Panasonic TX-65DX902B review
The future of TV is bright
This flagship Ultra HD premium 4K TV heralds a new era in image quality. It also boasts the best in catch-up and on-demand. Expensive… but exceptional.
- Astoundingly vibrant 4K HDR picture quality
- Firefox TV OS and Freeview Play
- HDCP 2.2 compatibility
- 4K Netflix and Amazon onboard
- Ultra Local Dimming suffers from backlight halos
- Standard def TV looks pretty awful
- Audio quality only just good enough
The Panasonic TX-65DX902B isn’t just another high-priced Ultra HD flatscreen – it effectively ushers in a whole new era of TV technology. This flagship 4K set is the first we’ve seen to be certified Ultra HD Premium, which in a nutshell that means it’s able to go really bright (over 1,000 nits), as well as offer a really wide colour range, when fed HDR (High Dynamic Range) content.
HDR, available on Ultra HD Blu-rays, is touted as the Next Big Thing in TV technology, but it’s far from easy to implement. The screen is also the first to be certified for 4K by THX.
The DX902 is available in 58-inch and 65-inch sizes; we’re reviewing the larger model here.
Design and connectivity
When it comes to style and design, the DX902 is ostensibly just another thin-bezel giant of a flatscreen. But a closer look reveals some nice attention to detail, courtesy of some Italian industrial design DNA. The pedestal feet are ranged close to each edge of the panel, and feature an arty engraved finish which creates a star-lighting effect. The outside wrap around the panel is similarly etched.
The screen tips the scales at a hefty 34.5kg. The stand, which counterweights behind the panel (and so sits largely out of sight) is also heavy. Rear connectivity (most hidden behind a pop-off cover) includes four HDMIs (one with ARC), all of which are HDCP 2.2 compliant.
There are also three USBs (one a fast v3 variant for HDD recording), plus legacy component and phono AV inputs. There’s no Scart. The set has an optical audio output, Ethernet and twin tuners for terrestrial Freeeview and satellite (Freesat). Wi-Fi is dual-band.
Included are two remotes, an IR zapper with nice textured finish, and a Bluetooth touchpad. Call me old school, but I found the IR zapper the easiest, most responsive controller to use. It has a dedicated Netflix button too.
Taming the Firefox smart platform
The setup routine for Firefox and Freeview Play is straightforward and relatively fast (compared to the Android TV OS). Much like LG’s webOS, Firefox is a delightfully simple Smart TV platform. The Home page launches with a trio of circular tabs – Live TV, Apps, Devices – which you can augment by ‘pinning’ other items.
Pretty much anything can be pinned. If you want a dedicated iPlayer button, pin it, or maybe an Amazon Instant Video shortcut is more useful? Kids can have their own content pins.
Click Devices and not only do you get source components connected locally to the set, but also all networked DLNA devices, media servers and Shares. This is also where you go if you want to mirror a smartphone or tablet. It’s all very (Quad Core Pro processor) fast and intuitive.
At present the Firefox UI is unchanged from last year, but there is a firmware update planned. The idea for this seems to be to enhance multiplatform use, with a ‘send to TV’ feature for users of Android smartphones and tablets.
File compatibility is good and navigation is sprightly. In seconds I had located my Plex and Twonky media servers, and fired up an MKV to watch.
Freeview Play is a long overdue upgrade for the terrestrial TV service. It features the usual programme grid and live TV window, but offers speedy access to iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, Demand 5 and the BBC news and sport apps.
Content applications are limited but cover the essentials. In addition to Netflix and Amazon (both of which offer 4K UHD support), there’s YouTube, Wuaki TV, Chili Cinema and Freesat Freetime, if your main TV feed is a satellite dish.
The DX902 delivers extraordinary images. At times, it produces some of the best images I’ve ever seen on a consumer display. But precisely what makes it great also results in some rather jarring effects.
At the heart of the DX902 is a new backlighting technique, dubbed Local Dimming Ultra. This screen isn’t edge-lit, but uses ‘in excess of’ 500 LED backlights divided by a honeycomb-structure. These 7×7 cluster zones are isolated, ostensibly to combat light leakage.
The aim is to evenly control light, giving intensity and deep blacks when required. It’s this approach that allows the set to earn its Ultra HD Premium stripes.
The technique works well enough, but on certain content, specifically night scenes, you can see a pronounced halo of light around bright objects. And you don’t need HDR programmes to see the effect (although it gets more pronounced the brighter the peak white). You can manage the halo effect via the Adaptive Backlight Control; it’s at its most pronounced on the Mid and Max settings.
There are a variety of viewing presets: Dynamic, Normal, Cinema, THX Cinema, THX Bright Room, True Cinema, Custom and Professional 1 and 2. For the bulk of this review I used the screen on its Normal setting, with some minor tweaks – it’s what most buyers would choose by default. A number of these presets overscan, and it’s worth digging down into the Screen Settings to switch this off.
Panasonic has gone to extraordinary lengths to offer performance that mirrors the visual characteristics of a professional studio mastering monitor. Renowned Hollywood colourist Mike Sowa (whose credits include Oblivion and The Divergent Series: Insurgent) even helped with the fine-tuning.
