Panasonic TX-55MZ980 4K OLED TV review

hcchighreccomendCan Panasonic's latest mid-range, Micro Lens Array-dodging OLED TV keep John Archer keen?

The TX-55MZ980 is Panasonic's current mid-range OLED TV – which means you have to accept a couple of limitations right off the bat. First, it doesn't sport the brightness-boosting Micro Lens Array (MLA) tech found inside Panasonic's flagship MZ2000 series, or the premium Master OLED Pro panels of the step-down MZ1500s. Nor does it use the new Quantum Dot take on OLED now available from Samsung and Sony.

What it does have going for it, though, is its price. At £1,399 it's not only substantially more affordable than its step-up siblings, but goes toe-to-toe with rivals including LG's C3 series or Sony's A80L models.

This appealing price doesn't mean it's devoid of features, either. The MZ980's pictures are driven by Panasonic's HCX Pro AI processor – the latest evolution of a picture processing system that's been at least partly made in collaboration with film industry creatives at Panasonic's Hollywood laboratory.

It's also a treat – if you're an inveterate TV tinkerer like me, anyway – to discover the 55MZ980's menus are dripping with clever and/or thoughtful adjustments; the work of a TV brand that understands its processing and panels like nobody else. It's also nice that, despite Panasonic's long-running 'as the director intended' TV philosophy, there are options here to cater for every picture taste and proclivity.

Indeed, one part of that is the company's continued 'multi-HDR' approach. Like its more expensive brethren, the MZ980 is compatible with both Dolby Vision and HDR10+ (alongside the more basic HDR10 and HLG systems). You aren't forced to choose between them, as you are with models from many competitor brands.

Home sweet Home Screen
Panasonic's bespoke My Home Screen system provides the 55MZ980's smarts, bringing its usual positives: a clean, colourful and easy to customise home screen, and an app collection that now (after lagging behind in its early years) offers all the most important streaming services.

For gamers, the TV's HDMIs support everything a PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X or PC owner could desire, including 4K/120Hz playback, variable refresh rates (including the premium AMD FreeSync and Nvidia G-Sync varieties), and even a Dolby Vision game mode. The TV's fastest gaming response time is 14.5ms – not the absolute quickest in town, but more than good enough for all but the most professional players.


The 40cm stand provides sturdy support, but lacks the swivel of step-up Panasonic models

Viewed either from the front or at a slight angle, the 55MZ980 boasts a more premium design than you might have expected for £1,399. The front bezel is super-skinny and sits flush with the screen, and the outer few inches of the frame are also just a handful of millimetres deep around the back. However, the mid portion of the 55MZ980's rear sticks out quite a lot. This means it looks a bit dated if you clock it side-on, and – more importantly – has the potential to make a wall-hanging installation slightly cumbersome

There's nothing cumbersome about the 55MZ980's picture performance, though. In fact, refinement, balance and extreme appreciation for the filmmaker's art practically bleed out of each and every one of its OLED pixels.

Master of the dark arts
Nowhere is this more apparent than during the infamously challenging dark scenes in the 4K Blu-ray of the recent film adaptation of Stephen King's It. As Georgie fetches wax for his paper boat from the terrifying cellar, Panasonic's flatscreen reproduces the room's darkest, most dread-filled corners with black tones as inky deep and consistent as those of any TV I've tested.

We're not talking here about blackness for blackness' sake, either. The control of just-above-black light levels is as good as it gets for an OLED screen. Even the faintest source of light in an ultra-dark image, such as the vague outlines of a blanket hanging behind Georgie as he tries unsuccessfully to turn on the cellar light, is beautifully picked out. There's no obtrusive blocking or noise, no 'crushing out' of the faintest details into the blackness. Just peerless levels of shading and insight (rather than just general greyness) by mid-range OLED TV standards.

