(Pocket-lint) - The debut Panasonic OLED TV, 2015's 65CZ952, was an incredible effort, delivering arguably the finest and certainly the most authentic pictures the TV world had seen up to that point.
So it's hardly surprising that AV enthusiasts have been buzzing about Panasonic's long-awaited high-end OLED follow up, the 65EZ1002, ever since it was unveiled at CES 2017. Now that it's finally here, though, can it possibly live up to the hype?
Panasonic TX-65EZ1002 review: Design
- 4x HDMI in
- 3x USB multimedia ports
- LAN and Wi-Fi
- Optical digital audio output
While the 65EZ1002 isn't the prettiest OLED TV in the world, it's certainly one of the most distinctive. Not because of its dazzlingly slim screen edges and rear - that's par for the course with OLED technology. No, its design claim-to-fame comes from the cunning integration into its desktop stand of a full-on soundbar.
This sharply angular speaker - called the Dynamic Blade by Panasonic's clearly excitable "naming stuff" department - runs almost the full width of the TV and attaches to a central bracket/neck coming out from the TV's bottom edge. The result is that it essentially looks like the speaker is supporting the TV.
If you'd rather wall mount the set, the speaker mounting changes so that the Dynamic Blade slopes boldly forward from directly below the screen. This looks much less awkward in the flesh than it sounds on paper.
Attaching such a large secondary element to the svelte OLED screen may not, it must be said, appeal to people with ultra-minimalist tastes. You could argue, too, that anyone likely to drop six grand on a TV will likely be partnering it with some sort of external separate sound system.
Panasonic TX-65EZ1002 review: Picture features
- HDR support: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+
- Processing Engine: 4K Pro HDR/Studio HCX2, 3D Look Up Table colour system
Picture is where the EZ1002 really earns its corn - or rather, justifies its price tag. The TV is designed from the ground up to deliver the most accurate pictures ever seen in the TV world - where accurate means "as the director intended".
Panasonic has left no stone unturned in realising this home cinema quest. For starters, it's drawn on the experience and film industry contacts of its Hollywood Laboratory to first create a brand new, ultra-powerful Studio HCX2 video processing engine, and then have the picture tuned by no less a Hollywood luminary than Stefan Sonnenfeld (colourist on a certain Star Wars: The Force Awakens - a film you just might have heard about).
Panasonic TX-65EZ1002 review: Using the past to crack the future
The EZ1002 also draws on the decades of light and power management experience Panasonic picked up from its plasma days (which, like OLED screens, enabled each pixel to create its own light and colour, independent of its neighbours).
The EZ1002 also incorporates technologies filtered down from Panasonic's professional monitor business - including, most strikingly, the so-called 3D Look-Up Table approach to managing colour. This system is used in professional studio mastering processes, so adopting the same approach to colour should immediately give the 65EZ1002 an accuracy edge over most rivals.
As if this wasn't already promising enough, Panasonic hasn't stopped there. In a first for the home TV market, the 65EZ1002 actually lets professional video masterers upload their own project-specific, customised colour profiles to the TV, so that they can use it to master their film or TV show. In other words, it's the first domestic TV that truly crosses over into studio mastering territory.
This means that if you're flush enough to secure yourself a 65EZ1002, you could potentially find yourself watching something in your living room on the same TV that it was actually mastered on. If that level of accuracy isn't the definition of home cinephile heaven, what is?
The 65EZ1002 has rubber stamped its film industry credentials by obtaining certification from the independent THX quality assurance group, proving that the set has passed THX's long and stringent array of picture quality tests.
Panasonic TX-65EZ1002 review: All things to all men
While this has resulted in a couple of THX picture presets, it's nice to see that even a TV as focused on accuracy as the 65EZ1002 is democratic enough to provide users with plenty of customisation tools, so that they can tweak things to suit their own tastes.
Finally, the 65EZ1002's list of supported HDR formats (high dynamic range) makes for interesting reading. As well as already handling the industry standard HDR10 format and the broadcast-friendly Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) format, it was announced at the recent IFA technology show that the 65EZ1002 would also be getting support for the newly revealed HDR10+ system. This adds a layer of dynamic scene-by-scene data to the core HDR stream so that TVs can do a better job of rendering HDR properly.
The 65EZ1002 does not, though, handle the Dolby Vision dynamic HDR format.
Panasonic TX-65EZ1002 Review: Smart features
- Smart Systems supported: Home Screen 2.0, Freeview Play
While Panasonic's Mozilla-powered Home Screen 2.0 platform might not be the most sophisticated looking smart TV interface in town, the cartoon-like quality of its graphics and fuss-free organisation do make it unusually friendly to use.
It's easy to customise too. And while it's not as populated with apps as, say, Android TV, it covers most of the stuff you actually want from a smart TV platform. Namely 4K/HDR-capable versions of the Netflix and Amazon Video apps, and a full suite of the UK's key catch-up TV services.