There’s no doubt that in its Cinema mode the DX902 is remarkably accurate when it comes to Rec709 mastered material. The problem, of course, is that Rec709 was created in the CRT era. Designed for dim displays with limited colour, the preset should only be used in a fully dark room, or else it simply looks flat.
There are two THX viewing modes: THX Cinema and THX Bright Room. In almost all normal viewing circumstances I found these similarly murky; neither THX setting is suitable for HDR viewing.
Welcome to the (HDR) future
The DX902 is compatible with HDR10 (that’s to say, 10-bit HDR), an open standard supported by UHD Blu-ray and others. Incoming HDR signals are tracked by the panel, to avoid clipping (loss of detail) in high brightness. By the way, don’t make the mistake of thinking the HDR we’re talking about here has anything to do with the HDR mode found on smartphones – the two are entirely different.
I ran some early HDR10 footage through the set, and was generally gobsmacked at how fab it looked. The Lego Movie, which is eye candy in HD, gains so much extra ping in HDR it’s astonishing. A chase sequence is all glinting headlights and vibrant plastic fiery flames. There’s a dynamism to the images which is revelatory. Finally, we can watch movie content in our home with the same colour grading as in the cinema.
The screen was actually certified by the UHD Alliance for its Premium branding in the Professional 1 mode. However, True Cinema and Normal can also be used for HDR. There are only slight differences between the Professional 1 and True Cinema modes, but I often found myself opting for the latter.
A scenic woodland vista, with sunlight filtering through the branches, looks utterly lifelike. However, a firework sequence reveals those telltale backlight blocks, and it looks awful. Indeed, the same sequence on a non-HDR edge-lit panel (Panasonic’s cheapie CX680 series) actually looks better.
Colour vibrancy is generally outstanding. Panasonic’s Wide Colour Phosphor panel outperforms rival Quantum Dot when it comes to DCI spectrum, covering some 98 percent, which bodes well for all those 4K Blu-rays you’re planning to buy.
It’s worth noting that with HDR content, the DX902 presets behave differently. In Normal, the set automatically boosts backlight and contrast to full, slams Rec 2020 Remaster into Max and puts Adaptive Backlight Control on Min. The result is dazzling, but in a good way.
In True Cinema, the Rec 2020 Colour Remaster is switched Off and Adaptive Backlight Control is set at Mid, more peaky but also more prone to halos.
Perhaps understandably, the screen looks decidedly ropey with standard def (it’s very big and ultra sharp, after all), but it also looks surprisingly ordinary with terrestrial HD too. Things improve dramatically with Blu-ray and Sky though. Something of an anomaly?
3D lives on… just
Motion control is ruthlessly effective. Intelligent Frame Creation, Panasonic’s long-standing interpolation processing, is available in three flavours as well as a new custom mode, which enables you to manually set Blur reduction and smoothing.
That latter mode is a welcome addition to the picture armoury; IFC, while useful, can be extremely intrusive. Generally speaking, IFC Min would be my default setting, or IFC Custom with Blur reduction set to 7 and Film Smooth set to 0, if I want a slightly more cinematic feel.
3D may have lost its flavour on the bed post overnight, but it’s available here in Active Shutter guise. There are no shuttering glasses supplied in the box though, so this went untested.
Sonically, the set does a good enough job. The downward-firing speakers enjoy pronounced stereo separation, and there’s enough welly in the telly for causal viewing. Obviously though, a screen of this calibre deserves to be used with a high-fidelity sound system – it’s only fair, so don’t skimp.
The Panasonic DX902 is a bona fide landmark TV. As the first Ultra HD Premium panel to hit our test bench, it sets a new benchmark for consumer imagery. HD upscaling is excellent, and its HDR performance is often joyous.
However, it also highlights just how difficult top-flight HDR is to deliver on a non-emissive (i.e. not OLED) screen. The honeycomb backlight is problematic, and while halos aren’t always visible, when they do crop up they stand out like a radioactive thumb. Of course, this foible has to be balanced against pictures which wow more than worry.
Some caveats then, but the Panasonic DX902 sets the standard against which all other high-end sets will be judged this year.
The TX-65DX902B is 4K TV on steroids. Uncannily bright, with astonishing colour fidelity, it’ll convince you that HDR really is a quantum leap in image quality. It’s also a great screen to live with, thanks to the Firefox Smart platform. Having HDCP 2.2 support on all four HDMI inputs is a future-proofing boon, too.
Panasonic’s Honeycomb local dimming technology may be clever, but it doesn’t stop this set’s full array backlight from creating horrible halos around bright objects on dark backgrounds. This is the irksome price you pay for those gorgeous peak highlights.
The first Ultra HD Premium-rated TV to land in the UK is a real head-turner. We love the vibrancy of its images, and with native HDR the picture performance borders on breathtaking. The full array backlight presents problems, but we reckon the visual benefits probably outweigh content-specific backlighting issues.
Having Netflix and Amazon 4K on tap is a major plus point, and more good news is that it can also look pretty great with Full HD content, particularly Blu-ray. The future of TV is looking bright.