The Panasonic TX-55LZ1500 looks on paper like a dream come true for serious AV fans. For starters it uses OLED technology, where every pixel makes its own light to deliver peerless levels of local contrast. What’s more, it utilises Panasonic’s high brightness take on OLED technology - something the brand has been delivering to the premium TV market for years now, starting well before such panels were even a glint in the eye of the rival OLED brands now belatedly trying to join the high brightness Panasonic party.
Even more importantly, the LZ1500s make the premium Panasonic OLED panel technology available at a more affordable price point than it has been before - not least because they remove the powerful built-in multi-channel Dolby Atmos speaker systems that accompany the brand’s flagship LZ2000 models. This might sound like a bad thing at first, but actually, the sort of serious home cinema fan likely to consider a premium TV such as the LZ1500 is likely to already have (or be intending to get) some sort of external sound system. So, they really don’t want to have to pay for a substantial built-in audio system that they’re not likely to really need.
There are, though, a couple of potential problems for the £1,799 55LZ1500. First, while Panasonic has more experience with high brightness OLED panels than any other brand, there are now, as I hinted earlier, a number of rivals out there using similar technology. Second, we now have Samsung and Sony both selling excellent TVs that use a new, potentially more colour-rich Quantum Dot version of OLED technology. With all of that in mind, is the 55LZ1500 really as irresistible as it first appears?
The 55LZ1500 delivers another Panasonic picture masterclass, combining the gorgeous refinement and cinematic quality we’ve become accustomed to seeing from Panasonic over the years but also with a new degree of swagger that I’m very much here for. Fears that the 55LZ1500 might have been left behind by recent rival events prove completely unfounded.
Before I get into the specific characteristics that make the 55LZ1500’s pictures tick, it’s worth pointing out that it gets a head start over many of its rivals by supporting both of the Dolby Vision and HDR10+ premium high dynamic range formats.
We don’t need to go into great detail about this here, other than to say that both of these formats provide extra scene by scene image data to help TVs deliver better HDR images, but most TVs only support one format or the other (or neither). Despite there being a mountain of content that’s also only available in one format or the other. In other words, unlike TVs from LG, Samsung and Sony, anyone who buys a 55LZ1500 can do so safe in the knowledge that it will be able to take in the best possible image quality from any source.
Just as importantly, though, the 55LZ1500 draws on the dual engines of Panasonic’s arguably peerless experience with self-emissive screen technologies and its long-running collaboration with film industry creatives through its Hollywood Laboratory to ensure that it also delivers fantastic picture quality with sources that don’t benefit from Dolby Vision and HDR10+’s extra ‘help’.
Let’s start, though, with the 55LZ1500’s Dolby Vision playback, since it’s here that we find the most spectacular demonstrations of what Panasonic’s new TV star can do.
There are three Dolby Vision preset options available to you: IQ, Dark and Vivid. The first of these works in tandem with a light sensor to continually adjust the characteristics of the picture in response to ambient light conditions. Normally I’m suspicious of any sort of automated image-tweaking systems, but Dolby Vision IQ delivers better results than most thanks to Dolby’s unique insight into its own HDR format’s characteristics, and its motivation of providing a consistent HDR experience at all times of the day or night. It can lead pictures to look a little dull in dark rooms, though, so I ended up more interested in the Dolby Vision Dark and Vivid modes.
The latter delivers a dazzling spectacle of colour, contrast and brightness (I measured an impressive 1054 nits on a 10% white HDR window in Cinema mode). Seeing a Panasonic OLED screen willing to push the picture boat out so dramatically in the face of the brand’s long-running ‘show things as the director intended’ philosophy is quite a sight.
The Vivid mode isn’t just an exercise in showboating, though. Panasonic’s processing know-how is so good that it actually manages to retain enough balance and refinement alongside the spectacle to make it far more consistent and watchable than the most aggressive picture modes of most rival TVs.
Switching to the Dolby Vision Dark preset ramps down the brightness and colour volume considerably. While this initially feels pretty brutal, though, the longer you watch it the more you start to love the Dark mode for its fantastic subtlety. Its handling of ‘near black’ picture details, in particular, is sensational. There’s no hint of even the faintest details getting crushed out of even the darkest corners of the picture, and such details are also delivered without any of the instability or noise that they can often cause on less accomplished screens.
This is achieved, moreover, against a backdrop of essentially perfect black levels. If something in a picture is supposed to look pitch black, that’s exactly how it looks on the 55LZ1500. Such black level prowess isn’t unique in the OLED world, but the way black levels aren’t negatively affected in the slightest by the LZ1500’s handling of near black image content is very rare indeed.
Colours in Dark mode contain seemingly infinitely subtle and authentic looking tonal blends and shifts, while the control of light from each and every pixel in the image is exquisite to an extent that can only happen with a screen that’s got the sort of brightness headroom and picture processing prowess (courtesy of Panasonic’s latest HCX Pro AI engine) that the 55LZ1500 has.
This all adds up to an image of truly exceptional three-dimensionality, naturalism, accuracy and detail that brings out every last nuance, texture and shade of even the most deftly mastered native 4K HDR sources. I haven’t seen any screen that provides more consistent and immersive insight into top quality sources than the 55LZ1500.
That includes Panasonic’s own previous OLED generations, especially when it comes to the remarkable sharpness of the 55LZ1500’s pictures. There’s nothing forced about this sharpness, either; it’s a result of the image’s stunning purity and balance rather than any sort of aggressive sharpness-boosting processing.
