Well, maybe it’s too early to tell. However, based on some in-person time I had with Panasonic’s ZT60 plasma at this week’s press briefing, this TV is going to be hard to beat.
This year, Panasonic followed up its very well-liked VT50 plasma TV with not just a better VT (though it did that also in the VT60 plasma), but developed a completely new line, the ZT Series.
The big test happened when we were led to a dark room with two TVs in it (both 60-inch models). One was the last generation of the Pioneer Kuro plasma, the TV that has entered TV mythology for having the best black levels ever seen in a flat-panel TV. The other was the Panasonic ZT60. I’ll save you the suspense—in that room, under circumstances I wasn’t in control of, the Panasonic looked better. Not just a little better, but significantly better.
Both Panasonic’s 2013 VT60 and ZT60 lines include picture advancements over the company’s 2012 offerings. One of the significant improvements is the level of gradation (steps from bright to dark). Last year’s best model, the VT50, could perform 24,576 steps. Now both the VT60 and the ZT60 push that up to 30,720 steps. The result is a smoother image with greater potential detail. By controlling the pre-discharge of current to each pixel, Panasonic is able to minimize unwanted light coming off the panel. The TVs also use a new red phosphor that helps the sets achieve 98 percent of the DCI (Digital Cinema Initiative) color space. You can put the TV into DCI mode to see deeper, more vibrant colors, or keep it in rec 709 color space.
The ZT60 has a few features that are specifically its own, such as a screen filter that’s fused onto the panel without an air gap. This reduces reflections and a double image effect that can make a picture softer. Panasonic calls this panel the Ultimate Black Studio Master Panel.
Indeed, it did look fantastic. We were told that both sets were in their default Cinema modes, but uncalibrated. The Panasonic clearly produced deeper blacks and more detail within dark scenes—close-ups of grooves on a record proved this. The panel also did much better at reducing motion blur than the Kuro—fast panning shots played on the Panasonic were incredibly smooth.
Both the VT60 and ZT60 TVs are THX-certified.
Without trying one in my own space, it’s too early to say if the ZT60 is the new king of TVs. However, this demo was pretty convincing.
Panasonic’s ZT60 is on the left, Pioneer Kuro on the right.
More than just plasma
Of course, Panasonic is not just a plasma company any longer. New LED LCD TVs were shown, and they demonstrated significant improvements over last year’s LED models. The WT60 LED models included many advancements. A new filter improves off-angle viewing, doubling of the panel’s backlight scanning improves motion, and new IPS (In-plane Switching) panels contribute to better angle viewing, brighter images and better color and contrast.
Most of the new plasma and LED lines include Panasonic’s updated smart TV platform, which used to be called Viera Connect. Now there’s the My Home Screen, which is customizable and much easier to use. Some models include a built-in (pop-up) camera and voice controls for face recognition and other applications.
One of Panasonic’s new TVs with a pen feature that lets users write on the image.
Panasonic didn’t mention anything about 4K, and so far the only 4K television the company is currently associated with is the OLED model it jointly developed with Sony and showed at CES this year. OLED is clearly where Panasonic sees the future, because multiple reports shared that there will be no further plasma lines developed at the company’s research facilities (hence the “Z” designation on the new plasma) UPDATE: Panasonic released this statement on 4/12/13 “While the Smart VIERA ZT Series introduces a new level of Plasma picture quality, we believe there is still room for further improvement and intend to continue to research ways to take our Plasma technology to even higher levels where it also has the potential to be applied in our other Plasma series in the future, ” says Henry Hauser, Vice President, Merchandising Group, Panasonic Consumer Marketing Company of North America .
Ultra HD is clearly on the company’s radar, though. At this week’s NAB show, Kunihko Miyagi, president of the company’s imaging division, said ““Everything we make in HD will be 4K.” That refers specifically to professional broadcast and production technology, but where there’s a 4K broadcast, there needs to be a TV to display it.
Below is a chart with almost all of the new TVs and their prices listed:
Also check out Panasonic’s new Blu-ray players and streaming media players.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.