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Panasonic VT60 65" Plasma - Nothing is perfect, but so far VERY pleased!
on July 17, 2013
Caution: What follows is a long-winded review, read before bed time if you are having trouble falling asleep! ;-) Happy reading.
For those looking for a "Readers Digest" version of the review - overall I am extremely satisfied with the VT60 picture quality and features. IMHO, it lives up to all the hype, and the Value Electronics shootout experts picking it as the "top dog" in Plasmas is warranted - it beats out any other plasma I have owned or seen - and it is a lot bigger at 65" to boot! The only other plasmas, or any TV for that matter, that are on the same level as the VT60 are the Panasonic ZT60 and Samsung F8500, and if these sets are better than the VT60 it is not by much. Now, on to the details...
First - I am *not* a true "videophile" but I do have a long history with plasmas, and purchased my first two plasma TV's way back in 2003. They were both Sony's (a 42" and a 32") and they were both built like tanks. I still own both today and use them daily, with the 42" in my family room and the 32" in my shop. They both also still display a wonderful picture 10 years later, and they were one of the best TV purchases I have ever made! I also currently own a Sony 46" Bravia LCD I purchased about five years ago (our bedroom TV) - another wonderful TV. I also own a couple of smaller TV's
I have owned the VT60 for 2 weeks now as of the date of this review. I spent about 8 weeks debating, comparing the 65" VT60, ZT60 and the Samsung F8500 64", with many trips to electronics stores where I could commandeer the remotes ;-) and spend time with different video sources comparing the sets. (nothing worse than comparing the TV's in the Standard and Vivid modes the retailers use on the floor). Note I also recently purchased a 65" Samsung 7000 LED from Costco about 12 weeks ago, but that set was returned as I was not at all satisfied (to put it lightly) with the picture quality, the contrast, and overall viewing experience. I always seemed to be "messing" with the picture settings on the LED when changing viewing content, I could never get it right as what worked well for one channel / show did not hold true for others... I have read how others have the same issue.
There are still times that I wish I would have purchased the ZT60 for ~$500 more, as there is a little glare on the VT60 compared to the ZT60 when viewing during the day. Those looking at the VT60, you may have read that there is a little glare in brighter environs, and it is true. Whether it is beyond your tolerance is personal preference; my viewing room is not overly bright and it is within the tolerance level for me, though sometimes I still notice it. If you have an overly bright viewing room, take a more critical look at the Samsung F8500 plasma or the Panasonic ZT60 plasma as they are better for brighter viewing locations.
What did I think of the VT / ZT compared to the new Samsung F8500 plasma? Bottom line - for my eye (and YMMV of course) the Panasonic was just more pleasing to the eye on displaying the "blacks", and appeared to have better contrast and color transitions than the Samsung series. I know the Value Electronics shootout "audience" chose the F8500 as the overall top pick, whereas the "experts" picked the VT60 as the top dog which illustrates that BOTH are great displays, and that it is a tough choice for anyone comparing the two. Note that in all cases in the VE shootout, the Panasonics won on contrast, black levels, motion viewing - it was the brightness feature that put the Samsung F8500 over the top as it was markedly better. For me, I think the contrast / black level rating should have been weighted more heavily in the final tally, but that is just me - if it were then the Panasonic would have won hands down, even in the "audience" vote as the results were virtually a tie as it stood.
Now on to more detailed observaations on the VT60:
The VT60 is packaged VERY well. The box is huge, and there are thick Styrofoam inserts inside the box holding the TV, and a lot of space between the TV and the side of the box. As a result, the box weighs around 140lbs with the TV inside. Panasonic did a good job of giving this box adequate protection! (not all TV's do). By comparison, the 65" Samsung LED set I returned to Costco - the VT60 box dwarfed the Samsung LED box, and the Panasonic had higher quality packaging materials and heavier cardboard IMHO.
