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The price has been reduced since publication and is now $4999.
With LCD TVs there’s a tension at the top end. Shall it look great as a piece of furniture, or shall it produce the best possible picture? It’s difficult, perhaps impossible, to do both with LCD technology. So we’re delighted that with its top-of-the-range DX900 TV, Panasonic has firmly gone for best possible picture.
That’s not say that it’s ugly. Not at all. But it’s not a glass-thin design; this TV is 64mm (i.e. two-and-a-half inches) thick over most of its area, with the rear finished in an unremarkable black plastic.
The good reason for this is the LED backlighting — real back lights, not edge lights. We’ll return to that shortly.
This TV is, of course, an Ultra High Definition model, delivering 3840 pixels across by 2160 up and down. The panel is tilted very slightly backwards, lending itself to placement on a low bench-top. The dark coloured bezel around the 164cm (65-inch) panel is 15mm wide (including a millimetre or two of unused screen surface) at top and to the sides, and 25mm at the bottom. Two downwards-firing speakers are in the base, with a couple of woofers in the back. It’s 34.5kg sans stand, a weighty beast. The stand doesn’t swivel and keeps the body of the TV low with the bottom of the picture just 63mm above the bench top (so only the thinnest of soundbars would be suitable).
The TV offers all the smarts you’d expect in a premium TV, with DLNA playback and rendering support for music, video and photos, and screen mirroring. It uses the Firefox OS to run things, a quad-core CPU making sure stuff works snappily. You can connect via Ethernet or dual-band Wi-Fi. The TV has apps for catch-up from broadcast stations, Netflix and all the usual stuff. There are also three USB sockets.
It’s also pretty smart on regular TV viewing, with twin HD tuners allowing side-by-side and PIP viewing of two stations, and full FreeView Plus support.
But let’s get back to that screen. It is not just UHD, but UltraHD Premium, which means that it has been certified by the UHD Alliance to meet high standards with regard to High Dynamic Range and Wide Color Gamut. One of the keys to this is the control of black levels by use of ‘honeycomb-structure’ local dimming technology with ‘hundreds’ of individually controlled back-light zones. When we asked how many exactly, we were told it was 512 zones — a huge jump up from what has gone before.
At the other end of the scale, the TV is rated to produce up to 1000 nits of peak brightness.
The TV more or less sets itself up once you’ve attached the stand, set it on the bench and plugged everything in. Just follow the on-screen instructions and you’ll be done in five minutes.
A word on operation: Panasonic has continued to bundle its touch-panel controller along with a regular IR remote. If you’ve found Panasonic’s previous versions hard to use, well, this year’s model seems far more reliable and sensitive. If still not as effective as a (good) motion-sensitive remote, it’s now quite usable.
The Firefox OS interface is also usable, if overly simple on first delivery, with a choice of
just three selections out of the box. You can ‘pin’ more to the menu, though only five can fit across the screen at once. More are tacked on the end, and you can change the order, but it would be nice if the space was used to show more at once.
Now let’s get to the picture. The best LED/LCD TVs have always been backlit, with independent brightness control of each LED group, as opposed to edge-lit panels, which always manage to leak a little light out where it’s not supposed to be, especially in dark scenes in areas well away from where it is supposed to be bright. Back-lit LEDs with local control, though, should be able to have bright highlights in the parts of the screen that are supposed to be bright, and be very dark in other parts of the screen. There is leakage, still, but it’s around the bright area and thus much less noticeable. Test patterns with a white circle on black background test patterns show a kind of glowing halo around the white circle. But test patterns aside, with most actual program material the results are very good.
But with this TV, they’re not ‘very good’… they’re absolutely brilliant. It’s incredible.
Regular readers will know we’ve been banging on about OLED screens for a couple of years now. This is LED-LCD fighting back. We just might prefer this TV’s white-to-black performance over an OLED. In a darkened room, black bars at the top and bottom of movies were gorgeously, deeply black, essentially invisible in the dark room. Just occasionally you could make them out as not quite black, but barely.
To check leakage versus spillage, we created a full-HD test pattern which was entirely black except for two full white pixels in two parts of the screen. And on the Panasonic there was no glowing halo around them. Instead, they were duller than they ought to be. That gives us a clue as to how it all works.
It looks as though Panasonic has optimised the panel for black performance. (What follows is our guess.) The honeycomb walls around the oversized back-light pixels stop virtually all leakage to the sides. So the panel has them fully on only within the confines of the on-screen highlight. If one of the back-lights overlaps the on-screen white pixel, it operates, but at a low-enough level to avoid breaking through the blacks on the LCD panel.
A possibly confirming observation: on the scrolling credits of a 1080i/50 Blu-ray (‘Miss Potter’) the deinterlacing performance was fine, but as the lines of white text scrolled up, some of them would dim very briefly at their tops and then brighten again. It was subtle, and it wasn’t a deinterlacing artefact — the behaviour was the same with the Blu-ray set to 1080p output. More likely it was the back lights underplaying the brightness a touch just as the white reached them, in order to prevent a disturbance to proper blacks.
In the end, blacks seemed to be just barely less inky than those of an OLED panel, but surely nobody buying this TV would feel the slightest dissatisfaction. We were in awe of it.
And for another reason: those larger white circles just about hurt our eyes. In the darkened room, bright scenes were powerful enough to make us narrow our eyes at times, something we’ve never ever experienced with a TV before, including OLED. OLED, of course, can’t go so bright, though OLED blacks go to true zero, so it scores a better contrast ratio, since it’s infinite. But subjectively, this TV is as good, maybe even better, because it goes substantially brighter.
Other stuff? Well, respectable automatic deinterlacer with both 1080i/50 and 576i/50 content. Not perfect on film-sourced material, but except for the most ambiguous of material it produced excellent results.
Again on test patterns, whiter than white was brighter than full white, which it ought not to
be, but there might be some processing going on that detects the whiter-than-white of the test pattern (normal content is better behaved) and rescales it to work on screen. That does, though, make it harder to make adjustments with standard test patterns.
There’s a THX picture mode which, frankly, looked horribly yellow. (We love THX on sound, not so much with video.) Go with the ‘Normal’ picture mode. There is something almost indefinable about how Panasonic’s picture engine manages to make just about everything look better than with most other TVs. Even low bit-rate SDTV on SBS2 looked far better than it has any right to, especially on a huge 65-inch screen.
As is Panasonic’s custom, the TV supports auto lip-sync via HDMI. So if you’re using a modern AV receiver or UHD Blu-ray player, it ought to adjust automatically, which means you can ignore it. If not, you might want to delay the audio by around 130 milliseconds. There’s a games mode (it isn’t a picture mode, but hidden away under the Picture/Options menu) which drags that back to a touch under 40ms, which ought to improve reflex-dependent game scores somewhat.
If the dollars and the size match your requirements, the Panasonic Viera TH-65D900U TV is a superb TV, and by underpricing the equivalent size of OLED, it may just be the best value high-performance television on the market today.
Panasonic Viera TH-65DX900U UHD television
+ Super picture performance...
+ ...including the black levels
+ Fine smart functionality
- No analogue audio output
- More icons on home page would be preferable
Display technology: LED-backlit LCD panel
Energy Rating label: 3 Stars, 763kWh per year
Tested with firmware: 4242-10000-01100-010108
Screen size: 163.9cm
Native resolution: 3840 x 2160
Brightness: 1000 nit (peak brightness)
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: 4 x 10W
Dimensions (whd): 1457 x 844 x 64mm (1457 x 888 x 332mm with stand)
Weight: 34.5 (42.5kg with stand)
Contact: Panasonic Australia
Telephone: 132 600