Earlier this week, Panasonic unveiled its new OLED and LCD TV models for 2020. Here are our first impressions, additional technical information, videos, and other details worth highlighting.
First look: Panasonic 2020 OLED TVs
Panasonic has unveiled three 2020 OLED models; HZ2000, HZ1500 and HZ1000. We expect at least one additional OLED model to join the line-up later this year but let us focus on the announced models.
HZ2000 is the successor to last year's GZ2000 that we liked very much. So much that it received our highest recognition in the form of a Reference Award (not to be confused with our Highly Recommended Award). Like GZ2000, HZ2000 has the customized OLED panel with higher brightness (peak and full-screen). HZ1500 and HZ1000 use the standard LG Display OLED panel.
Based on what we saw at the event in London's Pinewood Studios, HZ2000 is largely a tweaked version of GZ2000 with some improvements relating to how pictures are optimized for bright viewing environments. Two systems are in play here; Dolby Vision IQ and Panasonic's own 'Intelligent Sensing'. Both systems aim to achieve the same goal, which is to make the picture brighter and retain details in dark areas in a bright viewing environment, while still staying true to the source and creative intent.
Dolby Vision IQ uses the dynamic metadata in the Dolby Vision signal (and works only with Dolby Vision content) together with the TV's built-in light sensor whereas Panasonic's own Intelligent Sensing system (works with SDR, HDR10, HDR10+ and HLG) analyzes pictures and uses the TV's built-in light sensor.
We only had a very brief demonstration, but it appears to work well. In a bright viewing environment, such as a living room, shadow details just above black are often perceptually difficult or impossible to make out, so a gentle tone-mapping tweak and an overall brighter picture can certainly help. It also helps that the OLED panel in HZ2000 has headroom to increase overall brightness when necessary.
Panasonic is not the only manufacturer to do this (for example, Dolby Vision IQ is also found in LG 2020 OLED TVs that also employ dynamic tone-mapping), but each manufacturer's approach differ slightly. As you may know, some manufacturers, including Samsung, raise the entire luminance curve for HDR to make almost everything in the picture appear brighter at all times. The systems in Panasonic's new TVs are more sophisticated and apply these tweaks only if the viewing environment is bright (in a dark environment nothing or little seemingly changes), and gradually depending on how bright your viewing environment is at the given time.
It is very hard to capture on photos or videos but we have nevertheless included a short video from Panasonic's London event that may help you understand the concept better, even if you cannot discern the effects from the two demo TVs.
Another tweak this year is that the 2020 OLED panel from LG Display has a more advanced - and now actually useful - BFI (Black Frame Insertion) system, which inserts black frames into the video stream to 'reset' the human eye in order to make motion appear less blurry. The improved BFI system can operate at shorter duty cycles (Low, Medium, High or Auto) meaning that flicker and brightness loss can be reduced.
The High setting still produces far too much flicker but the Low and Medium options do a better job at keeping flicker below the visible threshold (at least for us) while still maintaining a fairly high brightness level. The Auto setting will apply either Low or Medium depending on the content. The same BFI system will be available in 2020 OLED TVs from LG and Sony, and LG also has the Auto option (Sony may have it too - we don't know yet).
In 2020, Panasonic will add support for HDMI 2.1's eARC (enhanced Audio Return Channel) in addition to ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode), which was also supported in its 2019 models. However, Panasonic's 2020 OLED TVs will not be equipped with HDMI 2.1 ports so you will not get benefits such as 4K120 (4K at 120 frames per second) and VRR (variable refresh rate). We expect Panasonic's 2020 OLED TVs to once again be excellent choices for movie watching but the lack of HDMI 2.1 should be a concern for console gamers who want to enjoy gaming on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X to the fullest.
Panasonic explained that it prefers to wait for HDMI 2.1 until it can properly test and ensure that everything works as intended. Still, LG has offered HDMI 2.1 ports plus almost the full suite of optional HDMI 2.1 features in OLED TVs since spring 2019 and this year other TV makers such as Sony will also start the transition to HDMI 2.1 for 4K TVs. The flagship HZ2000 has a unique advantage due to its brighter OLED panel but for the HZ1500 and HZ1000 models Panasonic will have to get aggressive on pricing considering that LG 2020 OLED TVs also offer support for Dolby Vision IQ and Filmmaker mode, in addition to HDMI 2.1.
Panasonic also used the opportunity to demonstrate how the brighter OLED panel in HZ2000 elevates the picture experience compared to an OLED TV from a competitor (Sony). We covered this in our review of the GZ2000 predecessor last year.
