Panasonic used to be the king of Plasma back in the days, but they also have a great OLED offering. I've personally spent a lot of time at gaming and Hollywood studios, and their colorists actually use Panasonics for calibration and reference purposes because they are very accurate. They are not necessarily fancy, they don't use a lot of filters - Panasonic is all about color accuracy that doesn't change the visuals of a game or a movie. Let's take snow scenes in Rise of the Tomb Raider or Inception, which has one of the best snow scenes ever in a movie. A lot of TVs tend to overdramatize such scenarios, but Christopher Nolan created them for a very specific atmosphere. Is that dramatically good or bad? Both, it depends on your taste. While not quite the powerhouse it used to be, Panasonic still makes some of the best gaming TVs out there... if you know how to optimize them.
Created with Hollywood specialists: The HCX studio color processor
If you're an entertainment purist and you want the purest form of a game, movie or TV show, Panasonic is a really good choice because its sets use the HCX processor. Now, traditionally, CPUs in TVs drastically enhance the picture and make it 'pop' - that's what Sony's OLEDs do, and even more so Samsung's QLED models. They give you a very cinematic feeling, which typically means they make the picture brighter, and the colors deeper. The reason the industry tends to do this is because most movies these days have a lot of epic scenes that are made for the big screen of a cinema but also have to work as a 4K Blu-ray release. Lord of the Rings brought us mass battles with thousands of units, Avengers: Infinity War also has giant masses on screen in Wakanda. Panasonic likes to keep colors as distinct as possible, but as the creator intended.
So really, whether you will love Panasonic's approach or not depends on how much of an entertainment purist you are. Personally, I'd say making a picture bigger and the colors more popping is a more satisfying experience. But Panasonic's HCX processor allows very granular color options, comparable to the color-grading tools professional studios use. They generate an immaculate image, a very true to life image. Sony, Samsung, and other TV companies tend to arrange their processing in a fashion that generates bigger than life heroes with perfect complexions for both male and female characters. But that's not realistic, and Panasonic recognizes that.
The pros and cons of Panasonic's technology
Pros: Panasonic and LG right now are the only manufacturers that produce their own OLED panels, and Panasonic has the bespoke HCX studio color processor on board. Now what I really like about Panasonics is they're designed for pro consumers. While the industry tends to shift to more of an out of the box experience where HDR is doing the job, and you don't have to do anything, Panasonics offer a ton of calibration options and even have software called CalMAN on board that was originally designed for movie professionals. It allows you to fully control your black levels with a very fine balance. You can go as deep as five percent or even with the 2018 models 2.5 percent luminance value, which is pretty much the deepest black OLED can produce.
Cons: While Panasonic introduces new filters with their 2018 line-up to block out reflections, all OLED sets we've seen are almost like a mirror. Traditionally OLEDs are great for night entertainment but struggle during the daytime. Panasonic's sets struggle a bit more than LG's and Sony's because the latter use different anti-reflection layers, and they're better than the ones used by Panasonic. Panasonic sets do have a preset called THX bright room to enhance brightness and contrast under such conditions, however. What's really baffling, however, is that while Panasonics feature four HDMIs, only two of them are HDMI 2.0 for 4K HDR@60 Hz, while the others downgrade the picture to 2K HDR. Just. Stop. It.
For the optimization lover in you: CalMan calibration
One of the most standout features for Panasonic is the enormous amount of influence you have on the picture. You can even see that on pre-sets. While traditionally TVs operate on maybe five pre-sets, the 2018 Panasonic models FZ950 and 800 comes with modes called Dynamic, Normal, Professional Photo, Cinema, THX Cinema, THX Bright Room, True Cinema, Custom, Professional 1 & 2, Sport and Game. That's a huge difference to most other TV manufacturers. If you're a DSLR enthusiast, you'll love the professional photo mode because it shows RAW formats precisely as you've shot them. In fact, if you want you can hook up your TV to a PC and use it as a reference monitor. You can also play around with color gamut, gamma function, color remaster, luminance level, MPEG and resolution remaster, intelligent frame creation. You can even set the white balance in 12 steps. You see: if you are a pro and know a lot about TVs, this is your sandbox to have fun in.
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The best Panasonic 4K TVs you can buy
Panasonic FZ952 (55 or 65 inch)
Simply, the best Panasonic OLED
Panasonic likes stylings to be minimal: black, brushed, rectangular aluminum stand, with very thin bezels. Elegance meets understatement. It's not a TV, though, for an open space apartment because the back is quite ugly and just uses plastic. The remote is pretty sexy; it's large but with an aluminum finish and suits the living room table. Technically there is a ton under the hood: HDR 10+, HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma) and Dolby Vision as well as a whole host of THX certifications. Bizarrely, though, just two of the four HDMI ports are HDMI 2.0. Now, picture quality. The panel is actually from LG, so black levels are stunning. It tends to crush shadows though. You can counter that with 2.5 percent luminance, but that creates a few noise problems. Panasonic remains the king of color accuracy, and the set is really good in upscaling 1080p material. The FZ952 also comes with an attached Technics soundbar that features four woofer, four midrange drivers and four tweeters for a much clearer and deeper sound experience. Easily one of the best 4K TVs for gaming.
Panasonic EZ1002 (55 inch)
Great OLED for a great price
If you've read our previous TV features, you already know that it's always worth comparing brand new sets with models from 2017. The EZ1002 features the same OLED panel as its 2018 equivalent, but the processing is one generation behind, so you don't get the same Dolby Vision. The design is actually the same as the much more expensive 952 version: large aluminum stands for maximum stability, thin bezels and a panel that's roughly six credit cards thick and looks stunning in every living room. Once you've updated the software, you can also use the same options. Not only do all Panasonics offer a truckload of picture optimization, you can also change the whole layout, and display only those apps that you want to use, in order of your choice. The gaming mode performs at 21ms response times, excellent value for DOOM, Black Ops 4 and other shooters. If you're searching for an OLED on a budget, this is my recommendation.
Panasonic TX-55 FX700
The best 55-inch budget game TV
Gotta be honest here: it's tough to recommend a budget Panasonic when you can get a really good OLED for just $500 more. Of course it's up to you; personally I'd recommend saving a little bit more cash to avoid disappointments, and getting something like Sony's X930E - one of the best LED TVs of 2017. I'd have a tough time recommending this Panasonic LED because it just features Edge LED, which simply can't compete with Direct LED Backlight. What I like though, in this set, is the fast panel, the Panasonic grade calibration options, and the fact that you can rotate the panel without moving the stand. That's perfect if you want to invite friends over for a gaming night, or watch some Chef's Table while cooking.
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Should you buy a Panasonic OLED or LED in 2018?
Panasonic builds fantastic TVs, no doubt. Its OLED line-up is top notch, but you need to have the right knowledge to leverage that picture quality. While Samsung, for example, delivers an excellent HDR picture in every game, TV show and movie on its QLEDs, Panasonics need a lot of love to tune settings. You'd better know what Red 2020 means when switching to the color scale. If you love to play around with your TV settings, gamma regulation, and color remastering, these sets are built for you. While I like all of these options, the lazy gamer in me enjoys the perfect, fully automatic HDR of Samsung and Sony. This is not a problem while playing Black Ops 4 Blackout because the coloring always stays the same, but it's a bit cumbersome fine-tuning Lara in Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Aloy in Horizon: Zero Dawn, for example. My recommendation goes out to movie purists: if you want to enjoy Inception precisely the way Christopher Nolan has envisioned it, the FZ952 and 1002 are made for you. If you don’t want to go OLED, the FX700 is an option, but I’d personally recommend Sonys superb X930E in this price range.
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