Panasonic has been top of the picture-quality pile for the past five-plus years, ever since the Pioneer Kuro (now known as the "K-word") bowed out of the frame. Panasonic inherited technology and engineers in Pioneer's shakeup and has been inching toward beating the K-word ever since, but never quite got there. I would argue that 2013 is the year Panasonic has finally cracked it.
The VT60 is an excellent plasma with perhaps the best image quality you'll see this year not powered by light-emitting diodes. It is a shade better than the Kuro we've been using as a reference these long years, it beats the Samsung F8500 in critical dim-room viewing situations, and it's demonstrably better than the ST60. It boasts industry-leading black levels, illuminating shadow detail, and rich, saturated colors.
There are a couple of problems, however. The first is price: the VT60 is exactly twice the cost of the ST60, and its picture is by no stretch of the imagination twice as good. In other words, this is a TV not just for videophiles, but, like the Kuro and the F8500, it's a TV for relatively wealthy videophiles.
Another problem looms for those who can afford it: Panasonic's own ZT60, a step-up model the company describes as delivering "beyond the reference" picture quality that's even better than that of the VT60. Videophiles in this tax bracket who simply want the best picture quality they can get, money no object, won't bat an eye at the extra $500 the ZT60 demands.
We haven't reviewed the ZT60 yet, so we don't know whether it can live up to those claims, but as soon as we do, we'll update this review. In the meantime, we do know one thing: the Panasonic VT60 is the best-performing TV we've ever seen.
Every year I wonder how Panasonic can squeeze a better picture out of its plasma TVs, and the VT60 does it again. It's definitely a step up from last year's incredibly good VT50, and overall the best TV we've tested...ever. We still haven't tested the ZT60, however, which promises even better overall picture quality.
If you want ultradeep blacks on your TV screen -- and that's what we all should want, since they're the chief ingredient in amazing home theater picture quality -- you'll find them in the Panasonic VT60. This TV beats the Samsung F8500 in terms of black level, although it can't match that panel for image brightness. But in a dim to dark room, the kind in which you'll want to watch any good TV to best appreciate its picture quality, the VT60 wins -- it gets plenty bright enough for most rooms, and that much darker. Colors are a little more vivid on the Panasonic, and flesh tones are healthier-looking than the Samsung can muster.
Of the six TVs in our comparison lineup, it was really a two-horse race between the Panasonic VT60 and the Pioneer Elite Kuro 111FD. While the Pioneer did some things better, the Panasonic had a more impressive picture overall thanks to its slightly deeper black levels and better shadow detail. So in a way, despite the fact that it's the ZT60 Panasonic is touting as a Kuro-killer, the less expensive VT60 is actually the first TV we've tested to outperform our in-house Kuro.