As is the norm for the company, Panasonic announced its 2023 flagship TV back in January at CES, and has only now unboxed the rest of its new range.
There are plenty of highlights, including an entry-level OLED running the Android TV operating system and a somewhat dubious association with the new Diablo 4 game, which you can read all about in our breakdown of the Panasonic 2023 TV lineup. And you can read more about the flagship OLED model in our MZ2000 hands-on. Today, however, we’re focused on the step-down OLED TV in the new range – the MZ1500.
The 1500-series model is always popular because it typically features Panasonic’s best picture technology without such a bulky, price-pushing sound system. Unfortunately there has been a slight change in approach this year and the MZ1500 does not have the new MLA technology that the MZ2000 has. To what extent is that a problem? We’ll have to wait until we have the TV in our test rooms before making a full verdict, but we got a good idea of its strengths and weaknesses in a recent practice session.
Prices and availability
While still subject to change somewhat, we’re told the Panasonic MZ1500 will launch in August at a price of £2200 (around $2800 / AU$4100) for the 55-inch model and £2900 (around $3700 / AU$ 5400) for the 65-inch version. There will be 48-inch and 42-inch variants in some regions, but they aren’t expected in the UK. These smaller models aren’t as bright as the bigger ones and don’t have a speaker bar below the screen, so they’re very similar to the 48- and 42-inch versions of the MZ980 coming to market. UK.
Upgrading to the MZ2000 costs an extra £500 or £700 depending on whether you go for the 55-inch or 65-inch model. Doing so will give you the brightness-enhancing MLA panel technology and additional side-firing and upward-firing speakers.
In terms of rivals, the most obvious is the LG C3, which launched at £2100 / $1900 / AU$3299 for 55 inches and £2900 / $2600 / AU$4299 for 65 inches, but already has some discounts seen.
While it can be difficult to get specific information from some manufacturers, we understand that both the Panasonic MZ1500 and LG C3 use the same LG Display OLED EX panel. However, the MZ1500 has a heat sink, while the C3 does not. This theoretically allows the Panasonic model to get brighter. It also has a clear, front-firing speaker array, while the C3 has hidden drivers that unfortunately don’t sound very good.
Picture performance is much more than just the panel hardware used. If that weren’t true, any OLED TV using LG Display’s latest panel (that’s most OLED TVs from the past few years) would perform identically, and it certainly isn’t. Processing plays a big part, and Panasonic has a new HCX Pro AI processor featured in the MZ2000, MZ1500 and MZ980 OLEDs.
Always specializing in image authenticity, Panasonic has designed its TVs to fulfill a film’s creative intent, and this new processor brings with it an improved version of Filmmaker Mode that adapts to the ambient light in a room. The idea is that whether the lights are on or the warm sun is shining through the window, you’ll see the picture as intended.
Panasonic is also keen to use this image authenticity for gaming, so models with the HCX Pro AI processor also get a True Game mode designed to deliver games with just the right color balance and contrast. This mode can be further calibrated via Calman should you want to go a step further, and there’s source-focused HDR tone mapping which should work like the HGiG setting on an LG TV and result in more accurate HDR for many games.
Unfortunately, it’s not all good news on the gaming front, as there are still only two HDMI 2.1 connections, one of which is also the eARC port, so it may be needed for a soundbar or AV receiver. Those HDMI 2.1 connections can handle all major game formats, including 4K/120Hz, VRR (in both FreeSync and G-Sync) and ALLM. Dolby Vision gaming is also supported, but only up to 4K/60Hz – something Xbox Series X owners should be aware of.
While Panasonic is experimenting with other operating systems for some models this year, the top OLEDs, including the MZ1500, feature the new 8.0 version of the company’s proprietary My Home Screen OS. Aside from new accessibility features, this is very similar to last year’s iteration, which we found simplistic but intuitive and responsive. We hope the app selection has improved a bit – we consider the full-fledged Apple TV app pretty essential due to its excellent library of pay-per-use HDR movies (My Home Screen 7.0 only had an Apple TV+ app for the streaming Apple’s own content), and apps for BT Sport and Now would be nice.
Much of the focus of Panasonic’s recent launch event has been on the MZ2000, but we’ve had a brief look at the MZ1500 in action, and the omens are good. No, it doesn’t have the MZ2000’s MLA technology, and that’s both a shame and obvious in action – there’s a very noticeable drop in brightness for the MZ1500, especially in the dynamic picture preset that both TVs used during the demo.
However, the MZ1500 looked very good in its own right and was a big step up from the MZ980. Remember that the MZ1500 has a heatsink that the MZ980 and competing sets like the LG C3 do not.
Using the Dynamic preset made it a little difficult to judge exactly how successful Panasonic has been in its quest for image authenticity, but it was noticeable that the scenic demo images looked natural, but also punchy, pin-sharp and packed with detail.
In reality, the MZ1500 just looked like a slightly less bright version of the MZ2000, although we’ll obviously need more time with both sets before we can make a full judgment on either one.
It’s rare for hands-on events to include an audio section, and the one we got from Panasonic at launch showed why. Technical issues that meant both the MZ1500 and the LZ1500 next door occasionally played simultaneously, less than ideal TV positioning and a lot of background noise made it very difficult indeed to get a sense of the relative merits of the new model.
The only thing I could initially focus on was the MZ1500’s exaggerated bass, which only turned out to be there because the Bass Boost setting was turned on for much of the demo. Other than that, all I could say was that the MZ1500’s dedicated front-firing speaker bar sounded a little more direct than the outgoing LZ1500’s essentially invisible speaker system.
More than the picture, this is one part of the TV’s performance that we won’t pass judgment on until we’ve taken it into our dedicated test chambers for a comprehensive review.
While it’s undeniably disappointing that to get Panasonic’s best picture performance you also have to look out for the MZ2000’s sound system, which you might not want, it would be a mistake to rule out the MZ1500.
This is a TV that’s similar in price to the LG C3, but has a heat sink for potentially more brightness and a soundbar-style speaker array for potentially better sound. While a hands-on session is never enough to draw conclusions about performance, the MZ1500 looks promising so far.
Read our LG C3 review
And here’s ours Panasonic MZ2000 hands on
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