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Panasonic TC-PST60 series review: Affordable TV with amazing picture quality

Review Sections

Picture quality
The ST60's picture fidelity is outstanding. It compares favorably to the best TVs I've ever reviewed, with superb, inky, deep black levels; ample shadow detail; accurate color; and very good video processing. Its bright-room picture is also top-notch, thanks to an antireflective filter that far surpasses that of the step-down S60 series.

As usual, if you have an extremely bright room, you may want to choose an LCD instead, but for nearly every normal room, this plasma is plenty bright -- and has the characteristic near-perfect uniformity and off-angle performance of its breed. Its biggest flaw is 3D picture quality, but I don't even consider that important enough to include in my consideration of its overall picture quality score, which is a solid 9 out of 10.

Update: If you're serious about playing fast-paced video games, this TV's significant input lag might give you pause. Check out our in-depth test for more, which includes a discussion of the subject, a subjective evaluation of the ST60's lag, and some alternative 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)
Panasonic TC-P55ST50 55-inch plasma (2012)
Panasonic TC-P50S60 50-inch plasma (2013)
Samsung PN60E6500 60-inch plasma (2012)
Sony KDL-55W900A 55-inch LED (2013)
Panasonic TC-L55DT60 55-inch LED (2013)
Panasonic TC-P65VT50 (reference) 65-inch plasma

Black level: The ST60 produces among the deepest black levels I've seen from any plasma TV, and that's saying something. According to my measurements, it beats out all of the 2012 plasmas in this area aside from the VT50 itself, our current plasma reference. In a dark room during my subjective side-by-side comparison, the only set that looked darker was the Sony on its most aggressive local dimming setting -- but due to the Sony's blooming and murky shadow detail, the ST60 looked significantly better overall.

Between the ST60 and VT50, it was a virtual tie. I placed the TVs directly next to one another, and during the darkest scene of a very dark film, the beginning of Chapter 12 from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2," they looked nearly identical. The letterbox bars were inky, the shadows in the robes of the Death Eaters were dark yet rich with detail, and both the hillside behind Hogwarts and the castle-school itself were rendered with all of the detail of the source.

The ST60's gamma was a bit bright overall according to our measurements, but in person that issue was almost impossible to detect. Sure, some shadows might have looked very slightly too-bright next to the VT50, but they were so close that any difference would be impossible to discern outside of a side-by-side lineup.

Watching those scenes and comparing the ST60 with the others, the ST50, S60, and PNE6500 were all lighter in the letterbox bars and other areas. The S60 actually looked the darkest of the three by a nose, but side by side against the ST60 it still lacked a bit of contrast and pop, and the other two a bit more so. The 2012 sets were still superb, but the ST60 was just a bit better. Finally, every TV in the room far surpassed the DT60 in this department.

Compared with the LEDs, the dimmer image produced by the ST60 and the other plasmas in very bright scenes, like the all-white world of Harry's vision of the fetal Voldemort in Chapter 22 (1:31:48), could be seen as a disadvantage. In my experience however, the light-output limitations of plasmas in such scenes are visible only in side-by-side comparisons and don't detract at all from critical viewing in dim and dark rooms.

Color accuracy: The ST60 maintains Panasonic's superb 2012 record in this area, and if anything improves upon it. A lot of that is due to superior controls during calibration; the new color management system works beautifully to fix the slightly desaturated look of default Cinema, and as a result colors are rich and natural, and again nearly the equal of the VT50's.

During the Snape memory sequence (Chapter 19), for example, the skin tone of young Lily looked as pale and delicate as it should, and her fiery red hair wasn't too red. The green of the grass and blue of the sky were likewise well-represented. Tones in dark areas appeared true as well, and while not quite as neutral as on the VT50, they did look better than the slight green of the ST50 and the more obvious green of the S60.

