(Pocket-lint) - Some years, TV technology takes a decisive leap forward. Other years, most manufacturers seem content to fiddle around the edges of existing technology - either safe in the knowledge that they're already eking out peak performance, or too dispirited and cash-strapped to be any more ambitious.
In the case of Panasonic's HZ1500 OLED TV range for 2020, it's safe to say that a) Panasonic's been eking peak performance out of its OLED panels since the brilliant GZ1500, and b) this is one of those 'other' years.
- Connections: 4x HDMI (all HDMI 2.2 ALLM, 1x eARC), 3x USB
- Ethernet, CI slot, composite, digital, 3.5mm, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
- Tuners: Terrestrial TV aerial post; Satellite TV aerial post
- Dimensions (55in): 722 x 1228 x 58mm / Weight: 25kg
Viewed head on, the HZ1500 is everything you want from your relatively expensive new TV. That expanse of screen is surrounded on all four sides by an extremely brief bezel - it's a single piece of metal with nice smooth corners.
Below the screen, there's a neatly integrated soundbar. It doesn't carry a 'Technics' badge like some of Panasonic's range-topping screens, but nevertheless it's a statement of intent. After all, sound is one of the major ways Panasonic is seeking to differentiate its OLED ranges - this HZ1500 features an 80-watt audio system (while the HZ1000 is a mere 30W and the HZ200 an enticing 140W).
If you don't fancy hanging the HZ1500's 25kg bulk on the wall - and its relative depth and the relative inaccessibility of its sockets might also put you off - it's supplied with an extremely sturdy, circular stand on which it can swivel usefully.
Those tricky-to-get-at inputs include four HDMI HDCP2.2 inputs, one of which is eARC enabled. All feature Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) capability, too - but that's as far as the Panasonic goes with HDMI 2.1 specification. Next-gen gamers can check out at this point, and start reading reviews of more forward-thinking TVs.
There's also three USB inputs (one of which is at 3.0 standard), an Ethernet socket, binding posts for the integrated terrestrial and satellite TV tuners, a CI slot, and composite video input. Outputs run to a digital optical socket and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Wireless headphones would be more convenient, though, thanks to the HZ1500's push/pull Bluetooth connectivity. There's also Wi-Fi on board, naturally.
- High Dynamic Range: HLG, HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision IQ
- Processing engine: HCX Pro Intelligent Processor
- Built-in Dolby Atmos speaker
- Filmmaker Mode
Because Panasonic's a grown-up brand that seems able to get along with its peers, the HZ1500 has universal high dynamic range (HDR) compatibility, up to and including Dolby Vision IQ. So if you don't want to close the blinds every time you turn the TV on, this Panasonic is ready to respond to your ambient lighting conditions in order to deliver optimal picture quality.
Dolby Vision IQ is one of the areas where the HZ1500's picture-based specification has advanced over last year's outstanding GZ1500. Another is with the inclusion of Filmmaker Mode - it appears in conjunction with 'Intelligent Sensing', which is designed to help restore just a bit of the brightness Filmmaker Mode is already notorious for reducing. And, while we're on the subject of making pictures much duller and less interesting than they otherwise would be, the HZ1500 also features Netflix Calibrated Mode.
Elsewhere, it's high-end Panasonic business as usual. Overall picture quality delivered by the Master HDR OLED panel is dictated by the company's top-end HCX Pro Intelligent Processor. A refresh rate of 100Hz bodes well for motion-handling too.
The HZ1500's most unOLED-like near-60mm depth is partly explained by its audio specification. In the centre of the rear panel there's an enclosure for two upward-firing 'racetrack' drivers, positioned to try and deliver some meaningful sonic height from a Dolby Atmos (or DTS:X) soundtrack. These two drivers each receive 15 of the 80 watts of power available, while the two identical drivers at either end of the soundbar do the same. The final 20 watts is taken by a woofer intended to add some bulk to the Panasonic's sound.
- my Home Screen 5.0
- works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant
Panasonic's operating system is either a model of understated simplicity or completely unimaginative, depending on your point of view. Now in its fifth incarnation, the proprietary my Home Screen OS is minimal, unintrusive and fairly logical to use. It's easy to customise and, as a consequence, does exactly what you want from a TV interface: it does what you ask quickly and then gets out of the way.
What it doesn't do, it's worth pointing out, is offer access to Disney+. Strange, isn't it, how the availability of a streaming service can go from 'nice to have' to 'absolutely essential' in next-to no time? Freeview Play is a welcome sight in any operating system, but it's conceivable that the lack of Disney+ might put off as many potential customers as the lack of full HDMI 2.1 specification.
