Panasonic's 2015 UHD TV line consists of nine new models across four series: CX600, CX650, CX800, and CX850. The lower-priced CX600 and CX650 are edge-lit LED/LCDs with no local dimming, while the CX800 is a direct-lit LED panel with local dimming to help improve black-level performance and screen uniformity. The top-shelf CX850 uses a full-array LED backlight with advanced Local Dimming Pro (more LEDs and more dimmable zones than the direct-lit design), and it's the only one in the new line to support HDR capability. Panasonic sent us the 60-inch TC-60CX800U, which currently sells for $2,199.99
Other features of the CX800 Series include a 120Hz refresh rate to reduce motion blur and film judder, a Super Bright Panel to improve light output, a wider color gamut, 3D capability, voice control, built-in Wi-Fi, and a completely redesigned smart TV platform built on the Firefox operating system.
Setup and Features
The CX800 has a straightforward aesthetic and form factor. There's about a half inch of bezel surrounding the screen, which is finished in brushed silver instead of black. I was very happy to see that Panasonic has gone back to a more traditional TV stand, instead of the ridiculously heavy ballast-like design of last year's AX800 Series. The brushed silver stand is a simple bar that's bent into thirds; it doesn't swivel but provides nice stability. Without the stand, the TV weighs 49.6 pounds and has a depth of 2.1 inches.
The connection panel includes three HDMI inputs, all of which are HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2. copy protection. Two are down-facing, while one is side-facing. Absent is the DisplayPort connection found on last year's AX800. Other connection options include an RF input, a shared component/composite input, optical digital and stereo analog audio outputs, three USB 3.0 ports for media playback (including UHD content) and the connection of peripherals like a keyboard (Bluetooth keyboards are also supported), an SD card slot, and an Ethernet port for a wired network connection. There's no RS-232 or IR port for integration into a more advanced control system.
In terms of advanced picture adjustments, the CX800 has all the important bases covered: multiple color-temperature presets with two- and 10-point white balance adjustment; a color management system that lets you adjust the hue, saturation, and luminance of red, green, and blue, as well as the hue and saturation of cyan, magenta, and yellow; two color gamuts (normal and native); multiple gamma presets, plus a 10-point gamma detail control; a 100-step adjustable backlight; noise reduction; and a game mode to optimize response time when playing video games. The CX800's local dimming is controlled by the Adaptive Backlight Control, with options for off, min, mid, and max. This TV lacks the Letterbox function found on the AX800, which darkens the top and bottom bars when watching 2.35:1 movies. Panasonic's de-blur/de-judder control is called Motion Picture Setting, and you can choose off, weak, mid, or strong to set the amount of smoothness (i.e., frame interpolation or Soap Opera Effect) you get with film sources. All of this TV's blur-reduction options employ smoothing technology; there's no option to use black-frame insertion, as you get with many Samsung, LG, and Sony models.
The CX800 uses passive 3D technology, and no glasses are included in the package. When viewing 3D content, you get a new set of picture modes in which most picture adjustments are still available. You can also adjust the 3D depth and do a left-right image swap. Panasonic did not send me any 3D glasses, but I did have a pair of LG's passive Cinema 3D glasses on hand, and they worked just fine. The major benefit of Ultra HD when it comes to 3D Blu-ray is that, when the passive technology splits the scene in two, you still get full HD resolution to each eye, so the horizontal line structure that can be quite obvious in a 1080p 3D TV is much less evident. That proved to be the case here. Diagonals still weren't as clean and crisp as they are on an active 3D set, but I could scarcely see the line structure at a normal viewing distance. Flicker and crosstalk are not really a concern with passive 3D...with one exception. If you view a passive 3D set from a low viewing angle--i.e., sitting on the floor and looking up at your TV--the passive image falls apart a bit, producing crosstalk and fuzzy edges. That proved true with the TC-60CX800U, as it does with most passive 3D TVs I've tested.
The TV has two down-firing 10-watt speakers. The sound menu includes three preset sound modes and a user mode with an eight-band equalizer. Generic surround, bass boost, volume leveler, and boundary compensation controls are available. Sound quality was respectable; the speakers have solid dynamic ability, and vocals were intelligible.
