DX900 is Panasonic’s LCD flagship for 2016. Last year, Panasonic decided to skip its 9 series LCD and release its first OLED TV as its 9 series model instead. The OLED will stay around so consider DX900 a LCD flagship to expand the line-up. DX900 is also the first TV to get "UHD Premium" certification, which mostly refers to HDR (high dynamic range) performance. Panasonic has equipped DX900 with a full-array local dimming (FALD) system for optimal zone light control. The Japanese manufacturer will also continue to use Firefox as its operating system.
DX900 is a powerhouse but has Panasonic really created the best LCD to date? And more importantly, can it compete with OLED for the crown? Given the current market landscape, how long can high-end LCDs continue to stay relevant? We will examine that and more in our comprehensive DX900 review.
Price and retailer:
VA type LCD FALD (512 zones)
Ultra HD (3840x2160) HDR (High Dynamic range) DCI-P3 color gamut UHD Premium certified
Panasonic DX900 is not an extravagant TV. It is well built with a metal frame and falls in line with the minimalistic trend in TV design but unlike LG’s high-end OLEDs it is quite thick. At first glance the uninitiated spectator would probably be hard pressed to identify it as a top-of-the-line TV.
The thickness comes from the use of a full-array local dimming system – also known as FALD. This system is what makes high-end picture quality possible. The most unique element of the TV design is probably the stand. The metal base provides a solid foundation and only the two polished rectangular feet are visible to the viewer. Behind the TV lies a big, heavy bar that supports the TV’s weight. As you can see the TV tilts slightly.
To us DX900 is an aesthetically pleasing TV but not a stunner. We generally like the understated design but friends and family might not recognize it as a flagship TV.
Input and output ports are hidden behind a detachable plastic panel. All connections, except some analog video ports, face down or to the side. We can forgive this but struggle to understand why manufacturer continue to integrate analog ports in 4K/HDR TVs.
DX900 is not completely quiet. There are fans that give off an audible hum. The full-array local dimming system clearly generates heat.
User experience & features
Last year, Panasonic partnered with Mozilla to integrate the Firefox operating system in all of its TVs. In the meantime Mozilla has given up on its quest to build a mobile operating system but the company says that it will stay committed to its TV operating system, which also means that Panasonic will continue to use Firefox OS – as the only TV manufacturer. Firefox OS will reach version 2.0 later this year through a free update but for now Panasonic’s 2016 TVs are shipping with version 1.0. In other words, not much new to see.
Here is a short introduction to Firefox OS 2.0 that will be released for Panasonic’s 2016 TVs later this year.
"Firefox OS feels like a dead end"
Operating system & smart TV
Last year, we praised Firefox OS for its simple approach to TV. Firefox OS is based in the principle of "pins", meaning that you can pin almost everything to the start screen. You can pin Netflix, YouTube, a specific TV channel that you like or something else.
Whenever you want to start watching Netflix you just press a button on the remote to call up the home screen and select Netflix. Firefox OS treats apps, TV channels and input ports (for example HDMI) as equal citizens, which is nice.
But let us be honest here. Firefox OS is in many ways limited and after one year on the market we cannot ignore the fact that it feels too light to compete with the big boys. Version 2.0 will bring "web apps" to Panasonic’s TVs along with a "mobile-to-TV" function (like Google Cast and Airplay) but we do not expect dramatic change.
We cannot shake off the feeling that unless something dramatic happens with version 2.0 it might be time for Panasonic to reconsider Mozilla as a partner. That may sound harsh but developers have spoken and Firefox OS does not have developers’ support after one year in the wild. Today, an operating system stands and falls at the mercy of third-party developers.
Firefox OS is certainly easy to understand and works as intended. It would be a pity to see it go because it avoids much of the complexity that other TV operating systems suffer from. However, Firefox OS also feels like a "layer" in that sense that it has not been deeply integrated into Panasonic’s TVs.
In fact, all TV menus and the entire channel platform continue to run on Panasonic’s in-house system, which looks like something from the 90’s.
