(Pocket-lint) - The arrival of any new Panasonic OLED TV has become a cause of great excitement in the AV world. Especially since professional mastering studios started using such TVs while creating their film and TV masterpieces. Being able to buy such screens for the living room is about as direct a 'Hollywood to your home' story as a home cinema enthusiast could hope.
Panasonic has progressed this filmmaker intention philosophy further with the 55-inch GZ1500. Its new HCX Pro processing engine has been refined to enhance the TV's handling of just-above-black details (one of the hardest things for an OLED screen to do), and deliver a richer, more nuanced and more accurate colour range.
The GZ1500 also puts the consumer ahead of industry politics by supporting both the Dolby Vision and HDR10+ premium high dynamic range (HDR) formats. Plus, to round out the home cinema appeal, it supports Dolby Atmos audio decoding and features a built-in soundbar.
- 4x HDMI inputs
- 3x USB multimedia ports
- LAN and Wi-Fi network options
Don't worry: just because the GZ1500 has got a built-in soundbar doesn't mean it's ugly. In fact, the soundbar is quite an attractive addition to the bottom edge of the screen. Not least because it's strikingly trim for something apparently capable of pumping out 50W of front-firing power.
Aside from a super-slim top quarter or so, the GZ1500's rear is a fair bit chubbier than that of most OLED TVs. Perhaps because of the need to house such a powerful speaker system. From the front, though, the TV looks trim and minimalistic.
Add in a heavy duty but elegant metal plate stand and strong build quality throughout, and this is a TV that's clearly high-end but doesn't want to make too much of a song and dance about it.
The GZ1500's connectivity is as expected for a high-end TV in 2019. There are four HDMIs, three USBs, a digital tuner input, a headphone jack (that doubles, actually, as a subwoofer line-out), and both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
The HDMI ports are all built to the HDMI 2.0 standard rather than HDMI 2.1. So they won't support the 48Gbps streams that just might turn up in future high frame-rate 4K content from the next-generation of games of consoles. Nor do they support HDMI 2.1's eARC functionality, for passing lossless DTS-X and Dolby Atmos audio through the TV to connected soundbars and receivers. But for most people this won't pose an issue.
- HDR Support: HLG, HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision
- Processing Engine: HCX Pro
The simple fact that the GZ1500 uses an OLED screen, where each and every pixel produces its own light and colour, will be a big attraction right away for many AV fans. But that's just the start of this set's appeal.
Also offering a welcome relief from industry politics is the GZ1500's support for both Dolby Vision and HDR10+. These two premium'HDR formats add scene-by-scene picture information to HDR video streams that aren't provided with the industry standard HDR10 format. Which leads to more dynamic and accurate looking pictures.
Plenty of sources are available now in one format or the other, but since precious few sources support both Dolby Vision and HDR10+, you'll need a format neutral TV like the GZ1500 to be sure of always getting the best picture quality from any HDR source. Only Panasonic and Philips currently offer such TVs.
Naturally the GZ1500 also plays the 'basic' HDR10 format, and will support the HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma) format used by broadcasters - although currently only the BBC in the UK.
Panasonic has always maintained that its OLED TVs are uniquely able to deliver pictures "as the director intended them to look". It's doubling-down on those claims with the GZ1500.
For starters, the new HCX Pro processor has been refined and reworked in direct response to feedback from the Hollywood filmmaking community via Panasonic's Hollywood Laboratory. What's more, the TV has been tuned by renowned professional colourist Stefan Sonnenfeld, whose work includes creating the digital intermediates for such somewhat popular titles as Avengers: Endgame and the recent (and altogether less critically acclaimed) Lion King remake.
The GZ1500 has earned THX certification, too, proving that it's passed hundreds of tough, accuracy-based THX video performance tests. And as if all this wasn't already enough, it also carries a Netflix Calibrated mode, which tweaks the TV's settings so that they resemble those Netflix uses when mastering its TV shows.
