(Pocket-lint) - Ultra-HD TVs are certainly becoming more popular, we know that for sure. The amount of content on offer has increased exponentially since 4K was first introduced - with big shows like Breaking Bad, House of Cards and Man In The High Castle all being delivered in extra defined form.
Prices have come down over the years too. Of course, you can still spend upwards of £2,000 on a telly if you want the absolute best picture available today, but if you want an affordable way to get into the 4K and extra bright HDR (high dynamic range) market then something like the 50-inch Panasonic DX700 will fit the bill without breaking the bank.
The TX-50DX700 offers a 4K HDR panel for a lot less than £1,000 - which makes it a bargain. But does a more affordable price mean a heavy dip in performance compared to the top-end? We've had one on loan to find out.
Panasonic TX-50DX700 review: Design
- Switch design feet
- Slim bezels
For an entry-level 4K HDR TV, the DX700 is a bit of a looker. It only comes in silver, but the bezels are so super-slim you'll barely notice them, so all your attention will be focused solely on the panel.
There are feet which attach to either end of the screen, but if you don't have an incredibly wide TV stand then you can position them nearer the middle instead. It's a welcome move from Panasonic, as it knows not everyone will want to wall mount, and not everyone will have a ridiculously wide TV stand either.
The DX700 is available in 40in, 50in and 58in variants, but the switch design feet aren't available on the 40in model.
All models in the range can comfortably be called affordable, ranging from £620 for the 40-inch and going up to £1,000 for the 58-inch. Those are the official prices through Panasonic's website, but if you shop around a little you can probably pick up a real bargain.
The included remote is a standard brick shape affair, with buttons laid out well. Menus are easy to navigate and there's even a quick-launch button for Netflix. Our only real niggle is we found ourselves hitting the Netflix button instead of the up arrow on more than one occasion because they are quite close to each other.
Panasonic TX-50DX700 review: Connections and set-up
- 3x HDMI (2 are 4K compatible)
- Wired and wireless networking
Connecting your sources and setting up the DX700 is relatively easy. The three HDMI inputs - of which two are 4K compatible thanks to HDCP 2.2 compliance - can all be found on the side, which is ideal if you want to wall-mount the TV. If you have a 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray player or games console such as the Xbox One S or PS4 Pro, you'll want to plug them into the 4K inputs for the best possible performance.
Panasonic also gives you three USB inputs, common interface and RCA inputs, digital optical output and headphone output. It's still about the only manufacturer to put an SD card in its tellies.
For 4K streaming via Netflix or Amazon, you can go down either wired or wireless routes. If you can do wired via Ethernet to your router we'd highly recommend it for a more stable connection and increase in speed, otherwise Wi-Fi will work fine for over-the-air data.
Many other 4K TVs come with more HDMI inputs, but we think three is a decent amount at this level. If you had a soundbar or AV receiver that supports 4K pass-through then you'll only need to use one of those inputs anyway.
What apps and services does the Panasonic TX-50DX700 have?
- Firefox OS user interface
- Netflix and Amazon 4K HDR apps
- Freeview Play built-in
Panasonic has been using Firefox OS for a little while now on its TVs. It's a good system to use as we like the colours and general ease of use.
The main home screen has three key areas: Live TV, Apps and Devices. You can pin anything else you want to the homepage, whether it be your favourite channel or app.
The DX700 comes pre-installed with Netflix and Amazon Instant Video 4K apps (there's a quick launch button for Netflix on the remote, like we say) both of which support HDR. At launch, the Amazon app didn't support the new technology, but thanks to an update it's good to go.
For live TV the DX700 uses Freeview Play. Freeview's new service allows you scroll forwards or backwards by up to seven days and if there's an app connected to a channel - iPlayer for BBC, ITV Hub for ITV and so on - then you can click on a programme and it will load up in the app right away. It saves you going into the apps section, finding the app and then the programme you want to watch.
It's a similar system to YouView, but we have to say we prefer YouView's way of working. With YouView you can scroll back seven days and see all the channels in a list as you normally would. With Freeview Play you first have to select the channel, then go back. You're then presented with days in columns which you can scroll up and down to find the programme you want. It makes things a little bit more confusing and you can only see one channel's worth of programming at a time.
Panasonic TX-50DX700 review: Picture performance
- 4K HDR panel
- Upscaler for HD content
When it comes to 4K picture performance, the DX700 delivers an image that's beyond its price point. Feed it 4K content and you'll be rewarded with an incredibly sharp picture, with natural colours, subtle shadings and deep blacks.
Unfortunately, it's not quite as ship-shape with HDR content. We know HDR is turned on, because we've gone into the settings, turned the feature on (something you'll need to do during setup) and then fed it content from Amazon. The info bar at the bottom even tells us it's an HDR image. We're just not that convinced is all, as it lacks the heightened peaks of its top-end competition. For the sort of difference that really makes HDR worth having, you will need to spend a bit more on your TV.
There is a change in contrast between HDR and non-HDR on the DX700 for sure, but it's not quite enough to really wow us like the we know the ultra-bright format can. Colours do pop that little bit more - yellow sands and blue skies for example - but it's only a subtle change.
Feed Full HD (1080p) content in and the DX700 does a fine job at upscaling. Considering the TV is having to generate 75 per cent of the pixels on screen, it's perfectly watchable. Blu-rays fare even better due to them being a more stable source than over-the-air broadcast.
Colours aren't too in-your-face. We used the True Cinema picture setting most of the time as we felt it offered the best looking image. Blacks can sometimes suffer, though, as they are very rarely true blacks. We noticed a lot of blocking in some of the content we watched, and the DX700 struggled with picking out various shades within the blacks.
Standard definition content, which you'll get from many TV channels and DVDs, present a big dip in quality. That's to be expected. As with HD, it's still watchable - and we don't find ourselves wanting to gouge out our eyeballs and set ourselves on fire.
Panasonic TX-50DX700 review: Sound quality
Most of us know that flat-screen TVs aren't exactly going to set your room alight with awesome sound when watching movies or TV shows. For a real home cinema experience you're going to want to add a soundbar or surround sound speaker package.
However for regular daytime watching the DX700 performs rather well. Voices are clear, there's a decent amount of bass weight and it doesn't sound tinny, something which can plague other screens. The distance from the wall will affect the sound slightly, but you can adjust the settings to let the TV know whereabouts it's positioned.
So, should you buy the DX700? If you want one of the best sub-£1000 4K TVs to take pride of place in your living room, then yes you absolutely should consider it.
If you want your TV to handle HDR content with expertise, then we should advise you to look elsewhere and to expect a larger dip in your bank balance for the pleasure.
If you have Sky Q then you don't need to think about HDR because it can't support it, and while Netflix and Amazon streams can be improved by having HDR, you're not going to feel completely left out if you just have a very good 4K picture.
For many, we feel the DX700 will be the perfect first 4K screen, combining a stunning picture, gorgeous design, healthy range of connections and, above all, a wallet-friendly price.
Panasonic DX700: The alternatives to consider
If you've got a little more to spend and want a slightly larger screen then Samsung's KS7000 is an ideal choice. It's thinner than the Panasonic as all its connections run through a separate box, which makes it ideal for wall-mounting. Its HDR is a little brighter too.