The Panasonic FZ950, or FZ952 as it will be known in the UK, is the company's brand-new flagship OLED TV for 2018. It offers a more powerful processor, better picture quality, and enhanced sound over previous models, but is it the TV you'll want?
The FZ950 arrives on something of a high for Panasonic, with the EZ1002 (called the EZ1000 in the US) receiving a lot of positive critical acclaim, including from some in the Hollywood set. Announced at CES 2018 and available in the coming spring, the new FZ950 could be one of the most exciting OLED TVs so far.
- Available in 55- and 65-inch screen sizes
- Soundbar built into the stand
- Minimalist design
Sitting in the same design family as the 2017 flagship, the EZ1002, the new FZ950 will come in either 55- or 65-inch screen sizes.
The TV sports a thin bezel with a minimalist design, and like the EZ1002, an accompanying soundbar that is built into the stand. Alternatively, you can have it hung underneath when wall mounted.
There's no flashy style frame or a lean back design as found on the Sony A1 TV. The focus with the FZ950 is very much the screen and the picture it delivers. Like some LG OLED TVs, the display itself is wonderfully thin, before hitting the bottom section of the rear where all the connections lie. It might not wall-mount as flush as a Samsung QLED TV, but there's no sense of bloat either.
Panasonic aren't trying to schmooze you with silver tipped bezels or logos that glow. In that, there's some minimalist charm.
Picture quality, refined
- HDR10+ support, 4K
- No Dolby Vision
- Colour approved by leading Hollywood Post-Production companies
With so much focus on the picture quality, it's great to see that Panasonic seems to have really delivered. We'd expect nothing less considering the stellar performance of this TV's predecessor, and here our first impressions are great.
There's a new HCX processor that is considerably more powerful than before and the introduction of dynamic look-up table (LUT) helps too. The roll out of HDR10+ that dynamically changes the HDR effect rather than just being based on static metadata, is another string to Panasonic's bow: this is a format that Sony and LG aren't supporting, choosing to side with Dolby Vision instead.
As is the case with most TVs, the panel has been provided by LG Display and is the same one found in other flagship TVs. That's where the similarities end though, as that upgraded HCX processor allows it to apply a number of priority technologies.
That main new technology is the dynamic LUT. Put simply, this means the TV can precisely tell what colour to show at which point on the screen 10 times a second, roughly every 2.5 frames of a movie.
The move from static to dynamic LUT means that the processor doesn't just have to guess at the start of the movie what the best colour choices will be, but can change as the content does.
In practice that means that while the blacks are just as black as they were in the 2017 model, the mid-tones and highlights have far more colour variation to them so you get more detail in lighter colours, especially in mid-brightness scenes.
From what we've seen at the company's reveal, when viewed side-by-side to last year's EZ1002, the FZ950 delivers a considerably better picture in terms of perceived picture detail.
But it's not just the Panasonic's LUT change that makes a difference to the overall performance on the picture front. The new 2018 television also supports the new HDR10+ format. Like the dynamic LUT, HDR10+ dynamically provides information from the content to the screen.
At the moment 20th Century Fox and Amazon Prime Video have both confirmed they will be making content and creating new content for the new open-standard format, which is also backed by big players Samsung. Warner Bros has also recently joined the HDR10+ party too, so it's got real momentum.
Supposedly around 100 TV shows and movies will be available in HDR10+ on the Amazon Video, including The Grand Tour and The Man in the High Castle.
We have seen clips from Alien Covenant and Kingsman: The Golden Circle in a side-by-side test of HDR10 and HDR10+ content created by Panasonic, the differences are very noticeable. HDR10+ was considerably better, which is the point of the dynamic metadata approach.
Finally, there is Panasonic's "dynamic scene optimiser". This technology is designed to mimic dynamic HDR when playing standard HDR10 content, a sort of upscaling but on picture brightness rather than quality. From the demoes we've seen, the improvements are noticeable with burnt-out bright areas becoming much more detailed. How the tech will fair with regular movies though has yet to be seen.
Perhaps the elephant in the room is that the TV doesn't support Dolby Vision, the competing technology to HDR10+. Panasonic will offer Dolby Vision in its new flagship Blu-ray player, making it a strange omission here, but clearly it is hoping that with HDR10+ support the lack of Dolby Vision won't be an issue. Content that is Dolby Vision will still work, however you won't get the dynamic HDR effects, or, you'll only get the virtualised dynamics, not the encoded dynamics.
It's not just about dynamically changing the picture with the content though. Panasonic has worked with two of the leading post-production companies in Hollywood to ensure the colour is spot on two.
Technicolor and Deluxe, who between them are responsible for the colour for around 70 per cent of all the movies produced in Hollywood each year, have both worked with Panasonic.
The end result is a TV that is capable of producing colour as the director intended, according to the three companies, and the TV's True Cinema mode is the result of their work together.
New this year is increased calibration steps at the lowest end of the colour gamut, now down to 2.5 per cent luminance for those that really want to get that Hollywood experience.
There really does seem to be merit in the company's catchphrase of bringing "Hollywood to the home".
A new Technics soundbar
- No Dolby Atmos
- Improved speaker over the EZ1002
- FZ800 speaker-free option
The Panasonic FZ950 has a speaker built into the stand. Those who aren't fussed with included sound can opt for the soundbar-free FZ800, ideal for hooking up to your existing sound system.
Tuned by Technics, the design has been tweaked over the EZ1002, and the results are drastically improved. We've heard a side-by-side music comparison against the EZ1002 and the newer model had a vastly improved sound stage and greater bass. That's probably thanks to the new 20-watt tweeter, 20-watt midrange and 40-watt woofer configuration.
We didn't hear enough to make a definitive decision, and it will be good to see how it copes with a range of different sources before we make a final judgement, but compared to last year's model it's all moving in the right direction.
Turns out those chaps at Technics really do know what they are doing.
The FZ950 certainly impresses from what we've seen so far, delivering a huge improvement over the already very good EZ1000 with the only catch being the lack of Dolby Vision support.
Dolby Vision aside, everything this television delivers feels better than last year's model. The picture looks better, the speakers sound better, the overall package is simply, better.
What's exciting is while the price hasn't been confirmed yet, a spokesman for the company told us that the price would be more reasonable this time around, and more inline with other flagship OLED models, rather than the rather eye-watering £7000 price tag of the EZ1002.
The Panasonic FZ950 and FZ800 will be available this Spring. We will bring you a full review closer to launch.
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