After years of speculation, Panasonic finally confirmed that plasma production would end. Early in 2014, the last panel will come off their line, and the best current displays will go away. Despite having not spent much time viewing one in person, I still took advantage of the current availability and bought myself a 60” Panasonic VT60.
After spending time watching and analyzing the Panasonic VT60, I can say, without hesitation, that anyone after the best display they can get should pick one up now. Black levels are amazing, light output is high enough for almost any situation, and the contrast ratio is jaw-dropping. It is a beautiful set that will keep you happy for years to come.
So Long Plasma
The demise of plasma is something that many of us have seen coming and hoped would not happen. The comparisons between LCD and plasma are old hat to people now, and each has its own benefits. The overall triumph of LCD is probably due to cost over performance, as LCDs are everywhere. It is in our TVs, our laptops, inside projectors, our phones, and even on the credit card machine when we check out at a store. When LCDs are everywhere, spending the money on larger LCD plants that lead to cheaper displays makes more sense than a plasma plant that only makes TVs.
The final straw might be the rise of 4K. As detailed in an article at HDTV Test, making a 4K plasma is hard to impossible. The limitations that keep us from seeing plasma screens under 42” will keep us from seeing a reasonable 4K plasma display. When the writing is on the wall like this, it probably makes sense for Panasonic to move away from plasma to LCD.
Four years is forever
My 50” plasma, a Samsung PN50B650, is just over four years old. At the time, it was a mid-range model that was affordable and let me replace my hulking DLP display. Though the Samsung works perfectly and is calibrated to be very accurate, I felt the need to upgrade to the Panasonic VT60 before it went away for good. What I didn’t expect was how much things had improved in this time.
The VT60 manages to completely blow away the Samsung in every way. Subpixel noise, which makes many people avoid plasma, is almost non-existent now. Black levels are an order of magnitude better, and the contrast ratio is 20 as high. The peak light output, despite being a 60” model instead of 50”, is far higher, and I can push over 50 fL now instead of 32 fL. Watching during the day makes a large difference.
The VT60 also has filters to help reduce reflections on the screen. Compared to my older plasma with a plain glass screen, reflections are more subdued. I have it directly across from a large window and have no issues watching football on a Sunday afternoon. Even with ambient light, the improvement in black level is instantly apparent over the older plasma. It is almost impossible to determine when the letterbox bars end and the screen bezel begins. Aside from a $9,000 OLED display, nothing I have seen in person comes close to the blacks the Panasonic VT60 can produce.
Compared to my old display, the Panasonic VT60 is far better in design and profile. It weighs less at 60” than my old display did at 50”, and it is far, far thinner. I never bothered with the thinnest wall mount because the plasma was so thick, but now I will. The three HDMI inputs are all mounted to the left side, and HDMI 2 supports the Audio Return Channel. There is also an optical output for the integrated tuner and apps.
There are three USB ports for photos, movies, or music, and they will also power a Chromecast. It even includes an SD card reader for photos. In a nice little touch, the IR sensor extends to the bottom of the display, so IR emitters for universal remotes are hidden away.
I’m not a fan of the included touchpad remote. It is too hard to navigate around using it, and the voice search does not work that well for me. Searching for “Netflix” or “Hulu Plus” brings up a lot of options, none of which is the app I want. The standard remote is better, though the Home button is too large and prominent, I feel. I’m happy that Panasonic provides the normal remote and the gimmick remote, as other companies only offer one.
So, So Black
Watching anything on it is a joy. The bright, colorful trains when my sons watch Thomas and Friends jump off the screen. Everything is bright and bold but also dead-on accurate. Watching football on the VT60, the motion is very good compared to an LCD. The Panasonic VT60 offers motion interpolation, of which I am not a fan if you want things even more fluid. Even if you have a snowstorm, like during the Lions Eagles game this year, the VT60 looks fantastic.
