Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 £3999
7th Jul 2013 | 07:50
Kuro? What Kuro?
With its beloved plasma technology still besieged by wave after wave of LCD upstarts, Panasonic has decided to pull out all the stops and launch a plasma TV built with no other thought in mind than producing the absolute best picture quality a consumer plasma TV can deliver.
In fact, as we'll discover, there's a very real sense with the limited edition 60-inch Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 that it's genuinely the last word in plasma excellence - a final blaze of defiant, money's-no-object glory before Panasonic settles back to gradual annual improvements to its more mainstream plasmas or even (though hopefully not) puts plasma to bed for good.
Unsurprisingly, such a screen doesn't come cheap. The Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's £3,999 (around US$5,990 / AU$6,540) full asking price makes it comfortably the most expensive 60-65-inch TV we've seen bar Sony's Ultra HD/4K-resolution KD-65X9005A. But also unsurprisingly it boasts a pretty monstrous feature and specification list.
Highlights include a new Studio Master panel design complete with 'Air Gapless' panel technology to boost contrast well beyond even anything Panasonic has managed before, and a European Broadcasting Union (EBU) mode for optimised picture quality when watching broadcasts.
Plus there's full endorsement by the THX quality assurance and ISF pro calibration organisations and the most comprehensive site of picture calibration tools and options the consumer TV world has ever seen.
If all these high-falutin' features pay off as well as we hope they will, the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 could finally lay the ghost of Pioneer's legendary Kuro plasma TVs to rest. Indeed, based on the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 vs Kuro head to head Panasonic had set up during its main product convention earlier this year, this very aim seemed to be at the front of Panasonic's mind as it was conceiving its new plasma flag-waver.
If you can't make the hefty financial step up to the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65, Panasonic has its also brilliant VT65 plasma TVs, available in the 65-inch Panasonic TX-P65VT65, 55-inch Panasonic TX-P55VT65 and 50-inch Panasonic TX-P50VT65 sizes, with the 65-inch costing around £3,500 and the 55-inch costing around £2,200.
Where other rivals are concerned, the 55-inch Sony KD-55X9005A brings UHD/4K resolution to the table for the same £4,000 price, while the Samsung PS64F85000 delivers unprecedentedly bright 64-inch plasma pictures for £2,800.
The first thing to consider here is the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's design. Plasma TVs generally suffer aesthetically versus LCD TVs, thanks to their need for much wider bezels than the latest generation of Edge LCD TVs. The Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 certainly doesn't do anything to counter the bezel-width issue.
But it does still achieve a degree of style, by covering both the bezel and the screen in a single sheet of glass and by mounting the screen on a gleaming, open-style 'V' neck that attaches to a surprisingly small and beautifully finished metal plinth stand.
If you look at the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 from an angle, you'll notice that its pictures don't suffer with the 'double imaging' issue you see with every other Panasonic plasma TV when viewing them off-axis. This is because Panasonic has managed to remove the usual air gap between the plasma panel and the front glass. It's something that's only been possible by manufacturing the ZT65 screens in autoclaves - rare, high-precision heated compression chambers required to make sure the panel layers bond together correctly.
This manufacturing requirement is enough in itself to start justifying the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's price - so long as the end results in picture quality terms justify the effort, of course.
With this in mind, it's important to stress that the removal of the off-axis double imaging is not the only benefit of the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's 'Air Gapless' design. Removing the air layer stops light refractions and reflections affecting the image, resulting in a greatly enhanced contrast performance - especially where black level response is concerned.
To a home cinema fan, the thought of Panasonic going even deeper with the TX-P60ZT65's black levels than it has with its previous plasma televisions is nothing short of mouthwatering. And it's this step, of course, that is most likely to help the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 overleap the contrast benchmark of Pioneer's legendary Kuro plasma TVs.
The Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's panel also boasts, of course, the very highest level of the filtering technologies Panasonic uses to stop ambient light negatively impacting the contrast performance of its plasma TVs.
Also, the processing power and number of calibration tools Panasonic has then applied to its innovative panel design are so extensive, it almost feels like Panasonic's engineers couldn't believe their luck at having so much flexibility and capability in the core panel to play with.