That is not to say that Google’s Android TV is a perfect operating system. In its first year it felt like a rushed job and it gave many owners headaches. It was full of bugs that Google has spent over a year to fix. But at least it has potential and developer support. We cannot ignore other operating systems such as Apple’s tvOS either. The landscape is changing rapidly and Firefox OS simply does not have traction.
Remote control and operation
Panasonic has included two remotes in the box. There is a small remote for those who can do without the 1-9 channels buttons. The small remote has a plastic back with an aluminum cover on top. The buttons and the touchpad are made from a rubber-like material.
The large remote is a premium version of Panasonic’s classic remote. It follows the old adage of one button per function and if you like that it does the job well. It uses two infrared beamers to command the TV, unlike the small remote which is bluetooth based. It obviously follows that you need to point the remote at the TV to control it.
The large remote has a nice premium feel. The top cover and all buttons are made from aluminum and the back is made from plastic. As you can see, it also has a red Netflix button that takes you directly into the Netflix app.
Panasonic also has a “TV Remote 2” app available for smartphones. It will let you control the TV using a mirrored button layout. It is a strange duck, considering that an app would allow Panasonic to totally rethink TV operation for a touch screen that can be anything. The best feature of the app is probably the app launcher, which allows you to open apps on the TV, including Netflix and YouTube. There is also a keyboard feature that allows you to input text but it is designed in such a way that it works only for system-level features, not apps. In practice this means that you cannot use it to log into Netflix or use it to search for videos on YouTube. Which makes it kind of useless.
Lastly, there is a limited form of Google Cast functionality built in. Or to be accurate; DIAL which is the platform that Chromecast was built on before Google created a more sophisticated platform. DIAL works only with YouTube and Netflix.
Mozilla, who is behind Firefox OS, is working on a similar feature that will allow you to push videos to the TV from the Firefox browser on an Android smartphone. It is coming with Firefox OS 2.0, which will be released for Panasonic’s TVs later this year. However, the fact that it requires you to use a Firefox browser on an Android smartphone makes it limited in nature.
TV channels, recording & sound
As said, the TV channel menus have not been integrated with Firefox OS. The menus are built on Panasonic’s in-house platform, which has been around for what seems like ages (to be fair the operating menus have been graphically refreshed a few times). It is fast and it works but it is not very pretty.
There is not much to add here.
The speakers in DX900 are perfectly fine for mixed and casual TV watching but DX900 obviously begs to be paired with a true sound system for the best possible movie experience. Panasonic has decided to integrate hidden speakers instead of following in Sony’s tracks by integrating powerful speakers in high-end TVs. Sony has since dropped that concept and of course it makes sense to sell high-end TVs without powerful speakers. Consumers who purchase high-end TVs generally want external speakers anyway.
Panasonic says that DX900 comes pre-calibrated from the factory. Per default DX900 uses the "Standard" profile and while we understand that TVs are sold in stores where the one with the most vivid colors stands out, we have to say that the "Standard" profile is truly horrible. Panasonic forces everything into to a much larger color gamut, thus skewing colors. If you buy DX900 and use the "Standard" profile you will likely regret buying it. You have to be prepared to do some adjustments.
Luckily, Panasonic has included two THX modes; THX Cinema and THX Bright Room, and they are excellent. The THX modes offer one of the most accurate factory calibrations we have seen on any TV, and just as importantly respect the native color gamut of the content, which will prove to be extremely important in the coming years as the industry starts moving to wide color gamut. Gamma is not spot-on and there is a tiny oversaturation of blue but overall the THX modes live up to the name.
We tweaked a few things and you can see our results below. However, even if you just use one of the two THX modes you should be perfectly happy.
We still calibrate only to regular SDR (standard dynamic range) because HDR is such a new development that completely redefines the underlying principles of picture reproduction. Panasonic says that it has partnered with its Hollywood Labs (PHL) to also calibrate/optimize HDR performance. By the way, when in HDR mode you can choose between all of the picture modes, and for each profile "backlight" is maxed out. RGB settings are shared between HDR and SDR so you should use two profiles if you plan to calibrate DX900 for SDR and HDR, respectively.
