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Panasonic TC-PZT60 review: Closer than ever to perfect picture quality

Picture settings: The ZT60 offers the same exhaustive number of picture controls as the VT60. There's a pair of THX-certified modes, one for "Cinema" and one for "Bright Rooms." Advanced tweaks include a 10-point gray scale and 10-point gamma system as well as color management for the primary and secondary colors. The company has also added a cool "copy adjustments" option that allows you to migrate your picture settings from one input or mode to others.

Other controls include three levels of dejudder, aka soap opera effect, an unusual seven different aspect ratio settings, and the usual array of items to help prevent and treat image retention, including a pixel orbiter and scrolling white bar.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Connectivity: Disappointingly for such an expensive TV, the ZT60 only includes three HDMI ports. If you have a cable box and more than two other HDMI devices (like a game console, Roku, or Blu-ray player), you'll need to invest in either a HDMI splitter or, more practically, an AV receiver.

Other inputs include three USB ports (for accessories like a wireless keyboard and external storage), a shared composite/component output, and a digital optical. The TV also comes with an SD card slot for sharing photos and videos.

Picture quality
I was frankly surprised when our initial look at the ZT60 revealed essentially identical picture quality to the VT60's in a dark room. Now that I've had the opportunity to compare them both after aging and calibration, that impression is confirmed: the two high-end Panasonics deliver basically the same picture, including the same black levels, contrast, color and video processing, in dark home theater environments. The only difference arises when the lights come up. In a bright room the ZT60 maintains black levels and reduces reflections better than the VT60.

Speaking of "ever," both Panasonics also outperformed my in-house Pioneer Kuro plasma. Yes, I have seen other Kuros come closer to these Panasonics, but as far as I'm concerned, with review samples I have on-hand, the ZT and VT are both ultimately better than the Kuro. And since the ZT is better than the VT in bright rooms, it is the all-around best-performing TV ever tested by CNET.

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.

Editors' Note: For the purposes of this review, Panasonic sent me another Pioneer Kuro, a 60-inch PRO-151FD manufactured in March 2009, ostensibly to help prove that the ZT60 was a superior performer. Unfortunately the Panasonic-supplied Kuro review sample didn't perform as well as I expected, or even as well as CNET's older Kuro (the 50-inch PRO-111FD I've been using as a reference since 2008). The 60-incher showed lighter black levels and a few other issues, which were serious enough that I don't consider it representative of the Kuro breed. For that reason I left it out of the comparison below, with the exception of select bright-room tests. Of course I did keep CNET's older PRO-111FD, which is still entirely representative of the breed, in the mix.

Comparison models (details)
Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-inch plasma
Samsung PN60F8500 60-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-P65VT50 65-inch plasma
Sharp Elite PRO-60X5FD 60-inch LED
Pioneer Elite Kuro PRO-111FD 50-inch plasma

Black level: While every TV in the above lineup can produce exceptionally deep black levels, when placed side by side after calibration in a dark room, differences do emerge. Overall the ZT60 tied with the VT60 in producing the consistently darkest shade of black. I'd love to be able to pick a winner between them, but it was almost impossible. In most dark scenes, for example the dim cabin shootout from "Skyfall" (Chapter 27), I couldn't see any difference between them.

Meanwhile the difference between those two and the Kuro -- which did look darker than either occasionally, but mostly appeared a tiny shade lighter -- were more apparent but still vanishingly slight. The VT50 and the F8500 both appeared visibly grayer in the letterbox bars and other black areas, and while the Sharp Elite looked very dark too, it wasn't as consistent as the plasmas.

Among numerous other dark scenes, the largest differences I saw occurred in my favorite black-level torture test, Chapter 12 of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," which starts with a nearly completely black overhead view of Voldemort's invading armies, and maintains a low (dark) average picture level throughout. Again, the subjective rankings among the sets were the same: the two 2013 Panasonics were too close to call, a smidge better overall than the Kuro and Elite, and visibly better than the F8500 or VT50.

According to my measurements, the Kuro and the Elite actually have deeper black levels than the Panasonics, which in turn actually tied the measurement of the F8500. Regardless of those numbers, measured on a black screen, to my eye in a dark room the two 2013 Panasonics looked darkest, particularly in exceedingly dark shots like the night-enshrouded Hogwarts at 46:27.

Shadow details, for example in the clothes of M and Bond and the recesses along the walls during the "Skyfall" shootout, were superb, with even the darkest differences exposed and clear. The folds of M's jacket (1:57:53) appeared neither too dim nor too bright, and every bit as realistic as I'd like. Meanwhile Hogwarts and Voldemort's robes from "Hallows" reinforced those impressions. The ZT60 was again among the best, barely edging out the others including the Kuro and the F8500, although the other two Panasonics were just as good.

