Panasonic has embraced the OLED era in a wholehearted, star-crossed lovers-style, producing some of the best TVs of the last few years. But, for the last couple of those, the company’s flagship picture has been tethered to its flagship sound.
Whether you rate that flagship sound or not (we did in 2019 but didn’t in 2020), the fact remains that in buying Panasonic’s best picture, you’re also forced into paying for something that you might not use because you’ve already got (or are getting) a dedicated sound system.
For 2021, though, Panasonic has changed tack so that its best picture is no longer exclusive to this year’s 2000-series models but is also a feature of the 1500-series, seen here in 55-inch, TX-55JZ1500B guise. It’s by no means a cheap TV and you are still paying for a fairly advanced integrated sound system, but Panasonic’s take on OLED picture perfection is more affordable than ever before.
The Panasonic TX-55JZ1500B is priced at £2199 (around $3040 / AU$4155) at launch. At the time of writing, in the UK (the set isn't available in the US or Australia) it’s £300 cheaper than the TX-55JZ2000B (£2499), which has a Technics-tuned speaker system featuring upward-firing drivers but essentially the same picture.
Step down the range to the TX-55JZ1000B (£1899) and you can save yourself £300 over the JZ1500B, but you also lose the ‘Professional Edition’ panel and get a further downgraded sound system.
Panasonic has prioritised function over form for years now, if not decades, and it’s certainly not taking a different approach in 2021. The JZ1500B (and its siblings) continues where 2020’s HZ-series (and 2019’s GZ-series) left off, with crisp points and edges, a thin black bezel on three sides and an extra ‘lip’ on the lower edge. Swivel stands have rather gone out of fashion, and the near-perfect viewing angles of an OLED TV make swivelling less useful than it would be with an LCD model, but the JZ1500B’s stand also gives it a very compact footprint that makes for easy placement of the TV on narrow furniture. The fairly long neck leaves a reasonable amount of space for a soundbar, too.
Viewed from the side, the JZ1500B has the typical OLED combination of extremely thin panel and fairly thick plastic housing for the speakers, processing hardware and connections. At its thickest, the set is a fairly chunky 6.9cm. The Sony A90J, by comparison, is 4.1cm thick, the LG C1 is 4.7cm, and the Samsung QN95A is just 2.6cm.
There are no plastic panels in the box for hiding the connections (some of which face to the left-hand side of the set while the others face down) and the cable tidy system is nothing more than an inelegant clip-on piece of plastic, but that’s all part of Panasonic’s fuss-free approach.
It’s a similar story with the remote control, which is hardly super-stylish but is actually rather nice to use, with a pleasant, positive click to the well-spaced buttons and a generally good feel in the hand. That said, it is a bit bigger than ideal and getting around it can involve a bit of thumb-stretching.
The JZ1500B uses the latest, 6.0 version of Panasonic's My Home Screen operating system. This latest iteration takes the form of two rows of apps and features that pop-up from the bottom edge. Highlighting certain apps, such as Netflix, invokes a third row consisting of content to which you can jump directly. It’s quite slick by Panasonic’s previously rather rudimentary standards, while still remaining very simple and straightforward. It’s supremely responsive, too, with no frustrating lag emerging during testing.
My Home Screen 6.0 does have one rather significant limitation, though, and that’s its relative lack of apps: at the time of writing, Disney+, Apple TV, Now and BT Sport are all missing, as are most music streaming services. There are plenty who won’t be bothered by those omissions, and one could easily argue that the Sony A80J’s and A90J’s lack of UK catch-up apps (all of which the JZ1500B has as part of the Freeview Play platform) is a far more significant issue. It really depends on which apps you value and whether you have or are happy to add a dedicated streamer (or use Chromecast in the case of the Sony TVs).
Screen type OLED
Operating system My Home Screen 6.0
HDR formats HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision, HLG
HDMI x4 (HDMI 2.1 x2)
Optical out Yes
The apps that the Panasonic JZ1500B does have include Netflix, Amazon, Rakuten, YouTube, Britbox, Plex, Deezer and BBC Sounds, and the TV supports the Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10 and HLG standards for HDR.
The array of physical connections includes four HDMIs, three USBs, aerial and satellite, an old-school analogue input (via adaptor), an optical output and a headphone socket that can be alternatively used as a subwoofer output.
Focusing on the HDMIs, as is all-too necessary these days, the JZ1500B has two that are HDMI 2.1-certifiied. These support 4K@120Hz, VRR and ALLM. There are some limitations, though, in that 4K@120Hz and VRR can’t be used simultaneously, and 4K@120Hz signals of all types are displayed with the vertical resolution halved. That latter issue sounds like a big one, but it makes surprisingly little difference in action, and both limitations are due to be fixed via firmware updates before the end of 2021. It’s worth noting that 4K@120Hz and Dolby Vision can’t currently be used together either, and no fix for that has been announced. Dolby Vision does work at 60Hz, though, and without any of the faff that you have to go through with the Sony A80J and A90J.
Potentially of more concern is that one of the two HDMI 2.1 sockets is also the one used for eARC. If you use that to get audio out to a sound system, it will be unavailable for an HDMI 2.1 source. In the short term that’s only going to be an issue for very hardcore gamers who are lucky enough to already own a PS5 and Xbox Series X (or perhaps a gaming PC with an HDMI 2.1 graphics card), but it could become a stumbling block in the future if HDMI 2.1 sources become more widespread.
