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?

Sound + Image - - Contents - Stephen Daw­son

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.

Equip­ment

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.

Per­for­mance

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.

Con­clu­sion

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...

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