Panasonic has new 4K OLED TVs this year: the FZ950 and FZ800. Here’s what you really need to know about the new sets.
There is no shortage of 4K OLEDs these days, but these new Panasonic units are the closest you can get to the pictures coming out of Hollywood itself.
How’s that? Let’s look back momentarily at the EZ1000, Panasonic’s flagship TV of 2017. Much was made of the fact that it that it meets the requirements of professional colourists working in film. But certification is not the same thing as approval.
One year later, I’m in Hollywood visiting engineers at Technicolor and Deluxe – responsible for about 70% of the film post-production here. They confirm Panasonic has made good on its promise of bringing Hollywood into the home. About 60 Panasonic EZ1000 units have been installed and used to colour-grade the latest films, such as Alien Covenant and Wonder Woman.
The Panasonic FZ950 and FZ800 are the successors to that TV. And they’re better.
Related: CES 2018 Live
Brighter, with better dark detail
These are top-end premium TVs, so we can take for granted the basic attractions: 4K resolution and high dynamic range (HDR) support. Panasonic has yet to finalise figures for peak brightness, but I’m told these OLEDs are brighter than last year’s, which could reach 1000 nits.
What I do know for sure is that they are armed with the latest iteration of Panasonic’s Hollywood-tuned HCX video processor, which promises huge under-the-hood improvements. For example, Panasonic tells me this is the first chip to use calibration points at 2.5% and 5% black.
Translation: these TVs can work magic at extremely low black levels, with more precise control over shadow detail than before. OLEDs have always been able to reach absolute black levels, but the trick is to maintain detail levels when things get dark.
More accurate colours
Colour accuracy has also had a boost. Panasonic has seriously upgraded its approach to lookup tables (LUT). Basically, that’s a map that tells the TV where to put certain colours. The more information contained in a LUT, the more accurate the colours. The new FZ950 and FZ800 LUT has more layers than the one on the EZ1000, which translates to greater precision in colour handing.
LUTs are usually static, but the new one is adaptive and reacts to the picture’s luminance. The picture is constantly analysed, with new LUTs constantly generated, every 100 milliseconds. That frees the OLED picture from being optimised just for dark pictures. Now you get improved accuracy in the midtones, where OLEDs have traditionally struggled against LCD TVs.
The Panasonic engineers are still tuning the picture, but I got a good look at a prototype Panasonic FZ950, and I can confirm it handles midtones significantly better than the EZ1000. In bright scenes, house bricks and sandy beaches offer noticeably more clarity and fine texture.
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And while we’re on the topic of dynamism, I should say a few words on Panasonic’s support for HDR10+. This is a form of high dynamic range that uses dynamic metadata to optimise the picture in every scene.
Dynamic metadata isn’t a huge deal right now, but it’s gaining momentum. Battle lines are being drawn between HDR10+ and its direct competitor, Dolby Vision. HDR10+ is the format being pushed by Panasonic and Samsung, and has the support of Fox, Warner Bros. and Amazon.
Panasonic FZ950 vs Panasonic FZ800
There’s only one key difference between these two new 4K OLED TVs: the sound. As it was in 2017, Panasonic has chosen one model to receive its Technics-tuned Dynamic Blade Speaker stand, and this year it goes to the FZ950.
Compared to the one on the EZ1000, this one is thinner, with more powerful bass. There’s a 20W tweeter, a 20W midrange driver and a 40W woofer, making up a total 80W output. There are also quad passive radiators, located in front of and behind the left and right speaker units. This opposing configuration promises to reduce cabinet vibration noise.
I can’t comment on the sound quality as my first encounter with the Panasonic FZ950 was an eyes-only experience, but I’ve been promised a listening session on Monday at CES 2018.
Speaker aside, the FZ950 and the FZ800 are virtually the same TV. They have the same 4K OLED panel, the same HCX video processor, and the same black filter for reducing reflections. Both are available in 55 and 65 inches. There is no word on anything bigger; that honour belongs to the 77-inch EZ1000, which will continue to be sold in 2018.
How much will it cost?
Pricing will be confirmed nearer launch. I expect to find out more at the Panasonic convention in February.
When can you buy one?
Spring 2018 is the closest Panasonic would commit to a release date. Again, I expect to hear more in February.
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