There’s so much more to the best TVs than the display tech inside the panels. One of the big considerations we have when reviewing a TV – after we’ve tested the picture and sound quality – is how easy the menus and smart TV software are to use, and surprisingly, this can vary by quite a lot among the platforms available today.
It’s so important in fact, that the smart TV platform of the 2023 flagship Panasonic MZ2000 was one of the main reasons why we held back from giving it a flawless five stars in our review. The biggest let down of it was that it lacked a dedicated home screen where you could quickly see features like your profile, most used streaming apps, live TV inputs, settings or search functionality. Instead, it’s just a row of apps – you can read more here about why we thought it could be the perfect OLED TV if it weren't for the software.
All of this is why we were excited by the announcement that its 2024 lineup would have Fire TV built-in. Panasonic had already added Fire TV to the MX800 from last year but this time it’s rolling out the platform to all of its sets, including the 2024 flagship Panasonic Z95A.
By partnering with Amazon, Panasonic has not only brought in a much easier-to-use system with great streaming app support and simple voice navigation, but it's also banking on the idea that its TVs will be the heart of your smart home, allowing the growing list of Alexa-enabled smart home devices to be connected and controlled through your room's central display.
Tatsuya Fujimoto, the chief software engineer at Panasonic, says that the company has been working on integrating Amazon's Fire TV operating systems (OS) into their TVs since 2020, during which time more than 100 engineers had to become experts in how Fire TV works.
It was worth the wait, though. Seeing the new Z95A control devices in a home by simply asking Alexa to “close the curtains” or “turn on the lights”, it's clear that it can be such a useful addition, potentially.
Of course, the smart TV menu itself is the same as any other device with Fire TV, but seeing it work so effortlessly on Panasonic’s premium OLED TV was like seeing it with new eyes.
What’s special about Amazon Fire TV?
A lot of the biggest TV brands such as LG (webOS), Samsung (Tizen) and Hisense (Vidaa) design their own smart TV platforms, and they’re effective in helping you find your favorite movies, games and shows – but when compared to the best streaming devices like Roku, Apple or even Amazon, they can sometimes lack that finer finesse and thoughtful detail in how you really want to use your TV.
Yes, a lot of features are copied among TV software, such as quick menus, rows of key apps, and shortcuts to regularly used settings – but some can feel tacked on and not properly integrated into the whole experience, which can be extremely frustrating if it makes it harder to find what you need.
Amazon’s Fire TV has a consistent approach that feels familiar stretching from its streaming options to its control of smart home devices such as Alexa-enabled smart speakers and Ring Doorbells.
It has also undergone a lot of changes and improvements over the years – one of the most recent software updates that the company rolled out last year to Fire TV devices to make them better movie companions was a new AI-powered Alexa search, Continue Watching row and a smart display mode called Ambient Experience that's ideal for a beautiful TV screen.
It’s these software upgrades that mean the Fire TV platform is always up to date with support for the latest tech and from what I understand, this means all Panasonic TVs with it built-in will have these updates automatically too – that even includes the new support for an open casting rival called Matter.
However, for those on a budget, Panasonic OLED TVs aren’t exactly the cheapest way to get access to Fire TV’s features. Amazon’s own Fire TVs like the Amazon Fire TV Omni QLED, which we rate as the best budget TV you can buy, are excellent when it comes to value, but can be clunky when changing picture settings. Panasonic’s Z95A has made sure to solve this issue by adding in quick menus to its picture settings as well as a dedicated picture mode button on its remote, which also has a USB recording button.
It’s clear a lot of work has gone into making sure the Fire TV platform works seamlessly with Panasonic’s 2024 OLED TVs, and from what we’ve seen so far it’s definitely the upgrade we’ve been waiting for. You really don't want to be annoyed by your TV every time you use, especially when it costs a lot. This feels instantly better.