Panasonic Viera TC-P65VT60 Review

Simply put, the Panasonic VT60 is one of the most outstanding TV’s ever made.
Simply put, the Panasonic VT60 is one of the most outstanding TV’s ever made.
Simply put, the Panasonic VT60 is one of the most outstanding TV’s ever made.

Highs

  • Exceptional Black Levels
  • Superb Shadow detail
  • Very bright
  • Excellent Color
  • Customizable homescreens
  • Backlit remote

Lows

  • Expensive
  • Not as strong in bright rooms as ZT60
  • Runs very warm

Panasonic VT60 Series information: This review is based on our hands-on experience with the 55-inch TC-P55VT60 TV. However, our observations also apply to the 60-inch TC-P60VT60 and the 65-inch TC-P65VT60. According to Panasonic, the three sets differ only in dimension and weight and offer identical features and performance.

Models in Panasonic VT60 series Size
Panasonic TC-P55VT60 (reviewed) 55 inches
Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60 inches
Panasonic TC-P65VT60 65 inches

It’s safe to say that 2013 will go down as a banner year for Panasonic’s plasma televisions. In fact, thanks to Panasonic’s efforts and some serious competition from Samsung, plasma TV technology in general is getting a much-needed and well-deserved boost in consumer attention this year. Plasma has always been the superior technology where picture quality was concerned, but its hefty weight, bulk and inferior brightness have allowed LED TVs to grab the public’s attention as the sexier and (mistakenly) superior type of TV. But now the playing field has been leveled. These latest plasmas are thinner, lighter and brighter than ever before; and that tips the scales in plasma’s favor…big time.

If we were to go through all the features this TV offered, we’d be here all day.

With our review of the excellent Samsung F8500 series plasma completed, it’s time to dig into the Panasonic VT60 and ZT60 series plasmas. We’ve long suspected it would be one of those three models that would walk away with our pick for best TV of the year, and now it’s time to see how Panasonic’s offerings will figure into the equation.

First, however, we need to point out the fact that the ZT60 and VT60 series are remarkably similar. As such, you will find that our reviews of each will be…well, remarkably similar. We’ll do our best to point out the crucial differences in each review. Now, let’s dive into the good stuff.

Out of the box

Both the ZT60 and VT60 are the most beautifully designed TV’s we’ve ever seen from Panasonic and, for our money, are the most beautiful plasma TV’s available this year. But while purists might prefer the ZT60’s sharp, clean lines, barely-visible chromed bezel and thin, acrylic trim, gadget-heads might lean toward the VT60, which features an on-board camera and front-firing speakers system.

In addition to its gorgeous panel, the VT60 also boasts a stand that is as functional as it is beautiful. Made of solid, brushed metal, the 16.5-pound stand is one of the most rock solid we’ve seen. Though it isn’t as curvaceous as the Samsung F8500’s stand (nor does it swivel) we never worried about whether the 80-pound TV might tip over.

Unlike the ZT60 series, the VT60 doesn’t have gold plating on its HDMI (3), USB (3) and component video/analog (1) inputs. But the VT60 is similar in that it does offer an Ethernet port, SD (SDXC) card slot and digital audio output (optical) jack. It even supports keyboards and other remote devices via Bluetooth.

To be honest, we’d like to have seen at least one more HDMI port. Even many people will use an A/V receiver to switch between sources, we know plenty more who can use every HDMI connection they can get. When you’re charging this much for a TV, what’s an extra HDMI port here and there?

Features

If we were to go through all the features this TV offered, we’d be here all day. It’s just packed with them. But, there are a few notable tech-related and consumer-facing features worth taking special note of.

While the VT60’s panel is nothing to sneeze at, it lacks the upgraded “Studio Master Panel” available in the ZT60 model. According to Panasonic, the ZT60 does a better job of bucking ambient light to maintain excellent black levels during daylight viewing. In theory, the ZT60 would look a little better than a VT60 in a room with lots of daylight pouring in – something we ended up testing for ourselves. Still, the VT60 is meant to be capable of the same excellent black levels in a dark room – something we also tested.

Unlike the ZT60, the VT60 comes with an on-board camera for facial recognition, Skype and other apps.

The other picture-related tech worth mentioning is Panasonic’s development of an “improved” red phosphor. Panasonic claims it is more accurate than ever before. This should make color accuracy on the whole more accurate, and that’s never a bad thing.

Unlike the ZT60, the VT60 comes with an on-board camera for facial recognition, Skype and other apps. It also comes with a little Bluetooth remote which, among other things, allows voice commands. The remote will also let you swipe and click your way around the VT60’s menus and manage simple operations such as changing the channel and adjusting the volume.

