REVIEW: Panasonic OLED Tempts The Plasma Faithful
With the EZ950 4K OLED, Panasonic may just have produced an irresistible upgrade for long-standing plasma devotees reluctant to trade up their trusty, dusty 1080p panels.
The set sits below Panasonic’s more expensive EZ1000 OLED flagship, but compromises are relatively small. The EZ950 lacks some of its siblings professional features (hands up if you’ve ever needed to upload 3D LUT tables for colour grading? Thought not…). It also skips that set’s Absolute Black image filter, but crucially keeps the brand’s Studio Colour HCX2 image processor.
There’s no fancy Technics soundbar either, but for many buyers a more conventional form factor may actually be a benefit. It’s also available in both 55-inch and 65-inch screen sizes, we auditioned the smaller of the two sets.
Minimalist design puts image first
The EZ950’s design is predictably minimalistic, with a super thin bezel and not much else of note. The pedestal stand appears basic, but has substantial weight.
The panel is thin at 4mm, increasing to 48mm in order to accommodate electronics, input board and sound system.
Connectivity is generous. There are four HDMIs, all HDCP 2.2 compliant for 4K sources, such as UHD Blu-ray player and games consoles. We also get a trio of USBs, one of which is a v3.0 connector for timeshifting onto USB hard drives. There’s an optical digital audio output, minijack adaptor for component and composite AV, and SD card reader. Dual band Wi-Fi is standard but there’s Ethernet LAN if you prefer to get wired.
The set comes with two remote controls, a premium IR pointer and a Bluetooth touch controller.
The EZ950 boasts Ultra HD Premium accreditation, and is certified by THX. It supports industry standard HDR10 High Dynamic Range content, and there’s a firmware update on the cards for HLG broadcast HDR support as and when it’s needed. However, it’s not Dolby Vision compatible.
Panasonic insists this is no biggie, and it may be right. A lot depends on whether you intend to buy a Dolby Vision compatible Blu-ray player from either Oppo or LG anytime soon.
Smart connectivity comes via Panasonic’s My Home Screen 2.0 platform. This builds upon the original Firefox TV OS. Mozilla may no longer be involved, but as the code is open source, Panasonic has just picked up the ball and run with it.
The Firefox TV OS is a solid base to work from. The set launches with three circular tabs, Live TV, Apps and Devices, but you can pin more to make navigation easier.
New this year are folders for multiple users, plus a My App button on the remote that can be customised for faster access to preferred content. The Media Player has also been revamped to support 4K HDR10 and HLG HDR. A Quad Core processor keeps everything moving along nicely.
App provision includes Netflix, which streams in 4K and HDR and 4K capable YouTube.
The set is also DLNA compliant. The Devices tab will list networked NAS and local devices. It’s from here you can play music and video files, or view photos. There’s also display mirroring from Miracast smartphones
Hollywood image quality
Picture quality is gorgeous. Panasonic makes much of the set’s Pro-Hollywood image tuning, and there’s no doubting the excellence of its images. Fine detail is superb, and colour gamut wide.
The set’s 4K Hexa Chroma Drive Pro engine claims to cover almost 100 per cent of the DCI-P3 colour space. The stylised landscapes in Mad Max Fury Road (UHD Blu-ray), all deep red deserts and vivid blue skies, look stunning. No colour banding effects were noted.
The set’s peak HDR brightness is better than what we saw from 2016 OLED screens, but is some way off what other top-ranked 2017 OLEDs are managing.
On the test bench, using a 10 per cent window, we measured 564 nits, rising to 579 nits with a 5 per cent window, in HDR Normal mode with full luminance. This is just enough to secure Ultra HD Premium certification for OLED.
However hyper intense HDR can often look overblown and unnatural. That doesn’t happen with the EZ950. Dynamics are supremely well balanced. The opening of Iron Fist (Netflix) in 4K HDR, uses HDR in subtle ways, so that sunlight can dazzle convincingly off skyscrapers; when Danny Rand camps out in the park at night, street lights ping brightly through the trees. These are simple but effective uses of HDR, and the EZ950 delivers them with aplomb.
Similarly, when the Starship Enterprise, (Star Trek Beyond), flies through the deep OLED black of space, bright stars pin-prick the background. The Studio Colour HCX2 4K processor paints an image that is gloriously cinematic.
Panasonic has done an excellent job of gradating detail out from pure black, there’s no sense that detail is getting lost in the shadows. This range enhances the sense of dynamic scale. No dim detail is left unseen. The set has no problem tone mapping 1000 nit content.
Predictably, Panasonic tries hard to confuse with a huge number of adjustable image controls (pandering to the pro-calibration crowd), but its image presets – Dynamic, Normal, Cinema, THX Cinema, THX Bright Room, True Cinema, Custom and Professional 1 & 2 – are mostly well judged. Normal is our recommended default setting for most content, although we’d suggest reducing Sharpness to 45 on the sliding scale to avoid unwanted edge emphasis.
There’s also a high-speed gaming mode available via the Picture/options menu. With HDR sources, the set offers an HDR version of the equivalent image mode.
Of course, you don’t need native HDR to make this screen shine. The set looks superb with HD content too. The panel does a top job upscaling standard Blu-rays, which benefit from the extra pixel density and OLED’s inherent vibrancy.
While the EZ952 delivers above average imagery, its audio is rather more perfunctory. It’s certainly functional, but there’s no real sense of stereophony. The set has copious welly, thanks to 40W of stereo amplification, but the louder it goes, the less listenable it becomes.
The Panasonic EZ952/EZ950 may sit below the brand’s EZ1002/EZ1000 flagship, but it’s far from a second tier OLED offering. Its balanced dynamic range, colour fidelity and nuanced detail are phenomenal.
We’ve seen brighter HDR implementations, on both OLED and LED screens, but that shouldn’t imply inferiority. This is a wonderful HDR screen to watch.
If the set has any failings, it’s in the rather run of the mill sound system, and any perceived shortcomings in its lack of Dolby Vision support. The former is irrelevant if you plan to use it with a soundbar/sound base or home cinema system, while the latter largely depends on your interest in Dolby Vision UHD Blu-rays.
Overall, we rate the EZ950 a cracking UHD OLED screen. It’s probably Panasonic’s best mainstream TV offering since the glory days of plasma.