8K (7680x4320 pixels) – variable frame rate – 8 bit colors - YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 20.7 Mbps bitrate – AVC - .mp4 file
Adaptiv Backlight Control
Dynamic Range Remaster
Intelligent Frame Control
Rec.709 (Rec.2020 for HDR)
Note: The Ambient light sensor adjusts backlight according to our environment. It may be good to use if you watch TV in both daytime and nighttime. If you watch only in a dimly lit room we recommend turning it off. “Color Gamut” should be set to Rec.709 for all regular sources. However, in HDR mode it should be set to Rec.2020.
Remember to set “HDMI HDR Setting” to "On" for each of the HDMI ports that you plan to use with a HDR player. The TV does not auto-detect HDR signals coming in through HDMI.
Panasonic DX900 is the first "UHD Premium" certified TV on the market. Others will join it in a few weeks from now but in that sense it is an interesting TV that could set the tone for what "UHD Premium" actually means. As you probably know, the UHD Alliance has set minimum requirements for what a premium TV should be capable of and it has created two separate specifications for contrast; best described as one specification for LCDs and one for OLEDs.
DX900 meets the requirements by using a 4K LCD panel with full-array local dimming (512 zones) to properly reproduce HDR (high dynamic range). Panasonic explains that it has developed a new "Honeycomb" structure to isolate light zones. The panel has 10-bit color processing, is capable of reproducing almost the full DCI P3 color gamut, and can reach 1000 nits peak brightness.
Samsung says that all of its 2016 "SUHD TVs" have been "UHD Premium" certified, despite the majority of these (except the flagship) being edge-lit as compared to DX900’s direct LED system. We need Samsung's TV in for testing to conclude anything but this is just to say that the "UHD Premium" certification does not set requirements for the type of backlight. If the past is any indication there will be a major performance difference between the likes of DX900 and the likes of Samsung’s edge-lit 2016 models despite all of them carrying the "UHD Premium" logo, which is definitely a thing to keep in mind.
As you can see from our measurements in the previous section DX900 comes in above the required 1000 nits for "UHD Premium". We measured close to 1200 nits peak brightness. It also comes very close to fully covering DCI-P3 (and the best coverage we have measured to date) but is still ways off from the reference Rec.2020 color gamut (not required to be labeled "UHD Premium"). And with a 10-bit panel, accurate colors, 4K, and HDR support, we can confirm that DX900 does indeed meet the requirements for "UHD Premium".
So let us start by examining HDR. The first thing we did was to connect a UHD Blu-ray player and the first thing we noticed was that the TV did not auto-detect the HDR signal, which was strange. You need to manually go to "Menu->Setup->HDMI HDR Setting" and set the HDMI port that your player is connected to "On". There are additional HDMI setting options in the Setup and Picture submenus that you can use to force the TV into HDR (ST.2084) or other color spaces but you should leave these to “Auto”. After we changed the HDMI setting we had to restart the UHD Blu-ray player to make the player and TV realign. It now correctly detected the signal as HDR and Rec.2020 (container).
The fact that you need to manually activate a setting option for the TV to recognize a HDR signal is not only frustrating but also a disservice to the user, in our opinion. While we value the level of picture options that Panasonic offers, something as fundamental as recognizing the type of signal has to happen automatically. To be fair, Panasonic is not the only manufacturer with this issue. It is the same issue on Sony’s 2016 TVs.
So how does HDR look? Well, excellent! The industry has chosen to implement wide color gamut as part of HDR and it is probably the first thing you will notice once you press play on a UHD Blu-ray disc. Colors appear more vivid and true to life. To be clear, colors are still as accurate as before but DX900 can reproduce more saturated reds and greens that content creator can now take advantage of. We have some demo content that highlights these colors but even a movie like The Martian will clearly demonstrate what it means to have a wider color gamut.
The next thing you will notice is how specular highlights in the picture really pop. Sun beams reflecting off of a car’s paint look bright and alive. Fire looks intense. The sky looks a lot more natural and HDR makes sure that details in the bright areas are preserved. The same goes for dark areas of the picture. HDR is not about peak brightness but the full dynamic range and it helps ensure that shadow details are preserved and that the darkest areas of the picture look deep and rich. DX900 handles all this well.
