(Pocket-lint) - While Panasonic hasn't completely forgotten about LCD TVs in recent years, there's no doubt that its main focus has been on OLED. Which isn't surprising, really, given OLED's similarities to the plasma technology that used to be such a Panasonic speciality. With 2019's 58-inch TX-58GX800, however, Panasonic looks to have delivered its most potent LCD offering for years.
For starters, the GX800 shifts away from the low-contrast IPS panels used in many of Panasonic's previous LCD sets. It also carries a seriously powerful and refined picture processing engine, and offers built-in Dolby Atmos audio playback. Best of all, it's the first TV ever launched that supports both of the HDR10+ and Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR) formats.
Panasonic TX-58GX800B: Design
- 4x HDMI inputs
- 3x USB multimedia ports
- LAN and Wi-Fi network options
The GX800's bodywork is pretty heavy on plastic. This is only really obvious, though, when you're actually handling the set; there's nothing overtly cheap-looking about it when viewed from any sort of regular viewing distance. In fact, the super-narrow glossy black screen frame and pleasingly metallic, centrally mounted desktop stand create a rather elegant look. Much of the rear is very slim by LCD standards too - barely a centimetre deep.
The GX800's connections are about par for an upper mid-range TV. Three HDMIs all support 4K and HDR, while there are LAN, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and two USB connections for playing back streamed and multimedia sources. In an ideal world a fourth HDMI and third USB port might have been nice, but most households will likely find the connectivity adequate for their needs.
As with most 4K TVs, the GX800's HDMIs are not built to the 2.1 specification. So they will likely not handle 4K/120Hz feeds being promised from the next-generation of Xbox and PlayStation consoles, restricting the consoles to lower refresh rates. Thing is, the 60/50Hz current TV broadcast rate and 24p frame-rate of Hollywood movies won't require this, so it really won't matter for everyone.
There's also no support for two HDMI 2.1-related features that sometimes find their way onto HDMI 2.0 ports: eARC and VRR. No eARC means no passing of lossless object-based audio (Dolby Atmos or DTS:X) via the GX800's HDMI to compatible soundbars or receivers, while no VRR means no variable refresh rate gaming support. However, it foes feature automatic low latency mode (ALLM), which automatically switches into its Game mode when it senses the relevant signal, optimising pictures for gaming sources and reduces the time the screen takes to render pictures to under 24ms.
Panasonic TX-58GX800B: Picture Features
- HDR Support: HLG, HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision
- Processing Engine: HCX
The GX800's 58-inch screen carries a native 4K resolution and supports HDR. In fact, as well as the pretty much de rigueur HDR10 it can handle the new HLG Photo format and both the HDR10+ and Dolby Vision dynamic HDR formats too. There's also broadcast-friendly HLG support (although, at the time of writing, this doesn't work via BBC iPlayer. We've queried Panasonic, which has confirmed the issue with this statement: "We have identified a limited problem with HLG video playback from within the BBC iPlayer app on Panasonic 2019 TVs. We have developed a patch to fix this problem which we will release in a Firmware Update in the coming months.")
HDR10 and Dolby Vision carry extra scene-by-scene picture data to help compatible TVs deliver punchier HDR images. The GX800 is the first TV from any brand that's capable of supporting both of these premium HDR formats, ensuring that it will deliver the best possible picture quality from any source, regardless of which format it has been mastered in.
As you might expect given how thin it is, the GX800's pictures are delivered using an edge LED lighting system. This configuration doesn't generally produce the same sort of contrast you can get from a direct-lit system, where the LEDs sit right behind the full screen. It is, though, by far the most common approach at the GX800's sort of price level, and can still deliver strong results when backed up by clever light management and a sophisticated processing engine. Talking of which...
The GX800's pictures are powered by Panasonic's HCX picture processing engine. This is essentially the same processor using in 2018's flagship TVs, with its 'tuned in Hollywood' toolset for producing pictures that get as close as the screen's specifications can manage to a filmmaker's intention - particularly where contrast and colour are concerned.
There's an impressively long list of picture adjustments too. Highlights include optional dynamic tone mapping (where the TV calculates scene by scene image data for standard 'static' HDR10 sources) and the option to have the TV adjust the baseline brightness of HDR sources based on light levels in your room.
Panasonic TX-58GX800B: Smart Features
- Smart system: My Home Screen 4.0, Freeview Play
Panasonic's latest iteration of its My Home Screen smart interface is a slightly odd mixture of sophistication and limitation.
On the sophistication side, it now supports Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa voice recognition via external listening devices. Plus it has its own built-in voice system activated via the remote control if you've not yet entered the smart speaker world.
