Panasonic CX8 review

Review: Panasonic CX8 (CX850 / CX800)

22 Jul 2015 | Torben Rasmussen


We have already tested Panasonic’s 2015 mid-range and entry-level Ultra HD TVs CX7 and CX6, and this time we have gotten our hands on Panasonic’s current flagship for 2015, namely CX8. We say “current” because a higher-end CX9 is expected to be unveiled later this year at IFA.

CX8 offers many of the same features as its smaller siblings, including Firefox OS. On top of that Panasonic has added support for the DCI P3 color space as well as HDR (high dynamic range) that will be added with a software update later this year.

Note: The TV is called CX850 in the US and CX800 in Europe. Be aware that a CX800 exists in the US but it is a lower-end TV without HDR support.

Price and retailers:

US retailer
UK retailer

Specifications

55"
Ultra HD (3840x2160)
VA LCD with backlit LED (18 zones)
HDR (high dynamic range)
DCI P3 color space
Active 3D
Stand (fixed)
Wall (VESA 400)
(HxWxD) 72 x 124 x 5.4 cm (without stand)
22 kg
HDMI (3x 2.0)
USB (1x 3.0 - 2x 2.0)
Optical
HDMI-ARC (2x)
Headphones
Stereo
DVB T/T2/C/S2
WiFi (n standard)
MPEG4
HEVC
VP9
Firefox OS
TouchPad Remote (bluetooth)
Smartphone-app (Viera TV Remote2)
Manual
Stand
2 remote controls
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First impressions

Like most other high-end TVs CX8 has a minimalistic design. The thin metal bezel has a dark brow / golden tone. Standing in a living room environment the TV looks quite anonymous but still stylish. The metal base provides a solid foundation for the TV but looks different depending on your region. The European version has an arc stand.

As you can see, the TV is leaning slightly backwards, just like the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11, which is a break from tradition.

The back is all-plastic and there are standard VESA mounting holes for wall brackets. The important connectors all point either to the side or down, and only the analog inputs point out towards the wall. If you take a look at the photos below, you will see that our HDMI and antenna cables were a bit too rigid to fit perfectly but we managed to get them in place. Note that only one of the three USB ports can power a USB hard drive.

Compared to last year’s 8 series TV, the 2015 version has one less HDMI port (a total of 3). On the other hand, all three are port are fully equipped with HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2 copy protection, meaning that all three ports can be used to connect future media players such as Ultra HD Blu-ray players. 2013 and 2014 Ultra HD TVs typically only had one HDMI 2.0 port.



We found two remote controls in the box, still made of plastic unlike last year’s 8 series TV that came bundled with a much nicer metal remote.

There are no 3D glasses in the box, and this is true for every TV we have received for testing in 2015 so far. 3D is obviously not a priority for TV manufacturers any longer.

The panel coating on CX800 is less reflective than for example Sony’s 2015 TVs. It can best be described as a more diffuse coating.

Panasonic CX850 / CX800 review


User experience & Features

2015 is the year of new TV operating systems, and Panasonic has equipped most of its TVs with a quad-core processor to power the new Firefox OS developed by Mozilla, the same company that had developed the Firefox web browser. A couple of new features have been added since our last encounter so they are clearly still working on it.

Operating system & smart-TV

We have already described Firefox OS in detail in our CX7 review. Go there to learn more. Firefox OS on CX8 looks identical and works the same way. You can pin bubbles to the main screen and install new apps from the app store.



I should add that Firefox OS is mostly an overlay. Firefox is only used for the "smart" elements of the user experience. Panasonic’s very outdated and ugly interface is used for all settings menus, the TV guide and TV channels, and recording menus. It feels weirdly out of place on a modern TV. Panasonic should have let Mozilla design the entire user interface from bottom up. Not only does it make the TV seem unfinished, but Panasonic appears to have stopped development.

