It's been just about a year since Panasonic announced that it was killing off its plasma production, and with it the hopes and dreams of videophiles -- at least ones that aren't independently wealthy -- everywhere.
A couple of months later at CES 2014, the embattled company showed an intriguing prototype of a full-array local dimming LED-based LCD TV that, it said, delivered picture quality as good as its best plasma ever.
Now that much-teased TV, the AX900 series, is official. Announced today at IFA in Berlin, it will be available in 55- and 65-inch sizes this autumn in the UK and Europe. Pricing was not announced.
I reached out to Panasonic asking of U.S. availability, but the company didn't have any information to share at this time. I expect that to change as early as CEDIA, which starts September 10.
The 4K resolution AX900 will in fact have that sweet, sweet dimming courtesy of a full-array (aka "direct") LED backlight. The press release makes no mention of the number of dimming zones, but Panasonic did tell us that the edge-lit AX800 gets 32 zones. I'm hoping to hear confirmation of the 128-zone number officially.
Want more technobabble? Per the press release: "The AX900 analyses the incoming video signal not in traditional 3x3 matrices, but across 5x5 matrices of local dimming fields and adjusts the brightness level of each individual field by extremely fine degrees (not just on/off), providing smooth motion of bright objects, a high contrast ratio, deep, rich blacks and extremely fine gradation which retains detail even in the darkest scenes."
Panasonic also touts the TV's accurate color at any brightness level, a more-transparent LCD panel for brighter images, and an improved ambient light sensor.
Panasonic also announced a few other 4K TVs at IFA: the 85-inch TX-85X940 (above) and the AX630 series (below), available in 40-, 48- and 55-inch sizes. All employ edge-lit LED backlights, and only the X940's has local dimming. It also promises a large array of picture improvements to go with its sure to be large price tag.
The X940 and AX900 offer a DisplayPort connector, something no other maker of 4K TVs does. Panasonic is also careful to note that all of its 4K sets get a "new 4K 60p-supporting HDMI terminal," (aka HDMI 2.0), "which is compatible with the HDCP 2.2 protocol."
Panasonic has announced that Netflix 4K streaming will come "at launch time" to the AX900 and, via firmware update, the existing AX800 (the US version of the AX800 already has it). Panasonic also promised Amazon's 4K streaming would come soon to those two sets. Samsung has already promised both 4K streaming services itself.
We hope to have more details, including U.S. availability and pricing, on all of these sets soon.