Panasonic's new VT60 series has been making quite a splash, both in the AV forums and at Cleveland Plasma, where owner Chris has lost count of the questions about...
black levels,contrast, shadow detail, colors, 3D, great apps
calibration adjustments fussier than on VT50, not as bright as Samsung F8500
Review: Panasonic TC-P60VT60
Panasonic's new VT60 series has been making quite a splash, both in the AV forums and at Cleveland Plasma, where owner Chris has lost count of the questions about how the VT60 differs from last year's incredibly good 50 series. He had one sent over so I could spend some time evaluating this new gem. After a proper break in, I split the HDMI signal going to my GT50 and moved the VT60 into the living room right under it.
The VT60's screen has a very impressive ability to maintain deep blacks, even in high ambient light. With both sets off, the VT60 screen filter keeps it darker- the GT50 is a bit milky white in comparison. However, the VT60's reflections are sharper and more distinct; the GT50's reflections are more diffused. The screen filter that soaks up all that ambient light does restrict the vertical viewing angle a bit, though it should only be noticeable at extreme angles. When planning it's location, it would be best to avoid strong direct light that would cause reflections; and if it is mounted up high, ideally it should be tilted down toward the viewing position. A bit of extra top clearance should be allowed for the built in pop up video camera.
The VT60 is a great looking TV, with a slim profile and handsome, dark bezel. It's loaded with smart features, such as voice recognition using a second, smaller touchpad remote. There may be a small learning curve with it, but once some of the accepted voice commands are learned, it should be a welcome addition. The VT60 comes preloaded with more apps than our GT50, such as a calendar app on the home page, voice and video memos, Accuweather, and more. There is a top mounted camera and microphone for Skype and video messaging, and facial recognition for users who want different home screens.
The swipe and share feature allows easy display of pictures from your smart phone or tablet after the free remote app is downloaded on your device. Then, if you get the optional scriber pen, you can write directly on your pictures when they are displayed on the TV, and when you flip the picture back to your phone it will have what you wrote on it.
The remote app allows your 50 or 60 series to be controlled by your smart phone or tablet. The remote app's Smart Calibration feature allows fine tuning of the advanced picture controls on your VT60 while using the TV's smart features.
The VT60 has an Apps button on the remote that allows quick 1 button access. If you stream Netflix directly over the TV, you'll appreciate the red Netflix button on the remote. We were impressed with how well designed and advanced the VT60's features were.
The VT60 comes with 2 pairs of 3D glasses, which operate via RF and come fully charged.
Vivid mode looks exciting and, as it's name implies, vivid. However, it also imparts an overexposed look to the image, and skin tones have chronic sunburn. Dark images sink down into the black background, making details hard to see. It really isn't a good choice for picture quality, looking quite garish and fake, but it's there just in case.
Switching from Vivid to Standard mode seems almost like hitting a “picture mute” switch. Standard mode looks dark, uninvolving, and bland. In addition, faces look glazed over, with detail in brightly lit faces smeared away.
Custom mode appears to be a more watchable version of Vivid mode, with lots of pop but poor shadow detail, skin tones, and color.
Home theater mode, a new addition for the 60 series, offers more than a glimpse of the VT60's greatness. Apart from just slightly reddish skin tones, the image Home Theater mode offers is beautiful, with excellent detail in dark images and very impressive contrast. However, motion appears artificially smoothed, with occasional jerks and artifacts. In comparison to a professionally calibrated TV, whites look a bit bluish, though without a direct comparison it would not draw attention to itself.
THX Cinema also brings out much of the VT60's strengths, including excellent contrast, shadow detail, and color. However, it's presentation is a bit more earthy toned and muted in comparison to Home Theater mode. Motion handling is excellent.
THX Bright Room looks great for it's intended purpose- maintaining a respectable amount of accuracy while boosting the perceived brightness. Image quality was good overall, though dark shadings were tinted purple and faces acquired a bit of the caked on makeup look that was so prevalent in Standard mode.
Cinema mode seems a bit redundant, considering the excellent choices Home Theater and THX Cinema modes offer. Cinema looks darker than those modes, and a bit off white like THX Cinema mode. It's another good looking choice, though not as much to my liking because of it's darker presentation.
The VT60 has some calibration issues that remind me of Panasonic's own VT30, which had the dishonor of being the most quirky and flaky display in recent memory. Specifically, repeatability appears to be poor, meaning that a perfect result today may be closer to a just OK result tomorrow. Also, the Professional mode's 10 point adjustment is quite quirky, with a small change in one area often throwing other areas off that should not be interrelated. Calibrating the VT60 to a high level precision necessitates much more care in laying the proper foundation, and even then the results may lose that precision quickly. Unfortunately, this is a step backward from last year's 50 series, which were a pleasure to calibrate. Fortunately, these issues were minor and only applied to that last elusive bit of refinement that is probably not visible any way.
Panel brightness low raises the black level and seriously degrades contrast ratio, so I tried calibrating the VT60 in panel brightness mid and finally in high. As in the 30 and 50 series, panel brightness mid is the best choice for an accurate image. It allows a moderately bright image that is adequate for up to a normal family room ambient light level. However, some viewers may prefer a brighter image, so I attempted to calibrate a Day mode with panel brightness set to high. High allows about a 33% boost in light output, though it causes serious white crush at and above 95% at any contrast setting that gives a light output above about 26 fL. The white crush in PB high was visible with real images, so I consider both PB high and low seriously flawed at this time. However, in 3D mode PB high does not crush white and is perfectly usable.