As with the AX800, the CX800 comes with two remote controls: the larger IR remote with the full button array and the smaller Touchpad remote that communicates via Bluetooth and features a scaled-down button array: volume, channel, home, menu, options, return, favorites, apps, color buttons, and directional arrows. The Touchpad remote also has a built-in microphone and accompanying button to activate it, in order to give voice commands like mute, volume up/down, power off, etc. Neither remote is backlit.
The CX800 is also compatible with Panasonic's TV Remote 2 control app for iOS and Android, which includes screens that replicate both the IR and Touchpad button layouts, as well as a virtual keyboard, the ability to Swipe & Share media content and Web pages, and a direct app launcher to quickly launch a desired smart TV app without having to pull up the TV's Home Screen.
Speaking of the Home Screen, Panasonic's new Firefox-based smart TV platform is a huge improvement over last year's Life+Screen offering. It's simply a lot cleaner and easier to navigate. The Home Screen pulls up three primary menu options: Live TV, Apps, and Devices (you can also "pin" other things to this screen--favorite apps or sources, for instance). The Devices list shows you all available sources--from the HDMI inputs to any connected USB/SD Card devices to any available DLNA servers. I had no playback issues with the media content stored on my Seagate NAS drive; loading times were much faster, and everything was much more stable than it has been with previous Panasonic TVs I've tested. The Apps page shows you all available streaming apps, like Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, VUDU, etc. The Apps Market allows you to browse and add apps. For streamed 4K content, the Panasonic platform currently supports Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube, but not M-GO or UltraFlix.
The Live TV page is the only weak link on the Home Screen because it takes you to the TV's internal tuner, even if you indicated during initial setup that you use a set-top box for TV watching. Plus, Panasonic doesn't provide the integrated set-top box control that you get from Samsung and LG's current smart TVs.
This year's smart TV platform also includes the Xumo content recommendation service, which pops up as a banner along the bottom of the screen every time you power up the TV (you can also press and hold the Home button to bring it up). Xumo provides lists of recommended and trending movies and TV shows that can be ordered through streaming services, and you can also search for a certain title. Right now, those streaming service seem limited to VUDU and CinemaNow, so it's not as comprehensive and helpful a list as we'd like it to be.
I always begin my review process by measuring the different picture modes as they come out of the box, to see which one will get you closest to reference standards with no adjustment required. In this case, it was the CX800's Cinema mode, which measured quite close to reference standards. The red/green/blue color balance was tight, with no emphasis on one color above the others. The average gamma was 2.42, and the total gray-scale Delta Error was 3.53 (anything under five is good; anything under three is considered imperceptible to the human eye). Likewise, the six color points were close to Rec 709 standards; cyan and magenta were the least accurate with Delta Errors of 3.5 and 3.7, respectively. (See the measurement charts on Page Two for more details.)
This level of accuracy is certainly good enough for the vast majority of consumers, but I did perform a calibration to see if I could obtain even better results for the more discerning videophile...and I could, although it took more effort than I expected. I was able to further tighten up the color balance and lower the gray-scale Delta Error to just 1.14, with an average gamma of 2.19. I was also able to improve the accuracy of all six colors, bringing all of them well below the DE3 target. The gamma adjustment proved to be the trickiest aspect of calibration, as functions like Adaptive Backlight and Contrast A.I dramatically affected the TV's gamma. The rule of thumb is to turn off these types of features during calibration; but, given the big discrepancies I was seeing in my measurements, I opted to leave the Adaptive Backlight set to maximum and use the 10-point gamma detail adjustment to dial in a nearly perfect 2.2, since that is how I planned to watch the TV in real-world demos. I'll discuss the Contrast A.I. control more in a second.
As we officially enter the UHD era, we will begin to see source content mastered with a higher bit depth and wider color gamut. I was unable to get confirmation from Panasonic as to whether this TV has an 8-bit or 10-bit panel. Panasonic claims that this TV can reproduce 90 percent of the Digital Cinema P3 color space. (Digital Cinema, or DCI, is the standard used in theatrical cinema and is wider than the current Rec 709 TV standard.) I measured the TV in its native color space, and the resulting charts are posted to the right: the top chart is the DCI P3 color space (the squares are the target points, and the circles are the TV's actual points), and the bottom chart is the official UHD Rec 2020 standard, which no TVs can reproduce yet. As you can see, the CX800 falls short of the P3 points, especially green. (Check out our article The Color's the Thing That Will Make 4K So Amazing for more information on this topic.)