Going through in detail all the picture options and fine-tuning tools that the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 puts at your disposal would take forever, and is actually pretty pointless. It's more important to simply stress that even if you're a professional calibrator with THX and ISF training, you will find every possible calibration trick you could ever reasonably want, tucked away inside the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's menus.
Just to give you an idea, though, there's Rec. 709, SMPTE and EBU video standard settings, Colour Remastering for boosting the colour gamut and multiple noise reduction systems. Then there's a 'Brilliance Enhancer' that makes pictures look more dynamic by applying localised contrast boosts, a resolution enhancer, gamma controls, comprehensive colour management tools and comprehensive white balance adjustments.
As if having so much set up flexibility at your disposal wasn't already groovy enough, Panasonic even enables you to call up the TV's calibration menus on its Viera Remote app for iOS and Android devices, so you can make your adjustments while looking at a picture on the TV that isn't hidden behind on-screen menus.
If you were paying attention a couple of paragraphs back, you may have noticed we mentioned an EBU video standard setting. This stands for European Broadcasting Union, and it's the first time such a setting has ever been seen on a TV.
This is because the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 is the first TV that's been able to meet the extremely demanding picture quality and setting standards defined by the EBU as being necessary to reproduce broadcast pictures that look exactly as their creators and broadcasters intended them to look.
The EBU's defined standards take in a huge range of picture quality facets, so the fact that the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 can exclusively meet all these requirements is a real testament to the quality and flexibility of Panasonic's premium TV.
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Even the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's connections are a cut above the norm. Not in number terms, perhaps (actually the fact that the TV only has three HDMIs is a bit disappointing), but rather in their construction, since they use gold plating so that their contacts don't degrade over time like normal TV connections do.
With so much high-end finery, sophisticated manufacturing and, heck, old-fashioned AV love apparently ploughed into the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65, it's no surprise that Panasonic is really keen to make you feel special for owning one.
So as well as making the TV available on a limited edition basis, when you buy one you become an automatic member of a new Golden Club, complete with a card that shows the individual number of your TV and the signature of the engineer responsible for its construction.
On top of all its unique premium features, of course, the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 sports the full range of more 'normal' features found in Panasonic's other TVs. Dominating these is Panasonic's excellent My Home Screen smart TV interface, which provides the easiest to use and most customisable means of finding and organising all the myriad content options you get with modern connected TVs.
These content options include playback of files from USB sticks, SD cards and connected DLNA-enabled PCs, as well as media files on your smartphone or tablet courtesy of Panasonic's well designed and reasonably comprehensive Viera Remote 2 app. There are also apps and video streaming services on Panasonic's Viera Connect online platform.
The only problem with the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's Viera Connect platform is that it's a bit short of key video providers right now - there's no Lovefilm, and the only one of the main catchup platforms you get is BBC iPlayer.
And so we get to the moment of truth: has the still-revered Pioneer Kuro plasma TV technology finally met its match with the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65? Happily, very happily, we can answer this question with a resounding yes.
Obviously given all the hype surrounding the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's contrast performance, it's here that we decided to focus the opening stages of our tests. And what we saw was nothing short of extraordinary.
Probably the best way to sum the situation up is to say that for the first time on any commercially released flat-panel TV, the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 delivers black colours that actually look black. Not black with a tinge of grey, not black because the screen's just turned off all lighting in the darkest areas, but black in a completely natural, cinematic way that still enables you to see the tiniest shadow details and colour tone shifts in even the most pitch black parts of the image.
It's great to see, too, that this stunning black level perfection is achieved without the picture suffering heavily with the sort of dithering noise that plasma TVs can suffer with in dark areas. This is down, perhaps, to a combination of the Air Gapless design enabling the screen to produce a punchier picture without having to drive the plasma cells so hard, and some unprecedentedly fine controls over the voltage entering each plasma pixel.
If you're still not fully understanding what a big deal the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's unprecedented black level performance is, the point is that contrast and black level response, in our opinion, provide the foundation for any TV picture. So when a TV gets this sorted as perfectly as the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 does, it kind of follows that there's every chance that other aspects of the television's picture quality will be equally outstanding.
Plus, of course, being able to watch nearly pitch-black movie scenes without having your attention even slightly distracted by the sort of greyness, backlight clouding/inconsistency and crushed shadow detailing you have to suffer to some degree with all other flat TVs is a revelation, totally transforming your relationship with what you're watching.
