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

The budget-priced Panasonic S60 delivers great picture quality, especially in a dark room, at a price that makes it one of the best values we've ever seen.

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David Katzmaier
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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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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_S60_35558333_35558330_35558331_35558332_3555833404.jpg
8.2

Panasonic S60 plasma TV

The Good

The budget-priced <b>Panasonic TC-PS60</b> 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.

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.

Design
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)

Features
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.

If you want to connect more gear to this TV, a cheap switcher, or a switching HDMI-equipped AV receiver, is probably the best solution. The downside, of course, is the extra complexity of switching, a problem in turn best solved by a universal remote.

The S60 is also missing the SD card slot found on the ST60. It does have a pair of USB ports, however, as well as the standard single component/composite video input.

Picture quality: While it's not the best-performing plasma I've tested this year, the S60 delivers a remarkable picture nonetheless. Its black levels are exceedingly deep, its color performance is likewise superb, and of course its uniformity and off-angle fidelity are basically perfect. In these areas it trounces all but the most expensive LED and LCD TVs, but it also has one big weakness. Like Nosferatu, it doesn't do well under the lights. Add that to its mediocre video processing and you have a pair of significant minuses compared with the best TVs on the market. But they can't stop the S60 from earning a score of Excellent from us.

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-P50U50 50-inch plasma
Samsung PN51E550 51-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-P55ST60 55-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-P55ST50 55-inch plasma
Vizio M3D550KD 55-inch LED
Sharp LC-L60E650 60-inch LED

Black level: The most important picture quality characteristic is the depth of black a TV can produce, and in the lineup above, in a dark room, the S60 was second only to the ST60 in both measurements and to my eye.

During Peter Parker's nighttime wandering in "The Amazing Spider-Man" (chapter 7), for example, its letterbox bars and darkest shadows appeared a shade inkier than those of the U50 and ST50, and just slightly brighter than the ST60. Outside of a side-by-side comparison in a dark room, however, I'd have a tough time telling any of them apart. None of the other three sets, including the Samsung E550 plasma and the local dimming Vizio, came close to the S60's depth of black.

Details in the shadows were also superb. Peter's clothing, the graffitied wall, and the fire escape during the nighttime chase appeared with every detail intact. Low-level shadows did appear just a bit brighter than they should have, for example in the helicopter shot over the nighttime city (48:44) and the fence behind the thug (48:51). That's because gamma was a bit too bright compared with the ST60 in dark areas, but the two were so close that any difference would be impossible to discern outside a side-by-side lineup.

Color accuracy: Although again not quite up to the standards of the ST60, the S60 was excellent in this area. Most of its measurements came in with minimal error thanks in part to the array of new controls. The color management system on the S60 wasn't quite as effective as that of the ST60, however, which gave measurements that were a hair better in Blue, Cyan and Magenta.

Bright scenes were rich and beautifully saturated, thanks in part to the S60's excellent black levels. Skin tones, like those of Gwen's face when talking to Peter in school (36:33), looked natural and lifelike, although they did at times appear a bit more flushed than on most of the other sets (again, a very subtle difference). Meanwhile, primary and secondary colors, like the bold reds and oranges in the lab sequence (39:44), looked correct mostly correct, with the exception of slightly too-deep blues on the virtual rat.

In dark areas black and near-black were mostly true, especially compared with the LED sets with their bluish tinge. Deep shadows did show a slight greenish tint, however, which made them appear a bit less realistic than those seen on the ST models and the Samsung -- albeit about the same as the U50.

Video processing: The S60 showed a couple of flaws in this category. Most importantly, unlike the ST60 it is incapable of correctly reproducing the correct film cadence of 1080p/24 sources when set to its standard (60Hz) mode. Instead, the pan over the Intrepid from "I Am Legend" (my standard cadence test) appeared relatively halting and choppy, compared with the smoother -- yet not too smooth -- look of the ST60 and other sets that handled film correctly. I tried the 48Hz mode but as usual it flickered too much for me to tolerate. Since those are the only two modes available, you have to choose between choppy motion and flicker. I'd choose the former every time.

As I mentioned before the S60 also lacks dejudder, so if you like the smooth look of the Soap Opera Effect (I don't), you may want to choose another TV.

Sticklers for motion resolution will also note that the S60 performed a bit worse than the ST60 (700 lines versus 800) when the latter's dejudder was turned off. Turning it on, which isn't an option on the S60, widened the gap between the two further. On the other hand I found it quite difficult (as usual) to discern any blurriness in program material, and the S60's result is still better than that of a typical 120Hz LED TVs.

Finally, the S60 only passed our 1080i film deinterlacing test when we manually chose the On setting in its 3:2 pull-down menu; it failed in the default Auto position.

Bright lighting: This is the S60's Achilles' heel. When I turned up the lights the image on the S60 washed out significantly, looking a good deal worse than that of any other TV in the lineup -- with the exception of the U50 and Samsung E550, which were about the same. The difference was most visible in darker scenes, where "black" and shadowy areas became grayish and lost most of the punch and impact I described above.

In addition, reflections in the screen, like my face and striped shirt as I sat on the couch in front of the TV, showed up more strongly than on any of the others, including both ST models (again the U50 and Samsung were exceptions).

Compared with many LCDs, the maximum light output of the S60 is limited. In their brightest picture settings with a window pattern, the S60 measured 58fL (footlamberts) while the Vizio and Sharp LCDs hit 95 and 92, respectively. With a full-screen pattern, the number drops to 11 for the S60 while the LCDs stay just as bright as ever.

This combination of washed-out blacks, bright reflections, and relatively limited light output makes the S60 a below-average performer under bright lighting. It should still look great in many moderately lit rooms, but 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 a different TV.

Power consumption: [Note that this test and all of the chart numbers below apply only to the 50-inch TC-P50ST60, not to any of the other sizes.] As expected the S60 uses significantly more juice than any similarly sized LCD-based TV, and almost exactly the same as most other 50-inch plasmas we've tested, including the 2012 U50 model, after calibration. The default Standard mode draws a quite bit more power than last year, but it's also brighter and more watchable. 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 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-P50S60 Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power save
Picture on (watts) 159.97 200.99 N/A
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.15 0.19 N/A
Standby (watts) 0.27 0.27 N/A
Cost per year $35.28 $44.27 N/A
Score (considering size) Average
Score (overall) Poor

Annual energy cost after calibration
Panasonic TC-P50S60
$44.27

LG 50PM9700
$44.65

GEEK BOX: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.004 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.14 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 2.053 Good
Near-black error (5%) 1.705 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 1.583 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 1.682 Good
Avg. color error 2.407 Good
Red error 1.013 Good
Green error 1.232 Good
Blue error 4.106 Average
Cyan error 4.187 Average
Magenta error 3.305 Average
Yellow error 0.598 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i De-interlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 700 Average
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 700 Average
Input lag (Calibrated mode) 34.1 Good

Panasonic TC-P50S60 CNET review calibration results

Panasonic_S60_35558333_35558330_35558331_35558332_3555833404.jpg
8.2

Panasonic S60 plasma TV

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 8Value 10