Hands on: Panasonic FZ950 OLED TV review

Finding its own secret sauce

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Our Early Verdict

Hot on the heels of the excellent EZ952, the FZ950 is here with support for HDR10+ and a fancy new dynamic LUT system to lure you away from LG's OLED dominance.

For

  • HDR10+ implementation impresses
  • Great black handling in bright scenes
  • Improved sound over last year

Against

  • It won't come cheap

It's an open secret within the TV industry that only one manufacturer produces the OLED panels that the rest of the industry uses in their OLED TVs. 

But just because the same panel hardware goes into each TV doesn't mean that they all have to look the same. 

Hence the race is on to have the best sound and image processing around to squeeze every bit of performance from the hardware available. 

Panasonic's FZ950 is a classic example of how a company can put its own spin on pre-existing hardware, and with no new OLED hardware available this year, we're happy with how Panasonic has given us a reason to be excited about its 2018 model. 

Design and Performance

This year, Panasonic has a couple of tricks up its sleeve. The first is support for HDR10+, the new HDR standard that uses dynamic metadata to alter brightness on a scene by scene basis. 

HDR10+ is a new standard that attempts to bring some of the advantages of Dolby Vision to an open standard that - it's hoped - will lead to wider adoption. 

It's big advantage is dynamic metadata. HDR10 uses the same metadata for an entire file. A TV will see the brightest point reached in a movie or TV show, and it'll see the blackest. It will use these to find an average brightness for the entire image. 

However, that means that if most of the movie is made up of dark scenes with one or two really bright ones, then the metadata will skew towards the light scenes, and dark scenes will lose detail as a result. 

HDR10+ dynamic metadata fixes this. Each scene has its own metadata, which means the TV can adjust its brightness to what's appropriate for individual scenes. 

The second feature of the new TV is a dynamic look-up-table (LUT) which, much like HDR10+, dynamically adapts the TV's picture quality to offer the most amount of detail possible, depending on what's needed for the scene in question. 

Regardless of the nerdy TV tech that's gone into the television, the result is a fantastic amount of detail across an entire image, regardless of how bright or dark it is. 

You'll find a small Technics logo included on the soundbar, proof that Panasonic's audio division assisted with the TV

During our demo, we were shown a beach scene, which was naturally incredibly bright. However, the FZ950 still managed to get really black in darker areas of the image, such as in the shadows created by the sand. 

It's a subtle thing, but it gives images far more depth and definition, even when the image as a whole is incredibly bright. 

The FZ950 features much better sound than what was available in last year's model. Although it has the same amount of drivers, the passive radiator has been beefed up to deepen the bass response and, in a side-by-side demonstration, the sound was much more spacious and full. 

The sets soundbar can be completely removed if you'd rather use a third-party model

However, if for any reason you'd rather not use the built-in soundbar, it can easily be removed entirely. 

Finally, Panasonic's operating system, My Home Screen, has been tweaked since 2017 to form version 3.0 of the software. The system appears to have ditched its full-screen stylings in favor of a menu that overlays on the bottom of whatever you're watching, which generally gets in the way less. It appeared to be nice and snappy from what we saw in our demonstration. 

The cheaper FZ800 ditches the soundbar in favor of downward-firing speakers

Early verdict

With no new OLED panels to show off this year, CES 2018 has been a year of iteration rather than revolution for TVs. 

But at least Panasonic has busied itself with squeezing every little bit of performance from the hardware available. The improvements to picture quality are small but noticeable, and while we would have loved to see Dolby Vision support, HDR10+ is really shaping up to be a great alternative. 

The only issue is that all this tech is unlikely to come cheap. Panasonic has earned a name for itself in recent years by supplying reference monitors to movie studios which demand the absolute best picture quality possible, and so their TVs don't make the kinds of compromises that would be needed to bring down their prices. 

We're expecting to hear firm pricing information in the coming months but, suffice to say, don't hold your breath. 

  • New year, new tech – check out all our coverage of CES 2018 straight from Las Vegas, the greatest gadget show on Earth!

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.