June means school is out of session and report cards are making their way to parents' hands -- and hopefully refrigerator doors. This year's class of TVs has had its share of star pupils as well as clowns so far.
The Panasonic TC-PST50 successfully fended off the only TV I consider a potential challenger for most bang for the buck, Samsung's PNE6500, to earn this year's Editors' Choice Award for the plasma TV category. Fellow CNET editor Ty Pendlebury and I haven't reviewed enough LCD TVs yet to anoint a winner there, but we hope to soon.
The Panasonic won because it offers the best picture quality for the money. The Samsung has just as good a picture, but it costs a bit more in the smallest size and isn't available in as many sizes. Both have additional strengths and weaknesses, so if you're stuck between the two feel free to peruse the reviews to help decide. Don't worry, it was a tough call for us too.
On the off chance that we review another plasma TV that has a better picture for the money, the ST50 will lose its EC status this year. But I don't expect that to happen, and if I were spending my own money to buy a TV today, it would be an ST50.
A few major changes directly affect how 2012 TV reviews appear on the site. First off, depending on how you view CNET's reviews pages -- in a PC browser, in the iPad app, or in a mobile browser -- you may or may not see the subratings (Design, Features, Picture Quality, and Value) that Ty and I use to calculate the final overall rating. Those pages continue to evolve from a design perspective, and we hope to see the subratings, and an updated explanation of what they mean, surfaced in the best way possible in the near future. In the meantime some readers have written me wondering how CNET's tasty TV reviews rating sausage gets made.
Here's the answer at a glance. It's a table showing the ratings of every 2012 TV review (and a couple of applicable 2011 TVs that remain current) arranged in descending order of overall rating. In the case of a tie, the TV with the higher Value score is placed higher.
A second major change this year is that we added a fourth subcategory to TV reviews, Value, and rejiggered the percentage weightings for each subcategory to more realistically reflect what we considered important to TVs; see the chart for the new weightings. We decided to decrease the importance of Design and Features (which previously stood at 30% each) because they were exerting what we considered to be too much of an influence on the final rating. We weighted Value above even Picture Quality because there are often big price discrepancies among TVs that perform about the same. To us Value doesn't necessarily mean "cheap," it's more a judgment of whether the TV is priced correctly relative to the competition (including competition from within its manufacturer's own product line) for what it delivers.
As a result of this change, some midtier TVs that we nonetheless really love and recommend to most buyers, like the ST50 and the PNE6500, get better ratings than many higher-end TVs that happen to have great scores in categories other than Value, especially Design and Features. We think this is fair, since a more expensive TV will always have an advantage, but will be out of budget for many buyers.
The third change is that the weighted average derived from these subratings no longer absolutely determines the final overall rating on a CNET TV review. The number in the Overall Rating column is up to the editor's discretion. Most of the overall ratings we've assigned this year do match that weighted average, but a few don't because they stand out in a way that the weighted average still can't accurately capture. The Sharp Elite is a good example. It's hard to argue that its Value is higher than a 4 -- the price is truly astronomical and similar-performing TVs cost thousands less -- but it's still an excellent TV that deserves four stars, in my book, anyway.
I'm confident that these changes help make CNET's TV reviews better, and now that Ty's here lending his expertise and opinions, we'll be able to review more TVs than ever before. I'm looking forward to filling out the class with a few upcoming reviews, including the LG PM9700, the Samsung UNES8000, and the Panasonic TC-PWT50 in the near term, and LG's and Samsung's OLED TVs (not to mention their entry-level counterweights) over the next few months. I'll update this chart whenever we publish new reviews.
We've also turned comments on for all CNET reviews, so if you want to comment on a review directly, now you can. Of you can just comment here and let us know what you think.
Editors' note: The changes CNET has made to the way we rate TVs constitute a pilot program. We plan to make similar ratings changes in all CNET Reviews categories in the coming months to make our reviews even more useful. Please let us know what you think. -- Lindsey Turrentine, Editor-in-Chief, CNET Reviews