Panasonic MZ980 review: a mid-range OLED TV that punches above its weight

 The Panasonic MZ980 on a table with the remote to the side of it .
The Panasonic MZ980 on a table with the remote to the side of it .

Panasonic MZ980: Two-minute review

The Panasonic MZ980 is the brand's mid-range OLED TV offering from 2023. Although it stands out as a great all-rounder, it’s a bit unfortunate – and actually ultimately unfair, as we’ll see – that the most headline-grabbing thing about the MZ980 is stuff it doesn’t have. Namely the brightness-enhancing Micro Lens Array and proprietary heat sink hardware that you get with the brand’s step up MZ1500 and MZ2000 models.

The MZ980 does still get a premium OLED panel, though, as well as the latest version of Panasonic’s Hollywood-influenced HCX Pro AI picture processor. Plus, of course, it’s significantly cheaper than its more highly specified siblings, coming in at just £1,399 for the 55-inch sized model at the time of writing.

Making this price look all the more tempting is the simple fact that the MZ980 is a brilliant performer, holding its own against the best OLED TVs. Its picture quality benefits from all of OLED’s traditional benefits – spectacular local contrast, beautifully inky black colours, rich but subtle colours and wide viewing angles – while the excellent video processor adds a truly cinematic finish to proceedings.

The MZ980 sounds good too, despite lacking the forward-facing speakers carried by Panasonic’s step-up models, and while its smart system might not be the most sophisticated in the world, it’s easy to use and these days carries all of the most important streaming services.

Panasonic’s step up OLED TVs are even better, of course – but unless you have a particularly bright room to cope with, the MZ980’s value proposition is hard to resist.

Panasonic MZ980 Review: Price and release date

A close up of the bezel on the Panasonic MZ980 TV
A close up of the bezel on the Panasonic MZ980 TV
  • Release date: Late 2023

  • Price: starting at £1,399 for the 55-inch model 

Having launched a few months back at an already then tempting £1,799, the 55MZ980 is now widely available for just £1,399. Panasonic does not currently sell its TVs in the US or Australia.

The MZ980s are, unusually for a mid-range OLED series, only available in relatively small screen sizes. The 55-inch model we’re looking at here is actually the biggest in the range, being joined only by 48- and 42-inch models.

As we’ll see, though, you shouldn’t let this fool you into thinking that the MZ980 is only good enough to be considered as a ‘second TV’. This is still a very serious TV – just one aimed at people who don’t have cavernous living rooms.

Panasonic MZ980 review: Features

The ports on the back of the Panasonic MZ980
The ports on the back of the Panasonic MZ980
  • 4K OLED TV

  • HCX Pro AI processor 

  • Supports all four key HDR formats

So we can get it out of the way and put behind us, let’s start with things the MZ980 does not have. Either the combination of a new high-end Micro Lens Array panel with advanced proprietary heat sink hardware that Panasonic’s MZ2000 flagship OLEDs get, or the same heat sink hardware (minus the MLA technology) that the brand’s MZ1500s get.

It does still use a mid-grade OLED panel rather than an ‘entry level’ one, but even before we got our measuring gear out we know it wouldn’t be as bright as those step up models.

Tests confirm that while the MZ2000 hits brightness peaks on a 10% white HDR test window of around 1650 nits in Dynamic mode and 1432 nits in its more stable Cinema mode, and the MZ1500 hits around 950 nits in its Cinema mode, the 55MZ980’s Cinema mode peaks at just over 700 nits. That’s basically a 50% brightness drop versus the MZ2000, and a still significant 250 nits versus the MZ1500. You will certainly feel this with HDR content, especially if your TV is typically used in a bright room.

It’s worth noting, too, that the MZ980 measures slightly less bright than LG’s rival C3 models – though I should stress right away that while brightness certainly matters in the HDR world, it absolutely is not the only thing that makes a great HDR picture. Especially when a TV’s picture processing knows how to get the maximum performance from the hardware available to it – something Panasonic has been a master of with self-emissive displays like OLED since its plasma days.

With this in mind, the big positive news about the MZ980 is that it retains the top-line HCX Pro AI processor also used by its step-up MZ1500 and MZ2000 siblings. Powered and endlessly refined by Panasonic’s engineers with years of experience dealing with both Hollywood creatives and self-emissive panel technologies, always with a strong focus on recreating creative intent, HCX engines can usually be relied on to achieve subtleties, balances and details precious few other TVs can. Especially when it comes to handling the sort of ‘near dark’ image content that’s typically one of the most difficult things for OLED TVs to manage.

