Panasonic's plasmas have been hugely impressive this year, with the VT65 and GT60 all delivering gorgeously-deep black levels, along with rich and natural colours that make movie watching a pleasure on these sets. The Panasonic TX-P42ST60 slips into Panasonic's line-up beneath these models and just above the entry level X60.,
It lacks the Hexa processing engine of the higher-end sets and uses 2,500Hz rather than 3,000Hz motion drive. Its panel is quoted as being capable of reproducing 12,288 gradation steps, while the higher-end models offer 30,720 steps. Do these limitations hold it back? Not one bit, as priced at around £800, the TX-P42ST60 offers hugely impressive pictures at a very affordable price.
The ST60 benefits from the new smart TV system that Panasonic has introduced on this year's TVs. It's much more modern looking than the older Vieracast system and now has a neat feature that lets you design your own homescreen from several built-in templates. Unlike LG's system, however, the normal settings menus aren't integrated into this. You can access them from the smart TV screens, but you're essentially jumping between two different interfaces. It's not a massive issue though, as both are good-looking systems.
The settings menu is speedy to use too, which is important when you're zipping between different settings while tweaking the picture. Panasonic gives you plenty of control over the set's images, and has included a full colour-management system.
Thankfully, the company has finally added a video window to its programming guide, so you no longer lose all video and audio from the channel you were watching when you open the guide. The guide still looks old fashioned and could use more of the available space -- it always shows instructions on how to use it on the lower section of the screen, for example. That said, it's reasonably zippy to use and displays the programming information with a large, easy-to-read font.
The ST60's new smart TV system is much better than the older system Panasonic was using on last year's TVs. It takes a homescreen approach, where a video window sits in the top left hand corner, while various apps and widgets are shown on a grid to the side and beneath it. There are several different pre-set homescreens to choose from, and cleverly the system allows you to create your own from three different templates. This is useful as it lets you group together the apps you use most often on a single, easy to access screen.
The selection of apps isn't bad. Naturally, the Beeb's iPlayer is included, alongside the likes of Netflix, YouTube, DailyMotion, Twitter and Facebook. It lacks support for LoveFilm though and it doesn't have apps for 4oD, ITV Player and Demand 5, all of which are available on Samsung's smart TV system.
The set also has a full browser onboard. Navigation via the standard remote, however, is pretty torturous -- the ST60 doesn't come with the touchpad remote you get with the high-end models in the range. It can play some video on websites, such as the video reviews on CNET UK, but overall the browser is best used with the companion Android or iOS app that lets you 'throw' webpages from your mobile device to the screen.
The set's digital media player is strong, however. It supports common video formats like MKV, Xvid and MP4, and unlike the players on LG and Samsung, the fast forward and rewind controls work properly when you're streaming files across a network from a PC or networked hard drive.
Design and connections
The crystal design on last year's ST50 looked much like the styling that Samsung and LG had been using on their TVs during the preceding years. This time around, Panasonic has dumped the crystal edging from the bezel and instead gone with a piano-black border around the screen that's capped by an outer chrome band. It's a slick and elegant look, although the bezel is a good deal thicker than what you get on today's LED sets.
The TV uses Panasonic's traditional remote, rather than the glossy one that comes with the ZT65. It's still a great remote though, as it's got nice, large buttons and a sensible layout that keeps the controls for all the TV's key features within easy reach of your thumb as it hovers over the buttons. Unlike the remote on the older ST50 though, this isn't backlit, which is a shame.
The connections are split between a side panel on the left of the TV and another panel on the rear. The side panel houses three HDMI ports as well as two USB ports (one less than the other Panasonic models higher up the price chain) and the optical audio output. There's also an SD card slot for playing back photos or movies taken on digital cameras. On the rear panel you'll find the aerial input for the Freeview HD tuner, but unlike the GT60, this one doesn't include a Freesat tuner. The rear panel is also home to set of component inputs and an AV output port that you can use with a break out cable for connecting up Scart devices to the set. Naturally there's an Ethernet port too, and Wi-Fi is built in.
It would have been nice to have another HDMI port, but given its price tag we can forgive the ST60 this failing more than we can on the pricey ZT65. Also, it's worth noting that none of the HDMI ports are MHL enabled, so they can't charge mobile devices while they're connected via an MHL cable. Its Wi-Fi implementation also doesn't support Miracast for wireless streaming from Android smart phones or tablets.