Having established the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's contrast performance as being the best in the TV world to date, it's not entirely surprising to be able to follow this up by marvelling at the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's colour handling. After all, good black levels usually lead to good colours, so it follows that awesome black levels lead to awesome colours.
The accuracy and incredible subtlety of the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's colourscape feels borderline miraculous at times, especially when the screen is dealing with particularly high-quality HD sources, such as the opening scene of The Dark Knight on Blu-ray.
What's more, the fidelity of the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's colours is joined by an engaging level of brightness and vibrancy by plasma standards, making the television more usable than might have been expected in a bright environment. Having said that though, we'd still recommend dark-room viewing if you want to get the maximum impact from all the astonishing, cinematic colour nuancing and shadow detailing the TV has to offer.
The incredibly subtle rendering of colour on the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 helps it also deliver a sense of sharpness and detail that's nothing short of mesmerising - especially considering that you're witnessing it on a screen as big and immersive as this 60-inch one.
The TV doesn't benefit from a native Ultra HD/4K resolution, but there are times when the joint quality of Panasonic's image processing and uncompromising plasma panel design does make pictures look slightly higher definition than your typical HD TV.
Further help in this respect comes from the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's freedom from the motion blurring problems associated to some degree with even the very best LCD TVs. This is one of plasma's biggest advantages as a technology, and the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 makes the most of it. Or at least, it makes the most of it if you take the plunge and activate Panasonic's Intelligent Frame Creation processing on its lowest setting.
Normally we wouldn't tend to recommend using motion processing systems on TVs. But the processing engine in the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 is so powerful and so thoughtfully defined that it goes about its business without leaving the picture looking too processed.
What's more, if you don't use the system, you lay yourself open to suffering with pretty much the only two flaws in the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's picture make-up: a little double imaging around the edges of moving objects and some fizzing noise over moving skin tones.
Without the IFC set to Low these issues can be quite distracting - especially with broadcast sources. But with the IFC on, they pretty much cease to be a problem.
Having been slightly negative about broadcast source handling back there, though, we need to stress that our only gripe with the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's broadcast images is the (ultimately avoidable) motion niggles.
In every other way the TV is unprecedentedly good with broadcast footage, thanks to the provided EBU preset. Simply activating this preset, without having to do any further calibration tweaks, is an absolute revelation, as the image's colour balance, noise handling, contrast and white balance revert to settings designed by broadcasters to make sure you're getting a totally authentic picture.
The THX modes are similarly astutely designed to give you instantly great images when watching films. This is significant, because we haven't always felt entirely comfortable with THX presets on previous plasma generations. But it seems on the TX-P60ZT65 as if Panasonic has got its plasma technology to a point where it can fully meet the vision and demands of the THX specification.
So far we've just been talking about 2D footage on the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65, but rest assured that it's also brilliant with 3D. The amount of detail in its 3D images is sensational, reminding you in no uncertain terms why the full-resolution active 3D system is still a potent force, especially on large screen TVs.
The clarity with which this detail is delivered is outstanding too, with practically no noise to worry about. Even crosstalk ghosting noise, that perennial bane of active 3D playback, is practically non-existent. And thanks to the clarity of the 3D picture, you also get a superb and consistent sense of 3D depth and space.
The Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 does follow other Panasonic 3D plasma televisions by taking quite a lot of brightness out of its 3D images. But the pros far outweigh the cons, and if you can manage to watch 3D in a dark room wherever possible, the brightness reduction isn't a major blow by any means.
Usability, sound and value
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For the most part the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 is laudably easy to use, considering what an exceptionally feature-heavy and sophisticated TV it is. Its My Home Screen smart TV interface is inspired, delivering the easiest to follow on-screen menus and simplest personalisation system we've seen from a TV to date.
The presentation is clear, the set-up system is comprehensive, and there's enough on-screen direction and help to ensure that not even the most technophobic user should ever feel confused.
The sheer volume of picture calibration tools could overwhelm the unprepared. But the technical stuff is sensibly tucked away out of sight of casual eyes, and even if you do seek the in-depth calibration tools out they're presented in quite a straightforward manner.