One last handy picture feature of the GZ1500 is its support for the gaming-related automatic low latency mode (ALLM), which switches the TV into low-latency game mode whenever a game source is detected.
Really the only picture features the GZ1500 doesn't have are support for variable refresh-rate gaming, and the newly designed, extra-bright panel Panasonic has exclusively designed for 2019 - which is only found on the considerably more expensive GZ2000 range.
- Smart system: My Home Screen 4.0, Freeview Play
On the upside, Panasonic's latest My Home Screen smart interface is very easy to use and customise. On the downside it lacks a little of the sophistication offered by some rivals.
The main home screen comprises just a trio of icons initially, which lead to deeper app, tuner and connected devices menus. But it's very straightforward to add other app icons to this home screen list.
A key innovation for the GZ1500 versus last year's Panasonic smart TVs is the addition of five tiers of links that can be scrolled down from the main home screen. These by default provide direct links to Netflix, YouTube and Freeview Play content, while a further deck provides a few basic tools for customising the multi-deck interface. It's possible, for instance, to adjust which of these decks appears by default on the Home screen.
Appreciated though these new tiers are, the My Home Screen system is still not as easy to navigate as those offered by LG and Samsung. These essentially present all the key apps in a single, easy-to-navigate row, and then generate contextual second tiers of direct content icons depending on what app is selected on the bottom row.
Key apps supported on the My Home Screen platform include YouTube (4K HDR), Amazon Prime Video (4K HDR), Netflix (4K HDR), Rakuten, and all the UK terrestrial TV catch-up apps (provided within the helpful, easy-to-browse Freeview Play umbrella).
There are some app absentees, though - most notably Now TV, BT Sport and Apple TV. To be fair, only Samsung TVs currently have the Apple TV app. But Panasonic isn't currently on the list of brands claiming to be adding Apple TV support later this year.
Panasonic has integrated voice support into My Home Screen 4.0, with Google Assistant and Alexa additionally available with the addition of an appropriate external listening device.
The combined force of Panasonic's new picture processing, Hollywood tuning and unusually wide-ranging HDR format support all coalesce on the GZ1500 into a really fantastic picture performance.
The key to its success is how beautifully refined images look in almost every department. Black levels, for instance, aren't just inkily black (as they are on pretty much all of today's OLED TVs), they're also almost completely free of the blocking noise and luminance instability that can appear over very dark scenes - especially with streamed video - on many other OLED TVs at the moment.
This shows unprecedented control of the GZ1500's near-black performance, largely overcoming one of OLED technology's toughest technological challenges. This gorgeously clean look to dark areas holds true, moreover, regardless of whether the TV is playing standard (SDR) or HDR content.
The GZ1500 also renders colours beautifully. Everything from skin tones to the sort of vibrant, pure, bold tones associated with HDR animated movies look rich and punchy, but also full of nuance and the sort of tonal subtlety that gives 4K pictures their distinctive sense of three-dimensionality.
The Panasonic's pictures lose no contrast or colour when viewed from even a severe angle either, reasserting another innate advantage of OLED technology over LCD.
HDR sources benefit, too, from some seriously impressive light management. This enables the GZ1500 to render everything from the faintest detail in dark scenes through to the brightest peaks with impressive authority. Its portrayal of shadow detail is particularly effective, helped as it is by OLED's self-emissive pixels and the near-black control of the HCX Pro processor.
As with all OLED TVs, there's a limit to how bright the GZ1500 will go. Measurements show it peaks at around 700-770 nits of peak brightness. This compares with 2000 nits possible on one or two high-end LCD TVs, such as the Samsung Q90R. However, the GZ1500's tone mapping (which helps it map high-brightness HDR to its screen capabilities) proves extremely effective, avoiding the flared out and detail-lite appearance to the brightest HDR areas that less able screens can suffer.
