The Panasonic TC-L65WT600: the company's first foray into the Ultra High Definition (UHD) market was announced at IFA Berlin this week. Panasonic has been slow to release a 4K TV, choosing instead to focus on plasma technology. Now, however, it's likely that the arrival of UHD products from Samsung, Sony, and LG in the last year, combined with consumer demand for the latest technological trends, have forced Panasonic's hand.
The powers that be at Panasonic seem to have seen the LED light, and the announcement of the Panasonic TC-L65WT600 is a pretty definitive statement from the longstanding champion of plasma. Panasonic may have upset some black-level enthusiasts with the announcement, but this should guarantee the company's relevance, at least until the Ultra Ultra High Definition revolution.
The IFA Berlin press event we attended focused on the European launch of the TV (TX-L65WT600). Since then, US release dates and prices have been announced. The TC-L65WT600 is available for pre-purchase (MSRP $5,999) and will ship some time in October. While UHD is all well and good, arguably the most exciting announcement regarding the TC-L65WT600 is the inclusion of HDMI 2.0 support.
Design and Smart TV Platform
If it ain't broke...
In case the model number wasn't enough indication, the Panasonic TC-L65WT600 is part of the WT60 series. Therefore, those hoping for a design refresh to go alongside the upgrade to 4K are in for a disappointment. The TV's design is reminiscent of the TC-L47WT60. We were impressed with the design of the WT60 series when we reviewed it earlier this year, and we stand by that assessment. Put simply, the TC-L65WT600 is a good-looking TV. Barely-there metallic bezels frame the screen, while the indicator lights—housed in the lower transparent plastic bezel—appear to hover in mid air.
Panasonic upgraded its smart TV platform VieraConnect in early 2013, and predictably the TC-L65WT600 takes full advantage of the system. As far as smart platforms go, VieraConnect is a step in the right direction, but far from perfect.
Arguably, the most exciting news regarding the Panasonic TC-L65WT600 announcement is the inclusion of the just released HDMI 2.0. For the uninitiated, HDMI 2.0 allows for a faster data input—up to 18 Gbps—and resolutions of up to 3,840 x 2,160. HDMI 2.0 also supports frame rates of up to 60fps for 4K video, while the previous iteration—HDMI 1.4—only supported 30fps. We're sounding like a broken record at this point, but we do need to point out that there isn't actually any 60fps 4K content available for purchase, so HDMI 2.0 isn't strictly necessary for the time being. However, based on the limited 60fps release of the first Hobbit film, and the interest it generated, the availability of 60fps home media is only a matter of time.
The TC-L65WT600 also supports Displayport 1.2A. This is a big deal for videographers and graphic designers, as it will allow live editing of content on the TV's ample 65-inch screen.
It looks as good as you'd expect, but we're still waiting for content.
UHD is still an emerging technology, so let's get one thing clear right away: You shouldn't expect a recently purchased UHD TV to deliver incredible images right out of the box. There is currently a dearth of original 4K content, so the majority of consumers will have to be satisfied with upscaled HD content. Fortunately, pretty much every UHD TV can upscale HD content, and the TC-L65WT600 is no exception. Panasonic seems very proud of its 4K Fine Remaster Engine upscaling tech. The upscaled samples we saw on the show room looked noticeably sharper than the HD versions, but we can't really vouch for their quality until we test the TV.
So what about that UHD content? How does it look? Well, it looks like UHD. 4K images are incredibly sharp and detailed. It was only when we got our faces right up to the screen that we could differentiate between pixels. Does it look four times better than HD, and is it worth the price? Well, that's a private discussion between you and your wallet. The simple truth is, UHD is a relatively new technology, and poorly supported by content providers. By purchasing a UHD TV, you are essentially purchasing a product based on its future potential.
A safe bet?
So what does the Panasonic TC-L65WT600 offer that other UHD TVs don't? Regarding image quality, there is no way we can answer that until we have one in our testing labs. Until then we can only assume, based on the inclusion of HDMI 2.0, that what the TC-L65WT600 offers is peace of mind.
Spending just under $6,000 on a television is a serious commitment, and it's not unreasonable to expect a certain longevity for that amount of money. Hopefully Panasonic's determination to future-proof the TC-L65WT600 will assuage consumers' reservations about jumping onto the 4K bandwagon. At the very least, Panasonic's adoption of the technology will level the playing field among the TV giants.