While the MZ980 continues Panasonic’s obsession with accuracy, though, especially with its Filmmaker Mode, and True Cinema presets, it’s also open minded enough to provide an unusually wide-ranging roster of other picture presets that put more of an emphasis on pushing the panel to its colour and brightness limits.

The same spirit of trying to cater for everyone extends, happily, to the MZ980’s HDR format support. While many brands, including, most notably, Sony, LG and Samsung, only support three of the ‘big four’ HDR formats on even their flagship TVs, the MZ980 will play all four: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision. So the 55MZ980 will always be able to take in the best version of whatever HDR content you feed it.

Gamers, meanwhile, will be pleased to learn that the MZ980 supports 4K/120Hz gaming and variable refresh rates over two of its four HDMI ports, including the AMD FreeSync and NVIDIA G-Sync VRR formats. We’ll cover the TV’s gaming abilities in more detail later.

Besides the four HDMIs, the MZ980’s connections include three USBs (two side, one bottom, one USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0), an Ethernet port, an analogue video inout, an optical digital audio output, and a headphone jack that unusually does double duty as a potential line out for attaching an optional external subwoofer.

Smart features are provided by the eighth generation of Panasonic’s own My Home Screen operating system. Again we’ll cover this in more detail in a dedicated section later, so all I’ll add here is that this is actually the final outing for My Home Screen before it’s replaced on Panasonic’s future high-end TVs by a fully integrated version of Amazon’s Fire TV interface.

As mentioned in passing earlier, the MZ980 doesn’t have a forward facing, truly multi-channel sound system like its step up OLED siblings do. Its 2 x 15W set up, though, still has enough power to potentially deliver some reasonably cinematic thrills, especially as it’s backed up by Theater Surround Pro processing designed to create a more immersive sound with the Dolby Atmos soundtracks the TV supports than you might expect to hear from a mere stereo speaker set up.

Features score: 4 / 5

Panasonic MZ980 Review: Picture quality

The Netflix menu on the Panasonic MZ980
The Netflix menu on the Panasonic MZ980
  • Exceptional light and colour subtlety

  • Outstanding picture processing

  • Brilliant contrast disguises limited brightness

While the MZ980 might not deliver the razzle dazzle of the latest high-end OLED TVs, its pictures are so refined and immersive that it’s hard to believe they’re coming out of a 55-inch TV that only costs £1,399.

This finesse is at its peerless best when it comes to the MZ980’s handling of dark scenes. The screen’s ability to distinguish between incredibly small differences in light in even the darkest corners of the darkest pictures is mesmerising, giving such imagery a unique sense of depth and detail that feels as if it’s jumped straight off a professional mastering monitor. Especially as this extreme subtlety is delivered without a hint of the sort of instabilities, blocking or fizzing noise that can crop up with other OLED screens with near-black content. Dark scenes on the 55MZ980 are as clean and pure as bright ones, in fact.

Since this is an OLED screen there’s no need to worry about backlight clouding or blooming of the sort you would expect to see with LCD TVs. Nor is there any residual greyness hanging over dark scenes, completing the sense of insight and immersion that started with the immaculate near-dark detailing.

While it’s the MZ980’s handling of dark scenes and picture areas that makes the strongest immediate impression, its handling of light is in truth just as effective. From the subtle dark scene shading through to the brightest HDR peaks, the MZ980 delivers levels of light control (right down to individual pixel level, don’t forget, given this is an OLED screen) that appear flawless across every shade. As a result, the picture always feels completely authentic and natural, perfectly balanced and full of depth, while different objects in the image always look impeccably three dimensional, realistic and contextualised.

Again you actually feel like you’re getting a gorgeously full sense of the subtleties of the professional masterer’s art. Despite this TV costing just £1,399 versus the many tens of thousands of pounds a professional mastering display costs.

While the processing and light control is at its most effective with the 55MZ980’s most ‘accurate’ picture settings, its profound understanding of the screen’s hardware strengths and limitations also means that it typically ensures that even the more ‘dramatic’ picture presets never stray into distractingly excessive territory.

The set’s tone mapping is astute enough, meanwhile, to pretty much exclude clipping (loss of subtle details) from the brightest parts of the picture, continuing the sense of ‘sweating the small stuff’ that’s the MZ980’s trade mark.

Colours, meanwhile, look surprisingly vibrant for a TV of relatively limited brightness - aided and abetted by a combination of the immaculate light control, exceptional colour mapping and outstanding contributions, again, from the HCX Pro AI picture processor. It helps, too, that colours are able to appear against a foundation of such deep and natural black colours.

