PANASONIC OLED televisions
Panasonic now has two ranges of OLED in Australia. The panels come from LG.Display, but the processing is Panasonic’s own. Does that give them an edge as thin as the panels themselves?
Can Panasonic’s experience in low-light TV technology make OLED even better? We put the two new ranges side by side to find out.
We are gradually coming to accept that it’s legitimate for TV companies to bring us to their TVs, rather than the TVs to us, in certain circumstances. In particular, when the TVs are 65 inches in size, they use OLED technology, and there are two of them.
That’s what Panasonic presented to us in mid-July in a nicely isolated theatre room at Len Wallis Audio, Lane Cove, Sydney. The two Panasonic Viera 65-inch OLED TVs from its two new ranges, were side by side. Both conform to OLED conventions, which is to say the top 40-50% of their screens have a thickness of only a few millimetres. Being so large, and so very thin, they are fragile. I have no doubt that a not-too-extreme twist of the glass would see a crack that would mark the end of the TV.
So what are these televisions? These are Panasonic’s second generation of OLED TVs, although they’re the first generation to be released in Australia. There are two ranges — the premium EZ950 series, and the ‘ultra premium’, if I may, EZ1000 series.
The EZ950 comes in a choice of 55 inches (TH-55EZ950, $4199) or 65 inches (TH-65EZ950, $6599). The forecast prices when they were announced several months ago were $4999 and $7199 respectively, so that’s a nice move in the right direction.
The EZ1000 starts at the larger 65 inches (TH-65EZ1000, $8899), while a massive 77 inch (TH-77EZ1000) model will be arriving in November, price to be advised. I’m not going to try to guess how expensive it will be.
There are other differences between the two ranges. First, the EZ1000 features a very fancy 14-speaker soundbar called a ‘Dynamic Blade Speaker’, integrated into the stand. This has a single point at the middle where it joins with the body of the TV. The stand/speaker is the full width of the TV at the front and has a single leg at the back. To me, more interesting than the styling is the branding and expertise. For the speaker design Panasonic drew on its Technics division, a name that it hasn’t used much in Australia in recent years, but back in the 1970s was very highly regarded.
A second difference, still on the styling — because the audio has been offloaded from the body of the TV to the soundbar, the thicker section at the rear of the TV is not as physically tall. I didn’t have a measuring tape to hand, but it reaches to more or less halfway up the back of the TV (see side view above). On the EZ950 it goes up by perhaps another ten per cent of the screen height.
Third difference: the EZ1000 features Panasonic’s ‘Absolute Black Filter’ screen treatment. Blacks are, of course, OLED’s forte. What this treatment is intended to do is help resist problems caused by incident light on the screen surface and (I gather) to reduce scattering of light within the glass itself, by which bright elements of the picture may still obscure nearby dark areas.
A fourth difference is the inclusion of an additional picture mode on the EZ1000: Professional Photo. I didn’t explore it closely, but a quick look indicated that it lowered brightness and applied a warm colour temperature. I’m not sure whether that’s more accurate for professional photographers. Anyway it can be changed. In addition, it switched off all kinds of processes, such as noise reduction, the ambient light sensor, picture remastering processes and so on. I imagine that it’s designed to present still images in a way that is as faithful to the source as possible, not attempt to ‘improve’ the result.
The EZ950 has legs near the edges of the TV, reaching a little forwards and behind, perpendicular to the TV. Both TVs need wide surfaces to rest upon unless they’re wall-mounted (both have threaded holes for suitable wall mounts).
I don’t propose to talk much about the regular TV and smart TV functions, for two simple reasons. First, they weren’t wired into an antenna, so there was no TV functionality. But we know they do have two digital TV tuners so you can do picture-in-picture and side-by-side live TV viewing. And you can record or time shift with the addition of a USB disk drive.
The other reason is that, operationally and in their smart TV capabilities, both these televisions are identical to the top-of-the-line, non-OLED Panasonic TV — the Panasonic Viera TH-EX780 LED-LCD, which we’ve already reviewed, and which you can read either by scanning the handy QR code here, or by visiting www.avhub.com.au/EX780. Everything’s here’s the same. In brief, the Firefox OS is very effective, easy to use and fast.
The picture quality of both of these TVs was superb. A modern television’s picture quality depends on two quite separate things: the panel, and the processing electronics. Now that OLED panels are here, Panasonic’s first-class processing (it uses Hollywood tuning and its own HCX2 processor) comes into its own.