I did see a redder tinge in the ST60 during the darkest parts of the Creation sequence from "Tree of Life," but that was mainly due to a decision I made during calibration to preserve the accuracy of brighter scenes. This issue, and a slight edge in apparent saturation, put the VT50 ahead of the ST60 in this department, but just barely.

Video processing: Both the 60Hz and the 96Hz mode handled 1080p/24 sources properly in my test. As on the VT50, I did detect slight flicker in 96Hz in bright areas, for example the clouds over Brooklyn in "I Am Legend" (24:49).

I did notice some artifacts from 1080p/24 sources in 60Hz mode. On the "Digital Video Essentials" test Blu-ray, we noticed shifting lines and minor instability in the downtown Philadelphia buildings during an upward-facing pan. I didn't see any similar issues during other program material, but assume they might crop up. It's also worth noting that the TV scored higher in motion resolution (1,200 lines versus 700) when I engaged 96Hz mode. In any case, I still prefer the flicker-free 60Hz mode, but it's great to have a choice between 96Hz and 60Hz this year (48Hz, as usual, created unbearable flicker).

As usual, the results of engaging Motion Smoother dejudder processing were objectionable to my eyes, although some viewers might actually want its soap opera effect. Both smoothness and artifacting increased when I moved up in settings from Weak to Mid to Strong.

Unlike the ST50 from last year and this year's S60, the ST60 passed the Film Resolution Loss test in the default Auto setting; there was no need to manually switch it to On.

I also noticed what appeared to be slightly smoother gradations on the ST60. At the 22:09 mark during "Tree of Life," the fading light from a white galaxy appeared smoother on the ST60 (and the Sony LCD) than on any of the other plasmas (including the S60), which showed visible gradation steps of minor "false contouring" or solarization. Many other similar images in this sequence of "Tree" did show visible gradations on the ST60 as well; however, they're rare in other program material on any display. It's worth noting that Panasonic touts improved gradation only on its 2013 VT60 and ZT60 models, so I'm not sure whether what I saw is related.

Bright lighting: Under bright lights, the ST60 performed quite well, thanks to an improved screen filter. It maintained black-level fidelity almost as well as the VT50, slightly better than the ST50, and about the same as the Samsung E6500, if not quite as well as the Sony.

More importantly for 2013 comparison shoppers, it totally trounced the S60 in this area. The S60's screen washed out severely under the lights and also created brighter reflections. This is the main picture quality difference between the two sets, and significant enough by itself to establish the ST60's clear superiority. In a light-controlled room the two are relatively close, but under moderate or higher lighting the ST60 stands far above its step-down linemate.

Panasonic's screen filter acts like venetian blinds to reject light coming from above. Compared with the S60, the ST60's filter did dim the image more when seen from high off-angle vertically. In practice this difference is only visible from angles that are roughly equivalent to placing the TV on the floor. As usual for a plasma, horizontal off-angle viewing, which is far more important than vertical in typical living-room situations, looked essentially perfect -- in marked contrast to both LCDs, for example.

Compared with many LCDs, the ST60 has a limited maximum light output. On their brightest picture settings with a window pattern, the ST60 and ST50 measured 56 and 61fL (footlamberts) respectively, while the Sony and Panasonic LCDs hit 99 and 76. With a full-screen pattern, those same numbers drop to 13 and 14 (ST60 and ST50) and 100 and 106 (Sony and Panasonic LCDs). 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 an LED instead. That said, the light output of any of these plasmas is more than ample for the vast majority of room-lighting situations.

Sound quality: The ST60's sound was good enough for a TV but not spectacular. Music from our Nick Cave test track sounded slightly muddled and distant, and bass was a bit distorted compared with on the ST50. Movies, as expected, were more satisfying; dialogue was clear enough in "Mission: Impossible 3," and there was some urgency to explosions, with details like shattered glass making themselves apparent.

