It's pretty clear from its £3,700 price tag that Panasonic's 60-inch TX-P60ZT65 is not a TV that's aimed at the mass market. No, this behemoth has been designed by the company's engineers to appeal to picture purists who want the deepest black levels and most accurate colours you can get from a 1080p HDTV.
It's only available in one screen size, and Panasonic says it's not actually building that many of them. Each one comes with a special booklet with the signature of the company's two head honchos for TV design and manufacturing. In a way, it almost seems like a vanity project by Panasonic just to show that it can produce a set that outperforms Pioneer's old Kuro range.
So has the company succeeded? Yes it has, although it's very pricey, not massively superior to the Panasonic's own VT65 and with 4K around the corner you'll have to consider your investment carefully if you're thinking of buying one.
User interface and TV guide
Apart from the Studio Master Panel logo that pops up when you turn on the TV, the user interface for the ZT65 is pretty much identical to that used on Panasonic's other 2013 models. The company has vastly improved this over what it was using on its 2012 TVs, as it has a brand-new smart TV system that allows you to create your own customised homescreens.
The settings menu isn't really integrated into this new system, so looks a little less slick. It's still fairly colourful and, more importantly, quick and easy to use. Panasonic's presets are extremely good right out of the box. There are two THX picture modes for Cinema and Bright Rooms, and a new EBU mode that conforms to the European Broadcasting Union's guidelines on industry standards for stuff like black level, contrast and luminance.
The ZT65 also has a full colour management system, as you'd expect, as well as 2- and 10-point white balance control. Unlike Panasonic's older plasmas, it allows you to adjust the panel's overall brightness levels, with low, medium and high luminance levels available.
The ZT65 thankfully is also equipped with Panasonic's new programming guide. This has been updated to include a video window of the channel you're currently tuned to, which is handy if you're watching a show and just want to quickly check what's coming up on other channels later without missing out on any of the action.
In its smart TV menu you'll also find a channel explorer widget. This presents a now and next guide as a vertical column containing the different Freeview or Freesat channels. The clever bit is that when you jump from one channel to another it'll actually show a live video picture-in-picture view of what's currently showing on the other channel that you've selected.
Smart TV system
The new Panasonic smart TV system the ZT65 uses is miles ahead of what was available on last year's models. You can either choose to use one of the preset homescreens or alternatively build your own custom version using a number of templates. This is a great idea, as it lets you group all the apps you use most often together in a single location that's quick and convenient to access.
By default the TV starts up on your smart TV homescreen, but you can set it start in fullscreen mode instead if you prefer. Annoyingly it does show an advert banner if you select this option, but thankfully this can be turned off via the settings menu -- Panasonic doesn't make it obvious how to do this though. You actually have to go into the settings menu and disable the VieraConnect banner.
The smart TV system has apps for popular services such as BBC iPlayer, Netflix, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. There are still quite a few gaps in the line up, however -- it lacks apps for Lovefilm, ITV Player and 4oD, all of which are found on Samsung's smart TV platform.
There is a full Web broswer onboard, though, and this can be used with Panasonic's app for iOS and Android devices, so you can catch and throw Web pages to the TV. The handshaking involved in getting the two to speak to each other is still relatively long, so it's not as immediate to use as it might sound.
The browser supports Flash, so you can use it to watch the outstanding video reviews on CNET UK, for example. Web navigation isn't bad thanks to the secondary touchpad remote that Panasonic includes with the TV.
Weirdly, the ZT65 lacks the camera found on the VT65, so the face-recognition features and Skype video-calling aren't supported unless you add the optional camera accessory. It does come with the Bluetooth pen that lets you scribble on the screen like a Sky Sport presenter. It's fun to use, but a bit of a novelty, so after trying it out a few times it'll probably end up being stuffed away in a drawer somewhere, or lost down the back of the sofa.
More interesting is the fact that the TV has dual tuners for both Freeview HD and Freesat HD (this is what lets you see previews of other channels on the TV guide). As a result, if you plug a hard drive into one of its USB ports it can act as a full-blown PVR, allowing you to record one channel while watching another. Panasonic's user interface for this isn't wonderful -- like its standalone PVRs, the interface can be obtuse at times -- but it gets the job done.
The ZT65's media player is pretty handy too. It can play MKV files as well as MP4, DivX and Xvid videos, and the transport controls work properly, so you can fast-forward and rewind even when you're streaming files across a network -- something that doesn't work on current Samsung TVs.
Design and connections
The ZT65 is a fairly elegant-looking slab, but some way off the prettiest TV I've seen. The chassis and bezel are both thicker than what you'll find on today's high-end LED sets, for example. Nevertheless, its piano black and shiny chrome finish makes it quite sophisticated, as does the single sheet of glass design, where the front of the screen sits flush with the edge of the bezel.
The V-shaped stand won't be to everyone's taste and, sadly, like many of the stands on the latest plasmas it doesn't swivel (an issue as the ZT65 is very heavy to move about on its base), but I still think it looks pretty classy. I also like the fact that Panasonic has made the LED at the front dimmable -- ideal if you're watching the TV in a darkened room.
As with most high-end sets at the moment, the ZT65 comes with two remote controls: a touchpad remote and a new take on Panasonic's normal TV zapper. The touchpad remote isn't bad, but it's not as good as Samsung's one and not a patch on LG's magic remote.