Construction of the VT60:
The older plasmas are thicker and heavier, but these days they have thinned them down and made them more streamlined. In addition, the back panel of the VT60 is not plastic like many of the TV's sold today - it is metal and very substantial. I appreciated this, the 65" Samsung 7000 LED was plastic and I seem to recall the F8500 was also. Although the plastic construction lightens up the weight a bit on other models, I prefer the metal / solid construction of the VT60 plasma.... I guess I am just old fashioned and appreciate things built more solidly. Also, the stand is heavy, solid and substantial. The stand does NOT swivel, but this was not important to me due to the configuration of the room where it is set up. It is made of high quality stainless and holds the TV well. Mounting the TV into the stand requires two people for the 65" and probably the same for the 60". You could probably do it alone in a pinch, but having two people reduces the stress level when attempting to insert it into the stand!
The VT60 "look and feel" is not flashy / sexy IMO, it is simple, unassuming and pedestrian. The silver bezel around the edge is a nice touch, and overall I prefer the toned down look and its simplicity.
Installation / Setup:
As with most TVs these days, and due to the HDMI cables of today, the setup / cabling is a breeze. I run all of my optical / sound cables directly from the device to the AVR, and have one Optical Out coming from the TV for watching Over-the-air signals, and for the Smart TV menus / streaming. My AVR does not have HDMI inputs, as it is an ancient Denon 2800 (I need to upgrade ;-)) so I have to route all of my devices HDMI directly to the TV! Thus, I wish the VT60 had more than 3 HDMI ports as I am one with too many devices - don't most of us - but for many of those that do not have "too many" devices it won't be an issue. Five would have been better, but I make do.
The setup of the TV on initial start up was easy - although I did not have my wireless keyboard at that point and entering in the data for things like the WEP wireless key (25 characters) was a pain with the included remotes. (See the remote critique below - I am not a big fan so far of the included remotes - I already purchased a wireless keyboard, and plan on upgrading my universal remote).
In the 2 weeks of owning the VT60, I have viewed a good degree of varying content to make an assessment of picture quality. I have watched three 3d movies - Avatar, Avengers and Toy Story ; viewed various sporting events including around ten (or so) baseball games on ESPN, WGN and more, watched the Stanley Cup Game 7 recorded from DVR, watched Game 7 of the NBA finals recorded on the DVR, soccer, etc. I have watched Bluray movies of different titles, older 480p titles like Rocky, Groundhog Day and more. I have watched Discovery, Science channel for many hours, shows like Deadliest Catch, Storage Wars, Pawn Stars, Through the Wormhole, cartoons (with my boys), cooking and home improvement shows, and more. We are a TV watching type of family, and we view many types of shows to put the TV through its paces We have nearly achieved the 100 hours of "break in time" called for with the VT60 - we are enjoying it, plus the boys are on summer break and the TV is on at least 6-7 hours a day whether watching movies, playing the PS3, etc. The novelty has not worn off yet I guess! Here is what I have found:
- Picture Settings - as recommended in many forums, I have been using the THX Cinema picture setting and think it produces the best overall picture for all content I view. During the "break in" period I am leaving the contrast, color and brightness at the default settings, or very close to it. I am not running any break in "slides" and do not plan on having the TV professionally calibrated - I am just planning on *maybe* running the THX optimizer at a minimum at a later date. YMMV.
- Brightness - the biggest "knock" on the VT60 by the critics is regarding the brightness of the VT60 - it is not "knock your socks off bright" - but from my experience, that is like most plasmas. That is the big selling point on Samsung's F8500, it is a bright plasma. However, most plasma's today have had the same characteristic, and for my taste this is not an issue - compared to the overly bright LED displays, I appreciate the muted, more realistic look of the plasma, even if they are a tad dimmer. Others may find it not to their liking, especially if it is your first plasma, but it depends on the person. To me, again, the brightness is fine. The best combination of brightness / contrast is found using the "THX Cinema" or "THX Bright Room" settings - other settings like "Standard" don't give as much brightness. As mentioned above, I would recommend leaving the TV set at THX cinema setting as that is touted as giving the best overall picture for all content.
