CES 2018 may not officially kick-off until Sunday, but Panasonic has lifted the lid on its first 2018 AV products ahead of its official CES press conference on Monday.
Compared to previous years and indeed other TV brands, CES 2017 was a rather muted affair for Panasonic. The Japanese TV giant modestly announced only one OLED TV, alongside some 4K Blu-ray players and Technics' SL-1200GR turntable, while TV rivals indulged in the announcement of multiple models.
But Panasonic has fired up the burners in 2017 – and the upshot shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Yes, new OLED TVs (and four 4K Blu-ray players) are on the way in 2018.
The Z950 (TX-55FZ950 and TX-65FZ950) and FZ800 (TX-55FZ800 and TX-65FZ800) models feature new OLED panels, which may well feature on rival 2018 OLED models, as well as the latest generation of Panasonic’s proprietary HCX processor.
The TX-77EZ1000 TV – launched at IFA last September – will also continue this year.
The biggest change brought by the HCX processor is the introduction of ‘Dynamic LUT’ (or ‘Dynamic Look-up Table’). An LUT, which is essentially a table of numbers that takes an image and corrects it (whether that be in terms of saturation, brightness and contrast - or all three), is typically fixed and applied once to the content source.
Making that process dynamic, however, means the picture is analysed every millisecond to select the most optimal LUT on a scene-by-scene basis depending on its brightness. Why? To bring picture improvements - especially to mid-brightness scenes. As HDR has brought dynamic metadata (i.e. Dolby Vision and HDR10+) into play, so Panasonic believes this level of processing has become necessary.
Panasonic has expressed its pride at its EZ1000 TV being the reference consumer monitor for post-production firms Technicolor and Deluxe, and, after a request from the industry, has increased calibration steps at the lowest (i.e. darkest) end of the colour gamut. That means the four new Panasonis OLED TVs support calibration at 5 per cent, and – in an industry first – 2.5 per cent luminance within Panasonic’s Colour Management System settings, allowing users extra tweaking of luminance levels in low-lit scenes.
The Panasonic FZ950 and FZ800 models will also be the first OLED screens available in 2018 to support HDR10+, which has just recieved a logo and further certification from the HDR10+ Alliance. That means owners will be able to watch Amazon Prime Video’s HDR catalogue in the format, as well as future content from 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros.
Frustratingly, but not all that surprising, Dolby Vision HDR, a direct rival to HDR10+, has been left off the spec sheet, despite appearing on Panasonic’s flagship 2018 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
Elsewhere Panasonic has also introduced a Dynamic Scene Optimizer function, which is designed to mimic dynamic metadata when playing straight-up HDR10 content. Last but not least on the picture side, an Auto HDR Brightness Enhancer function allows users to adjust (manually or automatically) how HDR content looks in a brighter room.
The primary difference between the two series? That lies purely on the audio side.
While the FZ800 models have built-in speakers, the FZ950 sets are accompanied by a Dynamic Blade soundbar-like speaker, which has been tuned by Technics and is the next-gen version of the speaker that complemented Panasonic’s 2017 EZ1000 models. The 80-watt, Technics-branded speaker features a 20-watt tweeter, 20-watt midrange and 40-watt woofer, as well as two passive radiators in front of and behind the left and right speakers.
The big reveal, at Panasonic's Hollywood Lab, wasn’t without a brief picture demonstration, which looked to confirm that the TX-65FZ950 offers an improvement over its predecessor, the TX-65EZ1000. The Dynamic LUT system proved effective, adding notable degrees of brightness and definition.
At CES we’ll be witnessing HDR10+ at work and getting a chance to wrap our ears around the new Dynamic Blade speakers. If our first impressions are anything to go by, we're prepared to be even more impressed by OLED TVs this year.
We will have to wait a little longer for pricing, though. The Panasonic FZ800 and FZ950 TVs are expected to launch in spring, with pricing to be announced closer to that time.
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