TVs are getting cheaper and cheaper as the years go on; you don't have to spend $10,000 to find a large screen with good image quality and useful integrated features. For around the $2000 mark, you can buy yourself a surprisingly versatile plus-size TV. Panasonic's mid-range AS700A doesn't promise too much, but what it delivers is, by and large, pretty impressive.
What Is It?
- Screen Type: LED edge-lit IPS LCD
- Screen Size: 42-, 50-, 55-, 60-inch
- Smart TV: Yes
- Wireless Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
- Connectivity: 3x HDMI 1.4a, 2x USB 2.0, Ethernet, SDXC, Component, Composite
- Audio: 2x 10-Watt, full range
The AS700A is Panasonic's mid-range, mass-market television; starting from $999 for the 42-inch variant, it's a pretty garden-variety 'LED' TV -- that is, it uses an IPS LCD panel with an array of LED lights positioned around the edge of the rear of the display and reflected through intricately designed channels to evenly light up the entire expanse of the screen. That's a standard approach, for any mainstream LCD display in 2014, and in this respect the AS700A is nothing special.
The design of the AS700A is, similarly, standard fare for Panasonic; the single pane of glass that extends across the front of the screen is surrounded by a thin strip of light-coloured, brushed-finish aluminium -- surprisingly thin and consistent even around its lower edge where the integrated stereo 10 Watt speakers are hidden. The TV's one-piece stand looks like a bent strip of metal, a slim rectangular shape that sits slightly forward of dead centre on the TV panel's vertical alignment.
The various high definition inputs of the Panasonic AS700A are arranged across its side and base -- three HDMI 1.4a inputs (not HDMI 2.0, so no 4K 60p support here) are going to be your main go-to, although component and composite analog A/V for legacy devices might come in handy one day. There are two USB 2.0 ports and Panasonic's ubiquitous SDXC card reader for viewing downloaded or homemade photos, movies and music directly through the AS700A's inbuilt media player, or Ethernet and Wi-Fi networking for connecting to a home network and the internet. And, of course, a digital TV tuner with support for HbbTV.
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The LCD of the AS700A is, no matter which screen size you purchase, a Full HD 1920x1080 pixel IPS 'Super Bright' panel. Being a Full HD screen it's perfectly matched to either next-gen console or any reasonably powerful gaming PC or laptop, although it only has a quarter of the number of pixels of an Ultra HD panel like LG's similarly priced UB800T and UB820T or Panasonic's own top of the line AX800A. This, of course, is a Good Thing if you're running a PC -- native-resolution gaming at 1080p is a lot less taxing than 4K.
What Is It Good At?
For a mid-range LED TV, the Panasonic AS700A has pretty good image quality. When you're using it to display Blu-ray video or playing a modern PC game (on an appropriately powerful PC), 1080p footage looks clean and crisp; colours are generally quite accurate and saturation is reasonable for the most part. The AS700A's dynamic backlight does a great job of boosting and lowering its level to suit the fast-changing scenes of an action movie like Skyfall, where the gradation of blacks and whites also looks surprisingly great for such a moderately priced display.
Input lag and screen response times are, in all preset modes, surprisingly low. This is a great TV for console or PC gaming; slam the control joystick around in Destiny and your actions are almost instantly replicated on-screen. This is never a bad thing, but it's actually a little surprising given the AS700A's IPS LCD panel, a technology which traditionally has slightly higher input lag rates than VA or TN panel tech.
Panasonic's out-of-the-box presets are actually pretty good, too. Keep the TV in its Standard mode in a bright room and you won't be disappointed -- that super-bright panel does wonders for daylight visibility -- and switch to True Cinema either at night or if you're able to regulate the amount of ambient light in the room around you. If you somehow need more luminance than the standard preset delivers, you can either bump up backlighting and brightness or switch to the burn-your-retinas-off Dynamic setting, which also boosts colour saturation through the roof. It looks striking, but you do lose a little accuracy and outright detail.
