The TV industry has been riding a wave of progression for the last year or so: 4K has begun to dominate TV ranges and shop floors, Ultra HD Premium certification is finally ‘a thing’ and already HDR (High Dynamic Range) is no longer only exclusive to flagship models but filtering down to lower ranges too.
As an example of the latter, Panasonic has four new ranges – no less than ten tellies – with 4K and HDR support this year, and this 50in TX-50DX700B belongs to the entry-level one, along with 40in and 58in versions.
Build and design
The TX-50DX700B is without the Studio Master HCX processor, enhanced speaker system, and THX and UHD Premium certification that litter the spec sheets of the higher ranges.
But for £1000, it doesn’t leave you feeling hard done by – unless 3D is a must, as it’s a no-show here. Instead, you get a 4K panel that supports HDR, meaning it is Ultra HD Blu-ray-ready, and an all-encompassing Firefox OS smart experience (more on that later).
Panasonic is also highlighting the range’s ‘Switch Design’: an adjustable stand design where the two feet can be fixed near either end of the screen or, to accommodate narrower stands, more centrally a couple of feet apart. Sony had a similar feature on its TVs a year or two ago.
Pointing ever so slightly inwards, they do look like they’d belong to a bashful bird on a rather awkward perch, but at least Pana is thinking about practicalities.
There’s probably more silver in the TX-50DX700B than in Barcelona's trophy cabinet right now; the silver feet meet a silver half finger-width bezel – even the remote is silver.
It’s very tasteful, and while it’s clear Panasonic hasn’t put the TX-50DX700B’s frame through the toughest weight loss regime – it’s thicker than some of the latest sets we’ve seen from Sony and LG – it’s still a pretty slim, streamline design and not the least bit cumbersome.
Lifting off a plastic shield on the textured back panel uncovers a plethora of connections, including three HDMI inputs (two are 2.0 spec’d for use with 4K Blu-ray players, one of which is also ARC-compatible); three USB inputs (one meets the 3.0 standard); and an optical output for hooking it up to, say, a soundbar.
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You can get online via Ethernet cable or, if you don’t want wires trailing from your router, wi-fi. That unlocks the Panasonic’s royal flush of smarts, namely Freeview Play, which in one neat hub offers BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5 catch-up services as well as seven-day scroll back TV guide, similar to YouView.
An app market lets you download apps to your heart’s content too, so even with the lifetime of TV content available, you’ll never be stuck for entertainment.
Panasonic continues its collaboration with Mozilla Firefox OS for another year – while the open platform is no more in smartphones, it very much lives on in the TV. We’re pleased that Panasonic has stuck to last year’s guns, as it remains one of the more intuitive, foolproof systems we’ve come across.
Three ‘decks’ (Live TV, Apps and Devices) simply make up the home screen, and any app, webpage or piece of content – Netflix, Google’s homepage or BBC One HD, for example – can be pinned to it for easy access. Shortcut heaven.
A shortcut button on the remote opens up Netflix and we give the martial arts sequel Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (in 4K) a whirl. It’s hard to say which strikes us first: the Panasonic’s impressively sharp, spanking clean picture, or the film’s dizzying inadequacy. But we’ll concentrate on the former.
We are now much more accustomed to how good 4K content looks than we were 12, or even six, months ago, but still it shouldn’t be taken for granted – especially on a TV as good as this.
The Panasonic uses the sharpest tool in its shed to etch the edges of swords and brickwork of temples, with a combination of sharpness and precision giving you pleasing insight into splintering shards of ice and snow as they fly slowly towards the camera.
There’s a pleasingly enthusiastic palette to enjoy; opulent samurai clothing and colourful oriental upholstery are rich and deep, but mostly faithfully so.
Contrast is good too, the Panasonic diving deeper into blacks than the film’s director does into slow-mo effects (and that’s saying something). It surfaces decent detail in dimly lit scenes too, so you’re never left in the dark, and as night falls, campfires punch through the darkness.
Courtyard swordplay scenes are smooth and stable too, even if the TX-50DX700B needs a slight helping hand from motion processing modes in its picture settings.
We’d like better layering and depth perception when it comes to the surreal landscapes though, and we’ve seen similarly-priced sets better distinguish foreground and background detail; fighters against a forest backdrop and Chinese lanterns floating down a river, for example.
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And what about HDR, you say? Right now, there are three ways to watch 4K material in HDR: via Ultra HD Blu-rays or Netflix or Amazon – although the TX-50DX700 isn’t yet compatible with the latter’s HDR content, which, if you aren’t committing yourself to the physical format anytime soon, accounts for most of what’s available at the moment.
Panasonic says support is en-route via an imminent firmware update, but it’s something to bear in mind if you’re shopping for a new telly right now.
Season one of Marco Polo is one of the few ways to enjoy HDR material on Netflix, and on the Panasonic an ‘HDR’ logo appears on the app’s interface, indicating the TV’s compatibility.
On a non-HDR set, this logo is absent. While the Pana’s rich hues and meticulous insight makes for a compelling watch, the overall picture isn’t perhaps as impressive as we hoped; gold armoury isn’t as resplendent and costumes not as intricately shaded as we expect them to be.
HD and SD performance
The Panasonic’s rich colour palette reveals itself again as we play Blu-ray of American Hustle, in everything from Christian Bale’s mahogany velvet jacket to Amy Adam’s ginger hair.
It’s a crisp picture that fills the Panasonic’s screen real estate with sharp, well-etched lines and fine insight. Would a bystander walk past and think the TV is upscaling as much as it is? Doubtful.
Escape To The Country in standard-definition is our last port of call, and while lines become notably softer, it’s a good upscaling performance in general.
Colours remain solid –countryside greens are as bold as red brick buildings – and in terms of definition and detail it’s watchable.
It’s worth fighting for centre spot on the sofa with the TX-50DX700B, though, as off-axis the picture looks noticeably more washed out, with edges not as defined and colours not as deep as they are when looking head on.
We find that the screen’s glassy (as opposed to matte) quality is fairly reflective to, so while you may like the idea of sharing a frame with This Morning’s Holly Willoughby, just know that it can be distracting in well-lit rooms.
The Panasonic’s sonic balance and body, perhaps something to do with its reasonable physique, is pleasantly surprising, and means we aren’t left wincing during sword contact and broken windows.
All we would say is that in a medium-to-large room you’ll need 75 per cent of the Panasonic’s volume capacity; thankfully it doesn’t sound like it’s overexerting itself when pushed up that high.
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4K, HDR, UHD Premium… the implementation of these superior picture technologies, formats and standards have certainly caused a bit of hoo-ha, with some uncertainty surrounding their definition and packaging.
But now the dust is finally settling on this ‘new era of TV’, it seems we’ve come out at the other side with well-specc’d, future-proofed tellies, at decent prices, ready to make the most of the new and exciting content that’s now emerging.
The Panasonic TX-50DX700B is one of them and, despite making us sit tight for support for Amazon’s HDR material, puts Panasonic’s entry-level range off to a solid start.
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