Panasonic CX850 / CX800 review


Since our last review of a Panasonic TV, the Netflix app has been released. It supports Netflix’s 4K streaming, letting you enjoy TV series such as Daredevil and Sense8 in 4K resolution. As with other 2015 Ultra HD TVs, the stream immediately jumped to 4K resolution on Panasonic CX8. However, Netflix’s app on Firefox OS uses the same grainy subtitles that we complained about while testing Sony’s Android-based TVs.

Panasonic CX850 / CX800 review


A few other apps have also been added, including YouTube and Vimeo. The YouTube app also supports 4K streaming (if the video clip was uploaded in 4K). This is possible because CX8 support VP9 decoding, which Google had decided to use for YouTube’s 4K instead of the HEVC format.

Remote controls & operation

The remote control is clearly a downgrade from last year’s premium remote but Panasonic still offers the premium version as a stand-alone purchase. The two remotes bundled with CX8 are made of plastic. The large one is designed for a time when TV channels dominated and depending on your habits you might prefer this to the smaller remote. Personally, I have always found the remote a little too big but the weight makes it feel comfortable to hold. It does not feel as cheap as for example Sony’s remote control.

I’m not a big fan of Panasonic’s touch remote either but you might feel differently. The smal remote has been designed for use with Firefox OS but since only parts of the user interface runs Firefox, you miss some of the dedicated buttons of the larger version. Personally, I think that Samsung has the best TV remote in 2015 - if we forget about the high-end Bang & Olufsen BeoRemote One for a moment.



Launching Panasonic’s app remote on a phone or tablet feels like traveling five to ten years back in time. The user interface was clearly not designed by people with high graphical standards. In all fairness, we should say that Panasonic has yet to release a 2015 update for the app so they have time to rectify it. The app offers some useful features for controlling the TV and fairly advanced calibration options, which is great, but why highlight them in the app? It makes no sense to see all the calibration options every time you open the app.

TV channels, recording & sound

"Most of the user interface is unchanged, which is a bad thing."
As mentioned, all things related to TV channels use Panasonic’s old user interface and not the new Firefox look. The TV guide is unchanged and if you own one of Panasonic’s plasma TVs you will recognize it. The button descriptions at the bottom still take away approximately 25% of the screen area, which is just an insane waste of space that could be used to show more channels.

You can schedule recordings directly from the TV Guide but to watch them you have to go through several of Panasonic’s menus. It is not very well integrated, which is a shame since the TV has twin tuner capabilities.

However, since the old-school interface is light and well... old, the powerful quad core processor makes it very snappy to use. Not only when it navigating menus but also when switching channels. I guess that is one positive aspect of not changing anything…

We also found a picture-in-picture mode. It lets you choose what to place in the small video from a channel list. However, enabling PiP puts the TV in either "Standard" or "Dynamic" picture mode, making it almost painful to watch unless you adjust the picture settings. It should be relatively simple to fix for Panasonic!

There is not much room for speakers and the audio feels a little weak as a result. You should probably leave a little room in your budget for either a soundbar or a proper speaker setup for movies.


Calibration

Panasonic offers some of the best and most accessible calibration settings for adjusting the picture, which is nice when jumping back and forth between measurements.

The TV’s default picture mode is horrible but that was expected. A quick change to Cinema Pro improves picture quality a lot, but we were not entirely convinced yet. When reviewing the cheaper CX7 and CX6 TVs we criticized Panasonic for the lack of great pre-set profiles, especially considering that Panasonic went to great lengths to do so during the plasma days. CX8 seems to confirm that Panasonic has changed course. The gamma curve looked like a U and the color temperature in the dark end of the scale was far too high. Reaching an acceptable result required more changes than we are used to from high-end TVs.

After some tweaks, we managed to improve things but we never reached the same spot-on colors as we saw on Samsung’s JS9500 and Sony’s X85C. To hit dE less than 1 you must take the professional settings into use and adjust every step of the grayscale.

Panasonic points out in its documentation for the picture systems in CX8 that the use of new phosphor (used to extend the color gamut) technology means that variations between two TVs can be more significant than before. So perhaps it will be more difficult to reuse settings from one TV on another TV as we move to extended color spaces.


