Panasonic announced its return to OLED TVs at IFA 2016, and subsequently unveiled the EZ1000 series at CES 2017. Originally announced as a 65-inch model, Panasonic has now expanded this offering, adding a 77-inch model to the choices for its flagship TV.
To clear up a point of confusion, Panasonic often appends a "2" on the end of model numbers for the UK, so the EZ1000 in Europe and the US is known as the EZ1002 in the UK.
We've had the chance to spend a little more time with this exciting new model.
Panasonic EZ1002 OLED TV: Big sound punch
Panasonic has been using design as a differentiator for its TVs over the past few years. In 2016 this included a model with an easel-type stand and in 2017, there's the EX750/780 that features a swivel and lift stand, essentially meaning you can mount your TV on a pole.
The EZ1002 is a little more conventional, offering a minimal bezel design and a fairly thin display, but with a pronounced bump on the bottom section that houses the brains, connections and so on. At first glance, this isn't quite as dramatic as LG's "picture on glass" designs you'll find on the OLED E6 and OLED G6 2016 models, but it's much the same idea, taking advantage of OLED's inherent slimness.
The comparison to the E6 is especially relevant, as the EZ1002 has a built-in soundbar that runs across the base. This appears as though it is held in place by the central stand and it's appropriately called a Blade Speaker. In fact, it's only integrated with the front of the stand and attached to the bottom of the TV, so you can remove the rear section of that stand it you want to wall-mount this TV. In that guise, it's a neat solution, presenting a paired OLED TV and great soundbar in one.
It's much the same idea as the Signature G6 from LG, although Panasonic has turned to Technics for the tuning of this 80W soundbar. We've had the chance to hear this soundbar in action and it certainly packs a punch, although we've only heard limited content from it so far.
The question, of course, remains whether the sort of person craving an OLED TV is going to be after a TV with an integrated soundbar rather than, say, a full Dolby Atmos setup via a separate receiver, or via a soundbar à la LG's 2017 models.
As a design statement there's a lot going on here and we can see that someone with a big modern loft apartment could plonk the EZ1002 in the centre of it and have a great clean result that delivers both on the audio and visual fronts.
As a small detail, there's also some good cable management going on around the back. You can route the cables down through the stand so that they emerge at the back of the foot, staying out of sight as they run off behind whatever table or stand you've set it on.
Panasonic EZ1002 OLED TV: Brilliant visuals
The chatter around OLED isn't really about the design or the sound, it's really about the visuals. With OLED pixels also being the light source, the opportunities to present deep blacks by turning off the pixel are greater than on LCD TVs, where the light source will often lead to slightly lighter blacks.
At the same time, OLED has often struggled to bring the brightness that LCD offers. Panasonic told us that the EZ1002 has a 1000 nits peak brightness, which matches the sort brightness that many HDR LCD TVs were producing in 2016. That's a step in the right direction for OLED and across 2017 we're seeing a lift in brightness across manufacturers to deal specifically with this technical barrier when compared to the LCD rivals, and better deliver those HDR visuals.
Within those deep blacks that OLED can produce there are often problems, however. In dark areas you often lose texture a you can't pick out the subtle gradations from dark to light quite as well as you can on LCD. It's a double-edged sword: you're getting deeper blacks, but you can also lose some of the that transition that LCD preserves because the blacks aren't so deep.
Some of the demos we've seen so far suggest that this problem is being addressed in the EZ1002 a little better than some of the 2016 OLED TVs out there. But that's not all that Panasonic is doing to push picture quality.
There's also the introduction of an Absolute Black Filter. This is designed to correct some of the colour distortion that can happen on OLED TVs, where some darker tones can have a warmer hue than they were originally intended to. This warmth and vibrancy is something you naturally associate with OLED, but this filter is designed to make sure that browns don't turn to red or light points don't get too warm and get a little yellow.
Again, we've seen some demos that reinforce this detail. It's a small point, but it's also one that separates the EZ1002 from the EZ950/952, Panasonic's step-down OLED model that's also just been added to the line-up. That slightly lower-tier model doesn't have this filter, although, in reality, it's likely to be a small change that you only really notice if you're striving for as close to reference standards as you can get.
That's also something that the EZ1002 will offer, the ability to add a whole load of master calibration options, something that might not appeal to your average consumer, but could be useful for professionals who need to know that the colour setup of this TV is accurate.
The EZ1002 is THX certified, Ultra HD Premium badged and very much a flagship OLED to take the fight to the expanding rivals in 2017, like the Sony Bravia A1. What's missing from the spec sheet at the moment is any mention of Dolby Vision support. Although Panasonic is supporting HDR10 and hybrid log gamma, it looks like Dolby's technology isn't supported.
That perhaps gives rivals an advantage on the spec sheet, but in real world terms, what we've seen and heard from the EZ1002 so far is very impressive. Just when we thought that 2017 was going to be a predictable year for TVs, it looks like we're heading into a year of OLED excitement, taking 4K HDR TVs in a new direction.
We'll bring you a full review of the Panasonic EZ1002 closer launch. Price and availability are still to be confirmed, but you can expect a premium price alongside its premium positioning.