Panasonic Puts 2014 Lineup On Display in NYC

Last week, Panasonic hosted a series of press briefings for its 2014 lineup of LED-lit LCD TVs and UHDTVs, and there was plenty to talk about. The TV landscape in 2014 looks nothing like what people expected; even as recently as a year ago, there was no hint that curved LCDs would even exist. Panasonic was still in the plasma business, and 3D was not yet officially “dead.”
Panasonic’s 1080p plasmas had a solid reputation for image quality, especially when viewing cinematic content in a dark room and video with fast action like sport broadcasts. Despite accolades from the press and a dedicated community of plasma enthusiasts, Panasonic shut down its plasma factories because the business was not profitable. After the plasma shutdown, the company put all of its consumer-display engineering into LED-lit LCDs—fortunately, the result is a much better-performing collection of LCDs than what Panasonic offered in the past.

The TV lineup and features on display were announced a couple months back, so instead of listing every feature, I’m going to discuss what I found most interesting, based on the brief period of time I spent with each model.

AS530 Series

I didn’t spend much time with this model because—among the TVs at the event—it had the least to offer AV enthusiasts. The 60-inch version features an IPS panel; if wide viewing angles matter more than head-on image quality, it may be worth consideration. The spec sheet touts 240 Hz backlight blinking for clear fast-motion rendering, but that approach is noticeably inferior to native 240 Hz LCDs.

Compared to the rest of Panasonic’s lineup, the most notable thing about the AS530 series is it comes in a wide variety of screen sizes: 39, 50, 55, and 60 inches.

TC-60AS640U

There’s one feature that makes this mainstream, value-oriented TV stand out: It comes bundled with its own Bluetooth-compatible soundbar inside the box. During a brief demo, the TV’s built-in speakers sounded quite anemic, whereas the bundled soundbar sounded adequate. I’m not sure if the designers of the AS640 deliberately skimped on the built-inspeakers, but it’s a certainty that the built-in audio is utterly inadequate.

The AS640 will be available in one size: 60 inches. No price is set. The panel uses IPS technology; image quality was decent but unremarkable. The TV includes Panasonic’s smart apps, touchpad remote, and voice recognition—par for the course these days.

A bundled Bluetooth soundbar sets the AS640 apart from other HDTVs – photo by Mark Henninger

AS650 Series

The AS650 includes passive 3D! Actually, it’s the only series of Panasonic TVs with that feature. However, 3D was not a part of the demo I saw, so I can’t tell you how it looked. It’s become quite clear that 3D is an afterthought in 2014. I can’t think of anything else that really stood out about the AS650. It’s a good-looking TV with a very 2013-like feature set that includes a bunch of new smart features thrown-in for good measure. I can see it doing well in a “weekend sales event.”

Panasonic’s only 1080p 3D-capable TV for 2014, the AS650 – photo by Mark Henninger

The AS60 series includes Panasonic’s smart features and touchpad remote, including voice recognition. It just didn’t do anything I’d consider exciting, and nothing about its image quality stood out to me. The AS650 series comes in 50, 55, and 60-inch (diagonal) sizes.

TC-55AS680U

Finally, a 1080p TV from Panasonic that’s worth getting excited about! Why? Because it features a true, honest-to-goodness 240 Hz refresh rate. It also has the same smart features, remote control, and voice recognition as the AS650, but it’s the panel’s performance when showing fast action with 24p Blu-ray content that got my attention.

The TC-55AS680U excelled at rendering fast motion with great clarity – photo by Mark Henninger
Fast action maintained proper film cadence—no soap-opera effect—and when it comes to motion resolution, the AS680 maintains clarity at levels approaching what I’m used to seeing from plasmas. It’s not the only LCD I’ve seen perform this trick; even so, it did it really well. Unfortunately, there is a catch—it’s only available in a 55-inch screen size. Perhaps it’ll find a home as the TV of choice for gamers, especially if it has really low latency. According to Panasonic, it’s a US-only model and a Best Buy exclusive.

AX800 Series

Panasonic’s top-tier edgelit models feature UHD/4K resolution and impressive image quality. I covered my impressions of the TC-65AX800U in a separate post, which you can read here.

I saw the 65-inch TC-65AX800U in both bright-room and dark-room conditions, and I really liked what I saw. Head-on, it possessed image quality attributes that matched or beat many plasma panels I’ve seen in the past. It did not have the deep blacks and 180-degree viewing angles of a Kuro or ZT60, but even so, I was genuinely surprised at how good theAX800 looked.
In addition to great picture quality, Panasonic packed the AX800U with the standard assortment of smart features, including facial recognition and voice recognition. A Panasonic rep demonstrated how the AX800 recognizes who is in the room and loads custom presets based on who’s there. I’m not a big fan of using a TV as a giant iPad; I usually sleep through the smart-features demo. When the demonstration wrapped up, I asked if users can turn off all NSA-friendly features—I don’t want me TV spying on me. Thankfully, the answer was yes.

Panasonic’s 2014 TVs include voice recognition. The AX800U also includes facial recognition. – photo by Mark Henninger

The AX800 comes in two sizes: 58 and 65 inches. Panasonic said an 85-inch version is due this fall, but I could not get any company reps even to hint at the potential price.

Panasonic’s presentation was a lot more humble than what I’ve seen from other manufacturers. I appreciate the engineering-centric philosophy of the company, and I look forward to its FLAD flagship, the AX900—that TV was the one thing missing from the line show.

The venue was not quite as unique as The Guggenheim, but then again Panasonic wasn’t promoting the virtues of curved-screen TVs