(Pocket-lint) - The big sell with the Panasonic DX902 (or DX900 in other regions) is that this 4K TV is about as close as you'll get to a professional reference monitor in the home.
That's a fairly lofty comparison, as reference monitors are incredibly expensive, designed to show movie directors what the action looks like in their Hollywood studios. And with HDR (high dynamic range) being the talk of 2016, the message of this year's flagship TVs is that you'll be watching what the director intended.
It's a message you'll hear from all sides, but in Panasonic's flagship 2016 television that isn't just talk. In many ways, it actually delivers on this promise, balancing wonderful performance with a tempting price, but there are a few shortcomings too.
Panasonic Viera DX900 review: Design
Where the Panasonic DX902 - or Viera TX-58DX902B to use its full name in this 58-inch guise (there's also a 65-inch model) - perhaps struggles to match its rivals is in design. Not the entire design - this is a premium-looking television, with minimal bezel and screen that's edged in a very tidy textured aluminium band - but in thickness. It's just a bit chunkier than some of the competition.
Where rivals are talking about the almost impossibly thin displays that they have produced, the DX902's design is governed in part by its technology. This is a thick TV (64mm at its thickest part) because it offers direct illumination of the panel through Panasonic's Honeycomb filter, rather than relying on being edge-lit, like many flagship rivals. The advantage is enhanced local dimming with 512 separate dimming zones.
For those interested in design that could be a barrier, because it's easy to say that the Samsung KS9500 is a better looking TV with its seamless 360-degree design, or that the LG G6 OLED's "picture-on-glass" design is like something from the future. However, if you're putting the DX902 on its substantial stand, with its slight rearward tilt, and sitting across the room, you probably won't care a jot about the depth - especially once it's switched on.
Speaking of the stand - which connects simply with just four screws - it expends the full depth to 334mm. It's also practically the width of the TV, so you'll need a large space to accommodate this television - there's no perching it in the centre of a smaller TV cabinet, which is an issue we've had with all Panasonic TV designs of late.
It can be wall-mounted if you prefer, but all the connections remain on the rear of the set, unlike some of those skinny rivals, such as Samsung with a separate One Connect box. The Panasonic has a large clip-on plastic cover to hide all the cables you attach, with handy cable tidies and so on, to keep things together.
Panasonic Viera DX900 review: Plentiful connections and controls
The DX902 comes fully stocked with connectivity. There are four HDMI, all HDCP2.2 compliant, offering 4K HDR support and future-proofing for accepting broadcast content. One is ARC (audio return channel, useful for soundbars and separates). Two of the ports face down, while the other two are oriented for left-hand access, so if you're wall-mounting then these side-facing ones might just about be accessible.
If you're looking to use the Component connections, then these face the rear, so your plugs will stick out a long way. Whether you'll find these connections necessary, of course, is debatable, and we suspect that many will just be using HDMI these days.
There are three USB connections, too, one USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0, plus optical, Ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity, as well as an SD card slot. Panasonic has long been about supporting the rest of its system, the SD card making it easy to move from Lumix camera to TV - although it's a stretch if this TV is wall-mounted. We found the Wi-Fi connection to be stable enough to stream Netflix in 4K HDR, although we'd advise using the Ethernet for a wired connection in the long term.
In terms of tuners there are satellite and regular aerial connections on the rear, the latter mating with the Freeview Play electronic programme guide (EPG) in the UK - more details on that later.
There are also two remotes in the box. The standard one is a weighty piece with brushed metal finish, giving full control over everything and offering backlit buttons for those watching in the dark. It's precise and simple to use, with a clicky action, and large enough to make it difficult to lose. It even comes with a Netflix button, which seems to be de rigueur these days.
The second remote is the Touch Pad Controller. This is a smaller, slightly curved, remote that's designed to fit in the hand and let you swipe your way through various functions, rather than click-scrolling. It also supports voice searching to you can talk to your TV. Sadly, the touch pad itself seems to be finished in a sort of textured rubber - so it feels horrible - while the rear is too slippery to grip properly. After initial exploration, we returned it to the box, which is probably where it's best left.
