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How Panasonic's plasmas defined TVs in 2013

Although Panasonic's TX-P55VT65 and TX-P42ST60 each garnered five-star reviews as two of the best TVs we've seen all year, they mark the end of plasma.

Nik Rawlinson
Nik Rawlinson has been writing about tech since Windows 95 was looking distinctly futuristic. He is a former Editor of MacUser magazine and one-time scribe for Personal Computer World. Nik is a freelance writer and is not an employee of CNET.
Nik Rawlinson
3 min read

So far in this series, each of the products that defined its sector in 2013 has also been a pointer for what's likely to come our way next year.

Not so here, for while Panasonic's TX-P55VT65 and TX-P42ST60 each garnered five-star reviews as two of the best TVs we've seen all year, they mark the end of plasma.

Panasonic resisted the lure of LCD for years, holding out as one of the last mainstream plasma manufacturers. You can see why too, as practice has indeed made perfect. The VT65 and ST60 flew through our tests, with vivid colours, smooth motion and deep, satisfying blacks.

Even the speakers, which can sometimes be lacklustre in flat-panel devices, were up to the job of filling a room with cinematic sound as Panasonic got pretty much everything right in what are likely to be plasma's swan-song products.

By early summer, the company was shipping LCD TVs alongside its plasma devices -- the TX-L47FT60, for example -- and while we won't exactly mourn the passing of plasma (it's often more expensive than LCD, can suffer from burn-in if you keep it tuned to the same channel -- particularly one that displays a persistent logo in one corner -- and gets dimmer over time) you'd be hard-pressed to find fault with either of these.

Their homescreens have been redesigned for 2013, and if you don't get on with Panasonic's default layout you can choose your own, putting your preferred sources front and centre.

The ST60 is a Freeview-only device, but the VT65 has dual tuners for both Freeview and Freesat, which is a boon here as it means you can flick through the EPG with live feeds from two different channels on the screen at once. This allows you to continue watching one programme while checking whether another has started on the other side. You can also plug in a hard drive and record from one tuner while watching the other, effectively saving yourself the expense of a separate PVR.

Aside from the traditional digital tuners, both have Netflix, YouTube and iPlayer built in, and you can download other apps from the Net, but they're still missing 4oD, ITV Player and Demand 5. If these are important to you, and you don't want to resort to hooking up a third-party box from the likes of Roku, check out rival sets from Samsung, like its PS51F8500, which do include these services.

Panasonic confirmed to CNET that it's continuing its research and development on plasma display technology, but there's no denying that even in the short term OLED represents the future for high-end TVs.

We reported in June last year that Panasonic was teaming up with Sony to produce OLED TVs in much the same way that it partnered with Olympus to work on its high-end cameras, so we expect to see more OLED products coming off the production line over the next 12 months.

Samsung and LG have both announced 55-inch curved OLED TVs, although with anticipated sale prices of around £10,000 apiece they'll be within the reach of only the deepest pockets.

Those prices will come down over time, at which point the technology's primary benefits, which include better performance in bright rooms, as well as thinner, lighter devices, will be open to a far wider audience.

In the meantime, there's no reason why you should be put off buying either of these champion plasma devices. In every respect they fulfil our criteria for defining their own particular sector over the last 12 months, and going ahead they're sure to give you years of faithful service.