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Panasonic TC-L65WT600 review: New input, 4K resolution do not a great TV make

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No difference was visible in most of the shots. In fact, as I watched "Red 800" repeatedly, the number of scenes where I expected 4K to look better -- but it simply wasn't -- far surpassed those where I could see a difference. They included the extreme closeups of the eyes, skin, and fingernails at the beginning on the montage, the mixing of black and white paint (0:21), the pan over the Golden Gate bridge (0:41), the fabric sash around the bar (1:23), the face of the female first responder (1:27), the hair on the lion and the brush around the zebras (1:34), the waterfall under the kayaker (1:54), the owl (2:29), the fox (3:21), the decals in the drag racer (3:51), and houses below the skydiver (4:22).

Many shots, even on a demo reel like Red 800, were also naturally devoid of the kind of detail that can make any benefit to higher-than-1080p resolution visible and appreciable. They included most quick cuts, most shots with camera movement (like the tracking shot of the fishing eagle at 2:30), the shark (2:53), the dancer in the dark (3:46), and the bomber (4:07). In other words, the material itself and the circumstances in which it's shown have to be detailed enough for 4K to add anything to the perceived sharpness.

Unsurprisingly, text and computer graphics, like the scrolling credits and Red logo, showed the greatest improvement in detail. In my experience this kind of material, which by extension includes computer-animated movies and 4K games, makes the benefits of higher resolution more visible when compared with standard camera-captured video. Also, the less movement in the image, the more you'll be able to notice any differences in detail.

These differences help explain why my subjective, side-by-side comparison revealed so much less of an improvement than the "118 percent" from the calculator suggests. That calculator, according to its creator Chris Heinonen, was created based on the Snellen formula -- the basis of the classic eye chart used to measure human visual acuity at your ophthalmologist's office. The chart consists of still, high-contrast, primarily black-and-white images, while classic video content is in motion, with varying degrees of color and contrast.

It's worth noting again that I noticed off-angle fidelity loss, backlight uniformity errors, and the dimmer image of the plasma more frequently than differences in detail, even when I was looking for the latter.

Other 4K sources tested
Beyond the test using the Red players, I also checked out the same 4K sources noted in the Samsung F9000 review -- including the same flawed "Timescapes" comparison, a few test patterns, and some clips from a USB key. My favorite material for detail from Panasonic's USB key consisted of long-cut, mostly still camera shots of trees, mountains, flowing rivers and monkeys -- pure Japanese nature. Others included pans over stills of flowers and buildings, and even some game footage from the "Final Fantasy XIV" benchmark and photorealistic racing game "Project Cars." All of it looked superb, as I'd expect from a manufacturer-supplied demo, but as usual, without a 1080p equivalent, it was impossible to say how much of an improvement 4K afforded.

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You'll need a powerful PC to game in 4K; the Xbox One and PS4 won't do it. Sarah Tew/CNET

The biggest such visible improvement happened when I played a PC game, Bioshock Infinite, at 4K resolution. Of course you'll need a very capable PC and a game that can take advantage of the extra pixels. It's also worth noting that neither of the new next-generation consoles, the PS4 or Xbox One, will support 4K gaming -- it's PC or nothing. I'll refer you to the Samsung F9000 review for more details on this test.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to test 4K 60p sources on the Panasonic since I didn't have access to any by press time.

High-definition sources testing
For the next few years anyway, 4K TVs are going to be displaying, at best, 1080p high-definition content most of the time. The majority of my testing of the WT600 used various examples of high-def, from Blu-ray to broadcast TV. In no case did its extra pixels afford any improvement to high-def video seen from normal seating distances.

I expanded my comparison lineup with HD sources to include all of the following TVs.