Panasonic's design for the AS700A does it a favour in that it's simple. I really like LG's entry-level TVs for this reason -- they're just a simple, relatively thin bezel around a big LCD screen -- and the AS700A is similarly unpretentious. The finish of the brushed metal bezel and chromed stand is of a high quality, unlike LG's cheaper models, though, and it's this point of difference that makes the AS700A look expensive despite not being so and despite its lacking the unnecessary design quirks of pricier panels.
Being an IPS panel, the AS700A has some distinct advantages, the most obvious of which in day-to-day usage is its massively wide viewing angles. You can sit off to the side, stand above or lie below the AS700A and not lose out significantly on picture quality versus the ideal seating position at dead centre at optimum viewing distance. Of course, there are downsides, such as very slightly reduced contrast and slightly higher overall black levels than the competition.
What Is It Not Good At?
I'm in two minds about the AS700's integrated Smart TV features. Panasonic's Smart system is called Life+, and it presents itself to you in the form of a Web- and social-media-enabled home screen. You can access Facebook and Twitter and Skype (if you buy the optional webcam), you can stream video on demand from a bunch of built-in and downloadable catch-up TV apps, and you can issue voice commands to change volume or channel or load certain Smart features. These all come in handy sometimes.
On the flipside, there are some Smart features that aren't so worthwhile. The integrated Web browser, for example, does a terrible job of displaying some Web pages, and Flash elements don't display at all in some cases. It's a bit of a guessing game as to whether the website you're visiting will work, and to be honest it's almost always easier and simpler to pull out your smartphone or tablet. Other Smart TVs do it better, too.
There was one other minor issue with the AS700A that I tested, and that was the uniformity of the display's backlight. Edge-lit LED backlights are never perfect, and there's always a tiny bit of difference across the extent of any panel -- this has a lot to do with the reflective channels that bounce light from the LEDs on a screen's edge towards its centre. On the AS700A I tested -- the 60-inch variant which is the most susceptible to this phenomenon -- there was a noticeable cloudiness on a few segments of the TV. In a dark room, with nothing on the screen, it represents itself as slightly darker blotches on an otherwise consistently bright display.
To be fair, this is something that can only be fixed by moving up to a backlit LED, plasma or OLED TV, and it appears on other brands' LED TVs -- Panasonic definitely shouldn't be singled out. It does present itself as a tiny bit of an issue, though, if you're planning on watching a lot of dark movies in a dark room. (If you're not, you probably shouldn't worry too much about what is a relatively minor annoyance.) It's an issue inherent with all but the absolute best edge-lit LED TVs, so do your research carefully and investigate in-store as much as possible before you make your final purchase.
Should You Buy It?
The $999-plus Panasonic AS700A is a pretty good TV, by most of the metrics that you should test a TV against. It has great picture quality, especially when you're displaying Full HD video (bar its minor image-marring backlight issue). If you're going to be watching less detailed content it does a pretty decent job of upscaling it to bring out the best detail without introducing unnecessary image noise or blurriness. It has a mostly-useful Smart TV interface, and a modern design that is simultaneously well and understated enough as to not look gaudy or attract attention.
When it comes to the AS700A's on-screen image, there's one problem, though -- and that's the cloudiness of its backlight, at least on the sample that I tested. It may be down to imperfect shipping or rough treatment on this particular model, but I noticed minor variation in the brightness in different parts of the screen, which takes away from the viewing experience when you're watching movies in an especially dark room. As with all edge-lit LED TVs, I recommend you try this screen in-store to get a better idea of how it performs.
For the most part, and for the vast majority of users, though, the Panasonic AS700A -- whatever screen size you buy -- is a fine purchase. It's a reasonably cheap TV, and that makes it easy to overlook its flaws which are, in the scheme of things, relatively minor. If you're planning on watching broadcast digital TV, Foxtel or Blu-ray video, or playing console or PC games, it's a perfectly capable and perfectly attractive and generally well engineered television.