Remaining with "Hallows" for a moment, I checked out the all-white vision sequence in Chapter 22, and as usual the Panasonics showed the dimmest level of white. The smaller Kuro and the LED-lit Sharp were a good bit brighter, as expected, while the same-sized F8500 also looked significantly brighter. While this discrepancy can be seen as a disadvantage to the Panasonics, in my experience the light-output limitations of (non-F8500) 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 ZT60 was as accurate as any TV in the room, and certainly surpassed the Sharp Elite in this category; the differences between it and the others, particularly the VT60, were much subtler. The brilliant colors during the chase sequence from Chapters 2 and 3 of "Skyfall," for example, all looked dead-on accurate, from the cars to the trees to the rugs and fruit in the market whizzing by. Skin tones, from the pale face of M in the office to the light coffee skin of Eve holding the sniper rifle, appeared just right, and a tad better than on the very slightly greenish VT50 and bluish Kuro and F8500. Colors near black looked as accurate as any in the room as well, and again better than on the the Sharp.

Video processing: The ZT60 handles 1080p/24 film cadence correctly, as expected, but only when you engage its 96Hz mode. In 60Hz mode the set engages the characteristic 3:2 pull-down cadence, which introduces a slight halting stutter compared with the smoother (but not too smooth) motion of correct 24p cadence. That's a marked difference from the ST60, which handles 1080p/24 well in both 60Hz and 96Hz, but I prefer using 60Hz because 96Hz flickers on that TV. On the ZT60 and VT60, conversely, 96Hz is essentially free of flicker, so that's the mode I'd recommend anyone use on this TV with 1080p/24 sources like many Blu-ray movies.

The amount of smoothing (dejudder) in the various Motion Smoother settings also depended on which Hz mode I selected. When the TV was in 60Hz mode, the Weak setting introduced plenty of artificial smoothing. In 96Hz mode, however, the smoothing in Weak was impossible for me to discern; I had the VT60 and ZT60 next to one another, one in Weak and the other Off, and I couldn't tell the difference in smoothing. That's important because, according to my motion resolution test, Panasonic plasmas achieve their best results only when dejudder (Weak or higher on the Motion smoother control) is activated. That's why I kept the ZT60 in Weak mode even with film-based sources, and that's why it scored the maximum result in our Geek Box test under "Dejudder off."

If you're a fan of smoothing, you'll also appreciate that I saw fewer halos and other interpolation artifacts on the ZT and VT than on the ST60 when I used the higher dejudder settings, namely Mid and Strong.

Bright lighting: The ZT60 was the best plasma in the room at maintaining black level in high ambient light, and probably the best plasma I've ever tested in that department, but the Samsung F8500 is still better in bright rooms overall.

Panasonic's gapless design seems to have really paid off here -- or maybe it's a more aggressive filter -- but the end result is better preservation of black levels, and hence contrast and image pop, than ever. Only the Elite LED looked blacker under the lights, and the ZT60 trounced the Kuros (both mine and the one Panasonic supplied) and beat the two other Panasonics (VT50 and VT60 -- although both were still very good) in this department.

The other component to the ZT60's excellent filter was reflection reduction. Bright objects reflected on the screen, like my white shirt as I watched the TVs, appeared dimmer and thus less distracting on the ZT60 than on any of the other sets aside from the Kuros, which dimmed reflections about as well. The Elite, on the other hand, suffered the brightest (worst) reflections of any set in the lineup, while second-worst, surprisingly, was the VT60. Indeed, the VT60's grayer blacks and brighter reflections under the lights constituted the main picture quality difference between the two, and while the VT60 was still very good in a bright room, the ZT60 was superb.

In addition to black fidelity and dim reflections, high light output is a major factor in how much "pop" the picture has under the lights. This is where the contest between the Samsung F8500 and the ZT60 gets interesting. The ZT60 wins in the first two areas, with a screen filter that provides deeper blacks and dimmer reflections, but the F8500 is a light cannon in comparison.

I don't normally calibrate for bright rooms, but I performed a quick one anyway, pitting the F8500's Standard setting (I tweaked it by disabling the room-lighting sensor and selecting the Warm 2 color tone, my Custom color space settings, and a Sharpness setting of zero) against THX Bright Room on the ZT60. In those settings the maximum light output of the ZT60 is 43.3 fL (footlambert) with a window pattern; the F8500 reached a scorching 81. With a full-screen pattern, the difference proportionally was even greater: 10.2 and 24.4, respectively.