However, DX900 also has its share of issues with HDR. One of the most impressive HDR demos we have seen to date involves a pitch dark night sky full of starts (not the one depicted below). Despite have over 500 local dimming zones, DX900 cannot reproduce the bright stars faithfully, because the stars are such small dots on the screen. It is a compromise. DX900 has to choose between either illuminating the picture in roughly-divided zones, destroying the deep, inky blacks, and introducing “blooming” (notice the white spots around the “Twentieth Century Fox” text) or being less aggressive in its zone control, thus maintaining deep inky blacks, which leads to stars looking faded and dim. Sometimes the zone system also crushes shadow details. OLED on the other hand excels at HDR and scenes like this because brightness is controlled on a pixel level. It is 512 zones on DX900 vs. 8.294.400 zones on OLED.
You can argue that such scenes rarely occur but we found several examples of this issue while watching The Martian, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and a variety of demo clips. When you know what to look for it is there. And if you move 25-30 degree off-center blooming gets a lot worse. While DX900 is a great TV, LCD technology was never meant for HDR. We do not say that to diss DX900 because watching HDR on DX900 is quite the experience but it does little to change our opinion that OLEDs are significantly better for HDR.
We will publish a separate review of Samsung’s UHD Blu-ray player later and comment on the UHD Blu-ray experience in detail but we wanted to include just a few observations here. Subtitles and LCD-level HDR are not good friends, just like subtitles and 3D never got along. While subtitles look decent most of the time, we noticed how the white text affected the local dimming system in DX900 negatively several times. If you are watching a dark scene subtitles will make the area around the white letters light up, even with the least aggressive local dimming settings on DX900. If the subtitles are placed in the black bar it can make the black bar look slightly greyed out.
The few UHD Blu-ray titles we have enjoyed look amazing and to us it is clear that HDR (and the wide color gamut) is a bigger improvement to the picture experience than 4K resolution. We will go into more discussion on the matter in our UHD Blu-ray review. Below we have taken some shots of SDR (left) vs. HDR (right). Naturally, we are not able to capture the photos in HDR since our camera cannot do it and you screen cannot reproduce it, but it still might give you an idea of the difference. Ignore the crushed details in highlights and shadows in the HDR photos. The camera clips details at each end.
We have had the pleasure to have a room full of TVs this spring so we have done several side-by-side tests. DX900 is obviously much more expensive but compared to DX750, Sony XD85, and TVs like Philips 7101 that all claim to support HDR (but are not "UHD Premium" certified), we need to say that only DX900 convinced us that HDR can be done on LCD TVs. HDR on mid-range TVs is not necessarily a good thing. Sometimes it does more harm than good simply because mid-range TVs lack the hardware. HDR on DX900 looks great most of the time, except for some specific instances that we discussed above. Our point is that the difference is anything but small. It is significant. We will discuss this in depth in coming reviews. Would we go as far as to say that HDR requires minimum "UHD Premium" level specs? We are inclined to say yes, but let us examine a few more TVs before we conclude anything.
During our review Panasonic issued a software update for the Netflix app that added HDR support. Currently Netflix offers only Marco Polo in HDR and it is not the best showcase piece but it generally looks good even if Netflix’s HDR streams are too compressed. The bitrate will surely improve over time and we saw glimpses of great HDR while watching Marco Polo but streaming still has some catching up to do.
DX900 is of course a solid all-round performer. We have so far focused on HDR performance because if you buy DX900 you would obviously pair it with a UHD Blu-ray player or feed it with HDR content whenever possible. But even when you feed it with SD and HD content the picture looks very good. Panasonic has always had excellent picture processing and the new HCX processor continues on the same path. Even SD content looked decent on 65" DX900.
Since DX900 is backlit and employs local dimming it follows that it has great backlight homogeneity. As you can see our sample had no issues with clouding or bleeding. If you turn off the local dimming system you will notice some clouding but considering that it is the foundation of DX900’s stellar performance why would you?
Panasonic TVs have always had decent but never great input lag. If you want to use the TV together with a game console you should be concerned about input lag. If it gets too high it will be close to impossible to control the game.
