Hands on with the Panasonic ZT60 3D plasma, a gorgeous TV that may mark the end of an era

Panasonic ZT60 header

Check out our glowing review of the Panasonic TC-60ZT60 plasma TV.

Attending Panasonic’s 8 AM briefing this morning in New York City felt a bit like a funeral – like maybe it was the end of the road for a product that we’ve come to love over the years. If the Panasonic Viera ZT60 is to be the swan song for plasma, then at least the iron lady is going out on top. Rival manufacturer Samsung put the final nails (or did they?) in Panasonic’s coffin a few weeks ago with the launch of its F8500 3D plasma at a star-studded event, but after spending some time with both HDTVs, we’re not so sure that when the history is written, it’ll be the Korean panel that will be remembered most.

The 2013 Panasonic Viera ZT60 sits at the top of the food chain, and while pricing still hasn’t been officially confirmed, Panasonic’s representatives told us the 65-inch model we saw today would go for between “$3,700 – $4,000.” The ZT60 showed up to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral with the best looking image this reviewer’s ever seen on a consumer-level 1080p HDTV. Take that Samsung. The long-standing “Is it blacker than Kuro” debate has finally been resolved. 

How do we know that?

Panasonic  decided to tackle that issue and let us decide for ourselves by putting the last generation Pioneer Elite Kuro panel up against the ZT60 in a controlled shoot-out for us to judge; same content, same settings, and total control over ambient light. We watched the same loop over and over again until we got bored and ventured outside for the free coffee and food.

kuroblackThroughout the early-morning press briefing, one Panasonic representative after another kept repeating “The most important thing for us is picture quality.” They repeated it so many times, it started to make us wonder if they had nothing else to say. The 2013 plasma and LED line-up have a lot of new and interesting features, but the Viera ZT60 was likely the sole reason anyone came out at such an early hour.

Both the 2013 VT and ZT plasma models feature Panasonic’s Ultimate Black “Studio Master” panels with improved black levels, a rather astounding 30,770 gradation steps, and brand new red phosphors. These new red phosphors help the panel create a wider color gamut which, in theory, should result in greater saturation and color accuracy. Some of the earlier Panasonic panels had some issues with red push, so we were curious to see how the new panels would compare to the VT50 from 2012 and the Elite Kuro model.

Not only does the ZT60 reproduce the most accurate and properly saturated looking colors (aside from just red) we’ve seen on a panel, but it was quite surprising to see the improvement over the vaunted Pioneer. The ZT60 easily trounced the Kuro in regard to how it dealt with motion; the Kuro’s image was quite soft as images moved quickly across the screen, but to be fair, the Pioneer panel is a few years old and we’re pretty sure that the Kuro would be just as smooth if it were still being manufactured.
 
Black levels were darn close; flip a coin and either panel would be at the top of any ratings list. The one area where the contest wasn’t close? Shadow detail. The ZT60 was

Panasonic's Viera ZT60 panel on the left versus the last generation Pioneer Elite Kuro panel.
Panasonic’s Viera ZT60 panel on the left versus the last generation Pioneer Elite Kuro panel.

dramatically better in that regard. The Pioneer obscured so much detail in some images, we could barely make out what we were looking at. The ZT60’s image just looked more natural, sharper, and far more realistic in regard to skin tones. In the accompanying image, the Panasonic ZT60 is on the left.

So with that in mind, why did we leave the Panasonic briefing feeling all depressed?

If you have been following the economic situation facing Panasonic, you’re probably aware that the company has decided to slowly wind down its consumer television business over the next three years. Its largest plasma panel plant in western Japan is closing in 2014, and the company has already written off the equipment inside.

Strike one.

When pressed today, Panasonic’s representatives told Digital Trends that the stories from the past few weeks were not accurate and that “the company had made no decisions about what it was going to do going forward.”

However, when we asked about the future of plasma as the main product in its consumer line-up, the response was “every product has a finite lifespan.” 

Strike two.

When the conversation turned to Ultra HD (4K) TVs, Panasonic confirmed that it is “working” on one for CES 2014, but “it would not be based around plasma technology.”

Strike three.