Putting on a movie is where the Panasonic VT60 truly shines. Watching Drive, the pink credits float on top of a pure-black background. The shadow details that are visible from the VT60 are incredible, and the depth of the blacks is entrancing. The 96 Hz mode for the film does a great job of keeping that film cadence without introducing flicker like 48 Hz or judder with 60 Hz. As soon as the skyline shots of LA appear, you’ll never want to let the VT60 go. Only JVC projectors have produced similar contrast ratios for me. The VT60 easily puts out contrast ratios greater than 20,000:1, while LCDs I’ve reviewed of the same price and size struggle to even hit 3,000:1.
To torture a TV and see how it does shadow detail, the last Harry Potter film is the best. As Voldemort and his minions gather on a hill outside of Hogwarts, you must make a compromise. You can keep your dark blacks and only see a blob on top of the hill, or you can make out details and raise the black floor. The VT60 forces no compromises on you. The blacks are inky as possible, but you still see fine details. I make out the robes of each person instead of them being a black blobs, and when they fire on the school, the bright explosions are on top of a pitch-black background.
While not a 3D fan, I still am happy to have a 3D display for review purposes. Watching some of Monsters University, the 3D is overall very good on the VT60. Way ahead of most LCDs but a bit behind a DLP. The image is very bright and punchy, but there is some crosstalk at points. I also still find myself getting a bit of a headache watching it. Of course, every 3D display, save the $60,000 SIM2 SUPERLUMIS, does this to me, so it isn’t uncommon.
The VT60 also has a large selection of apps to pull from. Netflix supports SuperHD and Profiles and is very quick to stream. As the VT60 has integrated Wi-Fi, you won’t need to run an Ethernet cable to it either. Hulu Plus also works well and lets my wife watch Glee without a problem. You can also use the VT60 as a target for YouTube and other apps. From my phone or laptop, I can simply click on the YouTube window and send it to the VT60 instead.
Using the default THX Cinema mode, the VT60 has very good overall performance. The grayscale and colors are all very good, with almost invisible errors, and the default light level is a good 32.2 fL. With no adjustments at all, you have an image that most people will be happy with. If you want to make it perfect, you can use the Professional 1 and Professional 2 modes to calibrate it. Results for those are found on the next page.
Buy One While You Can
To many, a TV that sells for close to $2,000 is hard to label a bargain. That’s well above what most people pay for a TV, and prices keep coming down. I will give that label to the Panasonic VT60 as finding better performance requires spending far more. You can get the Panasonic ST60 for a bit less, but it’s out of stock now and might be gone. Or you can step up to the ZT60 if you want every last ounce of performance. The Panasonic ZT60 only looks better in a room with lights, so if you watch in a dark room, the displays are identical.
Beyond this, you need to move up to a 55” OLED screen from Samsung or LG to find similar contrast ratios and picture quality. That is a $9,000 investment instead of a $1,850 one. OLED will eventually be affordable, we think, and will be the TV that everyone wants. Until then, the Panasonic VT60 is going to hold me over nicely. It’s the best-looking TV I’ve ever had in my house, and the black levels wow me every time I turn it on. If you want the best image you can get for under $2,000, nothing will beat the Panasonic VT60. Just get one before they’re gone.
1/22/2014 Update: Amazon is sold out now of everything, though 3rd party vendors have some. Best Buy has the ZT60 available (it rejects light better than the VT60 but is identical in a dark room), but they’re almost all gone at this point.
Bench Data and Analysis
As always, measurements use CalMAN 5.2.0 software with an i1Pro meter and a C6 colorimeter that I profile from the i1Pro. For the VT60, I used the T-Tap from AJA with VirtualForge to create the patterns. I use 2% windows for all measurements to try to control for ABL effects in plasma displays.
