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AVS Forum's Top 5 Plasma TVs

Plasma TVs can claim only about 5 percent of the flat-panel TV market, and Panasonic's decision to stop making plasmas next year is a nail in the coffin of this technology. But most professional reviewers and many AVS members maintain that plasma produces superior picture quality compared with LCD TVs, especially in rooms with subdued lighting. And this year's models perform better than ever—finally rising to the level of the fabled Pioneer Kuro—so now might be the perfect time to snag one of the best plasmas ever made and enjoy a stunningly good picture for years to come.


Unlike LCD TVs, plasmas are relatively simple, and they don't suffer from display-based motion blur, off-axis performance problems, or high black levels, all of which LCDs must counteract in some way. Most plasmas provide so-called "smart TV" features, which include access to various online-content sources as well as content stored on computers and other devices connected to your local home network via the DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) standard. And whereas LCDs can offer 3D using active-shutter or passive glasses, plasmas can use only active-shutter glasses, which give you full HD resolution (1920x1080) for each eye. However, some viewers find active-shutter glasses more uncomfortable than passive glasses on LCD TVs, which give you only half vertical resolution for each eye (1920x540).


Also, while there are now several LCD TVs with Ultra High Definition (UHD) resolution—3860x2160—there are no such plasma TVs. This is not a big deal in my book, since there is virtually no native UHD content available to consumers, and many of the parameters of UHD have not been settled yet, so any UHDTV you buy today will likely be obsolete in a couple of years.


The plasma TVs in this buying guide were selected as the best models available in 2013 by consulting various review outlets such as CNET and Consumer Reports as well as AVS reviews and owner threads and a special call out to members for their top picks.


You'll notice an "xx" in the model numbers below; this is a placeholder for the size of the screen. For example, the TC-P50S60 has a 50-inch screen, measured diagonally.


Panasonic TC-PxxS60


The S60 is a basic plasma TV with no 3D capability that still produces a superb picture with deep blacks, great shadow detail, accurate colors, and excellent off-axis performance and uniformity. Like most plasmas, the picture quality deteriorates somewhat in very bright light, but at these bargain-basement prices, that's easy to overlook, especially if you can close the drapes or you watch mostly in the evening. Its basic "smart TV" functionality is fine as far as it goes, but a Blu-ray player or media-streaming box will provide more online content.



Scott Says: If 3D isn't important to you and saving big bucks is, this is a no-brainer.







Panasonic TC-PxxST60


The ST60 is Panasonic's least-expensive 3D-capable plasma, and it's a fantastic 2D set as well, with deep blacks, superb shadow detail, accurate colors, and great off-axis performance and uniformity. It even stands up to room light fairly well, and a solid suite of "smart TV" apps brings online content home. This is the first TV to achieve a perfect 5-star rating from CNET.



Scott Says: If you enjoy 3D and online streaming without spending a fortune, this mid-priced plasma is a terrific value.






Panasonic TC-PxxVT60


One step down from Panasonic's flagship, the VT60 is superb in every way; in fact, CNET declared, "This plasma picture finally challenges Kuro." Super-deep blacks, great color, excellent shadow detail, great off-axis performance and uniformity, voice-activated control, touchpad remote, onboard camera for Skype and such, and surprisingly good sound quality for a TV all make this a killer plasma. It's expensive, but definitely worth it.



Scott Says: With all this set has going for it, what's not to love?






Samsung PNxxF8500


If there's one plasma that can go head to head with Panasonic's flagship ZT60—and even beat it in at least one respect—it's the Samsung F8500. This top-of-the-line flat panel can pump out more light than any other current or past plasma, and it offers superb performance in all other areas as well—deep blacks, great shadow detail, accurate colors, excellent off-axis performance and uniformity, great 3D, industry-leading "smart TV" functionality, and touchpad remote as well as gesture and voice control. Even better, it's a bit less expensive than the ZT60.



Scott Says: If you want the superior picture performance of a plasma in a brightly lit room, there's nothing better on the market. And it works great in the dark, too.





Panasonic TC-PxxZT60


The ZT60 is nothing short of astounding, with even deeper blacks than the VT60, great shadow detail, highly accurate colors, superb off-axis performance and uniformity, great 3D, excellent video processing, lots of "Smart TV" apps, and better ambient-light reflection rejection than the VT60. It can't stand up to as much room light as the Samsung F8500, but other than that, it's a worthy contender for Best Plasma Ever.



Scott Says: If you've got the bucks and a hankering for the best plasma money can buy, this is it.





Comments (30)

