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Is Panasonic's cheapest OLED TV worth buying?

Panasonic JZ980 OLED
Panasonic JZ980 OLED (Image credit: Panasonic)

Should you buy the Panasonic JZ980 OLED TV? As another Panasonic TV range comes into view for 2021, knowing whether to opt for the cheapest OLED on offer is an important question.

Budget OLEDs are often a tricky sell, with the processing sacrifices needed to bring down the cost often hampering the great strengths of OLED panel technology – but it's often the only way many people will be able to afford an OLED TV at all.

Panasonic has come at this problem from a slightly different angle: the JZ980 OLED features the same HCX Pro AI processor as its more premium siblings, after all, and comes in a wide variety of sizes, though there are some corners cut to drop the price. The question, as ever, is whether the trade-off is worth it.

If the likes of the Panasonic JZ2000, JZ1500, or JZ1000 OLEDs are out of your price range, then here's everything you need to know about the Panasonic JZ980 OLED TV before buying.

Panasonic JZ980 OLED release date

You can expect all 2021 Panasonic OLED models to go on sale this coming June (though the LCD models will release slightly earlier in May).

You’ll find Panasonic TVs on sale in the UK, Europe, and Canada (but not the US) – with Australia tending to get new sets a few months after the other territories. (Panasonic AU doesn’t yet list any 2021 OLEDs on its website.)

Panasonic JZ980 OLED pricing and sizes

The Panasonic JZ980 OLED is the cheapest 2021 OLED put out by Panasonic. While we don't have firm pricing as of yet, this knowledge is enough to put together a ballpark figure.

Last year's HZ980 OLED started at £1,499 for a 55-inch size, with a 65-inch model costing £1,999 instead. We expect to see similar pricing for these sizing options, though the new JZ980 will also come with a 48-inch OLED option.

48-inch OLEDs can cost less than larger sizes (in the case of Sony or Philips) but also more (in the case of LG). That's because the new size is still costly to produce, and it might be that the 48-inch JZ980 matches that £1,499 price tag, or doesn't come in at much less.

What is certain is that you'll be saving compared to the step-up JZ1000 OLED, given that last year's HZ1000 cost an additional £300 at a 55-inch size than the HZ980 did at launch.

Panasonic JZ980 OLED

Panasonic JZ980 OLED (Image credit: Panasonic)

Panasonic JZ980 OLED design and specs

So, what does the JZ980 look like? As with last year's models, it looks much the same as other Panasonic OLEDs. You're getting an OLED flatscreen with a thin bezel and something of a trim along the bottom edge.

One of the main differences compared to higher-end models, though, is that you don't get the rotating swivel TV stand – a beloved feature of most Panasonic OLEDs that allows you to easily tweak the direction the TV is facing in your home for optimal viewing.

The Panasonic JZ980 opts for a more traditional pair of 'feet', so you will be a bit more limited in movement, but it won't be an issue for living rooms where you sit face-on – and the OLED panel will ensure wide viewing angles too.

In terms of specification, the JZ980 uses the kind of off-the-shelf OLED panel used in most of last year's range. However, while last year's flagship HZ2000 was the only set to feature a custom-made panel, that privilege is now being granted to the 1000, 1500, and 2000 series models in 2021. That means the JZ980 is the only 2021 OLED from Panasonic to miss out.

You should still expect a capable picture – most OLED TVs don't get 'custom' treatment as such – though we're at a point where manufacturers are having to enhance their panels to elevate performance above the average OLED screen (or the Neo QLED and Mini LED competition).

The JZ980 will also make do with a slightly more basic motion processing system, Smooth Motion Drive, rather than the Smooth Motion Drive Pro tech used on the JZ1000 and above.

It may sound identical, but given the likely saving in the JZ980’s RRP, we expect there is a small-but-notable difference in the quality of the motion handling. That could translate to some slight judder, where objects seem to shift in location instead of smoothly tracking across the scene – important to get right for fast-moving sports broadcasts, as well as car chases and fight choreography so often found in the blockbusters Panasonic expects you to be watching.

As is usual for Panasonic, the JZ980 has universal HDR support, meaning you’ll get HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision and HLG – as well as an HLG Photo Mode for viewing HDR photography from Panasonic cameras. You’re also getting Dolby Vision IQ, which calibrates DV output in response to the level of ambient light in the room (a new feature from 2020).

The JZ980 features the same 30W Dolby Atmos audio as the JZ1000 too – though more premium models up the speaker system capabilities considerably.

Panasonic JZ2000 OLED TV

The swivel stand on the JZ2000 (pictured) won't be found here (Image credit: Panasonic)

Panasonic JZ980 OLED: should you buy it?

The Panasonic JZ980 OLED certainly seems like a smart buy, especially if you’re not fussed about the swivel stand used in higher-up models. You should expect a decent saving, though it's hard to say exactly what that saving is ahead of official pricing being confirmed across the range.

Last year's HZ980, while the cheapest Panasonic OLED, was still somewhat pricier than some other, truly 'budget' OLEDs like the LG BX or Philips OLED 754, which teeter around the £1,000 after post-launch discounts.

We certainly expect more of a discrepancy with the other, higher-up OLEDs this year, given that the JZ980 will be the only 2021 Panasonic OLED not to get a custom panel – but it seems like Panasonic is upping its game for premium sets, rather than further compromising its cheapest ones, which is good to see.

It’s unclear what difference the downgrade in motion handling has, though, and Panasonic has refrained from offering review units for 980 series models in the past, making it hard to judge. Given the general quality of Panasonic TVs, though – even for mid-spec LCD TVs like the excellent HX800 we reviewed last year – we hesitantly give our approval.

Panasonic 2021 OLEDs aren't yet on sale, so check out the best deals on last year's models below: