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Panasonic PT-LCZ70 review: Panasonic PT-LCZ70

Panasonic PT-LCZ70

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David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg

David Katzmaier

Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

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10 min read

Design
The external appearance of the PT-61LCZ70 is rather understated, with all-black trim and the standard glossy frame around the screen. Compared to the Samsung HL-T5687S and the Mitsubishi WD-65734, for example, the frame is somewhat thick, measuring about an inch wide and ringed by another half-inch of cabinet protruding from behind the sides and top. A matte, perforated, horizontal strip runs across the front hiding the speakers, and below that is a thinner, glossy strip that includes a flip-down door concealing basic controls, an AV input with composite video, an SD card slot, and an HDMI input.

6.2

Panasonic PT-LCZ70

The Good

LIFI bulb guaranteed to last five years; solid standard-def video processing; numerous picture controls including user color temperature adjustments.

The Bad

Reproduces a light shade of black; inaccurate primary colors; faint horizontal bands across middle of screen.

The Bottom Line

The long-lasting bulb of the 61-inch Panasonic PT-61LCZ70 rear-projection HDTV is a bright idea, but doesn't outweigh its picture-quality problems.
Ever since the introduction of rear-projection HDTVs based on DLP, LCD and LCoS technology, the bother and expense of having to replace their bulbs in your television has been an issue. Most of these behemoth TVs use conventional bulbs, just like compact two-piece projectors, to power their pictures, and after a certain amount of time--in the 3,000-to-6000-hour range depending on usage patterns--those bulbs burn out or fade away. Panasonic, a company whose bread is buttered primarily by plasma and not rear-projection, has nonetheless introduced a new RPTV bulb technology it calls LIFI, which lasts much longer and accords with the logic of labored acronyms by standing for "LIght FIdelity." Unfortunately, the dark fidelity of this set is the problem, as it can't produce nearly as deep a shade of black as competing RPTVs, and its color accuracy and uniformity evinced a few issues too. While we applaud the notion of never having to replace the bulb, the Panasonic PT-61LCZ70 makes too many picture-quality compromises along the way.

With rear-projection sets slimming down every generation, this example stretches the tape at 19 inches deep. All told, the Panasonic PT-61LCZ70 measures 56.5 inches wide by 39.2 inches tall by 19 inches deep and weighs 77 pounds.

We really like Panasonic's remote. Its layout is basically the same as that of last year's model, but the somewhat larger buttons feel much better. Its keys--of which there are just the right number--are arranged quite logically, and although there's no backlighting, we appreciate the ease with which we were able to locate buttons by feel. The remote can control as many as three other devices. Panasonic's internal menu system is intuitive enough, although we disliked the ease with which you can inadvertently erase your picture settings. The top of the picture menu has an item called Normal that, when selected and set to "Set," returns the settings to factory defaults. We'd prefer a better name--something like Reset, as well as a confirmation dialog and a less-prominent menu position for this function.

Features
The Panasonic PT-61LCZ70 has 1080p native resolution, which translates to 1,920x1,080 pixels, the highest number available today in an HDTV. The set can resolve every detail of the highest-resolution 1080i and 1080p HD sources, and all other resolutions, whether from 720p HDTV, DVD, or standard-definition television, are scaled to fit the pixels. The larger size of this TV makes the benefits of 1080p more apparent than they'd be on smaller sets. Unlike most 1080p-resolution rear-projection TVs, the PT61LCZ70 uses LCD technology instead of DLP or LCoS.

Panasonic's new LIFI technology allows the company to guarantee the bulb life for five years. We were told that the bulb would last "theoretically 100,000 hours, although this has not been proven yet." In short, you won't have to replace the bulb for a darn long time. When you do, Panasonic estimates the replacement should cost $300 including labor--unlike with most microdisplays, the bulb is not user-replaceable. The company also claims the bulbs are quieter than standard bulbs (although we've never noticed any too-loud hum on other microdisplay bulbs ourselves) and deliver better color--although according to our measurements, that wasn't the case.