So exceptional is the 55MZ980's handling of darkness that it also helps the screen deliver small peak HDR highlights (such as the pair of 'eyes' that gleam at Georgie) with an intensity that makes my measurements of its peak brightness – 775 nits on a 1% white HDR window and 700 nits on a 10% window – look seriously conservative. This is proof that local contrast, handled as cleanly and precisely as it is here, is as important as pure brightness to the delivery of a punchy HDR experience.

The sense that the 55MZ980 is a dab hand at picture finery feeds into its colours too – for most of the time, anyway. Regardless of whether it's a dark It shot with low-intensity colours, or one of the film's deliberately over-bright, over-saturated daylight shots of the town of Derry, colours nearly always appear with excellent tone and blend subtlety.

Unexpectedly, given the dazzling finesse on show for 99% of the time, some tricky blends in a Ridley Scott double bill of The Martian and Exodus: Gods And Kings caused a little banding noise to appear where you should see smooth gradations. Such moments are, though, fortunately rare.

Detail diva
This TV's love of refinement and balance contributes to a clean and detailed rendition of native 4K sources. In fact, I picked out minute visual details during It and other films on the MZ980 that I hadn't fully appreciated before, despite watching the same scenes countless times before.

The HCX Pro AI processor is a fine upscaler of HD images, with the added pixels introducing more colour subtlety and three-dimensionality, rather than simply making the picture look sharper and denser.

Judder during camera pans and action scenes is reasonably well controlled without any motion processing in play, although I found the lowest setting of Panasonic's Intelligent Frame Creation motion processor delivered the most all-round enjoyable 'finish' to movies without generating the unwanted glitchy side effects such processing can sometimes deliver.

Add in a screen that subdues reflections and can be watched from an extremely wide angle without pictures losing saturation or contrast, and the 55MZ980 rounds out its status as one of the most immersive image performers available in the mid-range TV market.

So what's the catch? Outside of the occasional stripy colour blend, it's that the 55MZ980's images aren't overall as bright as those of Panasonic's MZ2000 or LG's G3 OLED, both with extra MLA technology, or Samsung's QD OLED sets. This will be something to consider if your viewing room tends to be typically very bright, but it doesn't harm the balance of the 55MZ980's pictures, which are still perfectly suited to a light-controlled setup.

Solid sonics
Sound performance is another area where this TV begins to give ground, particularly when compared to the multi-driver arrays of some range-topping rivals.

That said, from its hidden 2 x 15W speaker system, the 55MZ980 still partners its pictures with some solid audio. Notably impressive is the way it spreads sound effects – especially with Dolby Atmos soundtracks – to create a bigger wall of sound than you'll expect.

Bass levels don't delve insanely deep, but its output is clean and lively enough to make It's loudest moments, such as the projector in the garage sequence, sound convincing and well rounded. Overall, this is a more than decent effort for what ultimately feels like a great-value, home-cinema obsessed OLED TV. Can't stretch to Panasonic's top-flight sets? Shop here with confidence.

HCC Verdict: 4.5/5

Panasonic TX-55MZ980
Price: £1,399

We say: Not as bright as Panasonic’s flagship OLEDs, yet the 55MZ980 retains all the naturalism, refinement and cinematic appeal of its costlier siblings.


4K: Yes. 3,840 x 2,160 HDR: Yes. HDR10; HLG; Dolby Vision; HDR10+ TUNER: Freeview HD/satellite HD CONNECTIONS: 4 x HDMI; 3 x USB; digital optical audio output; Ethernet 4K/120 PLAYBACK: Yes SOUND (CLAIMED): 2 x 15W BRIGHTNESS (CLAIMED): N/A CONTRAST (CLAIMED): N/A DIMENSIONS (OFF STAND): 1,227(w) x 711(h) x 69(d)mm WEIGHT (OFF STAND): 14.5kg

FEATURES:USB multimedia playback; Wi-Fi; Bluetooth; HCX Pro AI processing engine; My Home Screen 8.0 smart system; 2 x v2.1 HDMI inputs (one with eARC); VRR support including AMD FreeSync and Nvidia G-Sync; ALLM switching; IFC motion compensation; Dolby Atmos playback

Panasonic UK