Most TV brands dedicate their energy into shouting as loudly as possible about their flagship sets. That’s understandable, of course, as those sets represent the pinnacle of what those brands are capable of. Meanwhile, the more affordable, mainstream models tend to be launched with all the fanfare of a Tiddlywinks tournament.
That’s why it’s refreshing that Panasonic has given us a pre-launch look at its GX800 – at an event dedicated entirely to the model, at Dolby in Soho, no less.
Rarer still is the addition of HDR10+: Panasonic is the only brand so far to launch TVs that support the competing, dynamic metadata-sporting Dolby Vision and HDR10+ formats, and it’s doing so on models at the most affordable end of its range.
In fact, Panasonic (and other TV brands) say that HDR formats with dynamic metadata are of more use to lower-end sets than they are flagship models, as they tailor the image to the capabilities of the specific set.
But could the GX800 really be the new budget TV benchmark? After our hands-on session, all we can say is that it definitely could be.
Features and design
The GX800 will be available in four sizes: 40in (TX-40GX800B), 50in (TX-50GX800B), 58in (TX-58GX800B) and 65in (TX-65GX800B). You’ll also find a GX820 available in the same sizes: this appears to be identical to the GX800 in specification, but is exclusive to Currys. Panasonic hasn't yet confirmed if there’s anything besides retailer availability to separate the two models.
Whichever version you buy, you get a 4K, LCD set with an edge-LED backlight. Going with edge-backlighting rather than a direct, full-array system has consequences in terms of contrast, but it does also allow the set to be pleasingly slim. We’re not talking OLED levels of razor-thinness, but it’s not far off.
The design is otherwise typical Panasonic; clean and fuss-free. Some might find the utilitarian aesthetic disappointing, but Panasonic has long been determined to let the performance do the talking, and who are we to argue with that?
'Utilitarian' is a word that can also be applied to Panasonic’s TV operating system, called My Home Screen. The GX800 gets the 4.0 version and, while we haven’t yet been given the chance to see it up close, we aren't expecting a major departure from the bold, easy-to-operate but flourish-free experience of previous versions.
On top of Dolby Vision and HDR10+ compatibility, the GX800 supports standard HDR10 and HLG, giving it the full suite of current HDR formats. Amazon Video, which is the first streaming service to feature content in HDR10+ and Dolby Vision, will prioritise Dolby Vision on a TV that supports both, such as the GX800. There is apparently no way to override this in the TV’s settings.
Netflix is also on board in 4K and with Dolby Vision HDR (where available), and Panasonic’s inclusion of all UK core catch-up apps (BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5) is expected to continue through 2019. A good pay-as-you-go movie streaming service is all that was missing last year. Unfortunately, it looks as though that might still be the case.
With the event taking place at Dolby’s offices in London, it was no surprise that Panasonic’s GX800 demonstrations had something of a Dolby slant.
First up was a comparison between HDR10 and Dolby Vision, with two 58in GX800s side-by-side. The difference was pronounced, with a good deal more detail and colour nuance in the skies and skin tones of the Dolby Vision version of Wonder Woman. There are improvements to contrast, colour, and detail in the brightest and darkest parts of the picture. It’s not exactly transformative, but it is noticeable and worthwhile – Dolby Vision at the lower-end certainly looks as good as suggested.
Beyond the differences between HDR10 and Dolby Vision, the GX800’s picture looks worth the money. Predictably, for an edge-lit TV, absolute black depth is limited, with the bars top and bottom appearing dark grey rather than black. The backlight appears to be consistent, with no obvious blooming during our demo.
It’s a detailed delivery, too, and with a realism to colours that many TVs, particularly those at the more affordable end of the spectrum, fail to master. While we had no control over the content, we didn't ever get the sense that we were watching anything inauthentic or overblown.
Dolby was also the focus of the sound demo, with Panasonic trumpeting its performance over standard stereo. Needless to say, the GX800 sounded significantly better in Dolby Atmos, with richness, spaciousness and detail taking significant steps forward.
The performance is decidedly bass-light, with the GX800 struggling to generate much excitement thanks to a relative lack of dynamics. That said, the venue wasn't ideal for an audio test, and our expectation is that the Panasonic GX800 will sound neither significantly worse or significantly better than rival TVs at a similar price.
It’s difficult to form a complete opinion on the back of a demo session, but two things are clear from our brief introduction to the GX800. Firstly; it’s not up there with 2019’s flagship sets in terms of picture, sound or design. And secondly; it’s not supposed to be.
The 65in version of the GX800 is nearly £2000 cheaper than the equivalent LG C9 OLED and almost £2500 cheaper than a 65in Samsung Q90R, and is obviously less capable as a result. For the money, though, it looks very good indeed and has the broad format support that even those premium rivals lack.
Our full review will be coming shortly, but should you be excited about the GX800? We think you should.