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Panasonic TX-65CZ952: The beauty’s in the processing

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Introduction and features

At long, long last, OLED screen technology is starting to realise the huge potential it’s always appeared to have. LG’s investment in new OLED production facilities has enabled the Korean brand to start selling big-screen OLED TVs at prices low enough to take on the most expensive LCD TVs.

Review: Panasonic TX-65CZ952

And now Panasonic has decided the time is right to jump in with its own debut OLED TV, the 65CZ952: a set which laughs in the face of cheapness but also, handily, sets a whole new bar for picture quality. I’m getting ahead of myself, though. There’s much to get through before we immerse ourselves in the 65CZ950’s stunning pictures, starting with its equally stunning design. OLED’s seemingly physics-defying trick of being able to deliver huge screen sizes from incredibly skinny bodies is to the fore once more, immediately making Panasonic’s masterpiece look like it’s travelled back from 2025. The curved screen is as pretty as ever too, while the set’s rear benefits from an uncharacteristic (for Panasonic) rush of design blood in the shape of a white Alcantara finish. This finish even extends to a clip-on panel that sits over the deeper section of the 65CZ952’s rear that accommodates such things as the built-in connections, tuners and video processing circuitry.

Review: Panasonic TX-65CZ952

While it’s easy to imagine people being seduced by the curved screen on an aesthetic level, it’s important to stress that curved screens can cause viewing issues in the shape of distorted reflections of bright objects in your room and impaired image geometry if you’re watching from down the TV’s sides.

It is usually possible to mitigate both of these issues in a sensibly arranged viewing room, though – and if you’ve just dropped eight grand on a TV, I’d say you owe it to yourself to try and do whatever you need to do to get the 65CZ952 into an optimum position!

Connections

Although it almost feels boring to talk about something as prosaic as connections on a TV like this, the bottom line is that they are actually very impressive. The four HDMIs are all capable of handling 4K Ultra HD up to 60 frames per second and with HDCP 2.2 anti-piracy protocols in place. Following an upcoming firmware update they will also, we’re assured, handle high dynamic range (HDR) sources such as Ultra HD Blu-rays when they appear.

The HDR support should also extend to USB sticks and streaming services (Amazon already offers a selection of shows in HDR, including Bosch, Mozart in the Jungle and the entire lineup in its Pilots Season). It’s a real pity the necessary firmware upgrade to add HDR to the 65CZ952’s considerable talents wasn’t available in time for this review, but hopefully it will make Panasonic’s TV even better when it does roll out. Naturally the 65CZ952 is well stocked with multimedia connections, including three USBs and the pretty much inevitable wired and wireless network connections. You can use these to both stream multimedia over your network from DLNA-enabled devices or access Panasonic’s online services.

4K streaming is available

These services are becoming decently comprehensive these days, with the 4K versions of Netflix and Amazon Prime both standing out. However, disappointingly the 65CZ952 carries neither Panasonic’s brilliant new Firefox OS interface or the recently launched Freeview Play catch-up TV service. This means that its UK catch-up services are currently restricted to the BBC iPlayer.

Let’s quickly get back to the good news by thinking more about the OLED screen at the 65CZ952’s heart. The thing about OLED is that – much like Panasonic’s much-loved but now defunct plasma technology – every single pixel in its screen can produce its own light and colour. This clearly has enormously positive implications for contrast, as in principle it allows a perfectly black pixel to sit right alongside a perfectly white one.

Review: Panasonic TX-65CZ952

The beauty’s in the processing

Making the potential shadow detail, contrast finesse and colour nuancing from the 65CZ952 even more mouthwatering is the fact each of the screen’s pixels is controlled via Panasonic’s new 4K Pro system. Developed initially for Panasonic’s 2015 high-end LCD TVs, the ‘Studio Master Processor’ part of 4K Pro draws on light control and colour techniques previously only found in professional monitors. These include using 3D look up tables for colours that enable the TV to reference tones against 8000 registry points (versus 100 on ‘normal’ TVs); 10-bit driving to produce more ‘steps’ of gradation; and a new Absolute Black Drive specially developed for OLED that manages to control light levels at the point just above black.

That last one is an issue that’s proved challenging for LG’s otherwise superlative OLED TVs. From what I’ve seen of the 4K Pro system on UHD LCD TVs, the thought of what it might be able to achieve with an OLED screen where light output can be controlled down to individual pixel level is, frankly, mouthwatering.

