Panasonic Viera TC-P60VT60 Plasma TV Revisited
Panasonic's VT60 is sure to sweep the home theater market, and nestle into story, into legend.
Last month, we took a trip to Panasonic's US headquarters in Secaucus, NJ to get a brief look at this year's successor to the company's 2012 flagship: the Panasonic VT60. Well, we've finally got the TV set up and secure in our lab, giving us the chance to run our full suite of tests, and check out all of the VT60's considerable features.
After a few days with this TV, I am simply blown away. The Panasonic VT60 looks incredible; it's a picture purist's dream. I was expecting very fine picture quality, but I'm also really impressed with Panasonic's new smart functions and feature-bent hardware. Finally, even that thing no one cares about anymore—3D—looks great, the best I've seen since early last year. With its smallest iteration—a sizable 60 inches—retailing for $2,999, the VT60 series is definitely a serious investment, but with such terrific picture quality, it's worth the high price.
A brushed aluminum beauty that focuses on function over flash
Initial assembly made it clear that the 60-inch VT60 is extremely heavy—almost 120 pounds! However, once it is assembled, this TV is quite attractive. From the thin bezels around its screen to the smooth, brushed aluminum of its stand, the VT60 is every bit as handsome and imposing as its predecessor, the VT50. Panasonic continues from last year's "single pane of glass" design aesthetic, giving the P60VT60's 60.1-inch screen a devilish magnetism; the rest of the TV sort of blends in behind whatever you're watching, especially when using the TV in a theater environment.
One thing that may discourage device-fond cinema enthusiasts from Panasonic's 2013 plasmas is their three HDMI input limit. That might seem like griping over small potatoes in the grand scheme, but I've seen a number of discussions across the internet questioning Panasonic's choice. In total, users get three HDMI inputs, three USB 2.0 ports, a shared component/composite input, LAN (ethernet) in, digital audio out, and Panasonic's signature SD card slot. We've seen more connectivity options than this before, but really, we're torn on how to feel: How hard would it have been for Panasonic to add another HDMI input? But—how hard would it be to secure an HDMI splitter/amplifier on top of the three-thousand dollars you're already spending?
As far as design innovations go, the VT60 doesn't take a lot of chances: Its port placement and on-set controls are pretty much identical to last year's VT50. We've come to expect this, as innovation focus has shifted from the TVs themselves to their accompanying remotes over the last year or so. The VT60 comes with two remotes: the standard Panasonic backlit infrared, and the Bluetooth TouchPad remote, which resembles a small mouse. This second remote is great: Its touch pad is right in reach of the thumb, and its responsiveness is on par with a traditional mouse. It has all the buttons you need to navigate the most common features—like VieraConnect and the settings menu—and has great communication with the TV overall; you only need to point it at the IR sensor to turn the TV on or off. All of the other buttons work the way a Bluetooth device should.
Facial recognition? Voice commands? Panasonic isn't messing around this year.
Following groundwork laid by a certain South Korean giant, Panasonic has now joined the smart software race with enthusiasm. We've taken issue with VieraConnect and its content offering for a couple of years, but 2013 is looking to be a different story. Panasonic's smart features have finally leapt off of the software page and into the actual hardware of the TVs themselves. The VT60 leads the pack: Its pop-up bezel-mounted camera and included TouchPad remote are a clear indication that Panasonic wants the best of both worlds (picture quality and smart features, in case you've been daydreaming).
The real question is: Do they work? The real answer is: Yes, and how. While voice recognition is nothing new, it's also nothing perfected, and we're particularly impressed with the VT60's software. To enable voice search, you just press the little microphone icon on the TouchPad remote. The screen prompts you to search—in our case, we tested both the search function and the facial recognition software simultaneously by searching for pre-made home screens. While this will be detailed more extensively in another article, the simple version is this: Users can create personalized home screens within the VieraConnect platform, adding apps and bookmarked web pages along a pre-set "widget" area. Then, the VT60's pop-up camera will capture a photo of the user's face, and store it forever within its memory (kidding). Speaking "My Home Screen" into the remote then triggers facial recognition, which signs the user into his or her home screen based on the saved photo. It's pretty cool, though it would be pointless if you were the only user. The VT60 was able to find my screen, and Josh's screen, instantaneously.
The bottom line is that Panasonic's VieraConnect platform is only as good as its hardware-based extensions: Our experience with Panasonic's ST60 revealed that, without the TouchPad remote and facial recognition, the Home screen isn't terrible flexible. Further, the actual content present in that series' out-of-the-box selection was pretty weak—or at least needed an update.
The long 'n short of it, though, is that—provided a proper wireless connection—the VT60's software all works great, especially the elements that rely on the hardware innovations unique to the VT60. The settings menu is stuffed full of picture and audio settings to be tweaked, and both remotes work fluidly. We do heavily recommend investing in a Bluetooth or USB 2.0 keyboard, though, if you plan to do a lot of typing. Neither remote is particularly fast in that regard.
The picture quality is strong with this one.
Is that a parodied Darth Vader quote? It is. You know why? Because the VT60 has black levels as dark as a Sith lord. Well, let me start at the beginning...
In all seriousness, this TV looks incredible. We recently penned a new series detailing some of our experiences with content playback; Panasonic's high-end plasma already looked great without any sort of tweaking or calibration. Right out of the box, colors are vivid, but have that "oil paint" appearance that comes from a well-balanced palette of luminosity and reasonable picture levels. Shadows are chock full of detail, thanks to this TV's incredibly dark blacks, which make even deep navy blues look rich and easily visible. Moving subjects remain remarkably crisp and well-detailed, without any sort of frame interpolation—you know, that setting that makes things look like General Hospital.
The hard data, science-based, $12,000 color meter part of our "interview" with this high-end plasma simply confirmed what we'd already seen with our eyes: The VT60 is one spectacular performer. Its color gamut matches up almost perfectly to the Rec. 709 standard, its color temperature consistency is perfect, and its contrast ratio is massive—thanks to the deepest black level we've ever measured.
If money is no object, this is the TV to buy.
There are a handful of reasons not to buy a TV in the VT60 series. It's either A) too expensive; B) too big; or C) you work for Vizio. Otherwise, we really can't express just how great this thing looks.
To be honest, there are better smart TVs out there. LG's G3 series and Samsung's flagship both do the smart thing with a little more flexibility and crispness than the VT60—though its pop-up camera and Touch Pad remote do make it a formidable competitor. Neither does the VT60 interface with cable content, which puts it a beat behind the aforementioned. You can see better 3D at an IMAX, too, though in my experience, the active shutter technology at work here is some of the best in years.
But... if you want a product that redefines what you thought possible of a television—buy this TV. If you want your screen to become a window that draws you into fantastic new worlds—buy this TV. If you want to glimpse the infinite minutia of any content in lifelike detail—buy this TV. If you want a product that is the result of decades of thought, work, and research—buy this TV. Just keep in mind, the smallest screen available is still a whopping three-thousand dollar, 100-pound, 60-inch beast, and the sizes (and prices) only go up from there. However, if you can afford it, this high-quality plasma is worth every penny.
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