Panasonic TX-L65WT600 Smart Viera 4K TV review

The Panasonic TX-L65WT600 is the first 4K Ultra-HD television to acknowledge that the future of TV is not just higher resolution, but higher frame rates as well.

Why? Because the WT600 offers both next generation HDMI 2.0 connectivity, as well as DisplayPort 1.2a, so it can display its 3840 x 2160 pixel resolution at 50 or 60Hz - the perfect fit for UK PAL or US NTSC viewing. Consequently, this is the only 4K screen available that can currently claim to be future-proof when it comes to nascent 4K UHD broadcast standards.

Rival 4K models, such as those from Sony, Philips and Panasonic, are limited to 2160p at 30Hz - half the refresh rate - which could be an issue when it comes to fast-moving subjects, such as in sports coverage from the likes of Sky. When, of course, 4K eventually reaches a set top box in the UK in the coming years.

Even though it's ahead of the curve - true 4K Blu-ray, streaming and broadcast is still a way off - is the Panasonic WT600 well worth the investment in the here and now?

Smart design

Design-wise, the TX-L65WT600 mimics Panasonic's high-end Full HD LED LCD TVs, with a slim chrome bezel and plastic lip running across the bottom. This trim can be illuminated for a little extra zing.

Given the scale of this 65-inch panel, it has a surprisingly inoffensive footprint. The set is just 56mm thick - or thin, depending on how you look at it - and that token bezel doesn’t relinquish any space to audio. The sound system comprises downward-firing "invisible" stereo speakers and a rear-facing woofer, more on how they perform later.

Top centre is a pop-up webcam that's hidden away when it's not in use to keep the design looking smoother.

Two remotes are also provided: a standard IR cheapie, which isn't a patch on the heavy metal offering included with the brand's ZT65 plasma; and a Bluetooth touchpad with integrated microphone.

READ: Panasonic ZT65 60-inch plasma TV review

On the rear the jack pack includes - deep breath now - four HDMI ports, Scart and component/composite inputs via adaptors, three USB sockets, Ethernet, an SD card reader, optical digital output and the aforementioned DisplayPort 1.2 input. Wi-Fi is also integrated. There's everything here that you could want and we're glad to see Panasonic continue to offer SD card support.

The set also sports multiple tuners. You can opt to run twin Freeview HD, or paired Freesat HD. This duality enables the screen to offer a PIP of a second channel when browsing channel listings, as well as record one channel to an external USB hard drive, while you watch another channel.

The panel is also 3D enabled and uses active shutter technology rather than passive glasses. Two pairs of RF glasses are provided in the £5,400 cover price, but we're not huge fans of active shutter at all, it's all a bit headache inducing.

Connected but not catching-up

We've admired Panasonic's customisable start page, known as My Home Screen, since its launch. Now the service offers themed downloads. If you want a dedicated YouTube or Eurosport themed front end, you can. Alternatively, if you prefer media server playback and iPlayer pushed to the front, you can have that instead.

It's ironic then that despite this great connected interface, Panasonic offers a fairly lamentable choice in catch-up. Beyond the ubiquitous iPlayer, the choice is predominantly limited to video-on-demand (VoD) services such as Netflix, Crunchyroll, Woomi and Viewster. We were hoping for a little more oomph in this department.

On the plus side, the WT600 has 4K native web browser. This means ultra-high definition Google Maps and even the 4K video channel on YouTube. As 4K content starts to get more and more popular this could be the perfect access point.

From our time with the WT600 we've found media playback is mostly excellent too. Via USB, the WT600 romps through most codecs and containers, including - get your acronym brain on - WMV, MKV, MP4, AVI, WMA, MP3, AAC/M4a, and FLAC. It isn't able to play MKV files from a networked NAS though.

Content sharing with mobile devices, using the brand's Swipe & Share DLNA-powered app, also gets a 4K upgrade and there's also Screen Mirroring utilising Miracast. If you happen to use those features, of course.

Picture performance

Let's cut to the chase: the TX-L65WT600 is a sensational looking 4K screen. Despite its more-than-ample size, there's no visible image structure on this eight million pixel panel.

UHD pixel packing ensures a gloriously smooth presentation. For our audition, we viewed both regular TV from tuner and set top box, upscaled Blu-ray as well as native 3840 x 2160 material from a media server PC.

At its most basic, the screen has a direct 1080p mode, which applies simple linear pixel quadrupling, however Panasonic's 4K upscaling engine does a terrific job and is the way to watch most content. Images are compared with a database of textures which are then applied dynamically to give the best image - the process is remarkably effective, giving 4K pictures astonishing depth.

That said, native 4K content represents a quantum leap forward. Such content may not be readily available in the here and now, but if you do have access to native 4K content then you'll see images literally bristle with fine detail on the WT600's panel. You can almost smell the detail. Of course, adding extra aroma is the fact that our 4K media server was running at an icy-smooth 60fps. Fed via the DisplayPort input, the set delivered an almost hyper-real viewing experience.

That's the key: UHD at 50/60Hz looks certain to be the broadcast standard when some form of commercial service begins in 2015 - yup, it's that far away - and the benefits it will bring to sports coverage are likely to be indisputable. Such high frame rate support should also serve the next generation of Blu-ray very well indeed.

The WT600 is THX 4K certified, and features decent THX Cinema and Bright Room modes amongst its many presets. The set's picture balance is pretty good straight from the box, with the caveat that you should turn down the sharpness control. Take care also with the IFC (Intelligent Frame Creation) mode as these can introduce artefacts on moving objects.  

Dark level performance is uniformly good, even in full blackout conditions, while color vibrancy is high, although the set is intolerant of off-axis viewing and sheds contrast and colour as you move your viewpoint to the side. 

To the future

While we wait for 4K broadcast services to materialise, it's clear Panasonic also sees massive potential for this panel with hardcore PC gamers. An increasing number of high-end graphics cards support 4K and when used in conjunction with PC titles supporting a high frame-rate the results can be mesmerising. Project Cars, for example, has a fluidity that's positively disorientating.

In 3D mode, the set does a solid enough job, although it's not fast enough to avoid some crosstalk double imaging but, for the most part, this isn't too intrusive. Sky's 3D channel looks surprisingly good upscaled by the WT600, but Full HD Blu-ray is even better.

If the TX-L65WT600 does have an Achilles' Heel, then it's with its audio performance. Best described as functional at best, the TV offers a modest 2 x 4W, with an additional 10W available to the woofer. The coy deployment of its speakers does little for spatial imaging. Ultimately, this set is best paired with a separate audio system - so budget in for one of those too, which will quickly push your total purchase price over the £6K mark.

Verdict

The Panasonic TX-L65WT600 is the first next-generation 4K Ultra HD TV that offers future-proofing straight from the box. And that makes it the best 4K TV out there in our minds.

While its HDMI 2.0 port will remain untested until there's some matching source component, its high frame rate fluidity via DisplayPort is a sight to behold. We've literally never seen anything like it before. It's that good.

The only real downer from this otherwise stunning set is its so-so audio performance and, of course, you'll need deep pockets to cover the £5,400 asking price.

But with its superior connected performance and drop dead gorgeous designer looks, that price tag is looking like something of a steal in the context of other 4K tellies out there. Let's be clear: we rate the WT600 as the choice for 4K early adopters who don't want to get left behind. It's a stunner.