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THE MOST TRUSTED TECH REVIEWS IN THE WORLD

AUGUST 2015

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FIRST TESTS 4K TELEVISION

Panasonic TX-40CX680B 4K Television £700

Panasonic redefines the small screen It’s not just the prices of 4K TVs that have plummeted in recent times – so have their screen sizes. Last year, sets below 55in were few and far between, but 40in seems to be the popular starting point in the 2015 line-up of 4K TVs. There’s an argument that a higher resolution on a smaller screen is unnecessary, but it does mean you can sit a fair bit closer. Even nose-to-the-screen close, a 4K TV should look clean and noise-free – provided you’re playing well-recorded 4K content, of course. Ideal, then, for smaller living rooms where space might be tight. Or even bedrooms, if you can dare think about having a second 4K screen in the house already. This 40in Panasonic TX 40CX680B is the baby screen in the company’s oneabove-entry-level 4K LED range. It can be yours for just £700 – not much more than a brand-new Full HD model of the same size.

The basic principle The TX 40CX680B doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of Panasonic’s flagship models, such as the 4K Studio Master Processor (the brainpower behind the company’s new colour, contrast and brightness technology). You have to jump a range higher (to the CX700) for 3D too, and the absence of a smart remote means users only have the vanilla remote that seems like it has been part of the Panasonic TV package for years. Still, there’s plenty for the TX 40CX680B to shout about. It claims to combine new backlight technology and a new colour filter system to produce subtler, more realistic colours. And it also introduces the new (2.0) iteration of Panasonic’s My Home Screen interface, now powered by Firefox. It’s gone under the knife a bit since last year, ditching the full-page portal and

edging nearer LG and Samsung’s line of sight with pop-up menus and colourful graphics. The upshot is a speedier, more user-friendly and customisable interface, and one we like very much.

Playing with bubbles The home menu is simply a line of bubbles – or ‘decks’ as Panasonic calls them. ‘Live TV’, ‘apps’ and ‘devices’ come as default, but almost anything – whether it’s your favourite TV channel, app or web page, even a media streamer over DLNA – can be pinned to the menu in two button presses. It’s not quite the fancy affair of LG’s WebOS, but it gets the priorities right by nailing simplicity and convenience – and who can argue with that? Settings are clear and straightforward, and we like how you can scoot through them without having to go back and forth into individual tabs – handy when giving settings the once-over on initial set-up. Wi-fi is onboard but, as usual, using the LAN socket is the most stable way to get online, where there’s plenty of choice (see panel). That LAN socket shares space at the back with three HDMI and USB inputs apiece. All HDMI 2.0 inputs are HDCP 2.2 compatible, so should be ready to play ball with Ultra HD Blu-ray players (and other 4K hardware) when they blow in later this year.

All the HDMI inputs will be compatible with the coming Ultra HD Blu-ray players

Expanding network The TX 40CX680B will offer Freeview Play – a rebranded and renovated Freeview – when it launches later this year. For now, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and YouTube provide hours of 4K material and, of course, endless amounts of regular-resolution programming. You’ll also find that stacks of apps – Deezer, TuneIn Radio and Eurosport Player among them – can be installed via the app market. Another new feature is Info Frame, which sparks up navigation bars to access local weather, recommended content, notifications, and channels so you can scroll through them without disrupting what you’re watching.

Netflix is one of the best streaming services to satisfy your 4K craving now, so we tuck into comedy Grace And Frankie and are drawn in by the screen’s knifelike edges, astute detail and buttery-smooth motion. Each questionable pattern on the cast’s dodgy wardrobe choice is laid bare, and individual strands of Jane Fonda’s finely combed hair are distinct.

Smooth and natural Characters glide across rooms without a blip, but not so much that it looks unnatural. And whether we’re sitting one foot or one metre away, the picture looks squeaky clean. But tweaking the out-of-the-box brightness and over-keen colouration is a must. We use a trusty THX Optimizer disc, and find ourselves dialling down the colour settings. Even then, colours are rather on the obvious side. In true Panasonic fashion they are admirably bright and punchy, if not quite as subtle as we’d like. Panasonic’s local-dimming technology reduces backlighting behind dark areas of the image to enhance black levels, and pays off a treat. Blacks are gorgeous – so potent, indeed, that the black bars almost disappear into the TV’s (ultra thin) bezel. Clean whites don’t let the side down either.

Dark matter in detail Dark detail is a little subdued in return – seams in t-shirts and strands in hair get eaten up – which no amount of settingsfiddling can improve. We reluctantly tear ourselves away from 4K to feed the TX 40CX680B Unbroken on Blu-ray. And we don’t feel too hard done by. Switching the ‘24p Smooth Film’ mode to ‘mid’ counters any unwelcome blurring, so

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As the smallest, most affordable quality 4K screen we’ve tested, it’s a standard-bearer


CONTENTCALL Original 4K content is still pretty thin on the ground, so until more material emerges it’s important to ensure that any 4K screen you buy excels with ‘ordinary’ high-def too. Luckily, this Pansonic passes that test.

Characters glide across rooms without a blip, but not so it looks unnatural. No matter how close we are the picture looks squeaky clean

when our Olympian war hero takes to the track, both he and the crowd remain stable. The Panasonic is a good upscaler with high-definition material, holding up well next to one our favourite Full HD sets from last year in terms of sharpness. The same can’t quite be said for standard definition. While the picture isn’t too noisy, DVD owners should be prepared for slightly softer lines than they might be used to with a decent Full HD screen. You can expect only so much, soundwise, from a wafer-thin TV and the 40CX680B can’t perform miracles. The sound through its twin speakers (powered by 10W of amplification) is clear and fairly

USE IT WITH

4K Netflix £9/month

★★★★★

You’ll be wanting to see some 4K content – and this is where to start finding it

detailed, but a decent bargain-basement soundbar or ’base will grant you more substance and solidity. You can’t go wrong with Cambridge Audio’s TV5 soundbase (£250). Or even a Yamaha RX V377 home cinema amp (£250) paired with a Tannoy HTS 101 surround package (£350). The TX 40CX680B is the first 40in TV we’ve seen this year, and it happens to be very good. Whether it will hold its own against the coming competition remains to be seen. Until then, we’re more than happy vouching for the Panasonic. It’s a good-value set that flies the flag for 4K, offering a fine picture and a good stack of features with it. In our minds, that’s £700 well spent.

Rating ★★★★ ★ FOR Strong 4K performance; bright, punchy colours; smooth motion; user-friendly interface AGAINST Standard-definition picture is not great; Freeview Play not available yet VERDICT A great start for Panasonic’s 2015 TVs, and a good advert for small 4K screens

Also consider Samsung UE40F6400 £480 ★★★★★

Not fussed about 4K? One of our favourite Full HD screens from last year is a real bargain.

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