In the last few weeks, CNET's David Katzmaier has written several reviews of Panasonic's latest plasma panels. The first of those reviews was a whopper—the Panasonic ST60 received the highest recommendation ever given to a television by CNET. The next one was the four-star rated VT60; in that review, Katzmaier said he finally found a "Kuro killer"—a television that outperforms the famed Pioneer Kuro plasma—and stated that the VT60 produced the second-best picture of any HDTV he has ever reviewed.The ZT60's picture quality is the best, according to CNET's David Katzmaier
The VT60 came in second place because there is a new champion—in terms of image quality—at CNET's headquarters. Simply put, Katzmaier referred to the flagship ZT60 as "the best-performing TV we've ever tested." Panasonic is undoubtedly pleased that somebody agrees with the ZT60's marketing slogan: "Beyond the Reference." Being declared the best-ever HDTV earned the ZT60 four stars. Why is that the case, and what makes the ZT60 "the best" despite the less-than-five-star rating?
The answer rests in the fundamental value offered by these televisions. Both the VT60 and the ZT60 are premium-priced panels; in fact, the 60-inch VT60 is twice the price of the highly competent ST60. To earn five stars from CNET, it is not enough for a TV to simply be "the best"—apparently, it also needs to represent the best value. The ST60 ranked fourth among 2013 HDTVs in terms of total picture quality, but it is ranked number one for value.
The ZT60 is not about a "best value" proposition. The premium paid over the VT60's price buys very little—the two panels look nearly identical hanging on a wall—but the main difference might just be enough to tip the balance, at least for some discerning videophiles. To be specific, the main differentiating feature between the two panels is the ambient light filter. The ZT60 features a more robust filter, which allows the reproduction of extremely deep blacks in rooms that are not fully dark. According to CNET's review, and backed up by my own personal experience, there is a sweet spot for dim-room viewing where the ZT60 produces one of the best-looking pictures possible in an HDTV panel.
That difference appears to be the factor that led to the crowning of the ZT60 as "best-performing TV." It appears the house Kuro at CNET headquarters will enjoy retirement after an unusually long reign as champion. Shoppers trying to decide between the VT60 and the ZT60 based on image quality concerns will likely find that both HDTVs offer identical image quality in almost all circumstances.
"The two high-end Panasonics deliver basically the same picture, including the same black levels, contrast, color and video processing, in dark home theater environments. The only difference arises when the lights come up. In a bright room the ZT60 maintains black levels and reduces reflections better than the VT60." – CNET
The VT60 is slightly brighter, which might be helpful when there is ambient light in a room, but at the same time, the aggressive ambient-light filter on the ZT60 will make it appear to have slightly darker blacks when viewed in the same environment. In Katzmaier's view, the deeper blacks trumped the lower maximum brightness.
For many buyers, that is a hairsplitting difference, and I can confirm it having seen them both at a recent shootout. However, any buyer looking for the ultimate dark-room and dim-room viewing experience on a flat-panel HDTV between 55 and 65 inches should take a good look at the ZT60—it is the flagship in Panasonic's line and sports the best image quality of any television that CNET has ever reviewed.
"That's why an extra $500 or so for the ZT60 over the also-superb VT60 and PNF8500 is only worth spending if you absolutely must have the very best. The narrowness of its performance advantage over those TVs hurts its value proposition, so if money is an object, that extra cash is tough to justify." – CNET
Is a superior filter enough to justify the premium Panasonic charges for the ZT60? Or is this simply the wrong year to be buying a premium HDTV? Apparently, the new ZT60 is as good as it gets in terms of image quality. With OLED and UHDTV TVs hitting the market, is image quality enough to justify the investment in such a premium-priced panel?
"if you demand the very best right now and can afford it, none of those caveats or qualifiers matter in the face of the ZT60's commanding performance. It simply offers the best overall TV picture quality you can buy right now, period." – CNET