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)
Samsung UN65F9000 65-inch 4K LED LCD
Panasonic TC-P65S64 65-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-L55WT60 55-inch LED LCD
Samsung UN55F8000 55-inch LED LCD
Sony KDL-55W900A 55-inch LED LCD
Panasonic TC-P60ZT60 (reference) 60-inch plasma

Black level: Although capable of delivering a deep black level, the WT600 still didn't get quite as inky as its toughest competitors. During the punishing black-level test of Chapter 12 from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2," for example, the letterbox bars and shadows of the other displays, with the exception of the WT60 and S64, appeared darker on average -- although the S64 was more consistent and at times the WT600 appeared a bit darker than some of the other LCDs.

That variation was due mainly to how the WT600's local dimming behaved. Compared with the other dimming sets, there was excessive blooming on the Panasonic. In many scenes its bright areas spilled over into adjacent dark areas noticeably, creating a distinct clouding effect and spoiling much of the impact its otherwise deep black levels conveyed -- in the robes of the evildoers (46:19) and throughout the Room of Requirement scenes, for example.

The screen was also prone to flashes at times, where the letterbox bars suddenly became brighter and then darker (46:06), and strange dimming effects during fades to black where the brighter shade of black would wink out into blackness as the backlight turned off (the credits in Samsara). Meanwhile the F9000 remained free of blooming and related issues to a large extent. The only set with worse blooming than the WT600 was Panasonic's own WT60.

The Samsungs and Sony also managed to maintain the brightness of highlights, an area where the Panasonic LCDs struggled in comparison. As Voldemort looks over Hogwarts, for example, his white head and face, and those of his underlings, appeared much dimmer on the two WTs than on the other sets.

Although the WT600 reproduced all of the details in shadows, something the F9000 and WT60 failed at, excessive blooming was again a culprit. The details in the jumble of furniture and knick-knacks from Chapter 15, for example, showed the same washout in darker areas along with dimmer highlights. The effect made shadows a lot less punchy and natural-looking than on the F8000, the ZT60, or the Sony. The S64's too-bright shadows also looked wrong, but subjectively I preferred them to the WT600's muddy ones.

Color accuracy: Despite the fact that it again fell short of the Samsung 4K TV, the WT600 made a much stronger showing in this category. The skin tones, lush greens, and vibrant blues from Chapter 5 of "Tree of Life" were all reproduced faithfully, an observation backed up by the extremely low error levels of my measurements. The one area of inaccuracy was in the very brightest areas, for example the white linens and sunlight during the childbirth sequence (38:40), where highlights appeared a bit too blue. This issue is small enough that it wouldn't be visible outside a side-by-side comparison, however.

In very dark areas I also detected a bit of a bluish cast, made more visible by the brighter black levels and blooming. Once again it wasn't major though, and much less obvious than I've seen on many other TVs.

Subjectively, colors on the WT600 lacked the level of punch and vibrancy I saw on many of the other TVs. That's mainly due, I presume, to its somewhat weaker black level performance, since deeper blacks always lead to purer, more saturated color.

Upconversion from 1080p to 4K: Note that this section is essentially the same as in the Samsung F9000 review, since the observations were performed simultaneously in a side-by-side test written up to apply to both reviews.

With the prevalence of 1080i and 1080p sources, I don't specifically test 1080p TVs for their ability to convert incoming sources to their native resolution (a process known as upconverting). Since there are almost no 4K sources, on the other hand, this ability is marketed as important for 4K TVs. I'm skeptical of those marketing claims because, in reality, both of the 4K TVs in my lineup upconvert well enough that any differences between them are minor.

The important piece of information, judging from those two and how they compare with the 1080p TVs in my lineup, is that 1080i and 1080p sources played back on the 4K-resolution screen don't look appreciably better, and in fact can sometimes appear slightly worse. In other words, from what I've seen so far, 4K at 65 inches does nothing to improve the look of today's HD sources -- from Blu-ray to broadcast TV.