We complained last year that Panasonic’s OLEDs were lacking an ideal Dolby Vision preset, and that’s still somewhat the case this year. In ideal viewing conditions (a pitch-black room), Dolby Vision Dark and Dolby Vision IQ (which is near-identical to Dolby Vision Dark when the lights are off) are spot-on, but the dynamic Dolby Vision IQ mode doesn’t go quite bright enough when you switch the lights on. Dolby Vision Vivid, meanwhile, is horrible – it goes more than bright enough but also fundamentally changes the picture, including its colour temperature. It’s simply not Dolby Vision, and we’re surprised that Panasonic and Dolby are happy to call it that. Panasonic should really reinstate the Dolby Vision Bright mode of its 2019 models.
If you are viewing in ideal conditions, though, the Dolby Vision performance is superb. Playing Lost In Space from Netflix, the JZ1500B gives even the super-crisp Sony A80J and A90J a run for their money in terms of sharpness and detail, and it trumps them with its slightly richer and more vibrant colour palette. While steering well clear of exaggeration and maintaining subtlety in shading, it produces fuller skin tones and slightly more vivid reds. The combination of this extra richness and brilliant sharpness makes for an enticing image that really pops. The Panasonic also produces brilliantly deep blacks, making for awesome impact.
Switching to the brilliant (and brilliantly testing) Blade Runner 2049 in HDR10, the Panasonic’s way with colours continues to be one of its greatest strengths. The neon signs and holographic adverts aside, this film has a delicate and carefully considered colour balance that’s easily spoiled by exaggeration, but the JZ1500B digs up the subtle rosiness of K’s skin and pumps those neons up in attention-grabbing fashion without altering the generally grimy and pallid approach.
Balance is the name of the game here. Detail levels and definition are hugely impressive again, but there’s no sense of artificial sharpening. And while the Sony A90J proves more capable of producing brighter highlights in very dark images, the Panasonic goes deeper, so that very dark elements of bright scenes, such as Sapper Morton’s face in the backlight of his farmhouse, have greater impact without there being any loss in shadow detail.
Panasonic is one of the best in the business when it comes to motion handling, and so it proves once more. Blade Runner 2049 is packed with extremely challenging moments, and the JZ1500B handles them almost as well as the Sony A80J and A90J. In fact, the two sections that trip up practically every other TV – K’s car flying behind some skyscrapers near the start of the film and then, in a later scene, crashing to the ground – are handled just as well by the Panasonic as they are by the Sonys, with barely a hint of shimmer.
It’s in the slow pans, such as the one across Sapper’s farmyard in the opening scene, where the Sonys are just the slightest bit smoother and sharper, but the JZ1500B still handles these very well indeed. What’s more, this motion processing prowess is delivered without any artificiality or soap opera effect – as long as you set Intelligent Frame Creation to Min, as anything higher is overly aggressive.
Dropping down to Bohemian Rhapsody in 1080p and standard dynamic range, the JZ1500B balances (there’s that word again) punch and naturalism beautifully. The light pouring through the windows while the family and band sit around the dining table gives off a lovely glow without looking over-exposed. The Sony A90J is a bit brighter and sharper here, but the Panasonic is excellent in its own right. The same is true when we switch to Fake Or Fortune in standard-def from the Freeview tuner, and while the Sony is still a little sharper, the Panasonic’s marginally softer approach makes for a slightly cleaner delivery.
The Panasonic JZ1500B broadly sounds good, with a clean, punchy and dynamic delivery that impresses with its bass weight. That bass weight isn’t just noticeable in explosions, but in lots of incidental effects, such as K closing his kitchen cupboards, and even his dialogue and the background music in his apartment.
The Surround mode is, surprisingly, off by default, and that does rather restrict the audio to the area immediately around the TV. Switching Dolby Surround on gives you something of a virtual surround experience, with effects stretching a fair way out to the left and right of the screen. You do then lose a little bit of punch and dynamism, but the extra cinema-style immersion is worth the sacrifice with the right content.
The JZ1500B does occasionally struggle in terms of clarity regardless of whether Surround is on or off, with some of the dialogue from the bombing run scene of Unbroken struggling to make itself heard above the din of the plane. Not only is it quiet, but it sounds a little hollow and synthetic, too. The “hit this one and the drinks are on me” line seems to have an exaggerated echo, for example. This isn’t a huge issue by any means, though, and the Panasonic otherwise delivers this scene with impressive punch and dynamics, and the tinkle of the smashed glass as it hits the metal floor of the bomber is strikingly sparkly.
Switching to stereo music with Sunday Driver by The Raconteurs, the Panasonic struggles slightly to project the vocals but provides a pleasingly open and spacious delivery.
All told, this is solid sound by TV standards, but it’s not the very best in class and you’d be wise to budget for a dedicated sound system if you’re able. The Sonos Arc would be an excellent choice, although a full surround sound speaker system would obviously be an even more worthy companion for the JZ1500B’s superb picture.
The Panasonic JZ1500B is an excellent TV that makes Panasonic’s top picture performance more affordable than ever before. Its rich but natural colours are a particular highlight, and it's brilliantly detailed and sharp, with excellent motion handling to boot.
It’s still an expensive set, though, and the Sony A90J and A80J, which are a good deal pricier and cheaper respectively, should both also be considered before you settle on the JZ1500B. We can well imagine that plenty of people will still choose the Panasonic’s beautifully vibrant performance even after seeing the very best that Sony has to offer.
- Picture 5
- Sound 4
- Features 4
Read our Sony XR-55A80J review
Read our Sony XR-55A90J review
Read our review of the LG OLED65C1
Find the best premium and budget OLED TVs