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Panasonic Viera TX-55AX902B review

Katharine Byrne
27 Mar 2015
Expert Reviews Recommended Logo
Panasonic AX902 header
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,999
inc VAT for 55in model

Fantastic image quality and unbeatable LCD black levels make the Panasonic TX-55AX902 one of the best 4K TVs yet

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Specifications

Screen size: 55in, Native resolution: 3,840x2,160, Video inputs: 4x HDMI, SCART, component, SDXC card reader, Tuner: Freeview HD, Freesat HD, Dimensions: 741x1,238x283mm

It's fair to say that Panasonic's TX-50AX802 UHD TV had its fair share of stumbling blocks last year. It launched without 4K Netflix, still one of only a few ways of watching anything in 4K, and customers had to wait almost six months before a firmware update added it. By then, Panasonic was already readying its successor, the TX-55AX902 reviewed here.

Thankfully, the AX902 rectifies all of its predecessor’s missteps, as it comes with 4K Netflix and Amazon Instant Video support straight out of the box. It also retains the AX802's elegant yet rather monolithic design, weighing a massive 26kg – and that's not including the huge 14kg stand that props it up from behind.

For this review we tested the 55in model in the AX902B range, but it's also available in a 65in (TX-65AX902B) screen size.  Both models have identical specifications except for their dimensions and power usage. We're confident that image quality will be practically identical across the range.

You'll need a hefty stand or sturdy wall to mount it on, then, but the AX902 produces a truly stunning picture. It's the first Panasonic 4K TV we've seen to come with a direct LED backlight and full-array local dimming, which allow it to produce deeper blacks, better areas of contrast and a more uniform picture across the screen. It does this by analysing the video input across 128 local dimming zones and using 5x5 matrices instead of the usual 3x3 system, allowing it to fine-tune the brightness level on the fly without introducing any unwanted halo effects around brighter moving objects.

Panasonic TX-55AX902 front

IMAGE QUALITY

It certainly made a big impact on our Blu-ray test footage, with distant stars looking pin sharp during Star Trek’s fast camera pans, and we didn't see any patches of light start to creep in during darker scenes. Likewise, black levels were easily the best we've seen from any LCD set in recent months, and we were repeatedly amazed that we weren’t looking at an OLED panel. Admittedly, our post-calibration reading of 0.25cd/m2 would beg to differ, but to our eyes, the AX902's black levels are about as deep as they come for an LCD, which will be good news for anyone mourning the loss of plasma.

Contrast was also impressive, as enabling the Contrast Control settings in the advanced menu made a huge difference to the level of detail present onscreen. On Auto, dark areas of shadow were given a significant boost compared to when we turned it off, but you can also customise the setting yourself using the adaptive gamma control, black expander and clear white effect options. Panasonic's adaptive backlight control and ambient light sensor also do a great job of adjusting the panel's brightness to suit your surroundings, so you don't have to sit in total darkness to get the best picture.

As we've come to expect from Panasonic's TVs, the AX902's colour accuracy was high, although not before we'd sat down to tinker with the settings. Straight out of the box, for example, using the Normal picture mode, our colour calibrator measured that it was only showing 77.3% of the sRGB colour gamut. Once we'd changed the picture mode to Professional 1, changed the colour temperature to Normal and tweaked the white balance settings (to R-Gain +6, G-Gain +4 and B-Gain -5), we achieved a much more respectable 98.4%, putting it right up there with last year's AX802. 

Admittedly, Panasonic's menu settings could be more intuitive to use, as its giant list of options can often become rather unwieldy. Still, you’re spoiled for choice, as there are eight picture modes, basic backlight, brightness, contrast, colour, tint, sharpness and colour temperature options, and several more advanced settings. These include colour gamut options, gamma controls and a full colour management system where you can control the hue, saturation and luminance for RGB and CMY.

Panasonic’s 24p Smooth Film can help adjust the frame rate to make 24p films appear smoother, but we rarely felt the need to turn it on thanks to the AX902’s superb image processing. Motion was handled extremely well during our Star Trek test scenes, and there were hardly any signs of judder at all. 

Naturally, our 4K demo clips looked stunning on the AX902, but it also upscaled 1080p content extremely effectively. Blu-rays looked surprisingly sharp, but we’d recommend leaving the 1080p Fire Direct and 1080p Pixel by 4pixels options turned off as this made everything look very jagged and pixelated, particularly if there was any text onscreen.

Lower resolution content like standard definition TV broadcasts were also much crisper than other TVs we’ve tested recently. Text and clothing textures could be a little soft and fuzzy in standard definition TV, but this is to be expected. There are also noise reduction, MPEG and resolution re-master settings on hand to help eliminate any leftover patches of noise, although this too was kept to a minimum across both SD and HD channels. 

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