Review: Panasonic TX-65CZ952

The Hollywood effect

Obviously there’s potential for over complexity in all the picture features a TV as sophisticated as the 65CZ952 carries. However, as well as the quality of its screen being so good it’s quite forgiving of your picture setting. Panasonic has sought to simplify things by getting acclaimed Hollywood colourist Mike Sowa – best known for his work on Oblivion – to calibrate the TV’s True Cinema setting according to his own professional eye.

And this preset proves really, really effective, delivering wonderfully natural, engaging images – especially in a fairly dark room – without the need for any significant tweaking. There are also a couple of THX modes, though for me these don’t make quite such effective use of all the TV’s OLED talents as Sowa’s mode. The THX modes are still significant, though, because they mean the 65CZ952 has passed THX’s battery of tough image quality tests – something no previous OLED TV has done.

Wrapping the 65CZ952’s features up is 3D playback, delivered using the passive (cheap, non-electronic glasses) system. This means you shouldn’t have to worry about the flickering or crosstalk ghosting noise that can plague the rival active 3D system, while the way passive 3D’s onscreen filtering system reduces resolution should be negated by the fact that you’re watching full HD 3D Blu-rays on a 4K-resolution screen.

Picture Performance

So to the moment of truth: has the application of Panasonic’s processing and, perhaps, experience with plasma technology to an OLED screen delivered the ground-breaking results I was hoping for? Actually, yes.

The impact of 4K Pro is most visible during dark scenes. Such content generally looks nothing short of amazing on any OLED TVs, of course, thanks to the technology’s self-emissive nature. But Panasonic’s Absolute Black Drive means you can now enjoy OLED’s amazingly rich, deep black levels without having to worry about the slight light inconsistency issues noted on LG’s OLED TVs to date.

These issues, if you haven’t yet read our recent review of the 65EF950V, are that the picture can darken at its left and right edges, and that those inky black colours can suddenly fall away dramatically at times, especially if you are trying to run the screen quite brightly. With the 65CZ952, though, these issues seem to have been almost completely addressed, meaning that you can gawp at its extraordinary, OLED inspired black level depths without having to worry about them suddenly losing their way.

Amazing contrast

The thing about OLED, though, is not just that it can deliver deeper, more convincing black levels than any other TV technology to date. It’s also capable of delivering these black levels without having to compromise the brightness and colour intensity of neighbouring bright picture elements.

Shots of outer space in Interstellar are a particularly good demonstration of just how good OLED’s contrast performance is, as each tiny star in the sky and each bright reflection off the space craft’s hull shines forth from the surrounding blackness with a revelatory level of intensity compared with the much flatter, more compromised look you get with even the best LCD TVs.

This makes dark scenes look much more dynamic and realistic, as well as helping them enjoy both the same level of intensity and same sense of depth and scale that bright scenes do. Such consistency between bright and dark scenes is crucial to a truly satisfying viewing experience, and no TV does it better than the 65CZ952.

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As well as fixing the dark scene issues seen on LG’s OLED TVs, the 65CZ952 suffers none of the backlight clouding or unevenness during dark scenes you get to some extent with even the best LCD TVs – which again makes it much easier to become totally lost in the movie worlds you’re watching.

Review: Panasonic TX-65CZ952

The little things matter

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Panasonic’s remarkably accurate control over OLED’s self-emissive light properties helps the 65CZ952 produce gorgeous amounts of subtle shadow detail and colour gradation in dark areas too. There are some LCD screens this year that have also gotten amazingly good at this (including Panasonic’s own CX802 TVs), but for me the 65CZ952 still sets a new shadow detail bar. Good black levels are usually the start of generally good colour performance, so it follows that the 65CZ952’s stunning black levels lead to a mostly stunning colour delivery. With those inky blacks to work off, the 65CZ952’s colours look gorgeously vibrant, rich and potent, as well as displaying a level of naturalism that I’ve seldom if ever been seen before – especially during dark scenes.

The use of a 4K pixel resolution in conjunction with the 4K Pro processing means, moreover, that the screen is able to combine the richness of its colours with gorgeous amounts of subtlety and finesse that make issues like striping and blocking a thing of the past – as well as ‘selling’ the benefits of 4K more aggressively. In fact, by the time you’ve combined Panasonic’s processing prowess with OLED’s pixel level of light and colour precision, you’ve got 4K pictures on the 65CZ952 that truly dazzle with their clarity and detail.

Minor niggles

Are there any flaws at all in the 65CZ952’s ground-breaking pictures? As noted earlier, the curved screen can distort reflections from your room – though actually the reflection filter Panasonic has applied to its OLED star is the most effective I’ve seen. Strangely I found 3D pictures on the 65CZ952 to suffer with a bit more ghosting than I would have expected from a TV that’s using the passive 3D system.

