TV technology is on the cusp of taking two bold leaps forward, from 1080p to 4K as standard, and from LCD to OLED as the new norm. Panasonic’s Viera CX802 series straddles the line between both, being a 4K LCD. After a rocky 2014 which saw Panasonic’s usually-exemplary TV picture quality falter in some models, the TX-50CX802 is an absolute belter, being an LCD to rival both OLED and classic plasmas, with some Firefox OS wizardry thrown in, all at a competitive price to boot.
What Is It?
Panasonic’s top-of-the-line LCD TV for 2015, in its 50-inch guise (55 and 60-inch sizes are also available). It features a 4K resolution, the Firefox OS for TVs handling app duties, and will eventually support the long-awaited HDR content standard.
Who Is It For?
Cinemaphiles who want a future-proofed TV ready for HDR content. Those who long for the heady, lost days of plasma. Anyone that wants a great 4K telly at a reasonable price, with the TX-50CX802 hovering around the £1,300 mark.
Though reasonably thick at 211mm, the TX-50CX802 looks slick when viewed head on. A flat panel rather than a showy (and arguably pointless) curved display, its thin brushed bezel and slight lean-back stance make it seem as if the screen is just hovering on your TV stand. It’s a beauty.
That is, however, if you can get it to fit on your stand of choice in the first place. While the TV’s own foot stand is easy enough to screw onto the back of the panel, its design is very limiting as to where it can be placed. A semi-circular loop that stretches around the back ending in two prongs at either edge of the front of the screen, the weight distribution means that you’re going to need an AV unit at least as wide as the TV itself lest the screen topple over. In other words, unless you’ve got a stand wider than 112cm for the 50-inch screen, you’re going to need a bigger cabinet or consider wall mounting.
The TX-50CX802 is as full-featured a 4K TV as you could hope for.
First up - ports. Though only three HDMI ports are on offer (that’s relatively few by flagship standards) all three can take a 4K feed without issue, and support the new HDCP 2.2 4K security method that’s used to root out pirate sources – a good thing, as it could otherwise lead to compatibility problems further down the line.
Both LAN and Wi-Fi are built in (with WPS support for a pain-free wireless set-up), allowing you to take advantage of the connected features of the Firefox OS. There are also three USB slots (one USB 3.0) and an SD card reader, giving you plenty of options as to how to get your own video and photos onto the screen, as well as giving you enough ports to power a streaming stick like the Roku or Chromecast.
Twin tuners come built in (Freeview HD is the platform of choice here), allowing for some clever screen casting sharing to mobile devices, letting you watch a show on the telly while beaming another live programme to a tablet or phone. And, if you’ve hooked up a drive for storing recordings on, these can be accessed over the internet too.
In addition, the TX-50CX802 is due an update before the end of the year which will make it compatible with the HDR picture standard. Though we’ve not had the means to test it, it’s officially ‘THE NEXT BIG THING’ in picture quality, and is being raved about by Hollywood hotshots hoping to get their films looking just as they intended when viewed in our homes, with minimal need for picture setting adjustments. We’ll have to wait and see if the Panasonic screen’s support for HDR is up to scratch (brightness levels of the display may be a concern here), but you’re future proofed either way.
Two remote controls ship with the TV, a larger backlit remote with dedicated buttons for apps and Netflix, and a smaller, curvier “smart” remote. The smaller one features a trackpad for navigating apps more precisely (such as moving the cursor in the Firefox OS web browser), and has a microphone for accepting voice commands. Voice recognition works well, but is limited – don’t expect Amazon Fire TV-like understanding of obscure specific actors, for instance.
As we’ll get on to, 3D playback is also supported using an Active System, though glasses are sold separately. All in, it’s a comprehensive feature set.
It’s the picture quality where the TX-50CX802 really shines though. All the panel’s bells and whistles (direct LED lighting with local dimming, 4K Pro and 4K Studio Master Processing enhancing source image quality and colour accuracy) result in a genuinely stunning display. It’s no exaggeration to say this is up there with the best LCD screens I’ve ever seen. That’s an enviable position for Panasonic to be in despite attention shifting to OLED tech.