Panasonic HZ2000 (left) vs. Sony OLED TV (right)
Filmmaker Mode is a new feature in Panasonic's 2020 OLED TVs but considering that Panasonic at this time offers only manual selection of Filmmaker Mode (included as a picture mode alongside Movie, Standard etc) via the remote control, there are no major benefits to be had from Filmmaker Mode compared to the best picture modes in the company's 2019 OLED TVs.
HZ1000 and HZ1500 will be available in Europe around May / June, while HZ2000 is expected around July.
Dolby Atmos in TVs
At the event, Panasonic emphasized that Dolby Atmos is now part of its "Hollywood to your home" branding - or "More Hollywood to more homes". HZ2000 has a more potent speaker system compared to last year's GZ2000, and still with up-firing units for Atmos.
The company will also bring a scaled-down version of its Dolby Atmos speaker system with up-firing units to the HZ1500 OLED model. If you want even more power you can connect a wired subwoofer directly to the TV.
HZ2000's Dolby Atmos speaker system with up-firing units
For the event, Panasonic had invited a spokesperson for Dolby, Javier Foncillas, to give a brief overview of Dolby Atmos in home entertainment as well as renowned Dolby Atmos sound mixer Glenn Fremantle, who won an Best Sound Editing Academy Award for his work on Gravity, to talk about mixing movies in Dolby Atmos.
Javier Foncillas pointed out that there are now more than 750 titles in Dolby Atmos available for home entertainment. Game studios have also started using or experimenting with the object-based audio format. As such a handful of console games can now be experienced in Dolby Atmos and we expect to see many more once next-generation game consoles arrive and proliferate.
A video of Glenn Fremantle's presentation is included below. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to film the scene from upcoming movie Emma but we can add that it was an impactful scene where Dolby Atmos sound really helped elevate the movie experience as the scene shifted from quite dialog into a brutal and violent spectacle - especially inside the Pinewood Studios' Powell Theater. The projector on the other hand did not deliver a very pleasing picture when you are used to the beautiful HDR pictures from TVs such as Panasonic's own OLED TVs.
George Lucas once said that "sound is half the experience in seeing a film" and this year Panasonic wants to bring Dolby Atmos to more viewers. The Atmos system in the HZ2000 (and HZ1500) is no match for a full-blown system with dedicated speakers but starting from last year's GZ2000 you do get a significant step up in audio compared to most other built-in speakers in TVs.
First look: Panasonic 2020 LCD TVs
Panasonic also unveiled the three new LCD TV ranges called HX940, HX900 and HX800 - with more coming later this year. These are LCD TVs with edge LED, either VA or IPS LCD (IPS in all HX900 and HX940, except 75" which is VA LCD. HX800 is VA LCD).
HX940 will be available in June while HX800 and HX900 are expected around April.
Panasonic highlighted wide support for Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10, HLG, and HLG Photo and had set up a side-by-side demo comparing its new HX940 (with IPS LCD) with 'Local Dimming Pro Intelligent' - not zone dimming - to a competitor's IPS LCD model. The idea was to highlight the HX940's better HDR capabilities.
In a brightly lit viewing environment both TVs delivered acceptable picture quality (but not anything that we would classify as HDR). In a darker viewing environment, however, the picture on both TVs looked washed out and lifeless. In our opinion, it is unfortunate that TV makers continue to promote edge-lit LCD TVs as HDR TVs. If an edge-lit LCD TV serves as the viewer's first encounter with HDR, the probability is high that the viewer will write off HDR as disappointing and a fad. Unfortunately, this has almost nothing to do with HDR so it only serves to undermine the concept.
To be clear, these LCD TVs will probably satisfy many buyers' needs for an all-round TV but if the point is to move the industry forward and use HDR to create a thriving environment - a virtuous circle for TV makers, content makers, distributors, and consumers - then we think TV makers from all regions should focus more on bringing display hardware capable of good HDR to the masses rather than reserving it for high-end TVs. Panasonic said that it no plans to reintroduce LCD TVs with zone-dimming, i.e. a successor to DX900, and in many ways it feels as if LCD TVs in general are moving backwards and that picture quality is getting worse, not better.
Also read: Samsung's most advanced "QLED" LCD tech is now reserved for its 8K TVs
Lastly, Panasonic briefly highlighted a new preview feature for streaming services on its My Home Screen 5.0 platform. If you hover over Netflix or YouTube you will see featured content above the icon, much like the app rows on Samsung and LG TVs.
We asked about plans to bring Apple TV+ and Disney+ to Panasonic's platform but at this time there was nothing new to announced.
As for the rumor about a 7-series LCD TV based on Google's Android TV, Panasonic did not want to comment specifically on the matter at this time.