The CX800's Super Bright Panel does allow it to produce a very bright image--brighter than last year's AX800 and AS650 that I reviewed. In the brightest but least accurate Vivid mode, this TV cranked out 137 foot-lamberts with a 100 percent full-white-screen test pattern. By default, the Cinema mode puts out approximately 40 ft-L, but it was also capable of over 130 ft-L at its maximum backlight setting. I adjusted the Cinema's mode light output to about 35 ft-L for a comfortable viewing experience in a dim to dark room (which is how I primarily watch TV); however, I also experimented with much brighter settings for daytime use, and this TV had brightness to spare. The reflective screen did a solid job of rejecting ambient light to preserve image contrast in a brighter environment, and it's worth noting that this LCD has a very good viewing angle; image brightness and saturation held up quite well at wide angles, compared with other LCDs I've tested.
A major challenge for an LCD TV this bright is to also produce a dark black level, which is crucial for overall image saturation--especially with film content in a dark room. With the Adaptive Backlight set to maximum, the TC-60CX800U served up a respectably deep black level in my demo scenes from Gravity, Flags of Our Fathers, and The Bourne Supremacy, and the screen's brightness uniformity was better than last year's AX800. There were no blatantly patchy spots of light causing significant clouding around the screen, and there was less bleed near the screen's edges, although I still saw some in the bars of 2.35:1 films. I did a lot of A/B comparisons with the new Samsung UN65JS8500, which is an edge-lit display with local dimming. Black-level performance was very close between the two, but I would give a slight advantage to the Panasonic in its ability to render darker-looking black areas. However, the Samsung's 2.35:1 bars consistently looked much darker, thanks to its Cinema Black function that dims the bars.
More so, the Samsung did a better job keeping bright elements bright within a dark scene. Although the Panasonic's black elements looked dark, the brighter elements were too dim (even though I had matched overall light output between the two TVs for my comparisons), which robbed the picture of overall contrast. Also, black detail was quite poor compared with the Samsung, even when the TV was calibrated to a 2.2 gamma across the board. I found that enabling the Contrast A.I function in the Pro Settings menu made a huge improvement in black detail and bright elements; unfortunately, it raised the overall black level in the process. You or your installer may need to experiment quite a bit with the Custom mode within the Contrast A.I. control to find the best combination of black level, gamma, and black detail.
In the processing arena, the CX800U served up a nice amount of detail with both HD and UHD signals. UHD test patterns from the new Digital Video Essentials UHD Version 0.9 revealed that the TV passes the full UHD resolution in the horizontal and vertical planes, although I saw a bit more noise in some of the patterns than I'd like. As for motion resolution, without Motion Picture Setting enabled, I still saw some lines in the moving HD720 area of the FPD Benchmark motion-resolution pattern, which is good for an LCD TV. All of the Motion Picture Setting options produce some degree of smoothing or Soap Opera Effect. The Weak mode is pretty subtle, but it also did very little to improve motion resolution in my test patterns. The Mid and Strong modes created much more obvious smoothing but also produced clean lines to HD1080. Since I don't like the smoothing effect, I left this function off.
To evaluate UHD picture quality, I used a combination of streamed content (via Amazon and YouTube) and downloaded content via the Sony FMP-X10 4K media player. When I first began my evaluation, neither the YouTube nor the Amazon app would load correctly; but, within a few days, Panasonic issued a firmware update for the TV that fixed the issue. After that, I had no trouble streaming UHD episodes of Mozart in the Jungle and Orphan Black via Amazon. Through YouTube, I ran some 4K resolution test patterns provided by Florian Frederich; in a head-to-head with the Samsung JS8500, the Samsung produced slightly sharper, cleaner lines in these patterns than the Panasonic did.
The CX800's strengths--its solid black level, excellent brightness, accurate color, and good detail--helped it perform well with UHD titles like Captain Phillips and the Sony FIFA 2014 World Cup through the Sony media player. At the 60-inch screen size, I don't think the added resolution of UHD makes that noticeable of a difference, but the content look good regardless.
Click over to Page Two for Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...