Even better, because the GZ1500 supports both HDR10+ and Dolby Vision it can use the extra metadata to deliver the most dynamic results possible without losing control of either end of the HDR light spectrum. Regardless of which format a particular piece of content might be mastered in. Most rival brands, of course, will only deliver the benefit of the single dynamic HDR format they support, as they choose not to support both.
The GZ1500's pictures look crisp, clean and suitably detailed with native 4K sources, and for the most part this clarity is backed up by a pretty good motion performance. An occasional momentary stutter when watching 24fps content stops Panasonic's set from getting higher praise here - especially as the stutter is actually made more obvious if Panasonic's otherwise decent Intelligent Frame Creation motion processing is called in.
Aside from the small motion flaw noted earlier, there are only a couple of other nit-picks with the GZ1500's pictures. First and most surprisingly given the impressive finesse the TV generally displays, is that occasionally subtle colour blends in HDR images can look slightly stripy. Second, the HDR pictures don't offer quite as much raw impact and dynamism as those of LG's latest OLED TVs, such as the C9. However, substantial compensation for this comes from the Panasonic's superior handling of near-black image content - a talent which helps it deliver a beautifully consistent picture that again chimes nicely with the experience colorists presumably enjoy when mastering their content on professional monitors.
If Panasonic can retain the GZ1500's finesse and naturalism on its upcoming GZ2000 models, which also use an exclusive new high-brightness panel design, those flagship sets could turn out to be very special indeed.
- Integrated 50W soundbar solution
Despite its compact design, the GZ1500's integrated Blade soundbar serves up a powerful and effective audio performance. The way the forward-firing drivers propel the sound into your living room rather than back towards your wall has immediate impact. The sound feels more direct and immersive, putting you into the mix rather than leaving you feeling like a distant bystander.
The speaker array also manages to throw the sound high and wide, creating a wall of sound that extends far beyond the physical boundaries of the TV. The sound remains coherent and actually manages to include plenty of well-placed details - especially when taking advantage of the TV's Dolby Atmos decoding.
Some GZ1500 users are reporting a crackling problem with some sources (especially Netflix) over both the internal speakers and speakers attached via ARC. Only the occasional click was heard during this review, but Panasonic has acknowledged an issue with what it describes as "a batch" of its current OLED TVs and is working on a software fix. In our experience, and ignoring that reported issue with other sets, the GZ1500's sound is notable for its freedom from distortions and cabinet rattles.
Bass, predictably, is the weakest part of the GZ1500's sound. It's good enough to make adding an external sound system an option rather than a necessity, though. Plus don't forget that Panasonic has provided the option to add an external subwoofer via the headphone jack for anyone who wants to crank the bass up.
The TX-55GZ1500 is easily Panasonic's best OLED TV (something that only the GZ2000 might disrupt, as and when that becomes available).
The GZ1500's perfectly focused processing power and dedication to the 'as the filmmaker intended' cause give it a unique and beautifully delivered raison d'etre in the increasingly crowded OLED world. Its just-above-black levels simply go beyond what the competition can offer.
Add in a surprisingly satisfying Dolby Atmos sound system and that all-important dual Dolby Vision and HDR10+ support, and the GZ1500's £1999 price starts to look very reasonable indeed. It's an OLED cracker, that's for sure.
If you want HDR to be delivered with more consistent brightness and colour volume, Samsung's flagship 55-inch LCD TV, with its 2000 nits of peak brightness, is the TV for you. It also delivers OLED-like black levels, and wide viewing angles for an LCD TV. However, the set does lose quite a bit of shadow detail in its otherwise most enjoyable picture presets, and also sometimes has to dim small bright objects to avoid backlight blooming - something Panasonic's OLED does not have to do.
LG OLED C9
The OLED55C9 delivers slightly punchier looking HDR images overall, and like the 55GZ1500, it deploys Dolby Atmos sound decoding over a high quality sound system. In fact, it sounds even better, despite boasting a really lovely glass-based design. It can suffer with noise and instability over near-black sources, though. Especially streamed content.