The most accurate mode that the Panasonic VT60 offers out of the box is the THX Cinema mode. The only criticism that I lob at it is that the gamma target is 2.2 instead of 2.4. For nighttime viewing with blacks this deep, I’d much rather see 2.4, as most people master Blu-ray content using that gamma. For lots of ambient light, the THX Bright Room mode has a gamma of 1.9 to make sure you don’t get a lot of shadow detail crush. It has a wonderful contrast ratio of 29,079:1 in this mode, and the grayscale and colors are all pretty accurate. Just don’t use it at night with that gamma.
Post-calibration, this is even better. Aiming for 35 fL of light and a gamma of 2.4, the VT60 has no issues with that. I get a contrast ratio of 22,771:1, which is better than anything I’ve reviewed before. The grayscale dE is non-existent, and the color errors are invisible to the eye. The gamma is almost perfect in tracking 2.4 as well. There are no flaws to this image that I can see; it just pops off the screen with accurate, gorgeous colors.
The video processing for the Panasonic VT60 isn’t up to the level of the picture quality. It doesn’t do well with 2:2 cadence materials, which we see on TV quite a bit. To correctly display the 3:2 cadence, I had to set that option to On instead of Auto, so I recommend just sending 1080p signals. I didn’t notice the 2:2 flaws in TV content that I watched, including a lot of 1080i football, so I’m not worried about it.
The VT60 also processes every colorspace, 4:2:2, 4:4:4, and RGB, correctly once configured correctly. One of the options is for ‘1080p Pure Direct’ that displays 4:4:4 content with no loss in chroma resolution. Enabling this did not affect the brightness or contrast levels, and colors do not seem to change. You still can use the full-color management system; you just seem to bypass a conversion to 4:2:2 and back. Why they don’t just enable this, I don’t understand, but I found no reason not to use it with 4:4:4 sources.
For 24p content, you have a choice between 48 Hz, 60 Hz, or 96 Hz. 60 Hz introduces a 3:2 pull-down that adds a hitch to motion. Using 48 Hz adds a noticeable flicker that almost everyone will find objectionable, but using 96 Hz looks great. 24p motion is smooth without interpolation and is the mode that will best replicate the theater experience.
Using the 3D crosstalk patterns on Spears & Munsil Version 2, I found there is negligible crosstalk in blue but 3% for red and 4% for green in both eyes. The white crosstalk pattern has a definite green tint to it as that color is coming across to both eyes more. Looking at the floating crosshairs on the disc, I can see a bit of crosstalk with a ghost outline for the red and green targets.
The Panasonic VT60 offers a game mode to reduce lag for serious gamers. Without Game Mode enabled, I measure 68ms of lag using the Leo Bodnar lag tester. With it enabled, there is only 45ms of lag. That equates to almost 1.5 full frames, which is easy to notice. This is one advantage of the VT60 over the cheaper ST60 since the slower processor in the ST60 leads to higher lag times.
The only real flaw with the Panasonic VT60 is how it handles some interlaced content. The 3:2 issue isn’t a large one, as Blu-ray players will send films as 24p instead of 60i. It will only affect you if you watch a lot of films on TV, and even then, you can force it on. The 2:2 issue is more problematic, but I didn’t see it in real-world use. It might be there, but it is invisible if it is. If you feed the VT60 a progressive signal, it will look perfect after calibration and very, very good in THX mode.
|White Level:||32.2 fL||34.3 fL|
|Black Level:||0.0017 fL||0.0015 fL|
|Average Grayscale dE2000:||1.95||0.59|
|Average Saturations dE2000:||1.64||1.52|
|Average Color Checker dE2000:||1.75||1.11|
Summary: THX Cinema is very good if you are OK with a gamma of 2.2. With a calibration you can easily hit a gamma of 2.4 and get reference quality colors and grayscale.
|Amazing black levels, reference level picture quality, good integrated streaming features||Not a fan of the smaller remote||Thanks to a price drop it is the best TV under $2,000 right now. Picture quality that you can’t beat without spending close to $10,000 that you should pick up while you can.|