Review: Panasonic TX-40DX700

Tech Radar

Review: Panasonic TX-40DX700

Introduction and features

There’s no doubt about it, 4K looks its best on a 60-inch TV. But who has room for a traditional big screen? Not everyone obviously, which is why Panasonic has loaded this 40-inch edge LED-backlit LCD TV with all of its latest tech including, of course, 4K.

However, because the panel is so small, a 3840 × 2160 resolution isn’t the main reason to buy Pana’s 40-inch. No, that distinction goes to the inclusion of high dynamic range (HDR ).

Promising brighter, more colourful and more contrasty images, HDR is the future – and it’s not diminished by the size of your TV. Theoretically, that means the 40DX700, the smallest and cheapest HDR TV available from Panasonic, ought to wow us with era-defining colour. (It doesn’t, but we’ll cover that more in a minute.)

Don’t expect any curves on the 40DX700, either – it’s flat and slim, with a matte silver trim measuring just 5mm around the sides and top, and only 16mm along the bottom, which tapers backwards. Unusually, it’s also got a choice of how it’s supported.

Do you ever look at your TV and think, “Man, I wish its little silver feet were slightly further apart!”? No, nor me, but nevertheless the 40DX700 has two separate configurations for its triangular bracket-style feet: one at each end for an easel-like appearance, or both much closer to the middle of the set. The latter doesn’t look half as good, though it’s a probably a decision that will ultimately be left to size of the table on which you place the DX700.

Panasonic TX-40DX700

The edge LED-backlit VA panel inside the 40DX700 offers local dimming and claims 14000Hz scanning. That number is more gimmick than hard-and-fast science, though.

In layman’s terms, 14000Hz is merely backlight motion rate, or BMR for short, which uses the panel’s frame interpolation feature to fudge a 14000Hz effect. Really, all that means is that you won’t see much motion blur on the 40DX700 which, don’t get us wrong, is crucial – a 4K TV with blurry moving pictures would be pretty useless.

Firefox OS is heating up

Although Panasonic calls its new operating system My Home Screen 2.0, it’s actually built entirely around Mozilla’s Firefox OS and is absolutely brilliant. Three large icons for TV, Apps and Devices float over whatever input is live, which makes it much easier to use than so-called smart TVs of years gone by.

It’s all controlled by a large, silver remote control that sports large buttons and plenty of easy to use shortcuts. Chief among them is a red Netflix button, though the clear Apps and Home buttons are just as important. It’s also possible to ‘pin’ almost anything to that screen. This works best if you add a favourite TV channel, though it’s just as easy to add an input – perhaps HDMI1 – and rename it ‘Blu-ray player’ or ‘Xbox One.’

Reach the apps page and there’s one standout that begs to be pinned to that Home screen: Freeview Play.

Panasonic TX-40DX700

It’s nothing more than a hub app for the catch-up TV apps from UK broadcasters, but the chance to have the BBC iPlayer, ITV, 4 On Demand and Demand Five all in one place is excellent. The BBC’s News and Sport apps come as a bonus. Other apps include Netflix and Amazon Instant (and, yes, the 40DX700 has HEVC decoding for 4K streaming), YouTube (complete with VP9 decoding for watching in 4K), AccuWeather, Wuaki.tv, Chilli Cinema, and many more squirrelled away in its Apps Market.

Happily, it’s all powered by a quad core PRO processor, and so remains fluid and quick to update with apps loading rapidly.

The ins and outs

How many inputs do most people actually use on a TV? That question has obviously been asked, and answered, by Panasonic’s TV designers because they’ve fenced-off what they consider the unpopular ones.

A small flap on the back of the 40DX700 lifts away to reveal an Ethernet LAN slot (sensible, since most of us use WiFi), a set of component video inputs (we’re surprised these even exist on TVs nowadays), stereo phonos (ditto) and an optical digital audio output (OK, so that’s where we disagree with Panasonic – the 40DX700’s speakers aren’t that good).

Panasonic TX-40DX700

The oft-used slots are on an easy-to-reach side-panel on the TV’s left-hand side as it’s being watched. Three HDMI inputs are supplied in a line – two HDCP 2.2 -compatible for 4K, the other one ARC-ready – alongside a USB slot, RF input to feed the Freeview HD digital TV tuner, a headphones jack and a Common Interface slot.

All of those ins and outs force cables sideways, which should make the 40DX700 easy to wall-mount, though, there are a couple more USB slots nearby, both of them rear-facing.

Also available

At a mere 40 inches in screen diameter, the 40DX700 is the little sister to its two stablemates in the DX700 series, the 50-inch 50DX700 and the 58-inch 58DX700. Unlike the recently reviewed TX-DX600 series, all include 4K resolution and HDR.

However, if you do want a 40-inch TV with the latest and greatest technology from Panasonic, trade up to the TX-DX750 range for niceties like Studio Master HCX picture processing and a twin HD tuner (to record one show while watching another) and you’ll have to choose between the 50-inch 50DX750, 58-inch 58DX750 and 65-inch 65DX750.

Picture quality and sound

If the 40DX700 proves anything, it’s that not all HDR TVs are the same.

Although it’s positioned to be Pana’s entry-level TV for watching HDR content, the 40DX700 represents something of a fudge. Technically it can show HDR – essentially whiter whites and deeper blacks, which massively improves all other colours – but it just does’t have the metal to really allow it to shine.

The lack of an Ultra HD Premium label in Panasonic’s line-up is the first clue. Besides lacking core panel brightness (HDR requires 1,000 nits brightness ; the 40DX700 has only 350 nits), it also uses an 8-bit rather than 10-bit panel, so colour gradation is reduced.

