Box of tricks: Mike Ross on the latest TVs available
Ireland and Leinster rugby star Mike Ross casts an expert eye over 4K TV sets in time for festive viewing
Time moves on, and so does technology. Last year saw the release of the first 4K sets, and here are some of the latest and greatest models to come out from Samsung and Panasonic. For those who are unaware, 4K sets offer twice the resolution of the previous generations full HD. This bump in resolution isn't quite the jaw-dropper that moving from standard definition to high definition was, but it's close.
Panasonic AX802 4K TV
From €2,000 (50ins) to €4,587 (65ins), available from all major electrical retailers and panasonicstore.ie
The AX802 is one of Panasonic's second generation 4K sets. A very thin bezel surrounds the LED screen, which appears to rest on a skinny stand, but in fact a hefty pedestal sits hidden behind and counterbalances the TV's considerable weight. It's good weight, though, and is a testament to Panasonic's typical build quality. Many of its sets have been used as reference models over the years, and the AX802 aims to follow in its predecessors' footsteps.
Switch it on, and you've a number of options. It has a built-in Freeview tuner, and does a reasonable job at upscaling standard definition content. Full HD content enjoys a makeover too, but it's on the 4K front that the TV really shines. The level of detail is really something to see. It excels at fast-moving objects too, and watching a soccer match you could quite clearly track the ball with hardly a blur to be seen. The colour is vibrant, blacks are well reproduced and there's a high level of contrast and the set also does 3D.
It's a smart TV, so there are the usual apps such as Skype, BBC iPlayer, Vimeo and Netflix. Surprisingly, 4K content from Netflix isn't yet supported, but Panasonic promise that there's an update on the way to fix that so you can watch hit shows like Breaking Bad and House of Cards in all their finely detailed glory. To supply video to the screen, there's a plethora of connection options. There are four HDMI 2.0, a Displayport, three USBs (one of which is USB 3.0), an SD card slot, an Ethernet port and composite inputs. It'll directly play files from a USB hard drive or a NAS box, and handily supports video formats such as H264, TS and MKV. The Panasonic AX802 is a fine TV and has most of what you want in a 4K set. If they get the Netflix issue resolved, it'll be a tough proposition to beat.
Samsung UHD Curved TV (HU8500, 65 inch)
€4,599, available from Harvey Norman, Power City, DID and electrical retailers nationwide
Samsung have pulled off quite the technological achievement here, in this their first curved TV. It looks quite striking even before you turn it on, with a gently curved 65-inch screen framed by very thin glossy chrome bezels.
Hit the power button, and you're initially presented with the latest evolution of Samsung's smart hub. Here you have a huge number of options from which to view content, including the old reliables like YouTube and Netflix, and, interestingly, not so usual ones like Plex.
Plex is a great addition, and is hands-down the best way of streaming any media you may have on an external NAS drive or media PC to the TV. Samsung also have some good local options, in RTE player, 3player and TG4. There are also many more apps available on the online store for anything that may take your fancy.
Navigation through the various menus is controlled by one of the better remotes I've encountered - a Bluetooth-linked Smart Controller that functions much like a Wii controller.
Keep your thumb on the touch-sensitive centre button, and you can move the pointer on the screen around to select what you want. It's very intuitive, and I found it quick and easy to use - no bad thing when there's this number of options.
Cleverly, the HU8500's brains are all housed in the quad core processor-powered external One Connect box, with only one proprietary cable connected to the TV itself. This is good forward thinking, as it means if standards or specifications change (as is quite possible with any new technology such as 4K), then you can simply swap out the box.
The box also houses all the external inputs, including four HDMI 2.0 slots, an Ethernet port, three USB ports including a USB 3.0 port, an optical out and two satellite connectors. Of course, all these smart features won't mean much if the picture quality isn't up to scratch, but the HU8500 delivers on this front in spades. Colour accuracy was extremely precise, and it backed this up with deep black levels.
Watching 4K content on a screen this size was quite the experience, even though I was limited to a few demos on a USB key, Netflix and some YouTube videos.
The curved screen added an extra dimension to the viewing when you were sitting dead centre, with the image wrapping around you more than a flat screen would. Even sitting slightly off angle wasn't an issue, but there was extra light glare due to the curve, so make sure you have heavy curtains!
The only downside to the HU8500 is the price but many early adopters pay, though, and with the future-proofing of the One Connect box, this TV will serve you well for years to come.