DX900 came in at 51 ms input lag in its default settings and 40 ms after calibration. Again, decent but not great. Most people will have no issues with DX900 when connected to a PlayStation or Xbox.
However, we spotted a few instances of motion trailing. It was a specific type of trailing around moving objects that is caused by over or undershooting of colors (overdrive) to improve pixel response. We saw the same thing on DX750, mostly when dark objects move over a black background - or vice versa. We were not able to eliminate the effect through calibration because it happens on a pixel driving level. It is not a critical issue but it concerns us a little since we noticed it a few times while watching movies. Specific types of content elevate the issue.
We did not test 3D. There were no 3D glasses in the box.
Let us finish off with the viewing angles. As you know, DX900 is based on a VA panel (from Innolux), which inherently has narrow viewing angles. DX900 is not the exception. If you stay within 20-25 degrees to each side you should be fine but if you go beyond that you will notice how colors start to look pale and pastel-like. Even from 5 degrees and up you will notice color shifting if you look carefully for it. You will also notice very visible blooming caused by the local dimming system once you move a little to the side (see “off-axis” picture in the table above). Most other high-end LCDs have the same issues but we have to emphasize that DX900 has very narrow viewing angles. Only OLEDs offer more or less unproblematic viewing angles.
Panasonic has created its most ambitious LCD TV to date. Despite being one of the first manufacturers to offer an OLED TV, besides LG, Panasonic clearly feels that high-end LCDs remain relevant. So with DX900 has fitted over 500 local dimming zones into a LCD panel in its quest to reproduce excellent HDR picture quality. Has it succeeded? In many ways yes, but in some ways no.
To be clear DX900 is a great TV. It has accurate color reproduction, great picture processing, and is true to the picture source. It handles SD, HD, and 4K sources well and can reproduce very deep blacks and contrast in general. It was a joy watching 4K/HDR from a UHD Blu-ray player on DX900. The combination of 4K, HDR, and wide color gamut takes the picture experience to new heights if you feed it to a TV like DX900 with the proper hardware to do HDR - it’s beautiful. And it only reinforces our belief that to do proper HDR you need a full-array local dimming LCD or a HDR-capable OLED.
Speaking of OLED, it feels like the elephant in the room. Between DX900 and Panasonic’s CZ950 OLED we would pick the latter. Yes, we know that it is significantly more expensive but even then the fact remains that LG already sells HDR-capable OLEDs that are significantly cheaper than DX900, and LG will launch new 2016 OLEDs in a matter of weeks.
Because even though 512 local dimming zones on DX900 sounds like a lot, it really isn’t. We still noticed halos/blooming around bright objects; a black star-filled sky perfectly exemplifies the issue. You can increase the number of zones to several thousand and it will still happen on LCDs. Local dimming control on LCD also crushes shadow details in some instances. Furthermore, we experienced an issue with motion trailing, mostly visible in high-contrast scenes. Lastly, the viewing angles are very narrow, even for a VA type LCD. And while we still like the simple interface of Firefox OS, it honestly seems like a dead end. Developers are not embracing it.
Our point is this; DX900 is an excellent TV. In fact, it is the best LCD TV we have tested to date. It is quite the achievement. But OLED is simply better. No, OLED is not perfect but neither is LCD and after more than a decade some very fundamental issue remain, while OLED needed only a few iterations to surpass LCD. But if you want the best LCD, DX900 is a strong contender.
Picture quality is assessed as overall picture quality, including color reproduction, image processing, contrast, motion etc. Features is an evaluation of the built-in functionality such as apps, connector ports, tuners, recording capabilities, decoder formats, and how useful they are, as well as sound quality. User experience is evaluated on the basis of user friendliness, speed, build quality, and day-to-day use of the TV Total score is weighted: 50% Picture quality, 25% Features, 25% User experience. All scores are calculated based on a moving maximum target, defined by what we currently consider the best on market. It is then presented as a percentage. This means that a score will fall over time as new and better TVs set new standards. This allows you to compare scores across years. A score of 100% in a given category means that it is consider the best available product in this category to date.