As usual with Panasonic, the HZ1500's set-up menus strike a nice balance between thorough and straightforward. If you want to start watching TV almost immediately, it's possible to get the HZ1500 set up in a matter of moments; if you're an inveterate tweaker, you can fiddle with the nuances of the HZ1500's settings for hours on end.
Navigating the operating system and the set-up menus is simple. The HZ1500 works with both Alexa and Google Assistant (if there are mic-equipped speakers on the same network), or there's the remote control. Anyone who's owned a Panasonic TV during the flat-screen era will recognise it: it's reasonably logical, fairly straightforward, and its direct-access 'Netflix' and 'Freeview Play' buttons are plenty big enough.
The HZ1500 uses the same OLED panel as the screen it replaces - the year-old GZ1500. And that's an undeniably good thing, because (as already observed) Panasonic has been extracting really impressive performance from it.
Fire up a Dolby Vision-assisted 4K Blu-ray disc of The Joker and the breadth of the Panasonic's talent is apparent from the off. It delivers a forensic level of detail, offers deep and endlessly varied black tones, and cavernously wide contrasts. Picture noise is simply not an issue, edge definition is equally accomplished, and (once you've indulged in a brief investigation of the motion-relevant area of the HZ1500's set-up menus) movement is gripped with something approaching fanaticism.
Skin-tones and textures can reveal an awful lot about a TV's abilities, and here they're convincingly lifelike. The shy-high detail levels are responsible for much of this fidelity, of course, but the Panasonic's far-ranging colour palette and impressive control of contrasts also contribute.
As befits a product from a company with authentic Hollywood presence, the HZ1500 is - in the right circumstances - a richly cinematic watch. Dolby Vision IQ chips in to good effect where brightness control is concerned, which is more than can be said for Filmmaker Mode. Images using this picture preset are simply darker and duller, neither of which help the cinematic feel. About the best that can be said for Filmmaker Mode is that it's not quite as deleterious as Netflix Calibrated Mode.
Stick with Dolby Vision IQ for a Netflix stream of the outstanding Fear City: New York vs The Mafia documentary series, though, and the results continue to impress. The modern footage is lustrous, lavishly detailed and enjoys superb subtlety of contrast, while the vintage stuff is impressively low-noise. Watchable may seem like a redundant description of a TV, but the HZ1500 is nevertheless extremely just that.
It's also a pretty impressive upscaler of less modern material. A 1080p disc of Killer Joe enjoys similarly deep and detailed black tones, clean and varied whites, and a very wide colour palette in-between. Edges are stable too, and while there's a smattering of picture noise introduced in the scenes of most uniform colour, it's never intrusive.
Gamers who've stuck with us this far should know that the Panansonic is plenty rapid enough (sub-20ms response-time rapid) for current-gen consoles, and carries over all the best bits of its performance to games too. Colours are vivid but not overblown, motion is kept a close eye on, and edge definition is similarly impressive.
By the prevailing standards of OLED TVs, the HZ1500 is an expansive and impressively burly listen. The forward-firing speaker array is distinct enough to give dialogue proper expression, with voices carrying sufficient detail to load them with character. The presentation is reasonably forceful and properly balanced, with a pleasant amount of bite and attack to the top of the frequency range and a proper gesture towards the bottom end too.
The upward-firing speakers arrayed at the rear of the screen undoubtedly offer a much taller sound than would be possible from a forward-firing array alone. It's safe to say there's no real suggestion of overhead effects from the Dolby Atmos soundtracks to The Joker or Fear City: New York vs The Mafia, mind you, and if you're expecting true Dolby Atmos object-based overhead sound you're going to be disappointed.
But keep things in perspective - this is an audio system integrated into the chassis of the TV itself, after all. On these terms the Panasonic sounds more capable and dynamic than most similarly priced alternatives. So for once a new soundbar to accompany your shiny new TV is more an option than a necessity.
Judged purely on the 'screen-size/price' ratio, the Panasonic HZ1500 isn't all that promising. But its splendid picture performance, neatly integrated and worthwhile audio system, and well-realised ergonomics make it an authentic option.
If you're a next-gen gamer you'll look elsewhere, but for anyone and everyone else in the market for a new OLED TV, the HZ1500 demands close investigation.
LG OLED CX
More affordable than the Panasonic at equivalent size, and able to give the Panasonic a proper run for its money where picture quality is concerned. It's also slimmer than the Panasonic - although much of that is due to the fact its audio system is not as accomplished. Plus, of course, LG has managed to omit UK TV catch-up services from the CX range, as well as HDR10+ compatibility.