Panasonic spent a lot of time today talking about LED TVs and the future of OLED, which leaves us to conclude that the ZT60 could be the final chapter in a storied legacy. Knowing all that, we can’t help but to wonder why Samsung and LG would continue to offer plasma HDTVs if the long-term future for both companies rests with LED and OLED.

Could it be that both companies, currently struggling to manufacture OLED panels that survive the assembly line, are looking for a stop-gap measure to keep videophiles’ attention while they sort out manufacturing issues work to make Ultra HDTV more affordable?

In the end, the consumer loses if Panasonic gets out of the consumer television business; throwing solid innovation and competition out the window. Our best advice? Pick up a Viera ZT60 while you can when they go on sale sometime this May.

Home Theater

Apple will reportedly launch its new video-streaming service at March 25 event

The rumors about what Apple will announce at a March 25 event continue to swirl. A new report suggests that it will debut its much-anticipated video-streaming service, which will compete with Netflix and Amazon's Prime Video.
Photography

From DSLRs to mirrorless, these are the best cameras you can buy right now

From entry-level models to full-frame flagships, many cameras take great photos and video. The best digital cameras, however, push the industry forward with innovative sensors and improved usability, among other things. Here are our…
Gaming

Take some time to reminisce with the 25 best Sega Genesis games of all time

Although the company has since fallen into obscurity, Sega was an indisputable titan throughout the '90s. That said, here are 25 best Sega Genesis games that helped define its fabled decade.
Home Theater

8K TV: Everything you need to know about the future of television

4K TVs may seem relatively new, but there's another even higher-resolution display technology already here: 8K TV. Should you upgrade? We've got the answers to that question and more.
Computing

The next Surface Pro could be a complete redesign. Here's what we know so far

The Surface Pro might have pioneered the 2-in-1 form factor, but the design has stayed the same over the last seven years. Here's what we're looking to see from the Surface Pro 7,
Home Theater

Bose’s technology patents could save an earbud’s battery life

Possibly taking a cue from Apple's popular AirPods, Bose filed a patent application for earbud IR technology that could save battery life, improve sound quality, and possibly help people locate lost earbuds.
Home Theater

Samsung accidentally leaks its new Galaxy Buds ahead of launch

It's been all but certain that Samsung would launch a successor to its Gear IconX wireless earbuds soon, but a newly leaked photo and recent FCC certification document seems to indicate that the debut is very close.
Home Theater

ATSC 3.0: The next-gen TV update explained

ATSC 3.0 is the next major update to the broadcast standard we use today. Will this be the second coming of free, over-the-air TV? We're here to explain everything about the new standard.
Home Theater

Hi-res streaming audio service Qobuz arrives in U.S., threatens Tidal’s monopoly

For several years, Tidal enjoyed a monopoly on hi-res music streaming in the U.S. Now, French company Qobuz is here to offer some competition with a variety of monthly plans starting at $10 a month.
Home Theater

Throw away those EarPods -- we dug up the best headphones in every style

Trolling the internet for hours to find headphones is no way to live. Instead, leverage our expertise and experience to find the best headphones for you. Here are our 10 favorites.
Home Theater

Still listening on tinny, muffled TV speakers? Try one of our favorite soundbars

You no longer have to sacrifice sound for size when selecting home audio equipment. Check out our picks for the best soundbars, whether you're looking for budget options, pure power, smarts, or tons of features.
Home Theater

Samsung will stop releasing new Blu-ray players in the U.S.

Samsung, the first company to produce a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player, is now exiting the Blu-ray market entirely in the U.S. The move comes after Oppo Digital also dropped out of the market last year.
Movies & TV

The Breaking Bad sequel might air on Netflix before it arrives on AMC

A Breaking Bad sequel starring Jesse Pinkman (and, possibly, Walter White) is on the way from series creator Vince Gilligan, and you might get your first look at it on Netflix, not traditional cable.
Deals

The best Presidents’ Day sales 2019: Amazon, Walmart, Dell, and more

Presidents' Day sales are a great chance to score electronics, clothing, home and office stuff, and other goodies at a discount. We’ve smoked out a large handful of the best of these Presidents' Day deals, from tech to bedding, to help…