Despite what 2017’s run of televisual lookers might suggest, TVs don’t need to be drop dead gorgeous to do a good job.
Sure, tellies such as the LG B7 and the Sony Bravia A1 throw in stunning design as part of the package, but not everyone is bothered by showroom-worthy stylings and bezels you need a magnifying glass to make out.
The Panasonic TX-55EZ952B is a TV aimed at that very person – someone who can see past its rather ordinary design and instead focus on the picture quality. The only trouble with that, is that the picture quality here isn't the absolute best either.
Picture: HDR-you there?
The EZ952 is Panasonic’s cheapest OLED set this year, but you wouldn't exactly describe it as a bargain: at £2800 RRP, it's more expensive than LG's brilliant B7 (£2250) and only slightly cheaper than Sony's breathtaking A1.
At this price, and without any particular flair in its design, you're therefore entitled to expect near-perfect image quality.
We give it some 4K HDR footage to do its thing with, and our first impressions are positive: its natural and realistic handling of colours is immediately obvious and skin tones are keenly judged, with plenty of subtlety.
Bright scenes arguably do better in this respect though, and it's soon clear that the EZ952 isn’t quite as insightful in darker scenes as those rivals. Colours aren’t as punchy either, and that’s where we come to the area where this set struggles most – HDR.
The EZ952 supports both HDR10 and broadcast-ready HLG flavours of HDR, but it doesn’t show off the benefits of the technology quite as clearly as the B7 and A1. Watching Daredevil in 4K HDR on Netflix, colours are significantly flatter, and both contrast and brightness are lacking the chops to give the picture the punch we’re used to seeing with HDR.
LG’s OLED55B7V schools the Pana set in this respect – images are more engaging and exciting to look at, the balance of light and dark far more dynamic. Where light should sear through dark scenes with added vibrancy in HDR, with the EZ952, it’s not a huge improvement on SDR. We expect more from a TV costing close to £3000.
While we’re touching on the not-so-great stuff, we have to pull up the EZ952 being just a touch softer than the B7 too. Lines aren’t quite as well defined, which means landscape shots, where there’s a lot of fine detail to take in, aren’t quite as clean and believable.
Drop down to full HD content though, and the differences between the two sets become far harder to notice. Sharp, detailed and realistic - you might spot a touch more white detail in the B7, but it’s astonishing how close these sets get when HDR isn’t on the menu.
Standard def content is surprisingly watchable too, hanging on to that natural colour balance that is so good elsewhere, and commanding clean, controlled lines. The B7 comes back to pip it for outright picture quality here, but it’s a pretty close call.
As for motion handling, you’ll want to notch it down from the default settings to avoid overly processed action scenes, but set to minimum you’ll get a good balance of sharper moving images without too much smoothing.
Gamers will benefit from the Panasonic’s low input lag too, which measures at 25.7ms. There’s faster out there, but anything under 40ms is more than fit for purpose.
If you’re more casual buyer than calibrator extraordinaire, the maze of menus offered up by the EZ952 might be a little overwhelming, thanks to a truckload of technical options that carry very little explanation. Fortunately, you only have to do it once.
You’ll find some menus greyed out because something else is switched on, for example, and only more options still if you stray away from the ‘Normal’ mode.
After much dabbling, we didn’t find any of the further settings improved on what we were able to get from the standard menu, though professional calibrators will definitely want to fine tune their options here.
The rest of us will be pretty happy with a few small adjustments to sharpness, colour, contrast and brightness (we use a THX Optimiser disc or the THX app for iOS and Android), plus we’d recommend disabling the Ambient Sensor and dropping Intelligent Frame Creation to minimum for best results.
Operating system: a Fire(fox) in its belly
There was a time when a TV’s operating system was just a nice way to get around from menu to menu – now we rely on it for a large chunk of our telly watching.
The EZ952, like the rest of Panasonic’s 2017 TV range, runs on Firefox’s OS, a bright, clean and easy-to-use system that’s bolted on top of Panasonic’s more run-of-the-mill menus.
It’s got pretty much every catch-up and on-demand service you could want, apart from – at the time of testing – Amazon Video. Worry not if that’s your service of choice though, as Panasonic has promised us it’ll be ready to go by the time the telly is on the shelves. Which is about now, actually.
As for navigating your way around, you’ll have a choice of two remotes – a larger standard clicker, and a smaller option complete with touchpad and ergonomic styling.
Call us old school, but we like the regular remote for making our way around with the fewest hiccups. The touchpad isn’t always the most reliable or accurate with our swipes, and that’s just annoying.
Sound: you’re going to want a soundbar
Prepare your surprised faces - the sound from the EZ952 isn’t much to write home about. It’s not terrible, and is actually a little more direct than the sound on the LG B7, but you’ll also find it a touch harsh on the ears in busy scenes and sibilant with speech. A soundbar would help out in both respects.
If you decide to stick with it, though, there are a few modes that are worth investigating. We’d suggest sticking to Standard for your day-to-day telly watching, but the surround modes are worth playing around with for movies.
You’ll get more bass (but also unfortunately more treble) for those action movies, and more space to boot. It can sound a little artificial if you’re listening with a critical ear, but it’s worth trying out to see if you like it.
Panasonic TX-55EZ952B verdict
The Panasonic TX-55EZ952B is the strait-laced friend at a pretty extravagant party right now. But while we can look past its uninspiring design and its maze of menus, for a TV seemingly aimed at enthusiasts its downfalls in picture quality are a bit of a headscratcher.
Sure, those of you with a lot of time on your hands may be able to eke out a bit more by way of performance via fiddling around in the many menus, but most people will get the disappointing HDR experience we did.
That's particularly frustrating, because elsewhere it’s a strong TV. It can’t compete with the Sony A1 in overall performance, but it’s not alone there.
If you’re not bothered by HDR, you could easily pick the EZ952 over the LG B7 and not feel short changed. But if you’re as excited by HDR as we are (and you should be), the Panasonic struggles to make a strong enough case for itself. Especially with a price tag as costly as this.