Review: Panasonic TX-65CZ952

On one or two occasions I felt as if I could still see the very faintest trace of some light inconsistency towards the screen’s edges, but the effect occurs so slightly and so infrequently that it’s never something that becomes a significant distraction. Finally, the 65CZ952 is not as bright or quite as extreme with its colour range as some of the latest LCD TVs – especially Samsung’s JS9000 and JS9500 series, or Sony’s X8505C and X93/X94 series. Personally with today’s content this doesn’t trouble me; I’ll take the 65CZ952’s uniquely brilliant contrast prowess over more brightness and colour aggression every time. The only debate is whether those brighter, punchier LCD images may prove better suited to HDR than the 65CZ952.

HDR

My suspicion, though, based on having seen a demo of HDR on the 65CZ952 (the sample I tested, if you recall, hasn’t had its HDR capabilities ‘unlocked’ via firmware yet), is that the 65CZ952 will be able to handle HDR very nicely. But I believe that the sense of extended dynamic range will be founded on LCD-beating black level extremes and backlight uniformity rather than the brighter end of the light spectrum where LCD seems keen to focus.

In any event, complaining about the 65CZ952’s pictures is akin to spotting a slightly off-angle brushstroke on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. For me Panasonic’s set delivers overall comfortably the most consistently stunning and engaging pictures I’ve ever seen on a television.

Usability

While it’s a shame the 65CZ952 doesn’t benefit from Panasonic’s Firefox OS platform, it’s still overall an easy TV to use. It’s easy to find and access apps, and to configure the menus to suit your specific requirements. Also, while the tools are provided to calibrate every aspect of its pictures to the nth degree, the set also features an unusually strong set of picture presets – especially Mike Sowa’s True Cinema one – that help even the most extreme technophobes get great results with minimal technical knowledge or manual input.

Sound

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As might have been expected given how mind-bendingly slim the 65CZ952 is, it struggles to work the same magic with its sound that it does with its pictures. Its speakers hold up fine with relatively straightforward TV shows, but when pushed with a pumping Hollywood action scene and/or dense score you start to notice a distinct lack of bass, which in turn leaves the midrange sounding over-burdened and thin.

Review: Panasonic TX-65CZ952

I’m talking average rather than bad here, to be clear, but this is one area where LG, with its Harman Kardon audio systems, steals a march on the 65CZ952.

Value

If LG’s recently tested 65EF950V steals a march over the 65CZ952 with its audio, it rolls over it in a tank when it comes to value. After all, remarkably LG’s 65EF950V 4K OLED model is, at the time of writing, available online for just under £4,000. This is literally half the price of the 65CZ952. Also the 65CZ952 is as much as five times as expensive as some highly specified 65-inch 4K UHD LCD TVs out there. The opposite side of the coin is that the 65CZ952 is an incredible television that, for me, produces the best all-round picture quality I’ve ever seen. How much the 65CZ952’s unprecedented performance is worth to you is ultimately something only you and your bank balance can decide.

Verdict

I guess for most of us the 65CZ952’s £7,999 price tag makes it nothing more than an AV pipe dream. While we probably will never be able to own one, though, the 65CZ952 still represents a key moment in the history of television for the way it harnesses Panasonic’s processing power and picture quality know-how to take the performance potential of OLED TV to a previously unimagined level.

We liked

In case you haven’t picked up on this yet, the 65CZ952’s picture quality is incredible. The depth and evenness of its black level response, its incredible contrast range, its sensational colour and its shadow detailing and tonal accuracy make it a constant joy to behold. It’s easy to use for such a sophisticated TV too, and ogling its mind-bogglingly slim design never grows old.

Review: Panasonic TX-65CZ952

We disliked

The curved nature of the 65CZ952’s screen may be divisive, and could cause viewing issues if you have to watch it from a severe angle. It’s a shame the set doesn’t get Panasonic’s Firefox OS or Freeview Play smart features too, and then there’s the small matter of that £7,999 price tag to overcome.

Verdict

While it’s great to see LG ‘mainstreaming’ OLED technology with its latest aggressively priced OLED TVs, it’s also brilliant to find a brand like Panasonic willing to take a ‘no compromise’ approach to this still relatively new screen technology. And it’s also vitally important that it’s a brand with the TV experience and laudable home cinema obsessions of Panasonic. So while you probably won’t be able to afford to buy a 65CZ952, you simply have no choice but to love it.

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