(Pocket-lint) - It's a bit of a numbers war when it comes to buying a 4K TV. And when spending over a grand on the latest and greatest Ultra HD tech, you want to make sure you've got it right. Fortunately Panasonic's TV numbering system is relatively logical (if inelegant): the DX802 (DX800) sits below the flagship DX902 (DX900). The lower the number equals the more features you'll see stripped away.
But, actually, the DX802 doesn't relinquish too much of the DX902's excellence. It does away with the Ultra HD Premium badge, there's no honeycomb structure for specific local dimming (it still offers local dimming though) and is a 2,000Hz rather than 3,000Hz panel. Other than the “floating” design the biggest difference most might notice, however, is the price: the 50-inch model on review here is £1,199; the 58-inch just £1,399.
One small step down the specs ladder, one giant leap for your bank account then? Is the Panasonic Viera DX802 the perfect balance of quality to price, or is it outclassed by its nearest competition?
Panasonic Viera TX-50DX802 4K TV review: Design
Back to that design for a minute, though. The DX802 is a rather striking panel, which appears to “float” in space, given the way it's hinged on its stand. The feet aren't spread miles apart like on the DX902 either, so it'll be easier to seat it onto a variety of TV stands. However, as there's no swing from the stand it's rigid in position.
At its thickest point (36mm) the DX802 is a lot slimmer than the DX902 (64mm max), although with the stand protruding so far from the set that's almost inconsequential. The reason for this difference in size is simple: the absence of that honeycomb filter of the DX902. It means the DX802 should be the better looking wall-mounted telly.
The other big point of note is that the DX802 comes with its own soundbar included, which you'll need to slot into the dedicated port on the TV's rear to give a sound boost. The goal here is clear: to be an all-in-one, do-it-all telly for those who aren't going to buy into heaps of additional boxes for the sake of sound. It adds a lick of extra audible welly to proceedings too, providing as much as most households will need for TV, movie and gaming playback.
Panasonic Viera TX-50DX802 4K TV review: Connections
Where that soundbar plugs in is next to all the other connections, which are tucked away out of sight behind two plastic panels, to keep the rear looking neat and tidy.
For most this hide-away idea will be of little consequence, unless the TV's planted in the centre of a room: we would most likely just leave the rear panels off to make it easier to plug in additional new bits of kit, PlayStations and the like, over time.
The connections are thorough, with all four HDMI 2.0 ports being HDCP 2.2 compliant. That's the digital content protection that's attached to broadcast media to prevent piracy, so it's essential that kit like the Sky Q 4K box plugs into such a port, as anything less will cause an issue. Panasonic, then, has you covered.
In addition there are three USB ports, which can be handy for additional content, pictures and the like. No SD card slot to be found here, though, which is often a Panasonic staple. The Ethernet port is behind the second, smaller panel - but there's Wi-Fi wireless connectivity too (we'd advise wired for 4K streaming).
Panasonic Viera TX-50DX802 4K TV review: Firefox and Freeview Play
When it comes to the operating system make-up of the DX802, Panasonic has opted for Firefox OS - just as it does in its other TVs. This is where you can pin selected apps to your screens, select between inputs and the like.
As we've said before, however, Firefox OS hasn't seen the same reception as LG's WebOS user interface. The numerous ways to access the electronic programme guide (EPG), for example, seem a bit fussy: through the preview with a press of OK; by 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.
Oh, and we're not at all keen on the second, smaller remote control with its trackpad-style control. Fortunately there's a main, larger remote also included in the box which, for us, makes a lot more sense. It's got a quick-access Netflix button, too, so it'll quickly be dubbed "the Netflix remote" in most households, we're sure. Lose the control behind the sofa and there are some basic controls around the side of the TV's body to adjust channels and volume, if needed.
In among the DX802's inputs is built-in Freeview Play, the free-to-air service and catch-up platform that, in many cases, will mean you can do away with needing a set-top box altogether. Well, unless you're a Sky or Virgin junkie and want specific channels. This is a potentially big selling point for the Panasonic and one that we (as typical Freesat users) can appreciate.
It's the catch-up element that makes Freeview Play that much more advanced than standard Freeview. So if you missed a BBC classic then you can simply scroll back through the EPG, locate the show, and hit play. No need to open a separate app. Thing is, as it stands at this moment in time, it's not especially complete: ITV Hub and All4 aren't available in the HD channels - only BBC iPlayer is. It also doesn't offer a remind function. All this can improve over time with software updates, of course, so these issues may be ironed out yet.
Many modern viewers may not be as fussed about traditional TV and catch-up these days. And here, via dedicated apps, the Panasonic DX802 services all the important points: there's Amazon and Netflix, both in 4K, to make the best of streaming resolution and HDR (high dynamic range) where available.
Panasonic Viera TX-50DX802 4K TV review: Picture quality
Which brings us to the core of what the DX802 is all about: sumptuous 4K picture quality. And even without the honeycomb dimming system and lack of Ultra HD Premium badge, it's one sound looking set. Step down in quality… what step down?
Ok, so there will be some differences compared to the DX902. The kind of points that might matter to movie aficionados who want the ultimate black levels. Although, arguably, you might be better to go with an LG G6 OLED instead for that. But the DX802 still holds up really well. We've been streaming 4K content via Amazon and found ample richness in the blacks without excessive bleed from the TV's edge-illumination system.
We think the DX802 is as bright as you'll need a TV to be, even if it's not as much as some of the competition, like Samsung's ultra-bright models (such as the comparable KS7000) or, of course, the reference-level brightness of Panasonic's own DX902. That's probably part of the reason the DX802 doesn't achieve its Ultra HD Premium badge, as a sub 1,000-nit panel when taking an average read across the panel.
Even so, the HDR content is simply stunning, delivering all the colour and depth you'd expect from an HDR10 capable set (that's the non-Dolby HDR format, if you're wondering). Sadly we've not been able to see 4K UHD Blu-ray playback for this specific review, as we don't have a player handy (sad face).
Motion control is well handled out of the box, too, with various options available to tweak your way through how playback is affected. Most of these options will smooth and blur for a hyper-real effect that we're not especially big fans of; stick to traditional frame-rates, we say, for the most movie-like look.
Overall we're pleased as punch with the DX802's picture quality. In isolation it has all the detail, colour, brightness and black levels that you'll need from a TV. For the price it's an exceptional offering. Not quite class-leading, mind, but in among the mix.
What the Panasonic TX-50DX802 manages to deliver is one good-looking, do-it-all 4K package - and for a reasonable sum of cash too. No need to buy an extra soundbar, as one's included, or even the necessity for a separate set-top box thanks to the built-in Freeview Play receiver.
Its deft ability with handling 4K picture quality - from broadcast through to app-steamed in Ultra-HD, including HDR - ensure that the DX802 can stand proud in among the competition. No, it's not as adept as the DX902 at the top of Panasonic's range, while it's also a step less bright than Samsung's range of KS models, but even if this Panasonic doesn't tick all the best-in-class boxes, it doesn't cease to be one capable set.
That's the rub of it: the DX802 ticks all the boxes - from sound quality to price point, and picture quality to connectivity - to deliver one of the most well-rounded and affordable 4K sets on the market. And it's not an ultra-giant either, at 50- or 58-inches.