Panasonic TX-55EZ952 review

Pro 4K HDR OLED TV with Freeview Play

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Our Verdict

With excellent image fidelity and comprehensive smart TV platform, the EZ952 is a premium UHD TV that’s easy to lust over.

For

  • Superb near-black performance
  • Lush colours
  • Excellent 4K image detail
  • Uncluttered smart platform

Against

  • Limited HDR peak brightness
  • Ordinary audio
  • Overly aggressive image interpolation
  • Pricey

The EZ952 is the more approachable of Panasonic’s two ‘Pro 4K’ 2017 OLED TV offerings. Unlike the step-up EZ1002 / EZ1000, this model comes in both 65-inch and 55-inch guises, and has a conventional form factor. 

We’re reviewing the smaller set here, which at £2,999 is competitively priced to take on rival OLED screens from LG and Philips.

Design

When it comes to design, Panasonic has adopted a minimalist approach. The pedestal stand may look basic, but it’s heavy in the extreme, and that bezel is super-thin and elegant.

While the panel is a mere 4mm thin, the set is engorged half-way down by electronics, tuner and inputs, but even this only increases the depth to 48mm.

Connectivity is good. There are 4 HDMIs, all HDCP 2.2-compliant for 4K sources, such as UHD Blu-ray player and set-top boxes. One of the HDMIs is ARC-enabled, so you can feed a soundbar or home cinema system.

There are also three USBs, one of which is a fast v3.0 connector for time-shifting onto USB hard drives; an optical digital audio output; mini-jack adaptor for component and composite AV, and as is Panasonic’s want, an SD card reader. Dual band Wi-Fi is standard and there’s Ethernet LAN too. Two satellite tuners are provided, plus Freeview Play.

The EZ952 comes with two remote controls, a classy IR pointer with a lovely metallic finish, and a smaller Bluetooth touch alternative. This proclivity has always struck me as a little flamboyant, as it invariably means one remote is perennially hidden away and never used.

The set boasts Ultra HD Premium accreditation, and is certified by THX. It supports industry-standard HDR10, and there’s a firmware update for HLG broadcast HDR support in the pipeline. It’s not Dolby Vision-compatible though.

Design TL;DR: The EZ952 has an approachable minimalist style with classic pedestal and ultra narrow bezel. 

Panasonic TX-55EZ952 specs

Screen sizes available: 55 inches, 65 inches
Tuner: Freeview Play, satellite
4K: Yes
HDR: Yes
Panel technology: OLED
Smart TV: Yes / My Home Screen v2.0
Curved: No
Dimensions: 55 inch: 1230 x 766 x 275mm / 65-inch 1453 x 839 x 48mm
3D: No
Inputs: 4 x HDMI, 3x USB, AV mini-jack, Ethernet

Smart OS

There have been some changes to Panasonic’s Smart TV platform for 2017, but you’ll probably not immediately notice them. My Home Screen 2.0, formerly known as the Firefox TV OS, is brilliantly simple to use, yet powerful in terms of functionality. The set launches with a trio of tabs – Live TV, Apps and Devices – but you can add more. For example if you want a shortcut to Wuaki TV you can pin it to the home screen; likewise the Blu-ray player input.

Updated Smart features include folders for multiple users, a My App button on the remote that can be customised for faster access to preferred content, and a revamped Media Player that supports 4K HDR10 and HLG HDR. 

Streaming service support ticks the right boxes. In addition to Netflix, which streams in 4K and HDR, and 4K-capable YouTube, you get all the main catch-up TV services (BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, Demand 5). While there was only a placeholder for Amazon Video during our audition, this app should be live soon again with 4K streaming support.

The terrestrial tuner is Freeview Play, which for the uninitiated is the latest evolution of the Freeview channel platform. It uses a rollback programme guide for easy access to all key catch-up content. It also comes with revamped search and recommendation tools, and a Quick Look Guide that shows past, live and future TV shows for the current channel. 

The set is also DLNA-compliant. Hit Devices and you'll get a list of both local sources and networked devices. Click on a NAS and you'll be asked to select music, video or photos. Thanks to a quad-core processor, browsing networked folders is suitably swift.

Smart TV TL;DR: A simple yet powerful connected platform offers all key streaming and catch-up services.

HD/SDR performance

While it’s easy to over-emphasise 2160p resolution and High Dynamic Range (HDR) performance, this rather undersells the fact that the EZ952 handles 1080p and 4K SDR brilliantly. The panel does a great job upscaling HD material, and while it’s not adding any detail, the extra pixel density paints a wonderfully cinematic image. 

Transformers Age of Extinction in 1080p Blu-ray looked so pretty I just wanted it to keep on playing – if you’ve ever watched Transformers AoE, you’ll realise this is high praise indeed. A Dynamic Range Remaster mode is available for SDR content, which gives an indeterminate boost to brighter areas.

The EZ952 also looks superb with native 2160p F1 from Sky Q, which is SDR and uses a conventional REC.709 colour space – track footage and crowd scenes bristle with fine detail.

HD/SDR Performance TL;DR: You don’t need native HDR to make this screen sing – it looks great with HD and SDR sources.

4K/HDR performance

The EZ952 ‘Pro 4K’ sobriquet refers to the fact that image processing has been tuned with the help of Hollywood creatives. And they’ve clearly done a great job. This UHD panel is a beauty, offering superb fine detail, delicious dynamics and a rich wide colour palette. We’ve seen brighter HDR peak luminosity, but that doesn’t noticeably impact the quality of the set’s dynamic presentation. 