Panasonic CX8 supports a larger color space than regular Full HD and early Ultra HD TVs that use Rec.709, promising support for the DCI P3 color space, which is used in cinemas. However, to benefit from DCI P3 you need content, and right now there is close to nothing out there. As you can see in the graph (click on "DCI P3" above: grey triangle is DCI P3, white triangle is what the TV can reproduce) the TV is not capable of reproducing the full DCI P3 color space.

Measurements

In this new "measurement" section we will include all measurements and our suggested calibration settings. If you want to learn more about our test methodology click here.

Measurements Out-of-boxCalibrated
Black level - 0.043 cd/m2
Backlight - 120 cd/m2
Contrast - 2800:1
Input lag 49 ms 39 ms (Game Mode)

Power consumptionOut-of-box Calibrated
On 190 W 93 W
Standby 0.25 W -

Time measurements Time
Start-up (until responsive) 3 s
Start-up (until picture comes on) 3 s
Netflix app start-up 12 s
Youtube app start-up 5 s

Group SettingValue
Picture Profile THX Cinema
Backlight 32
Contrast 60
Brightness +7
Sharpness 50
Color 50
Tone 0
Advanced Color temp Warm2
Vivid colors Off
Adaptive backlight Off/low
Light sensor On/Off (increase backlight if set to On)
Noise reduction Off
MPEG Remaster Off
Resolution Remaster Off
Intelligent Frame Control Minimum
Game mode On/Off
1080p pure direct Off
1080p pixel by pixel Off

Note that the settings above are optimized for dark room viewing. If you want to use the TV in a bright living room you should increase the backlight setting or enable the light sensor.


Panasonic CX850 / CX800 review

Picture quality

Panasonic CX8 supports two of the new developments for 2015; HDR (high dynamic range) and a wider color space (DCI P3). Panasonic is using a different type of phosphor to expand the color space than most other manufacturers but it is basically the same technology. The goal is to expand the color space to DCI P3 that holds more of the visible color spectrum than the regular Rec.709 used on most TVs.

Read our backgrounder on quantum dots
Read our backgrounder on Ultra HD & wide color gamuts

The problem right now is there is virtually no content available in the larger color space, at least not for consumers. For now, we can only conclude that yes the TV is able to reproduce more colors, including some that are out of reach for regular TVs such as Coca Cola red, and we see potential in that but it is hard to say how much it will affect the movie experience until more movies become available. However, note that the THX mode confirms to the smaller Rec.709 color space per default, so you need to switch to a different mode to use the wider DCI color space. For the best result, you need two separate calibration settings.

The TV is still not able to reproduce HDR (high dynamic range) as will have to wait for Panasonic to issue an over-the-air software update. It is expected to be pushed out sometime later this year in time for Ultra HD Blu-ray players, says Panasonic. However, the TV only has a limited number of local dimming zones so it might not be the biggest improvement. HDR needs light output to be controlled locally in order to boost brightness and at the same time reproduce deep black and shadows but with only 18 zones it seems like a stretch to call it local dimming. The TV is not capable of playing HDR clips from a USB device either, so we cannot really comment on how HDR looks on CX8. We just have to wait for the Panasonic and the industry to come to an agreement on the last details regarding HDR.

Panasonic CX800


Panasonic’s motion compensation systems can be activated to improve motion resolution. To improve things most people will probably prefer to set it to the lowest setting to avoid artefacts and the soap-opera effect but still benefit from slightly better motion reproduction. With IFC set to "Minimum" the motion performance of the TV is very good for a LCD TV.

Picture quality in general is top notch. Panasonic’s TV has excellent SD, HD and 4K picture processing and consequently picture quality. In many ways it is in the top of class. We saw smooth reproduction of gradients and a lot of details in shadows and bright highlights - at least after we calibrated it. The default THX profile had considerable black crush, which affected shadow details so it was necessary to adjust some things for the TV to reach its full potential. After these adjustments the TV reproduced great pictures even while watching mediocre TV broadcasts. 4K sources obviously look much much better.

