Panasonic will, later in 2017, launch a new OLED TV dubbed EZ1000 as the successor to the crazy-expensive CZ950 from 2015. The Japanese TV maker proclaims that it has created the first OLED with professional-grade picture accuracy through collaboration with Hollywood. We spent some time with the TV at CES 2017 and here are our first impressions.
One part LG.Display panel
This will be the last article in our hands-on series of TVs from CES 2017 but Panasonic EZ1000 (EZ1002 in the UK) was actually the first new TV that we saw in Las Vegas. It was unveiled before the CES show kicked off and FlatpanelsHD attended.
The unveiling also gave us a good indication of what LG was going to unveil the very next day because it is no secret that Panasonic is sourcing OLED panels from LG.Display. If you looked closely you can see some of the similarities but we will get back to that in a moment.
Panasonic has dubbed the new TV EZ1000 and it will, like its predecessor, be available only in 65 inches. One of the reasons why Panasonic had chosen a closed event was that the TV has been confirmed only for Europe. There are no current launch plans for the US. The predecessor CZ950 never arrived in the US either, which is a shame but Panasonic was hit hard when it decided to call it quits on plasma TVs.
Panasonic kicked off the event by highlighting some of the “advantages” of EZ1000 over the previous CZ950 and one of the bullet points made me laugh. As you can see, “flat” was highlighted as a key advantage over “curved”. Additionally, the company said that EZ1000 can reproduce “almost 100% DCI” and “approx. 800 nits” in peak brightness. The 800 nits reference relates to the calibrated profile. At more vivid settings the 2017 OLED panels should be capable of peaking close to 1000 nits, according to LG.Display.
EZ1000 has a distinctive design with a speaker that is kind of separated from the TV panel. To us, it looked a little like dustpan and we found some of the other OLED TV designs at CES to be more elegant. On the other hand it must be expected that the speakers deliver potent sound as it has been developed in collaboration with Technics and includes no less than 14 units, hereof 8 bass units. We say “expect” because Panasonic skipped the sound demonstration.
After the official presentation, I examined the TV more closely and if you are familiar with LG’s E series of OLED TVs you will probably recognize some similarities. This is of course an early version of the EZ1000 but it is clear to us that it has been designed based on LG’s E series (we hear a little birdie say that the same is true for Bang & Olufsen’s upcoming OLED TV). Just look at the back of EZ1000.
One part Hollywood magic
Like everyone else, Panasonic is not eager to talk about the fact that it is sourcing panels from LG.Display but the company is on the other hand very eager to talk about how it has collaborated with Hollywood. As you may know, Panasonic has a Hollywood studio, and the company had a little jab to deliver. The “best kept secret in Hollywood” is that many studios are still using Panasonic plasma TVs, they said.
The Japanese manufacturer established its presence in the TV market through plasma so it was a tough pill to swallow when it had to throw in the towel. At the event, Panasonic again emphasized that it believes self-emitting display technologies - displays that produce light in each pixel as opposed to relying on a backlight unit – are the best. Let that sink in for a moment. Panasonic sells 1 OLED TV and perhaps 30+ LCD TVs, including the flagship DX900 LCD.
That statement set the tone for the presentation.
When it comes to picture quality, black is already pitch black on OLED. There is no real further enhancements to be made here – except during daylight where reflections can be further reduced – so Panasonic chose instead to focus on EZ1000’s ability to reproduce a wider color space (close to 100% DCI-P3), higher peak brightness, and better shadow details. All three parameters should help visibly improve picture quality compared to the previous CZ950 but it is worth remembering that Panasonic skipped the 2016 generation panel. 3D on the other hand is dead. This is not a decision made by Panasonic but instead dictated by development team at LG.Display.
We were showed various sequences from movies that were chosen to highlight these advancements. It is almost impossible to assess such specific picture parameters based on presentations at trade shows so I will just say that the picture looked wonderful. It looked a lot like the pictures we saw from LG and Sony’s 2017 OLED TVs.
Panasonic argued that EZ1000 differs from other OLED TVs on the market because: 1) It has better shadow detail reproduction 2) It was developed in collaboration with Hollywood, true to the filmmaker’s intent. 3) Has the next-generation HCX picture processor, HCX2
We will have to review the TV to confirm that but I just want to note that LG and Sony, too, are talking about improved shadow detail reproduction on its OLED. I suspect that these improvements can be attributed mainly to LG.Display’s work on OLED technology because step-out of black handling on a self-emitting display is engineering challenge more than a picture processing challenges – but who knows. We were on the other hand impressed with the HCX picture processor last year so if Panasonic has managed to improve it even further, we think that is great news.
When it comes to color reproduction, Panasonic says that it has drawn on experience from professional studio monitors in Hollywood. The company even went as far as promising “Delta zero” color accuracy, where delta represents the difference between the intended color and the color reproduced on the screen. Zero as in zero difference. This is made possible by using a 3D LUT – an internal color table – which is also used in Hollywood movie studios.
Panasonic wanted to hammer home the Hollywood reference so it had brought in Dado Valentic, Colourist at Mytherapi under Warner Bros. Dado has been responsible for pioneering work on the HDR version of Marco Polo, which was one of the first TV series in HDR quality, as well as several movies.
Dado spoke about the challenges involved with working in HDR as well as the big potential the new video format has. He showed us a séance of clips from movies intended to reveal how he works with light on a scene-by-scene basis. How a small lamp that only takes up a very small portion of the picture can help set the mood for the entire scene, as experienced by the viewer. And how HDR helps make his vision reality.
"Blacks are much more important than brightness"
The link to Panasonic EZ1000 is of course the one that Panasonic made reference to initially. Only self-emitting display technologies such as OLED (plus plasma and microLED) can control luminance and colors on the pixel level. A small lamp in a scene can sparkle clearly in the night without affecting the shadow details. There is no backlight in an OLED panel so each pixel generates the exact amount of required light. If you want a completely dark night sky with intense, sparkling stars, you get exactly that. This is not possible on any LCD TV.
”Blacks are much more important than brightness”, said Dado and added that “it is not difficult to make a screen look bright”. This has been done for decades without HDR. Dado was clearly exciting about HDR and the “more details, more colors” it enables.
And, one part Firefox OS?
Panasonic confirmed that all of the 2017 HDR-enabled TVs will support HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma). HLG is the third HDR format that was developed for broadcast TV.
EZ1000 will also support the industry standard HDR10 format but lacks – somewhat surprisingly – Dolby Vision. Panasonic declined to comment on pricing but it appears that the TV will be quite expensive so the lack of Dolby Vision could be regarded as critical. After all, in some months from now EZ1000 will stand alongside Sony A1 and LG E7 and will, at least on paper, be the least attractive.
Another big concern is that Panasonic has decided to continue using Firefox OS in EZ1000 (and perhaps the full 2017 line-up?). Or in other words; the discontinued platform originally developed by Mozilla. We think Firefox OS is a simple and decent platform but we consider it a problem to use a discontinued platform even if we accept the argument that it is open source and that Panasonic can continue to build on it. Panasonic is not famous for its work on software, which is why it sought help from Mozilla in the first place.
The company says that EZ1000 will support 4K and HDR streaming from Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube. The latter (HDR via YouTube) requires that EZ1000 has built-in VP9 Profile2 decoding, which was not available in last year’s models.
All in all, picture quality on Panasonic EZ1000 looks very promising but it is hard not to be a little disappointed. EZ1000 will be available only in 65” and we will have to wait until summer or early fall for it to hit the market in Europa. There is no US launch planned. It also appears the price tag will be quite significant, which makes us kind of feel like that Panasonic’s flirt with OLED is a vanity project. We hope that Panasonic has some surprises planned for 2017. Update Panasonic did have surprises planned! The company has announced a bigger EZ1000 and a more affordable EZ950 range.