Blu-ray is the highest-quality HD source currently available, and in my book, "Samsara" is one of the highest-quality Blu-rays. Details are exquisite and the languid cinematography enables the viewer to really home in on the finer areas -- and, in my case, look for differences. Chapter 4, where the monks painstakingly assemble their mandala from brilliantly colored grains of sand, is a feast for the eyes, but it was impossible in most scenes for me to distinguish any difference in detail between the 4K and the 1080p TVs. The grains looked equally detailed on all of the sets, as did most shots I compared, from a woman's wrinkled face to the script in a prayer wheel to the houses on a mountainside -- you name it.

At times, for example the stone face and carved, weathered facades in Chapter 5, the same-size S64 1080p plasma actually appeared a bit sharper, especially in the finest textures. That sharpness advantage also appeared in the rooms in Chapter 6, and the statues in the churches in Chapter 7, for example. I had to stare hard at the TVs to pick out the differences, but in these and other scenes, if there was any sharpness advantage it went to the 1080p TV, not to the 4K sets.

I showed the "Samsara" comparison using the three 65-inch sets to a lot of other viewers as well around the CNET office, and all agreed that the differences were subtle to nonexistent. They weren't able to pick out the 4K TVs until they walked right up to the screen -- close enough to see pixel structure on the 1080p plasma. For me, that distance is about 4 feet.

I tried a few other films on Blu-ray, including "Brave," a spectacularly detailed animated Pixar title, and the action-heavy "Skyfall," but in every case the only advantages in detail -- subtle and infrequent as they were -- were enjoyed by the 1080p TV.

I also checked out HD sources on television, including a recent football game via my Fios connection at 1080i, and it was more of the same. The 4K TVs did a good job of converting the lower-resolution sources to the higher-resolution screens without introducing artifacts, but there was no magical increase in detail -- visible differences were again extremely subtle, and most of the time I simply couldn't tell them apart. Turning to some worse material on TV, including a daytime talk show and Obama's midday address regarding the site issues, differences in detail were again nonexistent.

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On the chance that the 4K TVs' upconversion was the culprit, I also hooked up an Oppo HD-105, a high-performance Blu-ray player capable of upconverting 1080p to 4K resolution. I couldn't perform true side-by-side comparison of the WT600's upconversion (for that I'd need a second WT600) but the observations I could perform, based on watching sequences on the WT600's with the Oppo's upconversion turned on and then off and comparing them with the other TVs simultaneously, were enough to convince me the TV's processing wasn't the problem. There was no noticeable increase in detail regardless of whether the player or the TV handled the upconversion, and in both cases the 1080p TV looked basically just as detailed.

Video processing: The WT600 fell a bit short of the F9000's lofty mark in this area, although it wasn't bad. It delivered true 1080p/24 cadence in both the Off and Weak Motion Picture settings, and that's a big deal since Weak also delivers very good motion resolution. Yes, there's a tiny bit of smoothing visible in Weak if you stare extra-hard, but to my eye it still approximates true cadence closely enough that I wouldn't care. My motion resolution test revealed a score of 900 lines -- very good, if not quite the 1,200 I measured on the F9000.

The difficult motion tests from the FPD benchmark disc seemed to back up this difference between the two 4K TVs, showing more blurring on the WT600 in areas like the license plates of the passing cars and the swinging metronome -- even when I engaged its strongest Motion Smoother modes (the ones that introduce the Soap Opera Effect). While both 4K TVs looked worse than the F8000 and the plasmas on most of these motion tests, between the two I'd pick the Samsung. (Note that since my motion test is based on a 1080p Blu-ray, it's not ideal for judging the WT600's true motion resolution. It is the best I have at the moment, however, so I included the numbers anyway.)

As usual with Panasonic, you'll need to select the On setting for 3:2 pulldown if you want correct 1080i deinterlacing of film-based sources; the default Auto failed our test.

In Game mode the Panasonic showed a superb input lag measurement of 37.33ms.

Uniformity: Compared with the exemplary Samsungs, the WT600's screen showed uniformity errors that were quite a bit more visible in program material. I noticed faintly brighter and darker sections in bright scenes, such as the water droplets shot from the Red 800 montage at 3:32, which became more pronounced during pans. In dark scenes, beyond the blooming detailed above, I saw slightly brighter areas on the middle and far left sides. These issues weren't egregious, but they were certainly more visible than on the other LCDs.