The way you can use the calibration menus via your iOS or Android device rather than on the TV screen is superb, too.
Actually, the Viera Remote 2 app that contains the calibration features is generally excellent, enabling as it does screen sharing of what's on your TV with your smart device's screen, and 'casting' of what's stored on your smart device to the TV screen. The app interface for all these features is brilliantly intuitive, too.
The only bum note in the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's interface, really, is the touchpad remote that Panasonic supplies alongside a more normal handset. The touchpad on this device is too small, too quirky in its responses and too circular to harmonise effectively with a rectangular screen.
Pictures as big and brilliant as those delivered by the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 clearly deserve to be partnered by some first-rate audio.
And while the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 doesn't scale quite the same audio heights as the Sony KD-65X9005A, its front-firing speakers supported by a rear-mounted bass speaker combine handsomely to deliver much more power, clarity and soundstage size than the vast majority of flat TV speaker systems.
This is a tricky one. It's a plain and simple fact that the vast majority of people won't be able to even think about coughing up the £4,000 (around US$5,990 / AU$6,540) necessary to secure a Panasonic TX-P60ZT65. But that in itself doesn't make the TV bad value.
We guess you could also point to the outstanding qualities of Panasonic's VT65 series and ask if the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 is really so good that it warrants spending considerably more money on.
But in the end, for us the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's value situation simply boils down to this: it produces the absolute finest, most cinematic picture quality we've ever seen from a Full HD TV. And so far as we're concerned, this fact alone will make it worth every last penny of its £4k price to any serious AV fan who can afford it.
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The Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 is so uncompromising it almost feels like Panasonic getting mad - mad at the way people keep gravitating towards LCD TVs when plasma is capable of delivering astonishingly good picture quality.
Signs of Panasonic's uncompromising approach to its new flagship TV are everywhere. The set's build quality is incredibly robust. The connections are gold plated. The panel is built using new difficult-to-deliver, contrast-boosting Air Gapless technology.
The picture calibration options are almost endless, too, as you might expect from a TV endorsed by the THX group, the ISF and - in a world first - the European Broadcast Union.
Yet despite its sophistication it's still very easy to use, not least thanks to Panasonic's inspired My Home Screen.
What most matters about the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65, though, is that the brand's unwillingness to compromise its construction to hit a price point has resulted in picture quality so good that it's hard to imagine how it will be bettered until OLED or UHD/4K go mainstream.
The Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's My Home Screen interface is gloriously simple and fun to use, its sound quality is excellent, and best of all its picture quality is unprecedentedly good - so much so that it makes us wonder if it will ever be bettered using current mainstream technologies.
It would be good if Panasonic could add a few more of the mainstream video streaming services to its online platform. There are some minor motion issues unless you use the provided IFC processing, and obviously it would be great if the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 cost much less than it does. But if it did, then it's pretty clear it wouldn't be as good. It's called getting what you pay for, people.
If you're able to take in the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's £4,000 (around US$5,990 / AU$6,540) price tag without shaking your head in frustration, then you should be well on the way to getting one of Panasonic's groundbreaking TVs installed in your living room.
After all, the only other significant reason you could have for not bagging one is that Panasonic's online services don't include as many of the key catch-up TV services as we'd like.
But this is a puny downside, really, when considered against the fact that the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 delivers pictures so unprecedentedly good you don't ever want to turn it off.
With no Full HD/2K TVs getting up near the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65's price or performance standards, the most direct rival would have to be an Ultra HD/4K-resolution model: namely Sony's identically-priced 55-inch KD-55X9005A. Based on the 65-inch Sony KD-65X9005A that we've reviewed, we predict stellar picture quality from the 55-inch model too, especially when you're watching the amazing resolution of native 4K sources. However, the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 massively outguns the Sony glamourpuss in the contrast department.
Otherwise you're essentially looking at cheaper but less spectacular alternatives to the Panasonic TX-P60ZT65. Which in our mind would include Panasonic's own hugely impressive P55VT65 plasma, Samsung's startlingly bright but slightly dither-prone PS64F8500 or, if you'd rather have an LCD TV for greater brightness and cuter looks (though reduced contrast), Samsung's gorgeous-looking and innovatively featured UE55F8000, and finally Sony's KDL-55W905A.