3D: (Update, April 15: This section, along with The Bad at the top of the review, was updated based upon additional testing after the review first posted.)If you care a lot about 3D picture quality, the 3D performance of the ST60 is somewhat disappointing compared with its 2D prowess.

New for this year Panasonic has added three hertz values (96Hz, 100Hz, and 120Hz) under "3D refresh rate" in its 3D menu. Although described as designed to combat flicker from fluorescent lights, they also have a major impact on the prevalence of crosstalk. That bugaboo of 3D TVs, especially those that use active 3D technology, appears as a ghostly double-image around many onscreen objects.

The ST60's double image was least noticeable and objectionable in the 96Hz mode. During my favorite crosstalk tests from "Hugo," including Hugo's hand as it reaches for the mouse (5:01), the tuning pegs on the guitar (7:49), and the face of the dog as it watches the inspector slide by (9:24), the ST60's crosstalk was quite dim -- a better performance than the E6500, although not quite as good as the Sony W900, where crosstalk was even less visible. The three Panasonic plasmas, meanwhile, were roughly equal when I placed the ST60 in 96Hz and the VT50 and ST50 in 48Hz mode.

(When the ST60 is in 3D mode, the "Hz" values under "24p Direct in" in the Advanced menu are grayed out and can't be adjusted, apparently because they're superseded by the three 3D refresh rate settings. That's different from on the 2012 plasmas, which use this setting for both 2D and 3D. The new menu design tripped me up initially, so I originally reported that characteristics like crosstalk reduction can't be adjusted on the ST60.)

Choosing the 100Hz setting worsened crosstalk considerably, and the 120Hz setting was worst of all. This adjustment didn't seem to do anything else to picture quality, and I didn't test its effects on fluorescent light flicker.

The ST60's 3D was still worse than that of the VT50 and ST50, however, because of the way it handled quick motion. During the herky-jerky chase sequence beginning at about 7:19, for example, the ST60's images seemed to break up and confuse me visually, taking me out of the moment. It was worst when I paid attention to the legs of the running dog, the arms of the flailing conductor, or other bursts of movement. The effect wasn't overwhelmingly distasteful, but it was still worse to watch these scenes on the ST60 than on the others. I couldn't address it with any of the settings adjustments I tried -- for example reducing light output/contrast or changing any of the 3D refresh rate or motion smoother settings.

In the default Cinema mode, the ST60's color and shadow detail were fine, and black levels looked a bit deeper than any of the other plasmas' while picture brightness was about the same. The ST60 did have a slightly more noticeable bluish cast than the others, however, so overall the VT50 especially showed better color. Note that I don't calibrate for 3D, so any of these characteristics might be improved if you do so.

Panasonic's new throw-in 2013 glasses aren't as good 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 fit better than the $20 Samsungs. I didn't notice any overt picture quality difference between any of them.

Power consumption: [Note that this test and all of the chart numbers below apply only to the 55-inch TC-P55ST60; not to any of the other sizes.] The 55ST60 uses significantly more juice than any similarly-sized LCD-based TV, and almost exactly the same as the 2012 model after calibration. The default Standard mode draws a bit more power than last year, but it's also a bit brighter. 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 the Energy Star 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-P55ST60 Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power save
Picture on (watts) 168.6 249.29 N/A
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.13 0.19 N/A
Standby (watts) 0.1 0.1 N/A
Cost per year $37.04 $54.73 N/A
Score (considering size) Average
Score (overall) Poor

Annual energy consumption cost after calibration

GEEK BOX: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.00373 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.14 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 1.931 Good
Near-black error (5%) 1.415 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 2.519 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.989 Good
Avg. color error 1.465 Good
Red error 1.053 Good
Green error 0.67 Good
Blue error 3.566 Average
Cyan error 1.328 Good
Magenta error 1.085 Good
Yellow error 1.089 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i Deinterlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 1200 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 1200 Average
Input lag (Game mode) 73.6 Poor

Panasonic TC-P55ST60 CNET review calibration results

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