It also introduces a useful new multi-deck home screen. This features five scrollable tiers of content options at the bottom of the screen - though only one tier can be viewed at a time, meaning it's still possible to watch TV while browsing the smart options. It's possible to set which tier appears first when the Home key on the remote is pressed, and which order the decks scroll round in.
Three decks feature direct links to content on Netflix, YouTube and the Freeview Play app, the last of which plays host to the catch-up services of the UK's main terrestrial broadcasters. The other two decks comprise a Settings menu to help customise the home screen, and the default row of content icons that come up when you first hit the Home menu button.
Only three self-explanatory icons appear on the Home menu when it's first called up: Apps, Devices and Live TV. Hitting the apps one, though, brings up a full-screen menu showing both the apps already downloaded to the TV and access to an app store. This screen is a bit cumbersome, but apps can easily be chosen from here to appear on the Home Screen, so that their icons pop-up there alongside the original three icons.
Unlike the smart systems of LG and Samsung, though, no second tier of contextual direct content links appears when an app is highlighted. Also, there aren't as many apps available as you get with some rival platforms. So while there's Amazon Prime Video, Rakuten, YouTube and Netflix, all with 4K HDR support, you don't get Now TV or BT Sport. And it seems Apple TV won't turn up any time soon, either.
Panasonic TX-58GX800B: Picture
With any relatively affordable TV that uses edge LEDs, the first thing to look for when assessing picture quality is how well it manages its light. Happily, the GX800 does a pretty great job of it.
Particularly impressive is the lack of light blooming, blocking or banding - even when the screen is asked to show an intensely bright HDR object against a very dark backdrop. This proves especially useful when you're watching wide aspect ratio films with black bars above and below them, since there's nothing more distracting than seeing light blooms and stripes constantly shifting around in what should be constantly and uniformly black bars.
What's more, the 58GX800 manages its impressive backlight uniformity without heavily dimming bright objects down or raising the screen's black level floor. Nor does the baseline brightness of the overall image jump around aggressively when an HDR film cuts abruptly between bright and dark shots (or if it does, it happens so fast it's usually impossible to see).
The consistency, uniformity and stability of the backlight really is outstanding for a £900 58-inch TV. An achievement which just gets even better when you consider that the GX800 produces both a decent (by mid-range, edge-lit TV standards) peak brightness of just under 500 nits in Vivid mode, and much deeper, more believable black tones than edge LED technology usually manages.
To be clear, there is more greyness over very dark shots than you get with OLED TVs, or top level direct-lit LCD TVs. Subtle light details can sometimes go AWOL, too - though in truth, the GX800 does better than almost all of its similarly priced rivals in this respect.
Having got the contrast and backlight foundation of its pictures right, the rest falls into place beautifully. Especially with Panasonic's estimable picture processing at the wheel, which delivers a strikingly natural and refined picture that makes it stupidly easy to become totally immersed in what you're watching.
Detail levels, for instance, are perfectly pitched. Panasonic's Resolution Remaster system works outstandingly well, enhancing the sharpness of even native 4K content without making anything look forced or uneven. There's none of the softness - even over moving objects - that you get with lesser 4K TVs, nor is there any of the exaggerated sharpness and noise you can get with screens that don't have the processing know-how to live up to their pixel counts. In short, you feel like you're seeing exactly the right level of detail and noise, leaving you with a lovely refined finish that speaks volumes about the quality of Panasonic's HCX processor.
The same goes for the 58GX800's colour performance. The degree of subtlety and blend finesse on show is exceptional for a mid-range model, helping the image look impressively substantial and three-dimensional. Even skin tones look impeccably natural, with immaculately subtle blends and no hint - even with the out-of-the-box settings - of blotching, banding or off-key tinting. What's more, the screen's impressive backlighting means that dark colours aren't nearly as likely to appear muted or greyed over as they typically are on affordable LCD TVs. And the screen's bright enough to deliver levels of HDR-friendly colour volume that elude most mid-range rivals.
The GX800's motion handling is excellent too. A Clear Motion black frame insertion system proves particularly effective at removing blur without generating unwanted processing side-effects or causing unnatural amounts of judder. As usual with such features, though, it does noticeably darken the image. So it's perhaps as well that the Low setting of Panasonic's Intelligent Frame Creation system also works pretty nicely.
The GX800 responds precisely as it should when fed a Dolby Vision or HDR10+ source too. There's clearly more punch in bright areas, and a little more precision in shadowy areas. The fact that both these HDR systems deliver a picture advantage on the GX800 is a great reminder of just how excellent it is that Panasonic has stepped beyond industry politics and simply offered support for both.