I would also add the TC-PxxS64 which is the S60 but with the anti glare filter the ST60 has.
it is only sold at Costco and you can get the 50" for 599$. My friend has it and I was really impressed. I own a KRP-500M!
The way the ZT is explained it's as if it has all these extra features over the VT. The fact is the VT and the ZT are pretty much the exact same TV with the ZT having a better filter for brighter room watching. If side by side in a dark or low light room they are virtually identical. The ZT lacks the camera and you are simply paying more solely for the filter which again is actually unnecessary for anything but bright room viewing. I know most people on these forums would know this but not an average consumer who was to read this article. Lastly to compare the Samsung 8500 to anything above the ST60 in PQ is a sin. First of all the ST is still better over all than the "flag ship" Samsung plasma and the VT and ZT are both leaps and bounds ahead of it especially in blacks which many will agree is the single most important thing of any TV. And what's up with the gross DLP like design. The foot note is just too large if on a stand.
You hit the nail on the head Scott.........thanks for your expertise.
It must have been the greatest sin for the F8500 to win this year's shootout then. It only proves plasma's greatest issue is still the ABL.
Scott, you included a low tear lever and a mid tear lever for the Panasonics, but did not mentioned a mid tear level for the Samsung line. I consider the Samsung PNXXF5500 to be a comparable TV to the Panasoninc's mid tear level. Its black levels and overall picture challenges the Panasonic PQ in my opinion. Also, its has been discussed that the Samsungs have less lag for gamers as well as having less Image retention that can be a problem for some if high contrast is needed for room environment. Either Panasonic or Samsung Plasmas are a great buy.
I say Panasonic is the best. Samsung is second.
I agree with all said here with a couple of exceptions.

1.) Both 3D and UHD, features virtually no one clamored for before their introduction and relatively few seem concerned with after, receive too much consideration.
2.) The ZT & VT are pretty close in PQ, but the F8500 is no slouch either. Because they each have their strengths and weaknesses, personal situations--namely ambient light & price--play more of a factor in determining which is best. As such, IMO it should be a 3 way tie.
3.) Plasmas suffer from image retention. It's better than it used to be and perhaps this isn't the place to mention it, but it's still a consideration when comparing plasma to LCD.

Overall a good guide for those who want to snatch up a Panasonic plasma before they're all gone.
I have four Hi-def TV's now,Two Plasma and two Led,so im not going worry about if Panasonic is not going to make Plasma anymore,so we all need to move on,it's life things don't stay the same.
Thinking of getting a 65" S for a completely light controlled basement room (white ceilings and beige carpeting, darker walls) for TV, Videogames, and movies (that order). Won't go with an ST due to input lag. 65" VT is twice as expensive. How important do you guys think the lack of 24p/60fps, lower motion resolution, and lower black levels is on the S?
superleo, I thought long and hard about including the Samsung F5500, but its reviews were simply not as good as those of the comparable Panasonics, and I wanted to limit the guide only to the very best.
are any of these recommended for use with video games?? i do alot of gaming and always get scared of brun-in
@MassConfusion: The smaller percentage of time you spend playing games vs. mixed content the less likely you will experience image retention but all plasmas have potential for it. I play games regularly on my ZT and have had no problems with IR.
Scott, great summary. I would be interested in a numeral values of "room brightness" and what tools a common person could use to determine their "room brightness" for a certain room at different times of the day. It would also be interesting to know at what value of "room brightness" these TV's performance start to degrade. Do such a scale and tool exist?
Thanks Scott, I totally agree if you are limiting the choices to top 5.
Just a bit of information -- Sound & Vision magazine called the Samsung F8500 "The Kuro killer".
I probably would have bought the S60 but Panasonic decided not to make it available in UK.

Now I'm waiting to see if a decent budget LED projector becomes available as the current ones don't have enough lumens and use stupid noisy little fans, just so they could make the casing smaller.

Making do with my Sony XBR800 36" CRT until then
Since there is many of your reading this i just wanted to let you know that i have found an issue with the Panasonic Plasma TV and Asus Router RT-68U. Netflix does not work, this has been escalated to Asus and is currently under investigation. I have posted this on the forum and on Amazon.co.uk review for the same Asus router.
Plasma does not work well with HTPC. Showstopper for me.
@smprather - I've been using my HTPC with a plasma for years. Originally with a Fujitsu ALiS panel but now with a Samsung F8500, and it's fantastic. What makes you says that it doesn't "work well"?
My buddy tried one out for a few days. I have more from him, but here's the first thing I found:

This is another thing I noticed about the plasma, but I didn't know the right words to call it. ABL, or Automatic Brightness Limiter:

"If the TV has any option to disable dynamic contrast then you can turn it off, however some TVs do not have any such option available. Furthermore, for plasma owners, something known as the Automatic Brightness Limiter (ABL) can't be turned off. This is a protective feature built into plasmas to control power consumption, since on a plasma brightness is directly related to the amount of power consumed. In scenes with a high Average Picture Level (APL) - that is, scenes which have a high proportion of bright elements - the ABL will reduce the overall brightness output of the plasma panel to stabilize power consumption; conversely in scenes which have a lower proportion of brighter elements (low APL), the overall brightness of the scene is allowed to be higher. For example a full white screen is not going to have as much luminance as a small window of white on a dark background, precisely due to ABL." snipped from http://www.tweakguides.com/HDTV_5.html

It was very annoying for an HTPC guy like me where I'll be reading a webpage on the left side of the screen, and have a TV tuner showing the news playing in a window on the right side of the screen. The brightness of the webpage was always varying with the brightness of the show. I could also notice it when I toggled a webpage between windowed and full screen mode.

Damn plasmas suck. Why are they so popular?
Oh, he tried it for a few weeks.

I just returned the panny vt50, and am waiting for sony to release the hx950. Full array local dimming backlights is the best compromise for what is important to me. I had higher expectations for the plasma but the dithering / pixel noise, flickering, and burn-in were killers. Inconsistent brightness and horizontal smearing of the brightness didn't help. And I could see that its idea of absolute black had turned more gray just during the weeks I had it.
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