Dark blacks, amazing colour and plenty of detail from the 4K AX902
For years we recommended Panasonic plasma TVs as the pinnacle of quality, but then the inevitable happened: the company couldn’t turn a profit from them and ceased production. Bowing out of the market with the exceptional ZT65 in 2013, we wondered if 2014 could hold anything as good.
It looks as though Panasonic has managed to do what we thought was impossible, and produce an LCD set that’s on a par, if not better than plasma, with the AX902.
As LCD TVs have a permanent backlight, one of the issues with them is that blacks can appear dark grey. Backlight dimming can help, reducing the backlight power for darker scenes to bring out the blacks, but most systems only allow for picture-wide changes. This is no good if, for example, you have a scene with bright and dark spots in them.
The solution is LED local dimming, where the back light is set up behind the screen as an array of controllable zones: you can turn down the brightness on one part of the image and up on another.
With the AX902, Panasonic has gone one step further, completely revamping and improving upon existing systems. The full-array system used gives fine backlight control and monitors the input using 5×5 matrices of local dimming fields. This, we’re told, removes the problem with traditional 3×3 systems, which produce a halo effect around bright-moving objects.
Colour is also extremely important, so Panasonic’s Hollywood Labs were involved in improving the colour calibration options on the set, giving a professional-level of control. As Panasonic puts it, with the AX902, you get the colours that the director intended.
An issue with colour calibration, and TVs in general, is that you configure them using the current ambient light. As the light in the room changes during the day, so does the image that you see. With the AX902, an ambient light sensor is used to monitor and adjust the image on the fly. We’ve not seen this in action yet, but if it works as intended, it’s an amazing feature.
We’ve seen the TV in action, in a dark room sat next to the ZT-65 plasma TV and we have to say that the results are impressive. To be fair, the ZT-65 marginally has the advantage in black levels, but it’s a close run thing; however, the AX902 more than makes up for this with increased detail due to its 4K panel, better colour reproduction and, generally, a sharper image.
On top of that the TV has a quad-core processor, a 3000Hz panel, two Freeview Tuners, two Freesat Tuners, 4K Netflix support (Amazon Prime Instant Video UHD support is coming) and the ability to stream live TV to a tablet or smartphone anywhere in the world. As with other recent Panasonic TVs, the AX902 uses Freesat Freetime to give you an EPG that lets you step backwards in time and watch programmes via the main catch-up TV services (BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5).
The AX902 will go on sale in late October and will be available in 55in and 65in screen sizes. We don’t have pricing information at the moment, but will bring you that, more information and a full review as soon as we can.