with processing adjusting that on a pixel level), not 1:4.1666! Happily overscan is not on (or indeed possible) with UHD inputs.

Since we're talking about screen mapping, I'll note an interesting setting in 'Option Settings': '1080p Pixel by 4pixels' (sic). This setting is, I think, unique to Panasonic TVs. If you have a Blu-ray outputting 1080p, the TV will, like other UHD TVs, normally not just rescale up by two and two, horizontally and vertically, but try to create smooth edges and diagonals, using the additional pixels. This setting, though, eliminates that processing. Instead, if it's receiving a 1080p signal, it takes each incoming pixel and sends it to all four of the screen pixels that would be tasked with reproducing it. That means jaggies on diagonals, of course. But, interestingly, it can result in sharper, better defined details in the image. The photos here show, for example, clear jaggies on the curved characters when that setting is engaged. But all the vertical and horizontal lines are noticeably sharper as well. In particular, notice that the native upscaling makes the ends of the vertical black line rounded, while the one to four mapping keeps them sharp. So it's a trade-off.

 1080p displayed using '1080p Pixel by 4pixels' (close-up detail)ABOVE 1080p displayed using '1080p Pixel by 4pixels' (close-up detail, photographed)
BELOW 1080p upscaled  (close-up detail, photographed)

1080p upscaled  (close-up detail)

To be fair, this is of largely academic interest. When I first went to explore it, I flicked between the two settings for quite a while, standing rather close to the TV, and there was little apparent difference in the picture. It was only the macro lens on my camera that revealed quite a bit more, with the camera just 23cm from the screen. Sitting at any reasonable distance from the screen, I'd suggest that the difference will be invisible. The nice thing is to get a choice. Most brands don't offer you that.

As usual with Panasonic TVs, the greyscale test patterns appear skewiff. These patterns go all the way from blacker-than-black to whiter-than-white, and one is supposed to adjust the picture so that the black matches the blacker-than-black, and white matches whiter-than-white. That can't be done with this TV at the white end, as far as I was able to work out, despite exploring some fairly obscure custom settings. (Yes, not all the 255 levels available in an eight-bit space are used for brightness: some at the top and bottom of the scale are reserved for other now largely obsolete uses.)

Panasonic TH-65EX780AI'm pretty sure that the brightness of the TV doesn't thereby suffer. I think it scales brightness according to actual picture content. If it has whiter-than-white stuff, then what should be white is turned down a bit. In theory (again with the theory!) this is inappropriate behaviour. In practice, all but test discs conform to the appropriate range of colour and brightness values, so it doesn't matter.

Using the 7669 test on Sony Ultra HD Blu-ray discs (key in 7669 while on the main menu and you get some test patterns), the results were interesting. The TV seemed to be able, with the HDR signal, to distinguish between 4000 and 5000 nits of brightness. If the screen were able to actually produce those levels, I'd hazard, Panasonic would be crowing about that from the rooftops (it doesn't specify a maximum brightness level). So again I figure that it has scaled brightness according to the input signal.

Picture quality with 576i/50 content was absolutely magnificent, except for a slight readiness to inappropriately employ video-style deinterlacing with tricky film content. Nonetheless, scaling up produced a sharp, clear, and almost entirely artefact-free image. With 1080i/50 inputs, the automatic cadence detection was quite accurate, being caught out only by the trickiest scenes. There were no facilities I could find to force film-mode deinterlacing.

Panasonic's motion smoothing system uses a descriptive title: 'Intelligent Frame Creation'. It defaults to the 'Min' setting, and with 24 frames per second content, it seems to create one additional frame between each real frame. This reduced judder significantly in those few scenes in which it was a problem, and produced no visible artifacts. The 'Mid' and 'Max' settings seemed to be much the same, and they made motion extremely smooth, but produced the occasional odd artefact. It wasn't so much the usual 'heat haze' effect around objects, but flashes of confusion between two different moving objects. Stick with 'Min' and you'll be okay.

