Panasonic S60 plasma TV review: Basic, budget plasma gives great picture

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MSRP: $829.99

The Good The budget-priced Panasonic TC-PS60 has excellent picture quality with exceedingly deep black levels, great shadow detail, accurate colors, and superb off-angle and uniformity characteristics; basic, easy-to-use streaming services include Netflix, Amazon and YouTube without extraneous Smart TV features.

The Bad Picture quality in bright rooms isn't as good as many other TVs; only two HDMI inputs; limited streaming content; consumes more power than LCD TVs.

The Bottom Line The Panasonic TC-PS60 plasma TV's low price, high-end picture quality, and bare-bones Smarts make it one of the best values we've ever seen.

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8.2 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 6
  • Performance 8
  • Value 10

It's difficult to overstate how good a deal the Panasonic S60 series represents. In a dark room its inky-deep black levels, accurate color, and perfect uniformity can make it look almost as good as flagship models that cost twice or three times as much. On the other hand its picture fades noticeably when subjected to bright lights, so if you can afford it, I definitely recommend stepping up to an ST60.

Panasonic doesn't make that decision a no-brainer, however. The S60 offers a refreshingly simple take on Smart TV, and most importantly, costs hundreds less than the ST60 -- and, I'm guessing, every other TV that comes close to this level of picture quality. For buyers on a tight budget who still crave a superb picture, can control room lighting, and don't need extra features or inputs, the Panasonic S60 is my early favorite pick of 2013.

Editors' note, November 15, 2013: Panasonic has announced that it will no longer manufacture plasma televisions after 2013, making these TVs the last of their kind. That fact doesn't negatively affect our buying advice; in fact, just the opposite. We have confidence Panasonic will remain a viable company, and continue to support its plasma TVs, for years.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 50-inch Panasonic TC-P50S60, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.

As of October 2013, the 42-inch size in this series is no longer available. According to Panasonic there won't be any more inventory, so in effect it is permanently sold out.

The understated S60 won't wow guests with GQ panache, but it will blend in better than most big TVs. Its only accents are strips of silver along the top and bottom edges. The black frame around the screen is skinnier than that of the U50 from last year and, like its ST60 brother, it's thin enough to almost pass for the frame on an LED-based LCD TV.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The S60 is thicker than any LED model when seen from the side, however, and at 2.5 inches deep, half an inch thicker than the ST60. The low-profile, glossy black stand can't swivel.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The nonilluminated remote is the same as the ST60s but for a few different key labels/functions. I like its logical layout, clear button differentiation, and dedicated keys for Netflix and eHelp, a comprehensive onscreen manual. On the other hand, "Internet" is a confusing name for the key that launches the app suite, and it's too big compared with the tiny Menu key. A few times I accidentally hit Internet instead of the Up cursor.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Hitting that tiny Menu key brings up Panasonic's main settings menus, which are a big improvement over last year's, with easier navigation and sleeker design.

Key TV features
Display technology Plasma LED backlight N/A
Screen finish Glossy Remote Standard
Smart TV Yes Internet connection Built-in Wi-Fi
3D technology N/A 3D glasses included No
Refresh rate(s) 60Hz, 48Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing No
DLNA-compliant Photo/Music/Video USB Photo/Music/Video
Other: Optional touch pen (model TY-TP10U, $79)

Although not quite as admirably features-bereft as the U50 from last year, the S60 comes close. It lacks the 3D and fancy Smart TV doodads of the ST60 series, although it does offer a refreshingly basic assortment of streaming-video services as well as built-in Wi-Fi.

Picture-related improvements over the entry-level X60 series include 1080p resolution and a better contrast ratio specification -- and if last year's X5 is any indication, the S60 will be a much better performer than the X50. Compared with the more expensive ST60, the S60 has a different panel, worse antireflective screen, fewer steps of gradation, a worse contrast ratio, and no 96Hz mode. See the full comparison below for how those difference shake out in testing.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The S60 is also the least expensive 2013 Panasonic plasma to support the optional touch-pen accessory ($79), which, as you might guess, makes it possible to draw on the screen. It works, but I don't see how it's at all useful outside of a presentation environment.

Smart TV: Panasonic calls the S60's Internet-connected content suite "Online Movies" instead of Smart TV, but in many ways it's better than the overwrought, advertising-infused Smart TV systems on the ST60 and step-up 2013 Panasonic sets, not to mention those of competitors like Samsung and LG. The S60 offers just six apps: Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, YouTube, Hulu Plus, and CinemaNow. Each one (except for maybe the last) is a useful streaming-video source, and I'm guessing most people won't want any more.

The ST60, on the other hand, has quite a few more, including numerous potentially useful ones like Pandora and Skype that the S60 omits. Of course it also has tons of useless apps as well, so there's something to be said for the S60's simpler approach.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Those six apps pop up along the bottom, making selection dead simple, but they do take longer to load. Netflix, for example, took more than 20 seconds on the S60 compared with a bit over 10 seconds for the ST60. I did appreciate that the app interfaces, including YouTube and Netflix, were of recent vintage.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Picture settings: The selection here is better than in 2012's equivalent "U" models. Highlights include a two-point grayscale and a color management for the primary colors -- although the multipoint grayscale and gamma controls of previous years go missing. The company has also added another picture mode, Home Theater, atop its standard four, and a cool "copy adjustments" option that allows you to migrate your picture settings from one input or mode to others.

Other controls include an unusual seven different aspect ratio settings and the standard array of items to help prevent and treat image retention, including a pixel orbiter and scrolling white bar. Fans of the soap opera effect will be disappointed to learn that it's reserved for the step-up models.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Connectivity: The back panel of the S60 is disappointing. It has only two HDMI inputs, meaning that if you connect a cable/satellite box and a game console, there's no room for a Roku or Apple TV, a DVD/Blu-ray player, or any number of other HDMI devices.