The set offers a comprehensive range of control, but for the most part you won’t feel a need to deviate from Auto. All the usual picture parameters can be tweaked, including Luminance, Contrast, Brightness, Colour, Tint and Sharpness. We'd suggest reducing image Sharpness to 45 to avoid excessive ringing, and turning off the ambient light sensor for image consistency.

Picture modes include Dynamic, Normal, Cinema, THX Cinema, THX Bright Room, True Cinema, Custom and Professional 1 & 2. There’s also a high-speed gaming mode available via the Picture/options menu. With HDR sources, the set flips to an HDR version of the same preset.

The Normal mode will be the default option for most viewing; it offers good average picture brightness, uncompromised image clarity and eye candy colour.

Cinema is surprisingly similar, albeit with a warmer colour balance. True Cinema is a darker iteration, which will simply look too dim in a moderately lit room. Neither THX modes are suitable for 4K content, and are probably best ignored. 

The EZ952 shares the same Studio Colour HCX2 processor as the EZ1002, however it lacks the Absolute Black filter of its bigger brother. One consequence is that there seems to be a slightly brownish tinge to the screen when off. Obviously, this isn’t visible when viewing.

When it comes to test patterns, the EZ952 offers full 4K resolution in all viewing modes, although the THX presets mute contrast and definition. The sheer level of fine detail is often mesmerising. Using a 0-1000 nit ramp, we can see the set effectively tone maps to 1000 nits.

It’s easy to fixate on the big effects of HDR, but it can enliven the most innocuous of scenes. In the opening episode of Iron Fist (Netflix), when titular hero Danny Rand makes his first appearance on the sunlit streets of New York, the white shirts and tees of commuters ping off the screen. Sunlight dazzles convincingly off the Rand skyscraper.

The set boasts a 4K Hexa Chroma Drive Pro image engine, said to cover almost 100% of the DCI-P3 colour space, and there’s certainly no doubting the richness of the presentation. The astounding landscapes in Mad Max Fury Road (UHD Blu-ray), which feature deep red deserts and vivid blue skies, look far more arresting than the SDR 1080p version of the movie.  

The EZ952’s HDR peak brightness is considerably better than Panasonic’s first OLED outing, but is not class-leading. We measured 579 nits with a 5% window, in HDR Normal mode with full luminance. This is ahead of what is required for Ultra HD Premium certification for OLED. 

It’s worth noting that actual spectral highlights, such as firework displays, glinting reflections, the sun etc, will typically occupy less than 5% of the screen area.

By way of contrast, full field white SDR screen was measured at 143 nits in the Normal viewing mode.

An HDR Brightness Enhancer is provided to optimise HDR image quality in rooms with high ambient light. Often, HDR detailing visible in low light conditions can’t be seen in brighter rooms. The processor subtly increases luminance to compensate, without over brightening the whole image. It makes a subtle difference, but isn’t available in Normal and Dynamic viewing modes.

While Panasonic’s picture processing is top drawer, I’m less convinced by Intelligent Frame Creation, an image interpolation mode designed to combat judder and image blurring. IFC comes in a trio of strengths, as well as Off and Custom, the latter of which enables individual adjustment of Blur Reduction and Film Smooth. 

The only IFC setting I would recommend is Minimum. This generally gives a cleaner moving image. However, if you engage IFC Mid or Max, motion artefacts around moving objects become very apparent. You also suffer 'soap opera effect', which tends to make even the most expensive of blockbusters look like Emmerdale.

Actually, IFC has a limited impact on motion detail. If you want to maintain motion resolution, try the Clear Motion setting. However while it measures well, retaining a full 1080 lines on a moving HD test pattern, intrusive flicker makes the end result unwatchable.

4K/HDR Performance TL;DR: Not the brightest HDR you’ll see, but fabulous fine detail and perfectly judged colours make for superb images.

Sound

The only area where the set underperforms is audio. The TV has downward-firing stereo speakers, which work perfectly well. However, while the EZ952 is capable of room filling audio, courtesy of 40W of stereo amplification, the louder it gets, the duller it sounds. 

Of course, this won’t be an issue though if you're planning to use the screen with a separate sound system. At the very least it’s worth investing in a soundbar or soundbase.

Sound Quality TL;DR: Audio is this set’s Achilles heel; plan on using a separate sound system.

Other panels to ponder

The OLED market is hotting up, so you’ll find several alternatives to this EZ-Panasonic. LG has long set the pace when it comes to OLED tech, and its 55-inch B7 offers a picture that’s nearly as good, coupled to an equally excellent smart platform, the webOS.

The B7 has one key advantage though – it offers Dolby Vision HDR compatibility. There isn’t much available in Dolby Vision HDR just yet, but the viewing choice is likely to grow fast. 

Another attractive alternative is the Philips 55POSF901F OLED. This 55-inch comes with integrated Ambilight mood lighting. It also has superior sound, courtesy of a (non-removable) soundbar.

Verdict

If you’ve been a longstanding Panasonic plasma TV owner, then you finally have a good reason to upgrade. The EZ952 is low on gimmicks but capable of superb imagery. Pictures are punchy and cinematic, and its HDR implementation is easy on the eye.

Those looking for the brightest possible HDR highlights are probably not going to be satisfied, but if an artful black level performance is more your thing then you’ll not be disappointed. It’s a great partner for Sky Q and the Amazon Fire TV box.

Design-wise it’s far from ostentatious, but if you’re after a screen that can be used with a step-up audio system, that minimal design approach could be a winner.