This particular model offers more picture-affecting features than previous Panasonics we've tested, including the ability to fine-tune the color temperature--it needed it--with user-menu red and blue gain and bias controls. We'd prefer to see controls for green as well, but any fine color-temperature control is a nice touch in addition to the three presets. The PT-61LCZ70 has three adjustable picture modes that apply globally to every input, along with a fourth Custom mode that's independent per input. We really like the ability to adjust the lamp brightness in small increments--there are 60 total steps--although doing so didn't have nearly the same impact on black-level performance as we typically find when reducing a flat-panel LCD TV's backlight control.

We left most of the more advanced-sounding controls turned off. Panasonic throws in an "AI picture" control said to adjust the black areas of the picture without affecting brighter areas, which we left turned off since it changed the picture on the fly. The Color Management control made blues and greens more intense and less accurate, so we left it off, too. There are also three noise-reduction controls, a black extension control, and a black-level control (best left at "0" and "Off", respectively, to preserve shadow detail) and a setting that engages 2:3 pull-down. A couple of other controls are grayed out for HD sources, namely "3D Y/C filter," which should be left turned on in most circumstances, and Color Matrix, a nice extra that allows you to specify which color space--high-def or standard-def--to use.

In addition to the four aspect-ratio modes for HD sources, there are four for standard-def. Convenience junkies will be bummed by the lack of picture-in-picture. Like many HDTV makers this year, Panasonic offers a version of control-over-HDMI, branded EZ-Synch, that allows other similarly equipped devices to be controlled via the HDMI connection using the TV's remote.

The PT-61LCZ70's connectivity suite includes three HDMI inputs, one on the front panel and two around back. There's also a VGA-style PC input (1,280x1,024 maximum resolution), a pair of component-video inputs, two AV inputs with composite- and S-Video, an RF-style antenna input, and an optical digital output for the ATSC tuner. As we mentioned above, a door on the front flips up to reveal another AV input with composite video, that third HDMI jack, and a slot for SD cards, allowing you to display JPEG digital photos on the big screen.

Performance
While its bulb may last a long time, the Panasonic PT-61LCZ70's picture-quality problems will last even longer. It can't produce a very deep level of black at all, its color accuracy is pretty suspect, and we detected banding that we'd never seen before on a rear-projection set. All in all, the Panasonic performs worse than most RPTVs we've reviewed in the last year.

We began, as always, by taming the set's light output to a comfortable 40 footlambert (ftl) for our darkened home theater, then adjusting black level (the brightness control, among others) to its optimal setting. The Panasonic's default color temperature in Warm mode was still quite blue, and while we were able get it much closer to the D6500 standard using the aforementioned fine-tuning controls, the midtones were a bit red afterward. For our full user-menu adjustments, click here or check out the Tips & Tricks section above. For comparison testing, we set the Panasonic up next to the Samsung HL-T5687S and the Mitsubishi WD-65734, both big-screen DLP rear-projection HDTVs, as well as our color reference, the Pioneer PRO-FHD1 50-inch plasma, and watched The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen via our Samsung BD-P1200 Blu-ray player at 1080i resolution.

Watching the intro during the credits, it became clear that dark scenes are not the Panasonic's forte. The black letterbox bars, the shadows and the dark uniforms of the soldiers all appeared significantly lighter than they did on other TVs in the room, which robbed the images of punch and realism. We also noticed that highly detailed dark areas, including the side of the tank and the recesses of the doorways, appeared slightly less-detailed--a combination of lighter black levels and less-than ideal shadow detail.

Also impinging on our enjoyment of dark scenes was the Panasonic's tendency to get extremely blue in black and very dark areas, to the point where we maybe should be talking about its blue-level performance instead. We tried adjusting the user-menu controls to alleviate the bluish blacks, but it didn't help.

Color accuracy otherwise was very good for skin tones and other areas dependent heavily on an accurate grayscale and solid color decoding, both of which the Panasonic exhibited after grayscale adjustment. Colors started to look unnatural when they came close to being pure primaries; the red of the Mina Harker's scarf appeared too flush next to our reference PRO-FHD1, while the blue sky above and the blue water below the Nautilus submarine both looked too greenish. These observations were borne out in our primary color measurements, which, taken together, were worse then we've seen with any HDTV for awhile. It's especially rare to see any display score a Poor in blue accuracy, which explains the greenish ocean and sky.