I wouldn’t normally talk about two specific picture presets in quite the same detail I have so far in this review. The point is, though, that the Vivid and Dark Dolby Vision presets do an unusually perfect job of illustrating all of the many and varied strengths of the 55LZ1500’s picture quality - as well as revealing how Panasonic is able to rally its latest premium TVs’ talents to both its ‘as the director intended’ mantra and the potential to offer something more dramatic and aggressive for consumers who want that.
This diverse thinking translates just as beautifully into the 55LZ1500’s delivery of regular HDR10 and standard dynamic range content. Panasonic provides an unusually long list of picture preset options with such content that enables you to find a look to suit pretty much any preference with minimal user input (other than turning off noise reduction and toning down motion processing with some preset modes). If you want high impact you can have it, or if you want accuracy and naturalism, you can have that too. With lots of subtle variations in between. And crucially, almost all of the provided options are a joy to behold in their different ways.
The 55LZ1500’s fantastically expressive and crisp pictures hold good with gaming sources too, especially if you take advantage of its support for 4K resolution at 120Hz frame rates and variable refresh rates. The set manages to get input lag down to a very respectable 14.2ms in its Game mode too.
Gaming on the LZ1500 also reminds me to point out that Panasonic’s set provides a huge array of subtle and imaginative picture adjustments for gaming and regular video viewing alike, making it something of a dream machine for inveterate tinkerers. Though I would say, too, that you can get a bit lost in the relationships between all the various tweaks if you’re not careful/very clear about what you’re trying to achieve.
One final relatively small but still important point to add about the 55LZ1500’s pretty much criticism-free picture quality is that its OLED screen supports viewing from much wider angles than any LCD-based rivals.
While I celebrated the way the 55LZ1500 gives AV fans a way of buying Panasonic’s outstanding premium OLED screen technology without having to pay for a premium built-in audio solution, the downside is that its sound isn’t nearly as special as its picture quality.
That’s not to say its sound is actually poor. It supports Dolby Atmos playback, and the tone and clarity of its sound holds up nicely with relatively unchallenging soundtrack content. Detail levels are high, and vocals are consistently clear and rounded without becoming too dominant. The set can get reasonably loud, too, and the clever Cinema Surround Pro audio setting does a good job of spreading the soundstage further to left and right.
Unfortunately, though, the 55LZ1500 struggles with bass. There isn’t much of it, for starters, which can leave action scenes and heavy impact lacking in scale and heft. More frustratingly (in that it distracts you from the fantastic immersion in what you’re watching achieved by the TV’s picture quality), soundtracks that really pile the bass on cause the 55LZ1500’s low-end speakers to crackle and distort.
Aside from the crackly bass perhaps pushing you towards having to add an external soundbar, the 55LZ1500 is gloriously easy to live with.
Its design is trim and minimalistic without becoming dull or boring, and its operating system is elegant and straightforward.
Its smart features now feature all of the main streaming video sources most people will want, including all of the UK’s main catch-up services (delivered in the Freeview Play wrapper), and the interface is attractive and easy to navigate and customise.
The 55LZ1500’s neutrality when it comes to high dynamic range formats is much appreciated too, as is its now comprehensive support for the latest gaming graphics features.
It’s also got all the connections pretty much any AV fan will need, including four HDMIs - though it’s a slight shame that only two of those HDMIs support 4K/120Hz and variable refresh rate gaming features.
It’s possible to get a little lost in some of the TV’s more complex picture adjustments, but on the other hand the set’s excellent array of picture presets means most users won’t need to spend much time in the darker recesses of the picture set up menus unless they really want to.
The 55LZ1500 is a stunningly flexible and high-performance OLED TV that achieves that rare feat of managing to be all things to all men - at least where the quality and flexibility of its pictures are concerned.
Movie fans may find they need to add an external sound system given the issues the built-in audio has with bass-heavy movie moments - but then pictures as stellar as those of the 55LZ1500 really deserve to be partnered with a great external sound system anyway.
Blade Runner 2049 4K Blu-ray
Denis Villeneuve’s miraculously good sequel to Ridley Scott’s original masterpiece combines beautiful native 4K visuals with one of the most epic and dynamic Dolby Atmos soundtracks ever crafted. The visuals are exquisitely managed by the 55LZ1500, wringing every drop of beauty from Villeneuve’s stunning vision - but the soundtrack’s infamously huge bass drops can cause crackling from the TV’s bass drivers.
Heat 4K Blu-ray
Michael Mann’s 4K Blu-ray HDR remaster of his classic Al Pacino/Robert De Niro cop movie has received quite a bit of flak for how dark some of its scenes look. This doesn’t feel like an issue at all on the Panasonic 55LZ1500, though, thanks to the screen’s perfect black level performance and peerless reproduction of ‘near black’ details.
House Of The Dragon 4K HDR Sky stream
As with its predecessor, Game Of Thrones, HBO’s House Of The Dragon features far more immensely dark images and cinema-style HDR grading than most TV shows. While this catches the vast majority of TVs out in quite ugly fashion, though, the 55LZ1500 takes it all in its stride.
Thanks to its combination of a cutting edge OLED panel and Panasonic’s gorgeously cinematic and refined image processing, the LZ1500 produces some of the most exquisite but also, if you wish, spectacular picture quality the TV world has ever produced. It also handles cutting edge gaming sources brilliantly, and delivers one of the easiest to use smart systems around.