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Hands-on: Panasonic 2019 OLED and LCD TVs

26 Feb 2019 | Rasmus Larsen |

Panasonic’s 2019 TV line-up comprises four 4K LCD ranges and four 4K OLED ranges, including the flagship GZ2000 with a custom OLED panel. Here are our first impressions along with technical information and videos showcasing new features such as My Home Screen 4.0 and auto-calibration.

Panasonic 2019 4K OLED TVs

We have seen Panasonic’s upcoming GZ2000 flagship on two separate occasions, initially at CES 2019 in January and again in Frankfurt earlier this month. GZ2000 uses a custom “Professional Edition” OLED panel that has been tweaked by Panasonic’s R&D engineers.

So what exactly does it mean? The company explained that they take LG.Display’s OLED panel off of the production line earlier in the process in order to customize it. The main goal is to increase brightness levels (both HDR peak and average), which is achieved by using custom power management and cooling solutions. Panasonic did not disclose brightness specifications but at the event it was indicated that in addition to having a less aggressive ABL (average brightness limiter), GZ2000 is capable of hitting 1000 nits peak brightness. Of course, we have heard manufacturers of OLED TVs claim 1000 nits peak brightness before so take that number with a pinch of salt. Nevertheless, we are looking forward to getting our hands on a test sample.

 Panasonic GZ2000 OLED

In a back-room, Panasonic demonstrated some of GZ2000’s capabilities side-by-side with a Sony OLED model. It was a relatively short demo that revolved more around the audio capabilities than picture quality but judging from this demo GZ2000 certainly seems capable of delivering an overall brighter image. Again, we need to get our hands on a review sample to confirm anything but it looked promising.

To understand why manufacturers are chasing higher brightness levels some background may be required. OLED, like plasma, is a self-emitting display technology, which means that each individual pixel generates its own light. It also means that two adjacent pixels can reproduce black and white, respectively, without affecting each other. The current OLED panel from LG.Display is specified to 700 nits peak brightness but some TVs can hit slightly higher numbers (50-150 nits higher). This brightness level can be achieved in small segments of the picture, for example a white box taking up 10% of the picture. However, as this white box – or segment – gets bigger, a built-in ABL (Average Brightness Limiter) system limits the power output to make sure that the panel does not overheat or produce other picture artefacts.

The APL (Average Picture Level) graph to the right shows you how last year’s Panasonic FZ800 performed in this regard. Notice how brightness drops considerably when the white box takes up 25% of the picture area. Now, viewers should not be treated to full-screen (100% APL) pictures at 1000 nits, or 700 nits, as it is quite unpleasant to look at but there are good arguments for increasing brightness for APL levels beyond the 25% mark when watching HDR. In addition, watching various types of high-APL content such as winter sports in a bright viewing environement may also demand higher average brightness levels in general to optimally reproduce the content.

This is what Panasonic is trying to achieve with GZ2000 and, again without disclosing numbers, the company claimed that “the average brightness level has been boosted significantly and contrast handling improved”.

 Panasonic 2019 OLED TVs

The other 2019 Panasonic 4K OLED TVs (GZ1500, GZ1000 and GZ950) are equipped with the standard LG.Display OLED panel. The big news this year is Dolby Vision support, in addition to HDR10, HDR10+ and HLG. We have already covered that in our previous article.

The 2019 OLED models are equipped with an upgraded and more powerful ‘HCX Pro’ video processor. In Frankfurt, Panasonic explained that it has an improved motion system (IFC = Intelligent Frame Compensation) that can process pictures on a “much finer level” in order to interpolate frames for smoother motion. To demonstrate these improvements, Panasonic again compared GZ2000 side-by-side to a Sony OLED TV and the demo indicated that Panasonic’s processor produces fewer motion artefacts around moving objects. Most video enthusiasts prefer to turn off motion interpolation and it felt a little out of place at an event where Panasonic was drumming up its “Hollywood to your home” message but it is there if you want to use it. The company highlighted that HCX Pro also employs a dynamic LUT (look-up table) on a scene-by-scene basis to ensure optimal color accuracy and that HCX Pro has an ‘Intelligent 4K Remaster’ system that can reduce grain and gradation noise in images.

 Panasonic 2019 HCX Pro video processor

In Frankfurt, the company again emphasized how its TVs have been color-optimized by acclaimed Hollywood colorist Stefan Sonnenfeld whose résumé covers titles such A Star is Born, Wonder Woman, Man of Steel, Beauty and the Beast, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Jurassic World. The results of his fine-tuning can be found in all four Panasonic 2019 OLED TVs.

For this purpose, Panasonic had brought in another respected Hollywood colorist, Dado Valentic, to explain and demonstrate how Hollywood movies and TV series are color graded for HDR and SDR. You may already have seen the full video in our previous article but here it is again. We highly recommend watching the video if you have an interest in the subject.