Panasonic Viera DX900 review: Stunning visual performance
Jumping out of the box with THX certification, the Ultra HD Premium badge and shouting about a having a Professional Cinema Display, the DX902 certainly has a lot to live up to. It's a full firecracker of excitement too when you power it up.
The DX902 is a very capable TV and it's the colour performance that really shines. It's rich and detailed, especially when mated with Ultra HD Blu-ray. Hooked up to Panasonic's excellent (but expensive) UB900 Ultra HD Blu-ray player and you'll find some of the richest and most detailed visuals you can get in the home.
You will have to head into the menus to ensure that you've turned on support for HDMI HDR, though, with a choice of two different modes for attached 4K accessories: one designed to support everything, and a second more precise mode. There's still very much the feeling that 4K HDR is a bit like the Wild West, which is the case with all Ultra HD devices in 2016. You can also change the display settings from each of the sources, which means you can have the TV behave in different ways to deal with what you're watching.
The DX902 is capable of some very powerful bright points, hitting those HDR highs with amazing intensity. Watching sparks from a fire fly into the night sky in The Revenant is wonderfully immersive. Flip to those bright winter scenes, with that low sun aided by all the lens flare, and it's stunningly presented; a veritable feast for the eyes that drags you into movie.
Then you have the hyper-realism that HDR brings, with the incredible detail available on this TV. Stick with The Revenant, the reflections dancing off the surface the running water, or the shine off the skin of silver birch trees all helps to transport you to another place.
It's those sorts of bright, vibrant scenes that the DX902 looks its best - perhaps better than any of its rivals out there. That's true with other sources too, with Blu-ray and streaming content also benefiting from the great rich visuals this TV can offer, as well as a richness to HD TV channels. Although at 58-inches, those SD channels are spread a little thin across this huge display.
The DX902 is capable of producing some very deep blacks, too, deeper than you'll often see from LCD TVs, as part of the parcel in offering the great contrast that HDR demands. Controlling the dark, and especially the transition from dark to light, can present some processing and delivery problems, however, which is about the only real weakness of this TV.
The Adaptive Backlight Control is a powerful tool, deepening blacks to add more contrast, but also potentially confusing the TV. It works hand-in-hand with the Dynamic Range Remaster and advanced contrast controls, which present some great options and can really bring a boost to Blu-ray content that now looks a bit flatter than you might want it to - The Dark Knight gets a lift, with wonderful clarity and colour that we've never really experienced before in this movie.
But you can also find that it's a double-edged sword. Set Adaptive Backlight Control to Max for the deepest blacks and you'll find that the transition of dark to light gets lost. Take the opening scene of The Revenant for example: it fades in from black, panning across the sleeping faces of DiCaprio et al. But with Adaptive Backlight Control on, the transition from dark to light becomes a rippling pan.
For the Blu-ray version this is noticeable, to a degree, but with the added clarity, detail and contrast of Ultra HD Blu-ray it's a lot more prevalent. You'll also see blooming around some bright highlights, sometimes spreading into the dark letterboxing as the panel tries to decide what should be dark and what should be light. This is also more noticeable from more extreme angles, where perhaps the Honeycomb filter doesn't quite contain the light as tightly.
Motion control can be boosted by using the custom settings to avoid too many artefacts appearing around edges, and we found noise reduction is best kept to a minimum to avoid losing detail and smearing in faces. Panasonic offers lots of control though: through the menus you can calibrate, test and decide what works best for what type of content, your room and viewing preferences. There are auto settings for most things, or more advanced granular controls if you want to dive deeper, which is well worth doing.
A final point worth making is that the DX902 has a glossy display. That's mostly cut through by the brightness that it offers, but where Samsung will shout about its moth eye filter to disperse reflections, the Panasonic will suffer a little more from outside light sources. Close the curtains or switch off that hallway light to ensure the best viewing conditions.