A couple of picture setup options warrant a specific mention in this section of the GX800 review though. First, while the HDR Auto Brightness option (which adapts playback of HDR to light levels in your room) is pretty clever, it's nonetheless generally best left off unless the room the TV is in is prone to unusually extreme variations in ambient light.
Second, the Dynamic HDR Effect setting actually does more than simply adjust brightness based on an ongoing assessment of incoming static (HDR10/HLG) HDR sources. It also ramps up colour saturations. For the most part, this works well and is much appreciated - especially as some aggressively bright HDR sources can look rather washed out without Dynamic HDR in play - yet sometimes the feature can go too far, causing extreme colour tones to start looking distractingly gaudy. So big a difference can this feature make to the picture that it's one of the few areas where Panasonic could perhaps have introduced a bit more refinement. Or at least narrowed the colour saturation 'gap' between having the feature on or off.
A lot of content is still standard dynamic range (SDR), so it's good to find Panasonic's TV handling such sources seriously well. Black levels are even more impressive in SDR than they are with HDR, and the HCX processing again shows a beautifully assured touch when it comes to upscaling HD to 4K, gently adding detail and density while simultaneously reducing noise without removing any natural grain a source may contain. Colours maintain their natural touch and balance during the upscaling process, too.
The picture isn't particularly bright with SDR, though, it must be said. When you're watching a film in a dark room, at least, that actually becomes part of the set's charm, providing a handy reminder of just how much light and colour subtlety actually fits into the old Rec 709 colour space when a TV knows how to show it properly.
There are inevitably some limits to the Panasonic GX800's picture performance. To repeat a point made earlier, while excellent for such an affordable screen, its black levels aren't up there with those you can get from OLED or really premium LCD TVs. Its colours, even with Dynamic HDR in play, don't have the same spectacularly vivid maximum saturations that high end TVs can deliver. And its viewing angle is limited, with colour and contrast starting to reduce from as little as 20 degrees off axis (this being the downside of using the otherwise much appreciated VA panel). Finally, there's a very slight hint of colour banding during HDR sequences that contain exceptionally subtle colour blends (typically dusky or heavily clouded skies), while some very specific mid-dark scenes reveal a slight vertical shadow down their left and right hand edges. Both of these latter issues, though, really do only show up very rarely.
There's little point in comparing the GX800 with TVs costing twice as much money or more, though. What really matters is that aside from its viewing angle, even the weaknesses of the GX800 are minimal in their impact versus most similarly priced sets, while its strengths are in a whole different league.
Panasonic TX-58GX800: Sound
The 58GX800's speakers prove remarkably powerful for such a slim set, delivering a soundstage of impressive scale that spreads far beyond the TV's physical bodywork. There's a sense of height as well as width in the presentation when you're listening to Dolby Atmos sources, and details are presented with both startling clarity and enough precision and layering to create a genuine sense of three-dimensionality. The mid-range is powerful enough to shift through plenty of gears when building up an action scene, and voices are never lost amid even the densest cacophony.
The only issue is that there's a limit to how deep bass can go. In fact, one or two really heavy duty Dolby Atmos moments, such as the most bombastic parts of Blade Runner 2049's massively dynamic score, can cause the bass drivers to bottom out into an uncomfortable crackle. This makes it a shame that is isn't possible to add an external subwoofer via the TV's headphone output like it is with Panasonic's OLED TVs.
Even as it stands, though, the GX800's sound is good enough to make the need for a separate soundbar much less pressing than it normally is with skinny LCD TVs. And that only adds to saving you a packet.
The Panasonic TX-58GX800 is an outstanding mid-range TV. Its currently unique compatibility with both of the premium dynamic HDR formats will immediately attract discerning AV fans, who will then also lap up the set's impressively immersive and precise pictures and a surprisingly effective built-in Dolby Atmos sound system.
At this price point it offers exceptional value for money, wrapping together LCD picture smarts and beefy Dolby-enhanced sound components into an altogether compelling package.
Despite being three inches smaller than the Panasonic GX800, not supporting Dolby Vision and being less bright, this Samsung TV costs £60 more. It does, however, provide a more sophisticated and content rich smart TV platform, and some impressive backlight control.
This 55-inch Sony model may be slightly smaller than the Panasonic GX800, but it's also slightly cheaper at £849, uses a direct rather than edge lighting system, and provides a huge number of apps via its Android TV smart platform. Its panel is an IPS rather than VA type, though, limiting its contrast and backlight uniformity.