For starters, there are plenty of picture-tweaking options, and all have easily-identifiable onscreen results. Finding your personal sweet-spot on contrast and brightness is easy as a result, but even the presets are surprisingly good – if you’re viewing in a darkened room, the True Cinema preset is wonderfully rich.
Motion processing is subtle and attractive too. Intelligent Frame Creation (at least on its least aggressive setting) smooths out judder without resulting in that strangely-watery effect that similar settings on rival screens suffer from. It all looks very natural.
4K sources of course show the screen at its best, but sensible upscaling means even SD content doesn’t look too ghastly. Ramp up the pixels though and the screen comes alive, with pin sharp detail and vibrant colours. Where the TX-50CX802 impresses most though is with its black levels – we’re talking plasma-like handling of contrast, with a uniform backlight that ensures shadow detail is displayed properly. What may eventually be the screen’s weakspot will be its brightness levels – while solid, they’re not as impressive as those seen on current Samsung top models, which may lead to middling HDR results when it is eventually supported, seeing as it’s at its best when showing striking differences in luminance in dark and light portions of a shot. But it’s the sole, minor grumble in an otherwise astonishing picture.
By now you should know that a flatscreen TV will never compete with the rich sound a home cinema system or soundbar can deliver, but the Panasonic set tries hard isn’t too shabby without some external speaker back up. It’s a wide soundstage that hits high volumes without distorting, offering a dynamic spread between quieter and louder scenes thanks clear and powerful mid ranges. As you’d expect however, bass notes are weak and don’t gel well with the rest of the sound.
The Firefox OS on the TX-50CX802 is a welcome surprise. It’s a colourful, customisable menu system that feels similar to a smartphone OS with its app bubbles and big, easily navigated icons.
The home screen puts large app circles to the fore, which can be arranged and pinned to your liking, right down to your most-used input sources. Picture-in-picture views are possible if using the built-in Freeview HD tuner. Everything feels intuitive and familiar which, considering the platform’s family tree smartphone links, makes sense.
While its app store isn’t overflowing, the third-party ecosystem should allow more developers to jump on board over time than had Panasonic settled on a bespoke system. That said, all the major video players are present (Netflix, Amazon, iPlayer), though annoyingly the YouTube app isn’t 4K-ready at the moment.
- 3D viewing performance isn’t as in vogue as it once was, but Panasonic’s set does a great job here too. Using a powered Active System rather than the passive specs you get in the cinema, images are super-sharp and clear given the 4K split across your two eyes. There’s little crosstalk ghosting to speak of (the exception still being when subtitles are displayed), while the set’s deep contrast adds a dramatic sense of depth to proceedings. It’s strange then that Panasonic has chosen not to package in 3D specs which are now sold separately – but an understandable concession to keep the price down.
- The set I tested was quite noisy – and I don’t mean sounds coming from the speakers. There was a notable buzzing sound that came from the set, that seemed to grow louder dependant on the vibrancy of what was shown on screen. In fairness, it was inaudible at a comfortable viewing distance, but could annoy nonetheless. It’s worth noting that there was some superficial damage to the review sample I was sent which may point to it having been dropped or based, possibly accounting for the noise.
Should You Buy It?
Available at around the £1,300 mark, the TX-50CX802 is an absolute steal, offering the sort of performance and feature set you’d expect from a TV almost twice the price. That silly stand design aside, it’s hard to find fault with the TX-50CX802. It handles SD content as well as can be hoped, upscales 1080p admirably and looks lucious when displaying 4K shots. Firefox OS is an efficient and attractive interface to wrap everything up in, and even its 3D performance is stellar for those that still have an interest in it. While we’ll have to wait to see if the HDR visuals can hold their own here when up against OLED TVs better equipped to support it, the quality of what’s on offer here already is enough for me to give a wholehearted recommendation.