Uniformity across the screen was about average for a rear-projection HDTV. Looking at full-field test patterns, it was obvious that the middle of the screen was brighter than the sides and especially the corners, although the resulting "hot spot" wasn't as prominent as with the Samsung. We also noticed discoloration in some areas of the screen with test patterns; the upper-left was decidedly bluer than the middle, while the sides and edges appeared slightly redder.

The PT-61LCZ70 had a pair of pair of sharply defined, albeit faint, horizontal bands running across the middle of the screen, artifacts we haven't seen on any rear-projection HDTV before. In program material, the bands were more subtle than in the flat-field test patterns, although in scenes with fields of color, such as the sky around the Nautilus or the white walls inside the submarine, we certainly noticed them. And unfortunately, like many such uniformity issues, once seen they were hard to ignore, although at least the bands were not visible in every scene.

The set's geometry proved excellent for a rear-projection HDTV, and in program material we didn't notice any distortions, even in difficult areas such as the program guide grid from our DirecTV HR20. With test patterns we did detect very minor bowing on the right edge, where the top and bottom corners bowed out a bit compared to the middle, but that's it. From our seating distance of about nine feet, we couldn't detect any fringing around the white lines of a grid, indicating fine panel alignment of the three LCD chips and minimal chromatic aberrations in the lens.

We didn't detect any sign of the "screen-door effect," the visible pixel structure that's plagued LCD-based displays in the past, from any reasonable seating distance on this 1080p LCD. We did see the same kind of stationary screen grain common to all rear-projection HDTVs. In the Panasonic's case, the tiny specs on the screen were more prominent than on the Samsung, and among the most noticeable we can remember among rear-projection sets.

Details, owing to accurate focus and the ability of this big 1080p display to deliver every line of a 1080-resolution source, were plenty sharp, although not noticeably sharper than either of the other two rear-projection models. The set failed to properly deinterlace 1080i film-based sources, although, as usual, we had a difficult time spotting this failure in normal program material. Those keeping track will be disappointed to hear that the PT-61LCZ70 cannot accept 1080p/24 sources, although it handled standard 1080p sources well.

We ran the TH-61LCZ70 through the gamut of tests on the HQV DVD, and it performed quite well. The set resolved every line of vertical resolution from the disc, although horizontal resolution was a bit soft. We didn't notice any additional softness in the stone bridge and grass from the disc's Detail chapter, however, so that's a good thing. With difficult moving diagonal lines, the Panasonic smoothed out the edge relatively well, although we still noticed some jaggies in the waving American flag and elsewhere. The set did a good job of reducing the amount of noise in shots of sunsets and skies from the disc as we stepped up the noise-reduction modes, and it also implemented 2:3 pull-down properly.

With PC sources connected to the Panasonic's HDMI input from the DVI output of a computer, the PT-61LCZ70 delivered the goods. It resolved every horizontal and vertical line of a 1,920x1,080 source according to DisplayMate, and text looked sharp and in focus across the screen. As with all rear-projection sets we've tested, the Panasonic overscanned along the edges of the screen, which in the case of a computer desktop, caused elements such as the taskbar along the bottom and icons on the left side to disappear. Many video cards have overscan compensation to correct this issue, although they won't deliver the full resolution after correction. Connected via the analog VGA input, the Panasonic provided a much less impressive computer experience. The highest widescreen resolution the set could display was 1,366x768, which didn't fill the screen, and the highest resolution to fill the screen, 1,280x1,024, looked quite soft and stretched out (which is natural for a 4:3 resolution on a 16:9 screen). As usual, best results are achieved by going digital.

TEST RESULT SCORE
Before color temp (20/80) 7020/7264 Good
After color temp 6493/6512 Good
Before grayscale variation +/- 659K Average
After grayscale variation +/- 146K Average
Color of red (x/y) 0.666/0.326 Poor
Color of green 0.258/0.705 Poor
Color of blue 0.133/0.072 Poor
Overscan 3.5% Average
Black-level retention All patterns stable Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Y Good
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps Y Good
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Fail Poor

Panasonic PT-61LCZ70 Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 264.6 211.35 N/A
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.17 0.13 N/A
Standby (watts) 0.66 0.66 N/A
Cost per year $80.75 $64.58 N/A
Score (considering size) Good
Score (overall) Average

6.2

Panasonic PT-LCZ70

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 5
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