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  • Best of Year 2013
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Panasonic Viera TC-P65ST60 Plasma TV Review

A superbly performing plasma series at a great price, married to sub-par internet features

$2,599.00 60 in.
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Overview

Panasonic's ST60 series is the company's mid-tier plasma entry for 2013. According to Panasonic's own execs, the ST60 series is a combination of last year's ST50 series and GT50 series—two commendable lines. The ST60 series features four size options—50, 55, 60, and 65 inches. Each iteration boasts 3D capability, smart features, 2500 Focused Field Drive, and immediate availability.

For its price, the ST60 is packed to the gills with value. Panasonic's plasmas have showcased consistent quality and care this year, and the ST60 series is no exception to that. This TV has the black level, color accuracy, and viewing angle to make it a winning choice for any room in your home. However, as with last year's models, the ST60 falls short in the realm of features. The ST60 is not packaged with any of Panasonic's new accessories, such as the TouchPen or TouchPad remote. Without these, its feature set is fairly lackluster—the ST60 is predestined for the picture purist pigeonhole.

Hardware

The ST60's design is elegant and simple, like all of Panasonic's 2013 plasmas.

I really like Panasonic's design aesthetic for its 2013 plasmas. Not that there's anything very interesting about it, really, but that's why I like it. There's a certain minimalism at work here. A pessimist might simply call the ST60's design boring—Josh, one of TelevisionInfo's other writers, doesn't like it at all. I'm willing to bet that's how most people will react: Either they will like or dislike the plain black stand, dark-gray panel, and silver-wrapped bezel. This design is not jarring or "sci-fi" enough to warrant stronger feelings than that. To me, it's a design that says, "I don't need to look fancy. You're going to be too impressed by my picture to care."

"The ST60 is a handsome TV with a smart, user-friendly design."

Like the S60 series, the ST60 offers three HDMI inputs and two USB inputs, strung in like clusters along its left side. The remaining port options—a shared component composite, a LAN input, and digital/analog audio—are located on the back side of the TV, well-labeled and smartly spaced. Following the tradition of years past, the ST60's on-set controls sit along the far left edge of its bezel; these buttons provide excellent tactile feedback. Overall, the ST60 is a handsome TV with a smart, user-friendly design.

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Software

The new VieraConnect platform takes a big leap—perhaps in the wrong direction.

When we took a visit to Panasonic's Secaucus, NJ headquarters to get a preliminary look at the VT60 series, we also got a hands-on look at all of Panasonic's new smart features. The highlights of the visit were definitely Panasonic's new TouchPen, which worked with impressive fluidity, and the newly integrated pop-up camera, which snapped a particularly mortifying photo of my face.

Unfortunately, the ST60 doesn't feature the pop-up camera, Panasonic's TouchPad remote, or the sleek TouchPen. It is compatible with those accessories, but without them, Panasonic's smart offering is quite disappointing. Thus far this year, we are most impressed with Samsung's new Smart Hub, which focuses on cable and streaming integration over cheesy flash games. While the design of VieraConnect—Panasonic's smart platform—is a large improvement over last year's software, the content at hand is still missing something. The ability to customize and set personalized home pages for each member of the family isn't quite as cool without facial recognition (a big part of the pop-up camera) or the ability to hand write notes on the screen for other users (a big draw of the touch pen).

"The design of VieraConnect is a large improvement over last year's software... the content is still missing something."

What's here beyond those new features is sort of a letdown. Yes, you've got all the streaming content you need—Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon. You're not going to find a smart TV that doesn't give you those, though (if you do find one, let us know).

Panasonic's app store is paltry in its selection (though some of it is hilarious), and the pre-installed content is just as bad: How long do they expect anyone over the age of three to play "WeeWee Kitty," after all (it's exactly what it sounds like)? I was really excited for the new VieraConnect after CES 2013, but without Panasonic's new accessories, it really fails to deliver. Toss in the browser, which is untenable using only the basic infrared remote, and you can see this performance-focused TV's score begin to fall.

We can say that the basic menu software ( Picture, Sound, etc.) is as usable and fleshed-out as ever, with the "Cinema" Picture Mode including Panasonic's pro settings, and a myriad of ways to adjust and tweak your picture settings.

Performance

If you're going to buy the ST60, buy it for its excellent performance.

Last week, I reviewed Samsung's new flagship plasma, the F8500. It is a very efficacious performer—we were all very impressed with its 10,000:1 contrast ratio. That was before getting the ST60 in for review, though.

While Panasonic's mid-tier plasma doesn't hit the same peak brightness as Samsung's flagship, it still manages to get bright enough for most uses, while maintaining the fathomless blacks that we've seen on every Panasonic plasma this year. The resulting contrast ratio is another five-digit number; you'll just have to read the numeric details on the Science page.

"Two records broken in one day."

In terms of plasma tech's other big claim to fame—motion performance—the ST60's unassisted motion is decent, but not as blur-free as we were hoping for. While there's no tearing or artifacting (it's very good by average standards), there was just a little more blurring during our detail retention test than we would have liked. No major issues, and nothing that the Motion smoothing setting can't fix, but it's not the best we've ever seen. The ST60's excellent panel also provided what might be the widest viewing angle we've ever measured. That's two records broken in one day.

Where color adherence is concerned, the ST60 exhibits expert engineering. Its color gamut is very accurate, and it maintains perfect color temperature so long as its Panel Brightness (under Pro settings) is set to Low. The Medium and High settings caused odd red-tinting in the low-mid steps of the greyscale input. The end-day tally, though, is that this plasma has high-quality color accuracy and adherence, displaying the full spectrum of colors in smooth detail.

Conclusion

Perfect picture, marred by wee wee woes

The ST60 is a breathtaking machine. Its panel drive is perfectly controlled, allowing it to emit adequate brightness throughout most of the picture while maintaining deep, pure blacks, thus creating an on-screen contrast approaching the variety of real life. The technology at work here is some of the best in years; within the realms of color accuracy, viewing angle and contrast ratio, the ST60 is a masterful television. Panasonic's software allows users to make necessary tweaks towards desired color temperature, to correct minute imperfections in color gamut, and to create a balanced, detailed picture for any kind of content.

Unfortunately, the ST60 is married to a poorly implemented smart platform. The lack of internal processing makes for a sluggish internet experience, replete with campy flash games and a browser that is lost without the Panasonic touch pad. In an age where most cinephiles have at least an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3, if not both, the few good points of VieraConnect (streaming content) are rather unnecessary.

"The ST60 is a breathtaking machine."

Our advice is: Buy the ST60 for its grand picture presentation, and just leave it off the internet. VieraConnect is just going to slow you down, and potentially cause some input lag as well. If you're looking for a fairly priced plasma with top-tier picture quality, the ST60 series is priced very well, internet or not. The 50-, 55-, 60-, and 65-inch iterations are $1,149; $1,499; $1,699; and $2,599 respectively.

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