On the other hand, the WT600 (and WT60) continue Panasonic's flagship LCDs' dominance of the off-angle game. Compared with the other LCDs, black levels of these two stayed darker and deeper from extreme angles and didn't take on as much discoloration. Colors also remained quite true, and saturated, as opposed to washing out prematurely. The difference wasn't obvious from the sweet spot or either side, but when you moved a few seats from the sweet spot, the Panasonics' advantage kicked in. Of course, neither could compete with the plasmas from off-angle.

For this reason, the WT600 is a better choice than the F9000 if you plan to sit extremely close to drink in all that extra detail. From close-up, the edges of the big screen are effectively off-angle, and so look better on the Samsung than they do on the Panasonic.

Bright lighting: Since the WT60 has one of the worst glossy screens I've ever seen, I was surprised when I saw the pleasing matte finish of the WT600. It mutes reflections and bright spots more effectively than any TV in our lineup aside from the ZT60. It also manages to preserve black levels extremely well, matching the superb Samsungs and Sony in this area and beating out the others. With the exception of even more matte-screen (matte-r?) LCD sets from the likes of Sharp and Vizio, the Panasonic WT600 is the best bright-room performer I've tested.

3D: As I mentioned above, it's kind of disappointing that the 4K Panasonic uses active 3D and not passive. With passive 3D in 4K, judging from what I saw on the Sony XBR-X900, for example, you get the best possible 3D experience with no crosstalk, comfortable unpowered glasses, and none of the jagged edge and visible line artifacts that can plague 1080p passive 3D TVs, especially from close up.

The quality of the WT600's active 3D was OK, but not up to the standards of the Samsungs. During the most crosstalk-intensive scenes of "Hugo," objects and areas such as Hugo's hand (5:01), the tuning pegs on the guitar, and head of the guitarist (7:49), and the outlines of Hugo and Isabelle as they talk at night under the snow (17:01), the ghostly double image was easily discernible and brighter, and thus more distracting, than on any set aside from the Sony.

Black levels in the default Cinema setting (I don't calibrate for 3D) were deep enough, but the image didn't convey the same punch and impact as it did on the brighter Samsungs and the Sony. Shadows also appeared a bit murky.

Panasonic's and Sony's throw-in 3D glasses fit much better than Samsung's, but not as well as the TY-ER3D4MUs from 2012. Their thin temples do little to block light from the sides, and they didn't fit over my prescription glasses as well. They're still fine, however, and I didn't notice any overt picture quality difference between any of the pairs.

Panasonic statement regarding HDMI 2.0 compliance
Below is the full text of the statement Panasonic provided to CNET via email at our request on November 26, 2013, clarifying some of the questions we raised earlier.

Our 4K60p input is fully HDMI2.0/HDCP-compliant.

First, to clarify, HDMI and HDCP are standardized independently. Nothing of the HDCP requirement has been changed even for HDMI2.0 products.

Secondly, according to the HDMI licensing scheme, there is no certification program. The assurance of the compliance of each product for the HDMI 2.0 specification is the Adopter's (Manufacturer's) responsibility. Therefore, Panasonic had shipped 4K60p model under our internal test process. This is the reason why we declared as "4K 60p input designed based on HDMI 2.0 specification" which express the fact exactly.

Other manufacture declaring as "HDMI 2.0 certified" is incorrect, since there is no such certification program in the first place as mentioned above.

Geek box: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.00051 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.12 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.931 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 0.343 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.801 Good
Avg. color error 0.950 Good
Red error 0.512 Good
Green error 0.35 Good
Blue error 1.837 Good
Cyan error 0.485 Good
Magenta error 0.931 Good
Yellow error 1.582 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i Deinterlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 900 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 900 Good
Input lag (Game mode) 37.33 Good

Panasonic TC-L65WT600 CNET review calibration results

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