The TV supports Netflix’s 4K streaming and the company is adding new original TV series in 4K such as Daredevil and Sense8, regularly. It generally looks great. You can also watch 4K from YouTube via the app. There is no app for Amazon Prime yet.

We measured input lag to 49 ms with our calibrated settings, which is pretty low compared to other Ultra HD TVs. Only 10 milliseconds were shaved off after switching to the game mode. Based on such a tiny difference we would probably prefer to play games with our calibrated settings instead of using the game mode. The TV is well-suited for game console use. Just remember that the latest game consoles such as PlayStation 4 and Xbox One cap out at 1080p HD. No 4K gaming yet.

Unfortunately our sample suffered from clouding in each corner and a bit DSE (dirty screen effect). Combined with quite narrow viewing angles it meant that you would have to sit right in front of the TV. Move too much to the side and picture quality drops noticeably. Colors get washed out, contrast gets weaker, and the clouding looks even worse from an angle. Unfortunately, these issues affected the viewing experience in my living room.


Activating the adaptive backlight controls means that you are constantly reminded of the cloudy corners because the zones are simply too big. As said, 18 zones hardly qualify as local dimming. Some edge LED based TVs have almost the same number of zones. To give you an example we have shot some photos of the Star Wars into. The photos are overexposed to illustrate our point so this is not exactly how it looks in practice but it should give you a good idea.



It is unfortunate that backlight homogeneity does not live up to what we have come to expect from direct LED based TVs. As you can see from the 60% white photo we also experienced some light splotches in the middle of the panel that are brighter than the corners. We also noticed two dark lines approximately 10-15 centimeters in from the sides, which is disappointing. We understand that some CX8 owners have had more luck in this department so there might be better samples out there. Our experience suggests that Panasonic might be sourcing panels from more than one supplier.

As mentioned, viewing angles are narrower than on some of the other VA-based LCD panels that we have tested this year, which might be attributable to the panel or maybe the anti-reflective coating that Panasonic has used. From 4 meters away we needed to sit in one of the two center positions in the sofa get a great picture. Moving to the third or fourth seat meant losing too much contrast.


Conclusion

On paper Panasonic’s new CX8 (CX850 in the US and CX800 in Europe) has what it takes to compete in 2015, offering HDR (high dynamic range) and an extended color space close to DCI P3. However, it has too few zones (only 18) to really qualify as a heavyweight but nevertheless promises to bring picture quality improvements once new movies are released in the next-generation movie format. HDR on CX8 does not work yet so we will have to wait for a software update that is coming later this year.

Firefox OS offers access to Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo and other apps, but Panasonic’s old and clunky user interface is still used for TV channels, recordings and most settings menus, which affects the user experience. The quad core processor is fast enough and we rarely had to wait for apps to load but Panasonic simply needs to unify the user interface. No discussion.

Compared to last year’s 8 series, Panasonic has decided to remove 1 HDMI port, exclude 3D glasses and make some sacrifices in materials and build quality to offer a TV at a more competitive price. Whether you like this compromise is up to you but we did not miss the 3D glasses.

Panasonic CX8 delivers great picture quality from pretty much any source, including 4K streaming, but unfortunately our sample suffered from clouding issues and very narrow viewing angles that impacted picture quality negatively. Considering the price tag, we must say that we are somewhat disappointed with Panasonic’s latest high-end TV.

Compare prices for Panasonic CX800 on Pricerunner


Price and retailers:

US retailer
UK retailer



Great picture processing, 4K picture and upscaling
Firefox OS is fast and user-friendy
Fewer reflections than competitors
Quick navigation in TV channel menus


Old Panasonic menus not integrated in Firefox OS
Clouding issues
Too narrow viewing angles
Bad local dimming system (18 zones)
Cheap remote controls
Pre-calibrated color modes not very good


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