If you still want to fine-tune things and you have equipment to calibrate displays, the new TVs support CalMAN’s auto-calibration feature. This is supported on GZ950, GZ1000, and GZ1500 that require an external pattern generator (such as the Videoforge Pro). A new feature in this year’s flagship GZ2000 is ‘CalMAN PatternGen’, which means that the CalMAN software can generate the patterns required for auto-calibration. With GZ2000 you no longer need the external pattern generator. All you need is the CalMAN software and a meter (such as the X-Rite i1).

In this video, CalMAN gives you a brief introduction to the new ‘AutoCal PatternGen’ feature:

There is no new 77-inch OLED TV in Panasonic’s 2019 line-up, which may be explained by the fact that 77-inch OLED panels remain excessively expensive. This is a mass production challenge that LG.Display must address in the near future as consumer preferences are transitioning to larger and larger TVs.

Lastly, Panasonic talked about its long-standing partnership with THX.

HDMI 2.1, 8K, audio & My Home Screen 4.0

There are no 8K TVs in Panasonic’s 2019 line-up and none of the new TVs feature HDMI 2.1 ports. The company said that it will introduce 8K TVs when the “market is ready” but did not provide a timeline for HDMI 2.1.

The only HDMI 2.1 feature that is supported in the new TVs is ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode), which simply means that the TVs will auto-switch to game mode whenever a game is detected. The game console must also support ALLM (Xbox One does). There is no support for VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) or eARC (enhanced Audio Return Channel). Tthese features are included in some 2019 TV models from competitors and while we agree that it is too early for 8K TVs, Panasonic is lagging behind in terms of HDMI 2.1.

 Panasonic 2019 GZ2000 OLED TV

The new TVs will support Dolby Atmos, with GZ2000 having built-in up-firing speakers in addition to a soundbar. We were given a brief demonstration of the speaker capabilities next to a Sony OLED TV, which features an ‘Acoustic Surface’ speaker system that uses the actual OLED panel as a speaker membrane. GZ2000 produced a wider soundstage with more depth and clarity, and managed to emulate overhead effects to some degree. We did not get a chance to listen to the speakers in GZ1500. In addition, all of the 2019 OLED models as well as the GX940 LCD can be connected to an external subwoofer for more powerful low-frequency sound.

At the event, Panasonic also unveiled a line-up of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X capable soundbars but the listening demonstration was underwhelming. The HTB900 may be a great soundbar for mixed use but based on this demonstration it did not deliver an encompassing Atmos experience, which can probably be attributed to the fact that it is a 3.1-channel system. In the future, we would love to see a fully equipped soundbar with up-firing units and rear speakers from Panasonic and Technics.

The company will continue to push its ‘My Home Screen’ (née Firefox OS) platform. Version 4.0 has a redesigned user interface that – like LG’s webOS and Samsung’s Tizen – embraces the concept of a bottom menu to avoid obstructing video content on-screen. In our view, My Home Screen is simple and functional but also very limited compared to more advanced TV operating systems such as Google’s Android TV and Apple’s tvOS. For now, Panasonic is avoiding the temptation to switch to Android TV and instead sticking to its guns. We will examine My Home Screen 4.0 in more detail as soon as we get our hands on a sample but here is a quick introduction to the revamped user interface. The company has not announced plans to bring version 4.0 to previous TVs.

Panasonic 2019 LCD TV line-up

In Frankfurt, Panasonic unveiled its 2019 line-up of LCD TVs; GX940, GX900, GX800, and GX700. Starting from GX800, you have the HCX video processor and support for both Dolby Vision and HDR10+. We have covered the 2019 Panasonic LCD TVs in more detail here.

 Panasonic 2019 LCD TVs

After having switched to contrast-poor IPS LCD panels for some of its mid-range TVs last year, Panasonic appears to be switching back to VA LCD panels this year. We are still awaiting confirmation for all LCD models but Panasonic said that GX700 and GX800 will have VA LCD panels. There are no full array local dimming (FALD) LCD TVs in this year’s line-up and as such there is no successor to DX900 within sight. The company argued that more and more consumers are switching their attention to OLED TVs.

Panasonic’s 2019 LCD TVs have some great new features and appear to have decent picture quality but still pale somewhat in comparison to the new OLED TVs. It appears that the success of OLED is pushing LCD TVs down into lower price points and upwards in size. Panasonic is trying to capitalize on this trend with its 75-inch GX940 but it is somewhat disappointing to conclude that there are no FALD-based LCD TVs and no truly large-size displays in this year’s line-up.

Watch the video below for a short introduction to Panasonic’s 2019 LCD TV line-up.

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