Thankfully, that little Bluetooth remote is purely optional. Panasonic wisely includes a full-sized, fully-featured and – perhaps most importantly – fully backlit remote. Why this is a feature we still get surprised by is beyond us, but until everyone figures out that backlit remotes are an essential feature and not an optional one, we’ll be handing out extra big kudos to those that get it right.

Panasonic also gets honorable mention for having drastically improved its Smart TV interface. We like that users can create their own customized home screens, with only the apps they want and those apps placed exactly where they want them. And, ideally, those home screens can then be pulled up by facial recognition so that when Dad turns on the TV, he sees his homescreen instead of Mom’s or Johnny’s – a great idea, at least.

Panasonic TC P55vt60 review front lower

Naturally, this is a 3D-capable TV. In fact, THX certifies it as such. Panasonic tosses in just two pair of its active 3D glasses, though, so plan on buying more unless you’ll never share this TV’s awesome-ness with others.

Finally, Panasonic does offer a remote app for iOS and Android devices. The remote will let you make basic adjustments to volume, channel, etc., but it also allows adjustments to some picture settings. Moreover, the app allows users to view media stored on an SD card (when inserted in the TV) on their mobile device for a sort of second-screen-ish experience. The remote app is also required for “swipe and share,” a feature that allows users to share media from their mobile devices to the TV (and vice versa) with the swipe of a finger.

Setup

Turn it off! –The VT60 has two (potentially three, depending on your preferences) annoying quirks that need to be dealt with before launching into any other adjustments. The first is the TV’s voice guide, and the second is the TV’s banner ads.

We’ve tried to imagine situations in which a voice guide might be a good thing, but we’re coming up empty-handed. It could be argued that the visually impaired might make some use of it, but we think they would be just as annoyed with the voice prompting as we were once they learned that they would have to hear it after each and every press of nearly every button, including volume. Really, it’s terrible. Turn it off.

The banner ads are a less-blatantly invasive feature, but they do get annoying after a time. Adjusting the volume need not pull up an ad for Comfort Inn Suites…or anything else for that matter. This just feels like a skeevy way to push advertising. Why Panasonic included it is beyond us, but it’s there so, again, turn it off.

Picture settings – We have always maintained that the best possible TV calibration will come from an ISF-certified calibrator; and if you’re looking at purchasing a set as blue-blooded as the VT60, that is something you should certainly consider.

With that said, we’re prepared to go out on a limb here and say: There’s just not a whole lot of point in busting out your Spears and Munsil, Disney World of Wonder, or DVE calibration discs on this one. We know, we know. What we’re suggesting borders on blasphemous. But hear us out.

Once you’ve tempered motion smoothing to a minimum (or off, if you prefer) and picked your 24p direct in setting (we went with 96Hz) you will find that the THX Cinema picture preset is about as good as you are going to get with only rudimentary tools. To get any better, you have to dig into the pro settings submenu, and we don’t recommend anyone who doesn’t know exactly what they’re doing attempt that.

We’ll also add that we thought the THX “bright room” preset was the perfect daylight alternative. Between the two THX options, we think you’ll be completely satisfied. But, if you aren’t, go ahead and play around and let us know what you liked better. For the overwhelming majority of users, though, the THX preset is where it’s at with this TV.

Picture performance

Gush time: The VT60’s picture quality is spectacular. Like the Samsung F8500, it had us excited to turn it on every day; and we didn’t really care what was going to come on once we did. No matter what we watched, the VT60 made the content look as awesome as it possibly could.

And we’re not talking about the sort of fine details that only videophiles can appreciate, either. The VT60 combined deep, rich blacks with vibrant and accurate colors to produce a picture that captivated everyone who happened by the TV. Its superiority is plainly obvious.

Panasonic TC P55vt60 review front angle

While watching CBS’ new series, Under the Dome, family members kept remarking at how good the TV show looked compared to the last time we viewed it on an LED-backlit TV. Even the kids’ Disney Channel shows looked excellent, with natural skin tones set off by the overexposed colors that the channel’s productions are known for.

Streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu often looked better than our cable-delivered content. Using our Roku 2 as a source, we were able to view a few selections in Netflix’s Super HD format, and the resulting picture was as close to Blu-ray as we’ve ever seen from a non-Blu-ray source (with the possible exception of VUDU’s HDX offerings).

