Well, that "something" turned out to be the full-array AX900 4K LED LCD TV, which will come to market some time in November, in 55- and 65-inch varieties. So far, pricing remains undisclosed.
We got a chance to go hands-on with the new set at IFA 2014, and came away with a few early thoughts to share.
Classy, understated, high-end design
The AX900 bears a strong family resemblance to the excellent AX800 4K TV, which is positioned just below it in the Panasonic lineup. The primary difference between the two is that the new AX900 is a bit thicker. That's by necessity: It simply has more LEDs to cram behind the screen.
Instead of a prop-style stand with a thin neck, which is what you spot on most televisions, the AX900 has almost no base at all. A single, sleek line traces the underside of the screen and props the TV up in a continuous horizontal swoop. In other words, it looks like a freestanding screen. The approach is exceedingly minimal, though it gives the TV a strangely monolithic look.
Discreet, ribbon-thin bezels wrap around the screen, while chrome traces the panel's outermost perimeter. Where some companies have embraced flashy, futuristic, or gaudy designs, Panasonic keeps it classy and understated with the AX900.
Full array to win the day
To fully appreciate the AX900, you need to understand that plasma is dead, and a whole host of new technologies are jostling to take its place.
Ultra-high definition LED TVs are everywhere (curved, flat, you name it), and OLED reigns supreme. If you don't buy into OLED tech, you're left with two panel types to choose from: edge-lit LED or full-array backlit LED. Your wallet will be the worse for wear, but we generally recommend the latter category, which Panasonic's AX900 falls into.
Unlike edge-lit panels, which channel light using LEDs that ring the perimeter of the screen, the AX900 is lit by a host of diodes patterned all across its backside. The full array of LEDs is broken into autonomously driven zones, achieving a level of uniformity, precision, and contrast that edge-lit displays struggle to match.
The 55-inch AX900 sports 32 zones, and the 65-inch version features a whopping 128. A Panasonic product specialist told us that each zone utilizes a five-step granular technique, so that diodes dim and brighten intelligently, avoiding the dreaded haze (or "halo effect") that can bleed from bright subjects into surrounding blacks, and also retaining maximum detail in both light and dark areas.
Unlike other Panasonic TVs, the AX900 also utilizes an IPS (in-plane switching) panel for superior color production, increased response times, and better viewing-angle performance.
Before you knowledgable readers throw your hands up and assume that black level will suffer, hold onto your britches: Since the AX900 has a full-array backlight, Panasonic promises inky shadows and all the benefits that IPS is known for.
If you're sitting there grumbling inwardly about the fact that Panasonic UHD TVs have been incompatible with 4K Netflix and Amazon streaming, you can rest easy on that score, too. Contacts at Panasonic tell us compatibility is just around the corner.
Even if you don't have native UHD content, the TV packs a built-in proprietary Quad Core Pro5 processor that helps upscale lower-res signals—something Panasonic has excelled at thus far. Also onboard are a DisplayPort 1.2a, USB ports (including 3.0), and four HDMI ports. The television is 3D-capable and ships with two remotes—traditional, plus a voice/touch version.
Finally, the AX900 claims to (optionally) sync video processing to ambient light levels, optimizing picture quality for your surroundings. Naturally, we'll need to try it ourselves to believe it, but we like the sound of this feature.
Get ready for your close-up with high-end smart tech.
The AX900 user experience promises premium Panasonic smart features—real grade-A bells and whistles. The most impressive frill might be a SlingBox-style feature called TV Anywhere, which allows you to transfer live TV or recorded programs through cloud to a personal device—even internationally.
Panasonic's intuitive smart platform can also get to know up to six people. Each user creates a profile and logs in before use. A star-rating system helps define each individual taste, and the TV takes notes; eventually, your home screen will populate with recommendations and favorites that make your experience more "you."
And don't worry about logging in: It's as simple as entering a room, thanks to embedded proximity sensors. Once your personal account is set up, the TV comes to life as soon as you stroll into the room, detecting you via facial recognition. Don't worry, roaming house cats and other tail-wagging types won't turn the TV on accidentally, because it knows the difference.
If more than one user enters the room at the same time, the TV analyzes each face and you can simply select the account of your choice.
A commitment to picture quality, first and foremost
Panasonic generally isn't one to throw glitter in your face or toot its own horn just for show. The venerable brand may have laid its plasma tech to rest last year, but the imminent commercial release of a full-array UHD panel is very serious business indeed. If the new AX900 is anything like the company's mighty champions of old, then Panasonic is poised nicely for the future.
After all, when the AX900 hits shelves it will be one of only two or three full-array UHD TVs on the U.S market. We've already reviewed Sony's $8,000 full-array model, and Vizio's value-meets-quality P series should hit the market any day now. There's plenty of room for Panasonic's AX900 to make waves.
The AX900's beautiful show-floor presence and formidable specs spell very positive things for its performance, but we'll of course reserve judgement until we can test this TV in our own lab.
Meet the tester
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Virginia is a former Managing Editor at Reviewed.com. She has a background in English and journalism. Away from the office, Virginia passes time with dusty books & house cats.
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