Still, I gave it the chance to impress me with Marco Polo streamed in 4K HDR from Netflix.

With the impressively accurate True Cinema preset engaged, the gloomy indoor scenes from the Khan’s court had decent amounts of shadow detailing, but there’s little colour sparkle to go crazy about despite. Outdoor scenes, such as on his father’s boat and in the desert, fare much better, though again fail to really buzz with colour. Looking at the 40DX700, it is very difficult to see what all the fuss is about with HDR. Seriously, if you really want to see what HDR is all about, go for Panasonic’s much pricer 58DX902B .

Panasonic TX-40DX700

But a poor HDR showing does not to take anything away from the 40DX700’s all-round performance. Standard dynamic range content looks excellent, with colours as bold and strong as anything available at this price – it’s just that HDR raises the bar, which the 40DX700 doesn’t quite hit.

There is plenty more to enjoy about the 40DX700 than detail and colour, with its frame interpolation feature – here called Intelligent Frame Creation – keeping 4K action smooth and, therefore, much more intense. However, it is best left on its minimum or mid levels to avoid any flickering around fast-moving picture elements, and it’s only on bright, outdoor footage that you will really notice the difference. The Clear Motion feature doesn’t help much other than by dulling-down the backlight slightly, which is no bad thing if you’re watching in a near-blackout.

However, black levels don’t completely convince on the 40DX700. Its edge LED-illumination means that gloomy scenes can look a little blue around the edges, with some slightly brighter patches around a darker centre section.

There’s another issue, too, with viewing angles tighter than they ought to be on a premium TV. Watch the screen from off-centre and both colour and contrast drain alarmingly quickly.

Panasonic TX-40DX700

All that said, however, the 40DX700 remains a great all-rounder. Gravity upscaled from a regular Blu-ray disc looks sharp and clean with both True Cinema and Cinema presets engaged, while 720p fare from HD channels on Freeview HD are highly watchable. Standard definition channels do verge on the unwatchable on such a pixel-packed panel, but even then they lack noise. A fair performance overall, then, but I’m left wondering why anyone would shell-out for the 40DX700 when its so-so HDR talents mean it’s little better than the step-down 40DX600.

Sounds all right

If you’ve got a soundbar or a home cinema system, use it; the 40DX700 has an optical digital audio output on its rear for that purpose. However, if you’re after an all-in-one for the living room, know that the 40DX700 does have reasonably good speakers.

Reaching 20W in power, its underslung stereo speakers are best left on the Music setting, with Bass Boost and Virtual Surround both engaged. Do that, and sound quality is certainly up to handling most TV programmes.

Verdict

It’s difficult to give the 40DX700 extra marks on value when the whole reason for upgrading from the 40DX600 – the presence of HDR compatibility isn’t rendered particularly well.

Is the 40DX700 worth the extra outlay for its superior design? Possibly.

Its matter silver, and remarkably slim, styling does give it the edge over its cheaper stable-mates. However, it’s 4K sharpness, effective upscaling from lower-quality sources, and core OS that helps the 40DX700 appear a great all-rounder.

Key here are the 40DX700’s user-friendly, fast-working Firefox OS, though just as welcome is its skill with digital files. The latter is extensive: a USB stick hosting all kinds of digital files, from 4K video files in the TS, MP4 and MKV formats to a load of AVI, WMV and other video files all played without a hiccup. Music is handled well, too, with the 40DX700 supporting MP3, M4A, WMA, WAV and FLAC.

Panasonic TX-40DX700

We liked

Though HDR lacks sparkle, the 40DX700 is a hugely likeable TV. Chief among its appeal is the Firefox OS, which makes everyday use of catch-up TV, apps and general channel hopping, intuitive.

The highlight is the provision of the excellent Freeview Play app, but just as appealing is the chance to customise the menus to add only the features you want. The slim, silver design makes it a worth step-up from the 40DX600, too.

Elsewhere, the 40DX700’s 4K detail does impress despite worries over the size of the screen. All levels of video are watchable right down to standard definition, though upscaled Full HD looks especially sharp. A comprehensive and smooth handling of various video and music files is another reason to consider the 40DX700.

We disliked

What’s the point of a HDR TV that isn’t built for HDR? While the 40DX700 can technically show HDR material, it doesn’t have anywhere near the core brightness required to bring out the extended contrast. There’s nothing wrong with the colours the 40DX700 presents for all kinds of highly detailed 4K, Full HD and HD fare, but the 40DX700 does not produce peerless HDR by any stretch. Other weaknesses include some blotchy light patches on the edge LED-lit panel, and a rather tight viewing angle.

Verdict

Is 40-inches too small to appreciate 4K? Absolutely not, though if you really want to explore and enjoy the new 4K and HDR era to its fullest, the 40DX700 is not the screen for you.

Fact: the 40DX700 does not offer decent HDR. The Ultra HD Premium label – used on only the priciest of TVs being sold in 2016 – should, in my opinion, be called Ultra HD Minimum. Otherwise, folks will buy TVs like the 40DX700 and barely even consider HDR a positive feature, which could kill it off before it’s even hit the mass market .

Despite the 40DX700 not having the brightness to properly display HDR’s increased contrast, it does produce a fantastically colourful and convincing images across all sources, and its Firefox OS and Freeview Play apps are hard to argue with. Is it a worthy step up from the 40DX600? Indeed, with its sleek design carrying it through despite the HDR confusion.

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