Black level was measured in a dark room after a few minutes of running the screen wiper. It measured a superb .00146 in 60Hz mode, and was too low for my meter to read (presumably below .001 fL) in 96Hz mode. In 60 Hz mode, the modified ANSI contrast ratio was 12,067:1 (.00165, 19.91 fL). Peak light output with a 100% full field was an unspectacular 12.12 fL in PB mid, 12.22 fL in PB high. For that test I have obtained readings from a low of around 5 fL from an LG to 23.4 fL from the Samsung F8500.
As with the VT50, 1080P Pure Direct eliminates a Y/C delay-like effect, thereby sharpening color transitions. It is good to turn it on if you are certain your input source is sending a YcbCr color space, either 4:2:2 or 4:4:4. However, if the source is RGB color space, it degrades the color decoding and the degradation is more visible than the improvement. It should be left off if you do not know what color space your sources output.
Game mode did not degrade color or sharpness in any visible way.
I used ControlCal software to activate and calibrate the Professional modes, which made things quite a bit more pleasant than dealing with the TV menu's time out as I did on the ST60.
A smooth gray ramp looked pure with no contouring and smoother gradations than on my GT50. Dynamic brightness showed minimal ABL pumping. Screen uniformity looked perfect.
ABL comparison with Samsung F8500:
I did some testing of different window sizes and styles to examine the VT60's and Samsung F8500's ABL (Automatic Brightness Limiter) behavior. The following graphs are for comparison purposes, not to judge which set of measurements is best. The VT60's graphs have a different layout than the F8500's, but the same information can be seen. The VT60 was in Professional 1 mode, panel brightness mid, with contrast at maximum. The F8500 was in Movie mode and had not been calibrated yet. Ideally, changes in white balance should be minimal across the different window sizes. Normally 2% windows give the highest light output with the least ABL interference, with more and more brightness limiting as 100% full fields are approached. We can see the Samsung has less conventional and limiting ABL behavior, though more color shift.
5% size, 25% APL (approximates normal content):
5% size, 50% APL (approximates very bright content such as hockey)
Most viewing was done in the Day mode, as I found it's light output very agreeable in any ambient lighting.
The Dark Knight Blu Ray: The VT60's black background is almost totally dark in 96 Hz mode! It looks significantly darker than on my calibrated GT50. Any screen content masks black illumination on the VT60. Even the dark scene in chapter 2, blacks look totally black. From scene to scene, there is pop and contrast in abundance. I was surprised just how much richer contrast was on VT60, even in a bright room! The VT60's superior contrast was visible in anything from a totally dark room to a bright, sun filled living room. The GT50 looks slightly washed out in comparison.
The VT60's color is satisfying and extremely accurate, with very pure color shades. Blue shades appear a bit more rich and purplish on the VT60 than on the GT50.
Shadow detail was as good as I have seen.
Collateral DVD: Extreme shadow detail - subtle shadings just above black - was more visible and natural on the VT60 than the GT50.
The Hobbit 3D Blu Ray: 3D is absolutely gorgeous on the VT60. The picture has excellent depth layering and good popout, with the best contrast and color I have seen on a plasma.
Hockey looks great on both, with the VT60 appearing to be perfectly uniform with no DSE, satisfyingly bright, and having good motion handling. Fast movement was crisp and natural. Whites looked pure as well, with the rink maintaining a good white balance.
Other television programming was excellent as well, and after spending a few hours watching anything from Bates Motel to 19 Kids and Counting the only thing that even came close to a criticism was a slightly ruddy presentation on darkly lit skin tones.
Is the VT60's 2D picture quality $1,000 better than that of Panasonic's ST60? To say the ST60 is a strong performer and good value would be an understatement. The VT60 offers slightly lower black levels and choice of a perfectly calibrated Day mode and Night mode, and I do prefer the VT60's portrayal of bright objects. In addition, the VT60 may be more effective in maintaining good contrast in bright rooms. However, the picture quality differences are small, and I doubt they would be considered worth a large price difference to most enthusiasts.
How does the VT60 stack up against the Samsung F8500? If you like LED/LCD brightness levels, the F8500 is superior. It's peak light output is able to match many LED/LCD sets, and it's ABL circuitry is minimally invasive. Cranked up to full brightness, it could make the VT60 appear a bit muted in comparison. However, the VT60's black levels, especially in 96 Hz mode with Blu Rays, is visibly superior. Color is excellent on both, but with slightly different perspectives: the F8500's lower saturation color shades are a bit too pale, whereas the VT60's fully saturated colors are a bit too pale. While they err in different directions, it is very minimal. The F8500 may have a slightly sharper presentation, though I never felt the VT60 lacked in that regard.
I very much enjoyed my time viewing the VT60, though when I had the meters out I couldn't help but wish for the VT50's more reliable calibration characteristics. Every program material I threw it's way was handled with as much perfection and grace as I've seen on a plasma. I wouldn't hesitate recommending it to the vast majority of people who are passionate about picture quality.