Of course, Blu-ray content stole the show. Sony sent us a selection of movie titles from its “Mastered in 4K” collection, including The Amazing Spiderman and The Karate Kid; between the high-quality transfers of the titles and the VT60’s outstanding performance, we were treated to a cinematic experience with clarity that bests most commercial theaters we’ve visited. The Spiderman reboot is a particularly dark film, and one we’ve seen displayed with a commercial 4K projector. Though the content we watched was limited to 1080p resolution, the image quality bested the 4K experience we had, and not by a small margin. Black levels and shadow detail were simply incredible to witness, and the smooth gradation of colors made for a deeply immersive experience.

There’s just not a whole lot of point in busting out your…calibration discs on this one.

The one area in which the VT60 faltered was in bright-room scenarios. While the ZT60 and Samsung F8500 were both able to maintain deep, rich blacks with sunlight blazing into our daylight testing room, the VT60 just couldn’t keep up. Placed side-by-side in a darkened room, however, the ZT60 and VT60 were indistinguishable. Those who intend to use their set in a dedicated theater environment should have no qualms with choosing the VT60 over the ZT60. The two are evenly matched in such an environment and, as we mentioned the VT60 even comes with a few extras the ZT60 omits.

As for 3D: Let’s just say 3D isn’t the VT60’s strongest suit. We felt like the crosstalk we experienced exceeded that of the F8500, and though we find Panasonic’s 3D glasses perfectly comfortable, we found ourselves wanting to take them off. The ZT60’s 2D picture was just so exemplary that it seemed a shame to miss out on it by forcing ourselves to watch 3D. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Facial recognition

This is a feature we secretly hoped would be awesome. Unfortunately, we wound up underwhelmed. The idea is to create a homescreen customized with all the apps you want and none that you don’t want. Once done, the user can save it to a profile. The TV then takes a photo to associate with the homescreen and profile.

Panasonic TC P55vt60 review facial recognition camera

From then on, if the user wants to take advantage of face recognition, they must then grab the Bluetooth remote (losing us already) and use the voice command button while saying “my home screen.” At that point, the TV is meant to recognize the users face and pull up the correct screen. The only problem is the camera is rather sensitive to light (as cameras tend to be) so we had no luck getting it to work in dim environments. It didn’t work if we were standing near a source of bright light, either.

Voice recognition

Once again, we find voice recognition to be more of a distraction than a useful feature. We were able to stump the voice recognition software on a routine basis, and we didn’t find the system’s search feature to be very useful. After a couple of tries, we gave up and never looked back.

Audio performance

While we found the ZT60’s sound quality to be unremarkable, the VT60’s was straight-up awesome. Though the thin strips of speakers along the left and right edge of the TV are all but invisible, they seem to have a huge impact. With this set, the bass never seemed out of balance. Dialog was always intelligible and, perhaps most importantly, treble was never aggressive or brittle. In short, the VT60 has one of the most balanced on-board audio systems available today.

Conclusion

The VT60 is a marvel in engineering and Panasonic deserves a huge pat on the back for producing such a quality product. Although it lacks the bright-room performance abilities of its more expensive cousin, you’d never know the difference in a dark room. That it comes in a little less expensive than the ZT60 is also pretty compelling, though there’s no getting around the fact that we’re talking about an expensive TV here.

Yes, the VT60 is expensive. At the time this article was written, the 60-inch model is listed at $3,000 (vs $3,500 for the ZT60), but is selling for about $2,650 online. The 55-inch model we tested goes for even less at about $2,300. Add that to the fact that you can only get the ZT60 at Magnolia outlets in Best Buy stores through the end of July, and there are enough reasons that folks will opt for the less expensive version.

Just because it is less expensive doesn’t mean it’s a lesser TV, though. The VT60 is totally outstanding and easily earns our Editor’s Choice award.

But before we go, let’s address the question of which is better: ZT60 or VT60? To answer, let’s look at the three key differences between the two. The ZT60 does better in rooms affected by sunlight, while the VT60 has superior sound and comes with a camera for Skype and facial recognition. Which is better for you will depend on your priorities, but for us, the ZT60 is worth the extra $500 or so. We can take or leave the camera, and while we appreciate the VT60’s superior on-board sound, we think most folks purchasing a TV at this level will have a supplementary sound system in place (and if they don’t, they are seriously selling themselves short). To us, getting the stellar performance these TVs are capable of in any room of the house is a big bonus. So, the ZT60 gets the ribbon.

Highs:

  • Exceptional black levels
  • Superb shadow detail
  • Very bright
  • Excellent color
  • Customizable homescreens
  • Backlit remote

Lows:

  • Expensive
  • Not as strong in bright rooms as ZT60
  • Runs very warm
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