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Meet the Panasonic P60S60 (MSRP $1299), one of the first 2013 HDTVs available to the consumer market following CES 2013. Panasonic is one of the last bastions of support for plasma display technology, with most other companies focusing efforts and resources on bright LED LCDs, the coming of OLED technology, and the expanded resolution of Ultra High Definition.
From a feature fanatic's perspective, the S60 series is not terribly exciting: Out of Panasonic's six plasma series this year, this one is second-to-last out of the whole line-up. The S60 series offers full 1080p resolution, built-in WiFi, and a standard feature set; essentially, it offers only the basics, with the lowest series (X60) only supporting a native resolution of 720p. Nevertheless, we expect the S60 to give us a strong idea of the performance and hardware capabilities of Panasonic's entire 2013 line-up.
Panasonic may call its mega high-end ZT60 plasma "the reference TV," but the S60 deserves some accolades of its own: This TV is dark, sporting black levels comparable to the Batman bathing in an ink-filled tub inside of a black hole. On top of that, its color gamut was basically a carbon copy of the rec. 709 ideal. Ladies and gentlemen, 2013 is here, and it's looking to be a very good year for picture purists. 3D is sliding into obscurity, smart platforms are as loosely implemented as power windows on a Lexus, and Panasonic is still not done making its plasmas to the highest standard possible—only now, you don't have to pay through the nose to get them.
The Panasonic Viera TC-P60S60 is sleek and minimalist in design. From its plain black rectangle stand to its semi-thin bezel—the top and bottom edges kissed by strips of reflective metal—the S60 eschews the flash and sizzle of high-end TVs from Samsung, LG, and even Panasonic's own LCD televisions.
I have a theory about this: Consumers interested in courting and investing in Panasonic's plasmas know exactly what they want (the best possible picture), and have little interest in designs that are potentially garish or sci-fi. Evidently, Panasonic is not fishing for any stray passerby with flashy bait. The S60 series seems to boldly claim, "It's what's on the inside that counts." After our tests, we believe it.
There's one drawback to Panasonic's hardware choices for 2013: the connectivity options. Believe it or not, many television enthusiasts—especially home theater owners—want three or even four HDMI inputs to connect all of their high-definition devices. The S60 series, like many of Panasonic's 2013 plasma series, allows for only two HDMI inputs; there's also a shared component/composite cluster and no analog audio whatsoever. This is definitely on the scant side, especially for 2013.
The 60-inch S60 costs $1300, while the smallest size (42 inches) is less than $800. If you'd told me back in 2009 that I could buy a 42-inch plasma—one with an almost perfect color accuracy and nigh Kuro-grade black levels—for 700 dollars and change, I would have branded you a liar and challenged you to a duel. However, that's exactly what Panasonic provides in the S60 series. We've come a long way, ladies.
First things first: The S60 is Panasonic's most basic 1080p plasma this year, but the hardware and panel of the company's high-end clearly trickled down and cemented this series with a quality that in some ways surpasses last year's flagships (see the Science page for comparisons). Remember back in the 1920s when Ford standardized its automobile parts and made it possible for every family in America to own a car? Us neither... but in a way, Panasonic has done something like that this year. By simply sticking to its R&D guns, it has made exceptional, top-quality plasma tech standard and affordable: Even the entry-level models are impressive! If you're a picture quality enthusiast, this is very exciting.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the S60 series, though, is how it manages to concretely improve upon its 2012 predecessor, the U50 series. We tested a similarly impressive black level on that plasma, but at the cost of its brightness: It could barely outshine a basic lightbulb. The S60 series manages to stay as inky black as the U50 series, while also boosting its overall picture level without the use of special processing or extraneous sub-pixels (we're looking at you, Sharp). Further, those black levels stay deep and dark even at obtuse off-angles.
If you want some of the highest quality picture detail since Pioneer's glory days, and don't want to pay extra for a smart platform or 3D tech to get high-end performance, Panasonic has your back.
It's pretty clear that Panasonic's emphasis between last year and this year has been on performance: The S60's somewhat plain design and software abilities are a testament to that. Even still, we think it works. The S60's menus are visually dull, though Panasonic did design a somewhat charming transition that brings the menu sliding in from the left side of the TV's screen. Users will find a plethora of options for Picture, Sound, and Settings adjustments that allow them to tweak just about every aspect of their TV's overall performance, as well as a "Pro mode" (Cinema picture mode only) that allows calibrator-level tweaks to things like gamma correction, panel brightness, and red/green/blue bias. We don't recommend tweaking these settings too much unless you have the right software and experience.
The P60S60 is not a smart TV in the way we've come to expect: While allowing for a LAN connection and built-in Wi-Fi, the S60 does not make use of Panasonic's full smart platform suite (browser, app store, etc). It instead offers a more basic subset of blue chip apps: Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc. After establishing an internet connection, pressing "Internet" on the remote prompts a small selection of streaming content providers along the bottom of the stream. Users will, of course, need a subscription to these services in order to watch them. This is far from top-level internet usage for modern TVs, but it's not a bad little addendum considering the S60 is first and foremost a TV geared for top-notch picture quality.
The Panasonic TC-P60S60 (MSRP $1299) is one of the first (if not the first) 2013 series available on the consumer market. While Sharp is shipping a few of its new models, Panasonic's S60 series became available for pre-order first: The higher-end ST60 series won't hit our labs until next month. In a way, our pent-up excitement for the new tech expected this year became channeled into this first real taste of 2013. Our first impression? The S60 is going to be a tough act to follow.
While it has the performance specs and picture quality to satisfy all but the most elite of picture perusalists, the S60 is unique in that with its plasma strengths come only a couple of the technology's usual weaknesses: It still uses a lot more power than the average LCD television, and is a lot heavier. Those caveats aside, the S60 is just a great television. It's bright enough to flourish in all but the sunniest rooms, and is dark enough to provide beautifully rich shadow detail for film content, games—even daytime soaps. Its adherence to the international standard for HDTV color is almost perfect, so everything you watch will look as the director or illustrator intended it to; as a bonus, this also increases the longevity of the panel's life.
There are no true drawbacks here, and the smaller screens (42 or 50 inches) cost less than $1000, which is not that much to pay for some of the best picture quality on the market. Unless you cart your display around regularly, watch television in a greenhouse, yearn for flashy extras like 3D or a web browser, the S60 series is perfect for almost any other television-based endeavor. If you want to trade your money strictly for quality—while avoiding paying for filler and bunk features—the Panasonic Viera S60 series should be your first stop.
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