I hesitate to say this, not having the competitor side by side, but there was a particularly natural look to people — even the people of Batman v Superman: Dawn
of Justice or of Lucy, the two main pieces of content I used with these TVs. So much so that I’m tempted to suggest that it’s a touch better than that provided by another leading OLED brand. But it’s probably better not to say that without having installation in our usual test environment. Regardless, everything was rich and gorgeous, delivered with HDR of course, and a wide colour gamut.
(When I got home I rewatched the same scenes on that Batman v Superman disc and there was a clear difference on that other brand of OLED, but it wasn’t in colour or contrast or such. It was in detail. There was visible film grain at home which had not been there on the Panasonic screen. And I must blame myself for that. I routinely switch off things like noise reduction and motion smoothing on TVs since I want the greatest transparency, not necessarily the most satisfying picture. All those things were off. They were on with the Panasonic TVs. I expect if I’d switched them off on it, the result would have been closer. It speaks well of Panasonic’s processing, though, that all the processing seemed to do nothing but improve the viewing experience.)
Back to these Panasonic TVs, then. Black levels were as perfect as one would expect from OLED, which is to say perfect. I did the usual — my full black test patterns with bright spots of white light. Those spots were delivered without any blooming. When I masked the edges of the white, there was nothing at all to see.
Does the ‘Absolute Black’ screen treatment make a significant difference? Not that I could tell. That said, the TVs, being side by side, were receiving slightly different reflections from different places, and there was no really
bright sunlight available. So it’s not beyond doubt that in some circumstances it might improve things. As for dispersion in the glass, I did seem to be able to mask slightly closer to the white spot without any visible light leakage on the EZ1000 than the EZ950. The difference? Maybe half a mill, if that.
The picture processing for things like progressive-scan conversion and picture geometry is standard Panasonic. That meant a pretty respectable performance all round. I didn’t get to set up the TV as though it were straight from the shop, but I imagine it would default to having overscan for all picture inputs short of Ultra HD (as the EX780 does), so purchasers should switch that off.
There were some extra picture presets, including ‘Professional 1’ and ‘Professional 2’. Long time readers may recall my complaints over the years regarding an excessively warm picture on earlier Panasonic TVs, particularly THX-certified plasmas. There’s no touch of THX on these models, but those ‘Professional’ settings did cast that same warm glow over the picture. That inaccurate warm glow. Don’t be fooled by the name. I went with the ‘Normal’ setting, which is entirely neutral, as things should be.
Both TVs delivered every pixel of my UHD resolution test pattern to perfection, including all colours, to full 4:4:4 resolution.
I brought some of my own test clips and fed them to the TV from USB (as were the test patterns). HDR? Gorgeously handled. Deep blacks, truly infinite contrast. Superb detail at every point. The TV also supports an optional broadcast (and yet to appear) version of HDR called Hybrid Log Gamma.
Dolby Vision? The TVs would not play a couple of those test clips at all, and the one that it did was delivered with weird, negativelike colours. Panasonic is not claiming Dolby Vision support, and while we like the idea I’m not sure it’s going to make that much of a splash. Standard HDR10 is such a great improvement over the eight-bit world we’ve been living in these past couple of decades, I suspect the further improvements provided by the metadata-enhanced 12 bits of Dolby Vision may end up being niche interest. Though Dolby clearly has other plans.
I have to give Panasonic props for the sound system on the TH-65EZ1000 TV. I put on Batman v Superman again and chose one of the (very many) action scenes, and it was initially unimpressive. But I wound up the volume and the sound filled out, and even managed to deliver a nice bit of mid-bass solidity. The gunfire was limited, of course, but clean. The system doesn’t purport to reproduce multichannel surround sound in any native fashion, let alone Dolby Atmos. Instead it mixes things down to stereo. But then I went looking through the sound menu and found Virtual Surround and Virtual Surround+. These opened up the sound, producing a respectable three-dimensional feel. I don’t know if it was all that accurate in terms of placement of sound elements, but it was fun and interesting on this type of material.
The TH-65EZ950, by contrast, sounded quite decent for a TV, but that was it. Of course, any half-decent audio system is going to produce much better sound, even than the EZ1000.
The $6599 Panasonic Viera TH-65EZ950 and $8899 TH-65EZ1000 TVs are both great TVs. They join the other OLEDs at the top of the pile when it comes to picture quality. In a sense, which OLED you choose is likely to come down to secondary considerations, like interface, brand preference, familiarity and so on. I for one would be perfectly happy with either.
Panasonic TH-65EZ1000U OLED television
Panasonic TH-65EZ950U OLED television
ABOVE: The TH-65EZ1000U comes with its soundbar permanently attached to the stand — handy if you use it, but redundant if you have a good audio system...