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Panasonic S60 plasma TV review:

Basic, budget plasma gives great picture

If you want to connect more gear to this TV, a cheap switcher, or a switching HDMI-equipped AV receiver, is probably the best solution. The downside, of course, is the extra complexity of switching, a problem in turn best solved by a universal remote.

The S60 is also missing the SD card slot found on the ST60. It does have a pair of USB ports, however, as well as the standard single component/composite video input.

Picture quality: While it's not the best-performing plasma I've tested this year, the S60 delivers a remarkable picture nonetheless. Its black levels are exceedingly deep, its color performance is likewise superb, and of course its uniformity and off-angle fidelity are basically perfect. In these areas it trounces all but the most expensive LED and LCD TVs, but it also has one big weakness. Like Nosferatu, it doesn't do well under the lights. Add that to its mediocre video processing and you have a pair of significant minuses compared with the best TVs on the market. But they can't stop the S60 from earning a score of Excellent from us.

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration.

Comparison models (details)
Panasonic TC-P50U50 50-inch plasma
Samsung PN51E550 51-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-P55ST60 55-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-P55ST50 55-inch plasma
Vizio M3D550KD 55-inch LED
Sharp LC-L60E650 60-inch LED

Black level: The most important picture quality characteristic is the depth of black a TV can produce, and in the lineup above, in a dark room, the S60 was second only to the ST60 in both measurements and to my eye.

During Peter Parker's nighttime wandering in "The Amazing Spider-Man" (chapter 7), for example, its letterbox bars and darkest shadows appeared a shade inkier than those of the U50 and ST50, and just slightly brighter than the ST60. Outside of a side-by-side comparison in a dark room, however, I'd have a tough time telling any of them apart. None of the other three sets, including the Samsung E550 plasma and the local dimming Vizio, came close to the S60's depth of black.

Details in the shadows were also superb. Peter's clothing, the graffitied wall, and the fire escape during the nighttime chase appeared with every detail intact. Low-level shadows did appear just a bit brighter than they should have, for example in the helicopter shot over the nighttime city (48:44) and the fence behind the thug (48:51). That's because gamma was a bit too bright compared with the ST60 in dark areas, but the two were so close that any difference would be impossible to discern outside a side-by-side lineup.

Color accuracy: Although again not quite up to the standards of the ST60, the S60 was excellent in this area. Most of its measurements came in with minimal error thanks in part to the array of new controls. The color management system on the S60 wasn't quite as effective as that of the ST60, however, which gave measurements that were a hair better in Blue, Cyan and Magenta.

Bright scenes were rich and beautifully saturated, thanks in part to the S60's excellent black levels. Skin tones, like those of Gwen's face when talking to Peter in school (36:33), looked natural and lifelike, although they did at times appear a bit more flushed than on most of the other sets (again, a very subtle difference). Meanwhile, primary and secondary colors, like the bold reds and oranges in the lab sequence (39:44), looked correct mostly correct, with the exception of slightly too-deep blues on the virtual rat.

In dark areas black and near-black were mostly true, especially compared with the LED sets with their bluish tinge. Deep shadows did show a slight greenish tint, however, which made them appear a bit less realistic than those seen on the ST models and the Samsung -- albeit about the same as the U50.

Video processing: The S60 showed a couple of flaws in this category. Most importantly, unlike the ST60 it is incapable of correctly reproducing the correct film cadence of 1080p/24 sources when set to its standard (60Hz) mode. Instead, the pan over the Intrepid from "I Am Legend" (my standard cadence test) appeared relatively halting and choppy, compared with the smoother -- yet not too smooth -- look of the ST60 and other sets that handled film correctly. I tried the 48Hz mode but as usual it flickered too much for me to tolerate. Since those are the only two modes available, you have to choose between choppy motion and flicker. I'd choose the former every time.

As I mentioned before the S60 also lacks dejudder, so if you like the smooth look of the Soap Opera Effect (I don't), you may want to choose another TV.

Sticklers for motion resolution will also note that the S60 performed a bit worse than the ST60 (700 lines versus 800) when the latter's dejudder was turned off. Turning it on, which isn't an option on the S60, widened the gap between the two further. On the other hand I found it quite difficult (as usual) to discern any blurriness in program material, and the S60's result is still better than that of a typical 120Hz LED TVs.

Finally, the S60 only passed our 1080i film deinterlacing test when we manually chose the On setting in its 3:2 pull-down menu; it failed in the default Auto position.

Bright lighting: This is the S60's Achilles' heel. When I turned up the lights the image on the S60 washed out significantly, looking a good deal worse than that of any other TV in the lineup -- with the exception of the U50 and Samsung E550, which were about the same. The difference was most visible in darker scenes, where "black" and shadowy areas became grayish and lost most of the punch and impact I described above.

In addition, reflections in the screen, like my face and striped shirt as I sat on the couch in front of the TV, showed up more strongly than on any of the others, including both ST models (again the U50 and Samsung were exceptions).

Compared with many LCDs, the maximum light output of the S60 is limited. In their brightest picture settings with a window pattern, the S60 measured 58fL (footlamberts) while the Vizio and Sharp LCDs hit 95 and 92, respectively. With a full-screen pattern, the number drops to 11 for the S60 while the LCDs stay just as bright as ever.

This combination of washed-out blacks, bright reflections, and relatively limited light output makes the S60 a below-average performer under bright lighting. It should still look great in many moderately lit rooms, but if you have an extremely bright room or just prefer watching an extremely bright picture (like Vivid or Dynamic on your current TV), you may want to get a different TV.

Power consumption: [Note that this test and all of the chart numbers below apply only to the 50-inch TC-P50ST60, not to any of the other sizes.] As expected the S60 uses significantly more juice than any similarly sized LCD-based TV, and almost exactly the same as most other 50-inch plasmas we've tested, including the 2012 U50 model, after calibration. The default Standard mode draws a quite bit more power than last year, but it's also brighter and more watchable. That's a good thing because past Standard modes were way too dim.

The current Energy Star specification is still version 5.3, which still imposes a hard cap of 108 watts for any size of TV. According to Energy Star's April 2013 list of qualified TVs, no 2013 Panasonic plasma earns the blue sticker.

Editors' note: CNET has dropped TV power consumption testing for 60-inch or smaller LCD- and LED-based TVs because their power use, in terms of yearly cost, is negligible. We will continue to test the power use of larger LCD or LED models, as well as all plasma models.

Juice box
Panasonic TC-P50S60 Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power save
Picture on (watts) 159.97 200.99 N/A
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.15 0.19 N/A
Standby (watts) 0.27 0.27 N/A
Cost per year $35.28 $44.27 N/A
Score (considering size) Average
Score (overall) Poor

Annual energy cost after calibration
Panasonic TC-P50S60
LG 50PM9700

GEEK BOX: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.004 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.14 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 2.053 Good
Near-black error (5%) 1.705 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 1.583 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 1.682 Good
Avg. color error 2.407 Good
Red error 1.013 Good
Green error 1.232 Good
Blue error 4.106 Average
Cyan error 4.187 Average
Magenta error 3.305 Average
Yellow error 0.598 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i De-interlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 700 Average
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 700 Average
Input lag (Calibrated mode) 34.1 Good

Panasonic TC-P50S60 CNET review calibration results

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