Obviously some picture presets push more vibrant colours than others, as you’d expect with any TV, but the True Cinema and Filmmaker Modes achieve outstanding accuracy and refinement, while even the punchier settings retain more colour balance and control than similar modes on most rival models.

Not surprisingly with a TV that puts so much store in precision, native 4K images on the 55MZ980 look gorgeously detailed and textured. The HCX Pro AI processor also manages to retain a startling amount of this detail and texture, too, when upscaling HD sources. Motion when watching 24p movies can look a touch juddery with no motion processing active (as it can on most OLED TVs, actually), but the lowest setting of Panasonic’s Intelligent Frame Creation motion compensation system is now clever enough to slightly massage the judder effect without making the image look uncinematically smooth or adding too many distracting processing side effects.

The only major elephant in the room with the MZ980’s pictures is their brightness - or lack thereof. There’s no denying that its images don’t look nearly as light and bold as those of the latest generation of MLA-equipped OLED TVs. Nor are they quite as consistently punchy as LG’s similarly priced and specified C3 OLED range, especially where a scene or shot fills the whole screen with brightness.

While this does mean you need to treat the 55MZ980 with respect by lowering light levels in your room when you want to enjoy a serious movie night, though, the MZ980’s infinite subtlety and richly cinematic qualities make it worthy of as much respect as you can muster.

Picture quality: 4.5 / 5 

Panasonic MZ980 review: Sound quality

The speakers on the Panasonic MZ980
The speakers on the Panasonic MZ980
  • Good volume and projection 

  • Solid, clean bass handling 

  • Male voices occasionally sound muffled 

The bad news about the MZ980’s sound is that it doesn’t deliver either the scale of sound staging you get with Panasonic’s step up models, or as much forward ‘thrust’. This lack of directness might also explain why male voices can sometimes sound a little muffled and contained.

Just because the MZ980 doesn’t sound as big and detailed as its more expensive siblings, though, doesn’t mean it’s not actually a very decent audio performer for its money. Its speakers are powerful enough to get surprisingly loud without succumbing to distortion, for starters, and despite the limited number of speakers on offer a decently wide sound stage is created into which effects are placed with excellent clarity. There’s even a slight sense of height to some effects when playing Dolby Atmos soundtracks.

The speakers are sensitive enough to pick up even the faintest of audio elements in a film mix too, ensuring that soundtracks always sound busy and involving.

Bass doesn’t reach the sort of depths required to unlock the full weight of a potent action scene (so you may want to consider adding a subwoofer via the switchable headphone output at some point), but it does at least delve deep enough to stop loud scenes from sounding harsh or thin. It does so, too, without the low frequencies becoming overwhelming, or causing the speakers to crackle or buzz.

Sound quality score: 4 / 5 

Panasonic MZ980 review: Design

A close up of the stand of the Panasonic MZ980
A close up of the stand of the Panasonic MZ980
  • Slim frame around the screen 

  • Centrally mounted desktop 'foot'

  • A bit chunky round the back 

Viewed straight on, the MZ980 is an attractive addition to your living room. Its screen and frame exist on the same single plane, the frame is on-trend narrow, and although it’s a bit more plasticky than the stands of Panasonic’s more expensive OLED TVs, its centrally mounted plate-style foot looks premium and robust.

Having its desktop mount placed in the centre of the TV rather than using feet tucked under each bottom corner also means that the 55MZ980 can be placed on even quite narrow bits of furniture.

The MZ980 is not such a great wall mounting option, though, thanks to the way that two to three inches in from the screen’s outer edges the rear panel suddenly juts out a country mile by OLED standards.

Design score: 4 / 5 

Panasonic MZ980 review: Smart features and menus

The remote of the Panasonic MZ980
The remote of the Panasonic MZ980
  • Uses the My Home Screen 8.0 smart interface 

  • Long but comprehensive set up menus

  • Covers all the main streaming services 

With Panasonic announcing recently that it’s moving to Amazon’s Fire TV platform for the smart interfaces of its future premium TVs, the 55MZ980 represents the swan song for Panasonic’s long-running proprietary My Home Screen smart TV interface. And while the platform has certainly had its struggles along the way, this eighth and final generation sees it bowing out on good form for the most part.

It now incorporates all of the key streaming and catch up apps the vast majority of UK and European TV buyers would want, and while its interface looks a little basic at first glance, it’s actually really simple to navigate and, best of all, exceptionally easy to customise. There’s voice control support too (Alexa is built in, while Google Assistant works if you have an external Google listening device).

My Home Screen isn’t as sophisticated as some rival smart platforms when it comes to intelligently recommending content you might like, and it can occasionally become a touch sluggish. For the most part, though, I quite like it and might even miss it a bit when it’s gone.

