The AX800 Series is Panasonic's current top-shelf LED/LCD line, although that honor will soon transfer to the new AX900 Series. Both series offer a 4K Ultra HD resolution and a host of advanced features; whereas the AX800 uses edge LED lighting with local dimming, the AX900 will employ a full-array LED backlight with the company's most advanced local dimming technology. Panasonic sent me a sample of the 65-inch TC-65AX800U, which currently retails for $2,799.99. A 58-inch model is also available for $1,999.99.
In addition to its 4K resolution and edge LED lighting, the TC-65AX800U sports THX 4K certification, 2400 BLS (backlight scanning) to reduce motion blur and film judder, active 3D capability, the company's Touchpad remote with voice control, and the Life+Screen Web platform with built-in WiFi. Let's dig in and see what this guy can do.
Setup and Features
When the TC-65AX800U showed up on my doorstep and my husband and I tried to move it down to the theater room, I was shocked at how heavy the box was. I felt like I was moving an old-school 65-inch plasma, not an edge-lit LED. The gross weight of the package was 158.8 pounds! Upon unpacking the box and picking up the TV stand, I discovered where all the extra weight was to be found. The 65-inch panel weighs about 90 pounds; the included stand weighs 40 pounds. That's because it's not a traditional stand design in which the TV is essentially placed on top of the stand; instead, the TC-65AX800U panel attaches to the front of this giant block of heavy plastic (which is about a 14-inch square), and the stand works like a ballast to keep the panel upright and stable. Along the bottom of the TV panel is a U-shaped silver frame that elevates the screen about two inches above the tabletop, and the stand design also causes the TV screen to tilt back ever so slightly. The screen itself is surrounded by about a half inch of black bezel, and the TV features two tiny front-firing speakers and a rear-firing woofer.
The connection panel includes four HDMI inputs, but only one of them is an HDMI 2.0 input with support for 4K/60 input and HDCP 2.2. copy protection. That HDMI input is located on the back panel, while the three HDMI 1.4 inputs run along the side panel. Thankfully, ARC is included on the HDMI 2.0 input and one of the HDMI 1.4 inputs. Panasonic also includes a DisplayPort connection for 4K/60 content. Other connection options include an RF input, a shared component/composite input, optical digital and stereo analog audio outputs, three USB ports for media playback and peripherals like a Web Camera, an SD card slot, and an Ethernet port for a wired network connection. There's no RS-232 or IR ports for easier integration into an advanced control system.
As you would expect from a top-shelf TV, the TC-65AX800U offers the full arsenal of advanced picture adjustments, beginning with 10 picture modes--including THX Cinema and THX Bright Room modes, plus two Professional (isfccc) modes. Advanced picture adjustments include: multiple color-temperature presents with two- and 10-point white balance adjustment; a full color management system to adjust the hue, saturation, and luminance of all six colors; four color gamut options (Native, Rec 709, SMPTE-C, and EBU); nine gamma presets (1.8 to 2.6), 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. In the two THX picture modes, you cannot access the Pro menu where the advanced white balance, gamma, and color gamut options reside. The TV's local dimming is controlled by the Adaptive Backlight Control, with options for off, min, mid, and max. You can also enable a Letterbox function that is designed to further darken the top and bottom bars when watching 2.35:1 movies on this 16:9 screen. 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. This TV does not include a blur-reduction option that does not employ frame interpolation.
Unlike the AS650U we recently reviewed that had passive 3D capability, this TV uses active 3D technology, and Panasonic supplies two pairs of lightweight active shutter glasses. You can configure separate picture modes for 3D content and employ 3D depth adjustments, left/right swaps, and diagonal line filtering. You can also choose between three different 3D refresh rates: 96 Hz, 100 Hz, and 120Hz (default).
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, as is a Digital Remaster control designed to compensate for compressed audio to produce a better listening experience. The quality of the small speakers is, not surprisingly, a bit lean and hollow-sounding in the vocals. It'll get the job done, but we recommend you at least consider adding a soundbar or 2.1-channel system to help flesh out the audio.
The TC-65AX800U comes with two remote controls: the standard Panasonic IR remote with lots of buttons and the smaller Touchpad remote that communicates via Bluetooth and has just 10 buttons around a large touchpad. Both models put black buttons on a black case and lack backlighting. One of the 10 buttons on the Touchpad remote enables the remote's built-in microphone that allows you to search for content within the smart TV service, as well as control basic TV tasks like mute, channel, volume, and input selection.
Panasonic also offers a free iOS/Android control app, called Panasonic TV Remote 2. The app screens replicate the IR and Touchpad remote layouts, and a virtual keyboard allows for faster text entry during Web browsing and some (but not all) apps. You can Swipe & Share media content and Web pages directly from your mobile device, and the TC-65AX800U also supports screen mirroring with compatible mobile devices.
Panasonic has completely revamped its Web platform for 2014, replacing the Viera Connect system with the new Life+ Screen service that offers more personalization and customization than its predecessor. I recently did a full write-up on Life+Screen as it appears in the TC-55AS650U, and the functionality should be the same in the AX800. You can get all the details here.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...