What's more, these catch-up services are provided within the Freeview Play system, which offers such enhanced features as a recommendation system and a programme guide that lets you scroll back through the schedules to easily find programmes you've missed.
Panasonic TX-65EZ1002 review: Picture quality
For the vast majority of the time, the 65EZ1002 produces the finest picture quality the TV world has ever seen.
Unlock the full extent of its capabilities by feeding it a 4K, HDR Blu-ray and you can instantly see that it's outgunning even the stellar picture quality of such 2017 stars as LG's OLED range, the Sony A1E and the Loewe Bild 7.65.
The Panasonic EZ1002's picture looks simultaneously more punchy and more delicate, benefitting from unprecedented colour and contrast refinement. It's not just feeling like you're seeing exactly what a filmmaker wanted you to see when they created their film or TV show - you also feel like you're actually seeing more of what a filmmaker wanted you to see.
There's more shading and shadow detail subtlety in really dark areas thanks to Panasonic's mastery of handling OLED light at just above black levels. There also seems to be more finesse - more finely graded steps - in the way the screen manages all source luminance levels up to the screen's impressive (by OLED standards) maximum measured brightness of 660 nits.
Panasonic TX-65EZ1002 review: Colour and sharpness
The look-up table approach to colours, meanwhile, uncovers both a greater range of tones and more refinement in the way those tones sit alongside each other. The 65EZ1002's gorgeous, pixel level light control plays a part in the colour palette's finesse too.
It's striking to see how the unique subtlety of the 65EZ1002's pictures help to unlock a greater sense of what the screen's native 4K resolution can do. The processing engine helps the 65EZ1002 upscale HD sources to the screen's 4K resolution brilliantly. Not only does it intelligently remove noise from sources before calculating how to quadruple the pixel count, but it even manages to add all those extra pixels while retaining much of the colour and light finesse that's so gloriously apparent with 4K sources.
These specific 65EZ1002 strengths come on top of OLED's more common advantages. The most important of which is the technology's ability to deliver deeper, much more uniform black levels than its LCD rival. Seeing the brightest highlights of HDR footage able to appear just a pixel away from inky blacks without a hint of backlight clouding or compromise in the intensity of the bright areas is an immersive OLED trick that never gets old. And a trick which provides gorgeous compensation for the way the best LCD TVs can hit much higher light level peaks.
The EZ1002 can also be watched from almost any angle without any reduction in contrast or colour, unlike LCD TVs. Plus its pixel-level light control means that colours retain more consistent intensity and saturation right across the image, due to there being no interference from backlight localisation issues present in even the best LCD TVs.
The 65EZ1002 looks exquisite with standard dynamic range sources, too, focusing on delivering exactly the same level of precision that makes its HDR images so outstanding.
Panasonic TX-65EZ1002 review: Banding issues
At this point you're probably wondering how such a stunning TV hasn't bagged a maximum five out of five score. The main reason is that the review sample we received suffers with some vertical light banding.
This is at its most apparent in the form of extra brightness that occasionally appears down the left and right edges of dark HDR scenes. But there's also some subtler vertical light banding across the rest of the image where a dark scene features a lot of subtle textures tucked away in the background.
The banding issues don't show up with every dark scene by any means. When they do appear, though - which will usually be at least couple of times during most films - it can be quite distracting.
Panasonic TX-65EZ1002 review: Sound quality
Hopes that this would be another area of triumph for the 65EZ1002 thanks to its large external soundbar don't quite pan out either. Sure, its roster of 11 drivers helps it deliver exemplary amounts of detail from a good quality TV show or movie mix, and it's powerful enough to avoid any obvious buzzing or phutting distortions.
However, voices sometimes sound distractingly detached from the on-screen action, the sound isn't propelled as far from the confines as the screen as you might have hoped, and really dense action scenes can sound a little brittle.
The 65EZ1002 is an astonishing TV - much of the time it's the best we've ever seen. The delicacy of its touch when it comes to bringing out even the tiniest colour and light variation together with a slavish devotion to emulating the techniques and technologies used by the professional video mastering community delivers pictures of stunning accuracy and finesse.
However, that usually jaw-dropping picture work can sometimes be marginally undermined by some strange vertical light banding issues. That blip aside, Panasonic's mastery of OLED is crystal clear.
Alternatives to consider
LG OLED E7
LG has managed to find an extra 20-30 per cent brightness and improved its picture processing in all the right places for its 2017 OLED TVs. The results are outstanding. Not as refined as those of this Panasonic model, but less affected by light banding issues. The E7's design is a wonder to behold - not bad for a TV that costs £2,500 less than the EZ1002 too.
Read the full article: LG OLED E7 review
Sony's debut large-scale OLED TV boasts excellent colour and motion processing, plus enjoys a remarkable frame-free design thanks to a rear lean-on support leg and groundbreaking new audio technology that uses the front of the screen to deliver a powerful stereo sound performance. It's not as bright with HDR as the 65EZ1002 though.
Read the full article: Sony A1 review