- Stunning SDR and often gorgeous HDR playback
- Excellent sound quality
- Eye-catching design
- Some backlight flaws with high-contrast HDR images
- The design could be divisive
- Limited effective viewing angle
- 58-inch LCD TV with edge LED lighting
- Local dimming
- Firefox TV OS
- Native 4K resolution
- HDR playback
- Manufacturer: Panasonic
WHAT IS THE PANASONIC TX-58DX802?
The 58-inch TX-58DX802 sits towards the top of Panasonic’s 2016 TV range, and is nothing if not different. Its 4K/UHD, HDR-capable screen is mounted in a seriously striking easel-type stand, and rather than trying to fit speakers into its slim frame, it ships with an external sound bar. All of which looks like a decent package for £1,600/$2,400. But how will it cope with the tough demands of today’s HDR world?
DESIGN AND FEATURES
The TX-58DX802 arrives in a box similar in size to the ones I saw back in the days of CRT TVs. Don’t worry, though: this isn’t because the unit is chunky. It’s because the screen arrives already hanging within a unique easel-type stand that attaches to roughly the centre of the TV’s left and right sides.
The distinct design is sure to divide opinion, but personally, I like it. I can even see it giving Panasonic a shot of attracting the sort of design-led buyer who might usually plump for a TV from Loewe or Bang & Olufsen.
Just bear in mind that the positioning of the legs to the extreme left and right edges of the screen means that you’ll need a wide base on which to place the TV – although you could potentially just put it on the floor.
The one part of the so-called “Art & Interior – Freestyle” design that I’m not entirely convinced by is the external speaker bar. It sits between the the TV’s easel legs, rather than being attached in some way, and therefore looks a little awkward. Note, too, that the TX-58DX802 can’t be removed from its stand and wall-mounted.
Connections on the TX-58DX802 are as you’d expect of a high-end TV in 2016. They include four HDMIs capable of handling external 4K and HDR (although not Dolby Vision HDR) sources up to 60 frames a second; a trio of USB ports for multimedia playback from USB storage devices (or for recording from the TV’s Freeview HD tuner to USB HDDs); and both Wi-Fi and Ethernet network options.
Online video apps include Netflix and Amazon in their 4K and HDR forms. A healthy collection of games and informational apps are available too. Panasonic’s Firefox TV OS offers fewer apps than the Android platform of some rival brands, but I think having hundreds of largely pointless apps just clutters up the experience.
The interface is one of the best around thanks to its combination of attractive graphics, logical structure and oodles of customisability. Spend a few minutes tinkering and you’ll have a smart TV experience that almost rivals LG’s game-changing webOS system.
The TX-58DX802 also carries Freeview Play, providing all the catch-up apps for the four main terrestrial broadcasters in the UK, as well as an electronic programme guide that lets you scroll back through time to find on-demand shows you’ve missed.
TX-58DX802 doesn’t meet all the requirements of the Ultra HD Premium standard defined by the Ultra HD Alliance, something that Samsung enjoys boasting about. That’s not necessarily a big deal: it is possible for a TV to deliver decent HDR performance without meeting every Ultra HD Premium requirement.
The screen mercifully ditches the IPS type of LCD panel that’s blighted the recently tested Panasonic TX-55DX600 and TX-55DX650. Its “4K Studio Master Pro” VA panel should deliver a much-improved contrast performance, despite the TV using edge LED lighting rather than a direct LED system. The panel is also designed to deliver far more brightness and a much wider colour range than typical LCD TVs.
Panasonic has a lot to say about the Studio Master HCX picture-processing engine, which works on every element of TV picture reproduction in a bid to deliver the most accurate results it can. A particularly promising element is the professional-grade “3D look-up table” colour-management system that Panasonic integrates into its top TVs. But contrast and shadow detail have also been areas of strength for Panasonic in recent times, so hopefully all of these strengths will show up in the TX-58DX802 as well.
Other notable features are the TX-58DX802’s support for 3D using the active system (although active-shutter 3D glasses aren’t provided with the TV), and the fact that it’s THX certified. This shows that it’s passed the stringent picture-quality demands of the independent THX image quality evaluation group – although note that this certification applies only to the TV’s SDR performance.
The TX-58DX802 breaks you in gently with an extremely straightforward installation procedure – and, as noted earlier, the Firefox OS is about as simple to use as is possible with a smart TV system.
It’s when you’re trying to achieve the best picture quality that the TX-58DX802 becomes a little more complicated to use. For instance, after much experimentation, it appears as though you have to use the TV’s Adaptive Backlight feature on its most powerful setting for HDR to stop the picture looking grey and washed out.
If you’re watching sports, I’d recommend setting the IFC motion processing feature to medium; for movies or TV shows, I’d suggest the minimum setting – or, potentially, turn it off altogether.
One final setting worth noting is the Dynamic Range Remaster feature Panasonic offers for providing a degree of HD uplift to SDR sources. Personally, I didn’t use this feature – in part because the TX-58DX802 looks superb with SDR in its native mode, and also because the DR Remaster mode struggles to keep colours looking perfectly balanced; it can also leave dark areas looking slightly dominant.