- Contrast - As advertised, VT60's contrast is top of the heap. The color transition and sharp edges are incredible. Bright colors next to more muted colors are well discerned, and it has no trouble delineating / separating deep reds right next to dull grays. The Value Electronics plasma shoot out rated the VT and ZT series TV's as the best contrast in the industry, and you have to see it for yourself to believe it. It is better than any TV I have ever owned, and probably as good as any TV I have ever viewed.
- Black Levels - This is where the VT and ZT series shine. The black levels are astounding. The 65" Samsung LED I returned absolutely failed on the black levels, and by comparison the VT60 is light years ahead. One unforgiving test of the black rendering is on the Discovery Science channel; the show "Through the Wormhole" with Morgan Freeman, it often shows him in a dimly lit room with different shades of black shadows where he is wearing a black suit. That scene is a test for a TV's ability to render the black levels, and the 65" Samsung LED butchered this scene, with "pixelated" / washed-out blacks and all sorts of choppiness. It was awful. But the VT60 has no issue rendering this scene - you can pick up the different shades of black in the shadows, and they contrast with the black suit he is wearing very well. The VT60 also does a much better job on this than the two other plasmas I own - it is very evident. The hype about the black level rendering of the VT60 is living up to expectations so far...
- 3D Quality - granted, it is not IMAX, but if you choose titles filmed in native 3d (like Avatar) my guess is you will be quite pleased with the 3D experience. Avatar was awesome in 3D... period. Note that not all movies being sold as 3D movies were shot "natively" in 3D - many like Jurassic Park, Transformers and many more were shot in 2D and then re-produced to add 3D effects. Not the same thing, and some are not happy with those titles. Do a Google search on this topic (real vs. fake 3d movies) and you will find a lot of information. Overall, I am very happy with the 3D capabilities of the set - again, 3D was not the major deciding factor on the VT60, it is more of a bonus to me as picture quality trumps all... the fact the 3D works well and maintains an awesome picture whilst doing so is very nice!
The bottom line - I bought the VT60 for its touted Picture Quality - that was the MAIN factor in my decision. And it has not disappointed - what an awesome picture! Things like Smart TV features, camera, etc were secondary in my decision.
The Remotes / Peripherals, 3D glasses and Camera:
The Panasonic comes with two remotes - one remote that is more for using for all the TV functionality, and one smaller remote that has a track pad that can be used for the smart TV interface, etc. I am not overly excited about the remotes - one might want to consider getting a high quality universal remote paired with a wireless keyboard instead. The larger remote does not have the ability to control your other peripherals like other TV remotes do, and the smaller remote I found to be not so great IMHO. During setup, when tying in your information and especially the 25 character WEP keys, a wireless keyboard is better served. I bought a Logitech wireless KB to use with the VT60, and happier with that for navigating the smart TV features. The camera is OK, and the facial recognition is working, but I am realizing the camera is something I probably won't use much at this point.
The included 3D glasses (two pairs) are of good quality, and work well. If you have to buy more Panasonic 3D glasses, be aware they are expensive - I would recommend alternatively purchasing the Samsung 3D glasses instead for $20 if you need more. (the Panasonics can cost as much as $70). We have two pairs of the Panasonic glasses, and two pairs of the Samsung and both work well. One thing about the included battery with the Panasonic - the battery that came installed in the glasses died during the first 3D show after about an hour - so the included battery was either weak or low quality. It happened with both sets of glasses. However, after installing a Maxell 2025 battery in each, they both have lasted through three 3D movies, and are still more than 80% full... so just be ready to have some spare batteries on hand for the glasses. Overall, the Panasonic 3D glasses work well, are highly rated and I am satisfied with the experience.