Actual Ultra HD content was superb. Mad Max: Fury Road was breathtaking with its colour and clarity and, I was pleased to note, brilliant contrast levels. Even more so some HDR test clips I've gathered in recent years, fed via the TV's network connectivity (it supports DLNA rendering). Again, consistently magnificent. Sharpness, detail, clarity, yes, but also colour and smooth graduations from very deep blacks to strong whites.

And now we get to one of the fundamental performance issues. Black levels. I earlier expressed disappointment about Panasonic abandoning the honeycomb and 512 backlight system used in last year's TH-65DX900U. But has it?

The TV uses local dimming — turning down the LED backlights in the dark areas of the picture. The dark scenes in movies and TV shows were uniformly impressive with detail and lack of inappropriate breakthrough of the backlight. So I used some test patterns consisting of full white circles in different places (one, in several places) on a full black screen. I'm fairly confident that Panasonic is using individually controllable backlit areas which are a reasonably high in density — actual backlights, not edge lights, because the results were so extremely good. Full black, with white on the screen, was not quite as black as with an OLED panel. But, by golly, it was close. I'd say 95%. Or more. And even more importantly, the blacks were even. There wasn't a hint of the mottling of backlight breakthrough about which I so frequently complain. The bright areas of the picture were tightly isolated.

The TV's processing is fast. Panasonic TVs and devices have always been what you might call well-behaved. They are properly tuned up for local circumstances. Its disc spinners default to 50Hz output. Its TVs support such things as the audio return channel and auto lip sync adjustments via HDMI. So my Blu-ray test disc had audio from the Yamaha Aventage RX-A3060 AV receiver in perfect synchronisation with the picture. Which is all you need for your movie watching.

But what if you're playing games? Then the absolute amount of delay in the picture is important. Switching off auto lip-sync in the receiver and running the same test pattern suggested a remarkably small 60 or so milliseconds with 1080p/24 content. There's a games mode, too, which seemed to halve that. Gamers are likely to get good scores with this TV.

I normally don't pay too much attention to the quality of the built-in sound system. Sound+Image readers will likely have an external sound system. But I have to say, even for a TV the speakers in this TV sounded pretty thin. So do use an external system.

Panasonic's Firefox OS smart features work well. They're easy to use. A tutorial on first use tells you how to do things like pin features, including individual TV stations, to the home screen. No pointer remote is provided, just a standard one with arrows.

The TV supported Miracast from my Samsung Android phone, and WiDi from my Windows 10 notebook, and UltraHD video, high resolution audio up to 192kHz and DSD128 via DLNA.

Conclusion
Can't quite stretch to an OLED? Well, don't worry. The Panasonic Viera TH-65EX780A Ultra HD TV gives you performance which is darned close to it, at a much lower price. Just make sure you have an audio system to use with it. Any audio system. Please.

Panasonic TH-65EX780A

Panasonic Viera TH-65EX780A UHD TV
Price: $3849

+ Excellent picture quality
+ Close to the best blacks ever from an LCD/LED TV
+ Very good smart features

- No effective pointer remote
- Substandard sound from built in speakers

Tested with firmware: 4.131

Display technology: LED-backlit LCD panel

Screen size: 163.9cm

Native aspect ratio: 16:9

Native resolution: 3,840 x 2,160

Brightness: Not stated

Contrast ratio: Not stated

Inputs: 4 x HDMI, 1 x component video (doubles as 1 x composite video), 1 x stereo audio, 3 x USB (1 USB 3.0), 1 x Ethernet, Wi-Fi, 1 x aerial

Outputs: 1 x optical digital audio

Audio: 2 x 10W, 2 x speakers

Included accessories: Table-top stand, remote control

Dimensions without/with stand (whd): 1457 x 841 x 52/1457 x 921 x 446mm

Energy Rating label: 6 Stars, 345kWh per year

Weight without/with stand (kg): 39/43.5

Warranty: One year