The TX-58DX802 delivers a marked uplift in picture quality from the TX-50DX750that sits one step down the range.
Colours, in particular, look absolutely beautiful for most of the time, with both HDR and SDR content. The wide colour gamuts we’re now routinely getting with HDR content are delivered with bags of impact. Crucially, the extra richness and dynamism of the colours is joined by some of the most impressively subtle tonal mapping and blend handling the HDR world has delivered to date.
I’d go as far as to say that the TX-58DX802 handles the difficult HDR colours and blends of The Martian and Deadpool more smoothly, subtly and naturally than any other HDR TV I’ve tested to date.
Predictably, the vibrancy and range of colour drops dramatically when you switch from HDR to SDR, but the key point is that the TX-58DX802 tracks the true colour attributes of SDR even more effectively than it does with HDR. That’s not meant to imply that SDR looks better than HDR – it doesn’t – but the TV’s wide colour gamut system and advanced colour processing essentially makes handling the relatively limited SDR picture world a piece of cake.
The TX-58DX802 also delivers impressively deep, accurate black colours with SDR content; some of the very best I’ve seen from an edge LED TV. It achieves this while retaining outstanding colour and greyscale detail in even the darkest areas. With HDR, though, the black level situation is more complicated.
The screen is capable of hitting the sort of black level depths HDR is designed to open up, despite also being able to deliver impressive amounts of HDR-friendly brightness. However, if a mostly dark scene includes some significant bright elements, the picture becomes affected by quite obvious blocks of extraneous light around the bright object.
Also, if a bright object takes up enough of a mostly dark picture, the impact of the extra light “pollution” can cause the overall colour tone of the image to become momentarily cooler.
These issues crop up only with quite extreme HDR content, where contrast is extreme. It’s also important to stress that aside from these occasional flaws, the set actually handles its backlight and shadow detailing extremely well with HDR – as I’d expect from a top-end Panasonic processing engine.
When it comes to sharpness, the TX-58DX802 puts its UHD resolution to good use. Panasonic’s typically outstanding handling of subtle colours and light tones gives 4K pictures a beautiful sense of texture and detail, as well as creating a cinematic feel complete with great sense of solidity and depth. With HDR, in particular, there are times when pictures look very much like real life.
There are rival screens that push sharpness a little further, but the Panasonic cannot be considered weak in this respect. The level of sharpness it achieves feels very natural, except for when some slight motion blur crops up. This blur isn’t excessive, though, and can be handled reasonably effectively by the lowest power setting of Panasonic’s Intelligent Frame Creation (IFC) system.
Video game fans will be pleased to hear that I measured just 34ms of input lag. This is a strong performance for a UHD TV, and means that you won’t be able to lay the blame for your gaming fails at the TV.
One final issue worth mentioning is that colour and black levels start to reduce if you watch the screen from an angle of more than around 30 degrees.
3D PICTURE QUALITY
Panasonic doesn’t provide any free 3D glasses with the TX-58DX802 – and none were provided for this review.
The speaker bar that’s such a startling part of the TX-58DX802’s design is described by Panasonic as “12 Train Prismatic Speaker” and “Quad Passive Radiator”. What this means is that it contains two tweeters, four mid-range drivers and six woofers. It can be run in standard or pseudo-surround modes.
The addition of the sound bar helps the TX-58DX802 to deliver the best sound performance I’ve heard from a 2016 TV so far. It’s particularly strong at outputting bass that’s far beyond the capability of the speakers built into typical mainstream flat-screen TVs. And the bass never sounds overbearing; in fact, the mid-range sounds consistently open and clean, no matter how heavy the bass beneath it.
Also strong is the sense of directness/attack of the forward-facing sound bar versus the usual rear-firing LCD TV sound. This gives explosions, gunfire and the like great impact.
Vocals are exceptionally clear and clean, too, and the soundstage expands far beyond the confines of the speaker’s chassis to create an immersive wall of sound.
On a few occasions I heard a strange, momentary crackle from the speaker, but this is such a small point it’s hardly worth mentioning.
SHOULD I BUY A PANASONIC TX-58DX802?
The TX-58DX802 has plenty going for it. Its design is unique and stylish, its external sound bar delivers the best audio I’ve heard from a TV so far in 2016, its standard definition pictures are gorgeous, and it benefits from an easy-to-use smart TV system. In addition, its HDR pictures, too, look lovely and natural – especially where colour tones are concerned – much of the time.
The only significant downside is that there are just enough issues with the backlighting during very high-contrast HDR scenes to remind me that edge LED will likely never be as effective for HDR as direct LED lighting. See our review of the Sony KD-75XD9405 for an example of an accomplished direct LED HDR TV.
With its striking design, seriously impressive sonics and mostly lovely UHD and HDR picture quality, the TX-58DX802 does more than enough to justify its £1,600/$2,400 asking price. In fact, it’s one of the most all-round appealing TVs 2016 has delivered so far.