Smart TV Features and Navigation:
If I had to sum it up, I would give a 6/10 so far for the Panasonic Smart TV interface and more importantly the "navigability" of the interface. For the most part, it is satisfactory, but there is still major room for improvements. Apparently, the Web Browser was not complete when they released the TV - you will have to see for yourself what I mean! For instance - pressing the "Help" feature came up with a dialogue "To be released later, under construction" or something to that effect. In other words, the TV's help feature is still being worked on - note I do have the latest software updates and all. Plus, the Web Browser is, for all intents and purposes, kind of painful to operate. It is very easy to "accidentally" hit the edge of the picture when trying to scroll with the scroll bars, and this results in the "hyper scroll" feature to kick in, basically frustrating you as the scroll kicks into hyper-drive and messes up the location where you are viewing. Plus, things like weather.com - if you try to click on the Doppler map, it tells you this feature is not supported. Finally, the interface crashed numerous times, especially when trying to view pictures / enlarge things at Costo.com. There is more, but some of the reasons I think they can do a little more development / refinement of the Smart TV interface, and get something released hopefully soon.
The access to Amazon, Netflix and more is well laid out and easy to use. The responsiveness / speed of the internet is adequate - I am running the TV wirelessly and do not have any issues with the speed / responsiveness to date. So that is good...
The "Break In" Period (first 100 hrs):
There is a lot of debate on whether there is a true "break in" period for TV's, especially plasmas, and what you read on the "experts" forums and what you get back from Panasonic can be very different at times. To calibrate or not to calibrate? That is up to you and your comfort level. Realize most casual viewers don't and won't, but others swear by it. I made the decision to just follow some simple rules during the first 100-200 hours of viewing, and NOT to calibrate my set. (other than maybe running the THX optimizer at some point). Do your own searches on this topic, make your own assessment and decision - the "right / wrong" arguments on this topic are not scarce. Do I think that the RIGHT professional calibration could squeeze out the extra 10% of picture quality out of the set? Maybe... but I am not sure I want to spend the $$ to find out. And I don't think I will regret that decision... YMMV.
That being said - the simple rules I am following during break in:
- I am not watching content for extended periods that has the black bars / letter box (aka 4:3 SD, 2:35:1 movies, etc). If it is letterboxed, I just fill the screen with Zoom or Just or whatever works.
- I am avoiding channels with a large degree of "crawl" on the bottom of the screen, and shows / games that have a lot of static content. Plus, I am being careful not to leave the set on for extended periods with static menus / content. (it can be a challenge with two 13 yr old video game players as some of you know - but they seem to get it).
- I have only allowed a couple of hours total of video games due to their high degree of potential static content - my boys are dismayed but they will live!
- Finally, I am leaving the contrast, brightness and color settings pretty close to the default. I am using THX cinema, and to be honest the default settings for this still throw up one heckuva picture, and do not need that much tweaking IMHO.
- Other than those simple rules, I am enjoying the set and not worrying to much about things like the "History" channel logo, commercials with black bars, shows that have the dreaded crawl as long as they are not constantly on...
In summary, every test I have thrown at the VT60 - whether it is viewing cable TV, playing older 480p movies, playing Bluray, viewing 3d or even when my boys use it for gaming - the VT60 never fails to impress and has passed with "flying colors" (pun intended!). I continually marvel at the quality of the picture, and compared to the Samsung 7000 series LED I returned in favor of the Panasonic, I could not be happier with that decision. There is no comparison; the Panasonic plasma just plain smashes the Samsung 7000 series LEDs in every aspect of picture quality, and it will do the same to many of the other TV's on the market. Comparing the VT60 to a Samsung 7000LED is probably not a fair comparison, but just offering that as a data point. But then again, the Samsung was still $2600 new... so you be the judge.
Would I recommend the Panasonic VT series, and would I buy it again? Most definitely. But take the time and decide for yourself, as the ZT series and F8500 series are also great TV's.
Thanks for reading!! I hope this helps you in your purchasing decision.