For a subjective face-off I started with the worst-case scenario, setting up the two TVs opposite an open window in the afternoon. The Samsung unquestionably looked better, more dynamic and punchier. I also noticed that black areas of the ZT60's screen looked a bit greenish under that very bright lighting, while the Samsung was more neutral. When I closed the shades and simply left on bright overhead lights, the difference narrowed quite a bit, and to my eye the F8500 looked a bit too bright in many scenes -- but I can imagine many viewers would prefer its image anyway, and a judicious calibration could always tame it somewhat while still keeping it brighter than the ZT60.

Overall it's tough call, but I think the Samsung's superior light output beats the great black levels of the ZT60 in very bright rooms. In turn, of course, that means LED TVs like the Elite, which can get even brighter than the F8500, are even better in bright rooms -- and it doesn't hurt that many high-end LEDs like the Elite are also exceedingly good at preserving black levels, much like the ZT60. That said, the ZT60 is still superior to the VT60 in a bright room and still beats the F8500 in dark and moderate lighting.

Sound quality: The ZT60 sounded very good for a flat-panel TV with rear-facing speakers, although it still couldn't hold a candle to the VT60, which has forward-facing speakers. Our Nick Cave test track, "Red Right Hand," evinced decent bass with a nice, full-range sound; my main complaint was that the high end sounded too scratchy and distorted. The other non-VT60 sets, particularly the F8500, sounded thinner, less present, and less impactful in comparison. The explosions, shattered glass, and vehicular destruction from Chapter 11 of "Mission: Impossible III" also sounded second-best on the ZT60, and details like the tinkling of former windshields on the pavement were easy to catch. The ZT60's scratchy treble was a bit more annoying in dialogue, for example a voice-over of announcers during a recording of the Masters Golf Tournament, but it wasn't terrible.

3D: The ZT60's 3D picture quality is very good, but the TV wasn't quite up to the standards of the brighter F8500 in that area, and still showed more crosstalk than the best active LED TVs.

In terms of crosstalk, the ZT60 performed as well as or better than any of the other plasmas, but not at the same level as my 3D reference, the LED-based UN55ES8000 -- which I subbed into the lineup in place of the 2D-only Kuro. Crosstalk is a bugaboo of active 3D TVs, and appears as a ghostly double-image around many onscreen objects. During my favorite crosstalk tests from "Hugo," including Hugo's hand as it reached 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 ZT60's crosstalk was quite dim and unobjectionable -- about the same level as the VT60's and F8500's. If I had to pick a winner it would probably be the ZT60; its image, being dimmer than the other two, resulted in slightly less-visible ghosting, but the difference was extremely subtle.

New for this year Panasonic has added three "Hz" 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. The results above were obtained in the best setting, 96Hz. 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.

In other areas of picture quality I actually preferred the VT60 to the ZT60, mainly because its THX 3D mode seemed set up better. (Any of the following observations might change if the ZT60 was calibrated differently, but I don't calibrate for 3D). The ZT60 showed somewhat less shadow detail, for example in the dark bowels of the clockworks in Chapter 2, and the Samsung F8500 and UNES8000 showed more detail than either one. Black levels on the ZT60 were the deepest in the lineup in 3D, and a tad deeper than on the next-darkest (the VT60), but it also mustered the least light output. Again, the two Samsungs were the brightest, and the F8500 has the most punch overall. Colors were good across all of the high-end plasmas, although the F8500's shadows looked more neutral than the bluer Panasonics'.

Panasonic'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.

Power consumption: The 60-inch ZT60 is quite the power hog even by plasma standards, using almost as much energy after calibration as the 65-inch VT50. It also uses quite a bit more than the same-sized Samsung PN60F8500 -- 84 watts more, or about $18 per year extra in electricity -- to produce the same amount of light.

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 Energy Star's 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-P60ZT60 Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power save
Picture on (watts) 210.35 359.28 189.01
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.14 0.23 0.12
Standby (watts) 0.11 0.11 0.11
Cost per year $46.20 $78.85 $41.52
Score (considering size) Poor
Score (overall) Poor

Annual energy cost after calibration (in U.S. dollars)

Geek box: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.002 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.22 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 1.400 Good
Near-black error (5%) 1.052 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 1.19 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.735 Good
Avg. color error 1.540 Good
Red error 1.045 Good
Green error 0.35 Good
Blue error 3.768 Average
Cyan error 2.049 Good
Magenta error 1.13 Good
Yellow error 0.896 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i Deinterlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 1200 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 1200 Good
Input lag (Game mode) 46.2 Average

Panasonic TC-P60ZT60 CNET review calibration results

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