Panasonic Viera DX900 review: Sound quality
For most people looking to buy a high-end TV, you probably have an existing sound system you're going to connect it to. But one of the advantages that the Panasonic has in staying on the larger side is that it has more space for speakers.
It offers a 40W system based around two 10W squawkers and two 10W woofers. It offers pretty good sound quality and volume as it is without any additions. That said, to get the most out of all the high-quality content you'll be feeding this TV, you'd be silly not to pair it with a good quality soundbar or surround system.
Panasonic Viera DX900 review: Freeview Play and smart TV services
Panasonic uses Firefox OS as the platform for the DX902. It hasn't had the same reception as LG's wonderful WebOS user interface (UI), but Firefox OS is nice enough: it's modern, smart, and easy enough to navigate.
However, some of the usefulness of Firefox OS gets a bit lost. There's a home menu that will let you navigate to apps, but there's also an apps button on the remote to make that redundant. The home menu also gives you access to connected devices, although that's also easy to directly change through the source.
There are also numerous ways to access the electronic programme guide (EPG), through the preview with a press of OK, pressing the guide button on the remote, or with a long press on Home and a click to the left to open a side bar that will show live previews of channels. This final function you'll likely never find, because it's pretty hard to get to. Whew.
But we like that you can pin apps to the home menu, as you'll be able to get to favourite channels or services very easily using the Home button. It's also fast and fluid to move from one place to another - although it's a little irritating that the sound and picture breaks momentarily as you open the EPG.
One of the big sells of the DX902 is that it offers Freeview Play. This is the latest offering from the free-to-air organisation in the UK, meaning that in many cases you can do away with a set-top box: Freeview Play offers all the channels covered by Freeview, as well as the catch-up services to match, aiming to tie the two halves together.
It offers a route to access these catch-up services directly, so if you miss Eastenders, rather than opening BBC iPlayer to find it, you simply scroll back to the episode you just missed in the EPG and hit play. It sounds great, but in its current form it's not quite as complete as it should be: there's no access to Demand 5 from the EPG and there's no access to ITV Hub or All4 if you're in the HD channels - only BBC iPlayer. It also doesn't offer a remind function.
That makes the experience a little less polished than YouView (as you'll find in Sony's TVs), which offers very much the same thing, but with better linking from EPG to app. Still, the Panasonic does offer the full suite of UK catch-up apps, and it also offers the main video services in Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.
It's in these latter services that you're likely to find the majority of accessible 4K content, with both having a range of titles on offer. You'll find Netflix offering a range of Ultra HD 4K content, with some shows like Marco Polo offered in HDR. Again, this is delivered wonderfully, with deep shadows meeting lovely highlights, lots of contrast and rich colours. Ultra HD Blu-ray wins on detail and consistency, but the challenge from streaming 4K HDR content is keenly noted, and expertly delivered.
Given the native skills of the DX902, you might feel you can live without a set-top box, although for those who like to record a lot of TV, you'll find the lack of tuners limiting. Recording directly via the TV is an option - if you can find a compatible USB drive for that. We tried a wide selection of USB devices and each failed, so this might be something of a challenge.
The Panasonic Viera DX902 is one of the most exciting televisions that we've seen in 2016, capable of presenting wonderful quality pictures that are dripping with colour and contrast and packed with detail.
From the fluidity of the Firefox OS interface - covering off essential services to deliver your UHD 4K content on demand, plus integrating Freeview Play - through to the variety of connections offered, it's difficult not to love the DX902.
However, the design is a little thicker than its rivals given the arrangement of Panasonic's Honeycomb local dimming system. And as this TV produces some heat it needs its own top cooling fans - which you'll sometimes hear over quiet scenes. It's not the most energy efficient, either. There's also performance variance in dark scenes, with the Adaptive Backlight Control sometimes getting a bit confused, as is the case in many similar TV systems, such as those from Sony.
Overall, for those looking to make the most of the new era of HDR content, the Panasonic Viera DX902 is well set to fulfil your viewing pleasures. Indeed, it's amongst the most rewarding pictures you're likely to see in 2016.