The 55MZ980’s set up menus contain a vast number of adjustment and tweak options for you to pick your way through. There are, of course pros and cons to this. On the negative side the menus are long, text heavy, full of sub-menus and a bit jargon-heavy in places. On the plus side, if you’re the sort of person who enjoys a good tinker the flexibility the 55MZ980 gives you for adjusting any and all aspects of its picture quality is outstanding.

Smart features and menus score: 4 / 5

Panasonic MZ980 review: Gaming

The back of the Panasonic MZ980
The back of the Panasonic MZ980
  • 4K / 120Hz support

  • Support for multiple VRR systems

  • Dolby Vision gaming mode

Aside from only two of its four HDMIs delivering the full roster of gaming support, the 55MZ980 is impressively equipped for cutting edge gaming experiences.

Those two high bit-rate HDMIs support 4K resolution graphics at 120Hz frame rates and variable refresh rates, for starters. In fact, the VRR support actually covers both the AMD Freesync and Nvidia G-Sync systems as well as the core HDMI-based format.

The 55MZ980’s Dolby Vision support extends to a proper gaming mode, too, meaning you can game in Dolby Vision HDR from Xboxes and compatible PC cards without having to put up with high levels of input lag. In fact, lag drops to a very respectable 14.5ms with 60Hz sources.

Gamers can call up a dedicated Game Control Board interface containing key signal information and gaming adjustment options, including two different audio profile options optimised for RPG and FPS game types.

There’s even a True Game picture preset alongside the standard Game one, which offers a properly calibrated gaming image for any picture quality enthusiasts who want that.

All of these thoughtful features contribute to a hugely enjoyable gaming experience that looks crisp, ultra-detailed and exceptionally refined. It’s true that HDR graphics don’t look as aggressively bright as they do on some more expensive OLEDs and premium LCD TVs, but as with the 55MZ980’s video performance, the subtleties Panasonic’s screen delivers provide ample compensation.

Gaming score: 4.5 / 5

Panasonic MZ980 review: Value

  • Great price for what it offers

  • £200 cheaper than Panasonic's step-up model 

  • Slightly more expensive than the LG C3

Now that it’s available for a few hundred pounds less than it was at launch, the 55MZ980 is exceptional value. Just £1,399 really doesn’t feel like a lot to ask for a TV that offers as many features and as much top-notch performance - for both gamers and video fans - as the 55MZ980 does.

There is some pretty tough competition around, though. In particular, LG’s excellent OLED55C3 mid-range OLED model can currently be had for just £1,299, offering four full gaming HDMIs and slightly more brightness. Though it doesn’t provide quite the same picture subtlety as the Panasonic.

Stepping up to Panasonic’s 55MZ1500, with the useful step up in brightness created by its built-in heat sink, will cost you an extra £200. Whether that sounds like a better deal or not will obviously depend on how near the top of your budget you already are with the 55MZ980’s £1,399 asking price.

Value score: 4 / 5

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Panasonic MZ980 review: Also consider

How we tested the Panasonic MZ980

  • Tested over 10 days 

  • Tested with 4K/HD Blu-ray, streaming and Freeview HD broadcasts

  • Reviewed in both dark and light dedicated test room conditions, and a regular (corner position) living room set up

Given that the 55MZ980 doesn’t carry either a built-in hardware heat sink or new Micro Lens Array technology like some of the best tvs, we started our testing by measuring its brightness using Spears & Munsil HDR window test screens and a professional light meter to try and get a feel for where it lies in the great (and now more complicated) OLED scheme of things.

With its slightly lower than typical brightness in mind, we then went on to spend time watching both HDR and SDR content on it in a wider range of light and room conditions than we normally would to see how well or otherwise it coped with different environments. Ultimately we ended up spending longer with it in a largely blacked out room than we did in brighter settings, since it was in darker surroundings where the TV most excelled, allowing us to fully appreciate its strengths. The set was tested with a selection of our favourite test 4K Blu-rays - especially Babylon, Pan, It Chapter One, Blade Runner 2049, and the Spears & Munsil test signal disc - to see how it handled key picture attributes such as contrast, colour, sharpness, fine detailing, motion and upscaling of sub-4K sources.

We fed it a variety of resolutions from various streaming and digital broadcast sources too, using both the built-in streaming apps and a Sky Q receiver, to see how well its HCX Pro AI processor dealt with the joys of compression artefacts, while gaming was tested using both a PS5 and an Xbox Series X, with a Leo Bodnar input lag testing device being used to measure input lag.

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  • Reviewed in March 2024