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Panasonic launches 4K TV range for 2014

After showing a sneak peek at CES, Panasonic has formally launched its 2014 range of 4K and HD TVs in Australia, with pricing and availability.

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Panasonic's AX800 4K TV showing the My Stream predictive content feature. Nic Healey/CNET

Panasonic may have said goodbye to plasma, but according to the company it's definitely committed to 4K Ultra HD for 2014 and beyond.

In fact, it's expanding its 4K TVs into two series -- the AX800 and AX900 -- although that's only four separate units. There are still 18 Full HD TVs on the cards from the company.

The AX900 is the flagship series, coming in 85-inch and 65-inch sizes. The AX800 is a slight step down, with 58- and 65-inch sizing. Interestingly, Panasonic has no 4K TVs in the 70+ inch range.

According to Maetham Roomi, product marketing manager for Viera TV at Panasonic, the company had brought old plasma engineers to the 4K team to ensure the best possible black levels across the 4K TV series.

As with all manufacturers, the paucity of native Ultra HD content means Panasonic is pushing the quality of its upscaling engine. There's not a lot of information on the actual process behind the 'Processing Engine' as Panasonic is terming it, merely that it involves "next-gen image processing and innovative picture rendering". Certainly, all the new models have been given THX 4K Certification which suggests that something's working.

Other features -- which are part of Panasonic's full line up of Life+ Screen smart TV functionality -- include a customisable home screen with a picture-in-picture EPG, the My Stream service that uses your viewing habits to suggest content and the pop-up info bar.

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The Info Bar and (barely visible at the top of the TV) the pop up camera. Nic Healey/CNET

The latter uses a proximity sensor at the bottom of the TV to detect when people are close. This activates the camera on top of the TV and a small strip of the screen, right near the bottom, displays information such as weather or system notification. Roomi said that the Info Bar has an "extremely low" power draw as the whole screen is not being turned on.

Also worth noting is the TV Anytime feature. This lets users stream any content currently being received by either of the TV's twin tuners or stored on a hard drive attached to the TV to a mobile device using the Viera Remote app. Streaming can be done over mobile networks or Wi-Fi. This essentially means that live Aussie TV or recorded shows could be available around the world.

Panasonic showed off the TV Anytime using a Nexus tablet streaming over Wi-Fi. The resolution has been set quite low and the video was a little juddery but certainly watchable. The resolution can be adjusted to match your available bandwidth.

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The twin tuners allow the AX800 to offer a picture-in-picture function on the EPG. Nic Healey/CNET

Pricing wise the AX800 series will be AU$5,999 for the 65-inch and AU$4,399 for the 58-inch, both of which are available now. The AX900 has yet to be priced and dated -- indeed, Panasonic didn't have a working model in the country for its launch, using a non-functional mock up instead.

Speaking at the launch event Richard Tassone, director of Panasonic's recently restructured consumer electronics group said that "Panasonic weren't the first to market with 4K, but we did have features that the others didn't off -- such as HDMI 2.1 -- and that continues with this new range".

Roomi added: "We've gone a long way with future proofing the panels. The product cycle is around 5-6 years, so we've worked with our engineers to ensure that future codecs with be supported and that this is a TV that can last."

As mentioned earlier the remaining 18 TVs in the 2014 line up are Full HD models spread over seven series. Sizing varies, but doesn't go past 60-inches.

'Selected features' of the Life+ Screen functionality are available on the follow TV ranges: AS800, AS740, AS700, AS670, AS640, and AS610 series.