Pros: Excellent picture quality, deep blacks, adequate smart features for many customers
Cons: Only 2 HDMI ports, plasma issues like line bleeding, minor flickering
For those who don’t know, the Panasonic S64, or in my case, the TC-P65S64, is the S60 with an anti-reflective filter similar, if not identical, to the ST60 series. Note, however, that according to Panasonic’s information page, the S64 has the Infinite Black panel, not the Infinite Black Pro panel found on the ST60. The S64 is only sold through club retailers like Sam’s Club and Costco. The story goes that Panasonic made this TV specifically for those retailers so that they would sell better sitting under the bright lights of the consumer warehouse club retailers next to brightly-lit (LED) LCD TVs. While the LEDs still outshine the S64, the picture doesn’t wash out like plasmas I’ve seen in my local Sam’s Club in the past; the addition of the filter works well. We’ll get to that more further in the review.
Panasonic does a nice job with packaging the TV. There is plenty of cushiony Styrofoam and other materials to protect the TV in the box. Once you unlock the plastic clips on the box you can simply pull the box up, revealing access to the TV. Attaching the TV to the stand was quick and easy, but with the 65” TV I had help lifting the TV and sitting it onto the stand. However, it is a job that one person could do himself or herself if they so chose to do so, although with a 65” TV at 75lbs, it’s better to play it safe. Panasonic hasn’t changed how they design stands, or how they attach the TV since my old plasma, at least in this case. Other sets in their series do have different stands, and I assume, are attached differently. In this case, the TV has holes on the bottom into which the prongs from the base insert into, making it easy to attach. With some stands you practically have to lay the TV face-down to attach it. Then simply insert the screws and tighten for a good fit. My intent is to wall mount the TV, but the stand looks nice. One complaint I have had with Panasonic, in particular, is that the stands do not swivel. With a plasma, or even LCDs, really, now that they are often glossy as well, a swivel stand can be a nice feature.
Once out of the box setup is normal fare. You choose home or store environment, setup your TV to connect to the local network (I chose wired instead of wi-fi), and then you can pretty much begin enjoying the set. Further adjustment is easy. Menus are clean and responsive. In fact, the icons look similar to Samsung’s, but the menus haven’t really changed much in the design department, but that’s okay. I’ll take responsive and easy to read over fancy and cumbersome any day. Provided are several built-in picture adjustments, five to be exact. Plus, you can dig in and customize the picture’s gamma, contrast, white balance, etc. to get the TV to your liking. Two of the features I really like are being able to disable inputs you know you won’t need, although, with only two HDMI inputs you may not have a need to disable one, and I like that I can create custom labels for my devices so that instead of Blu-ray or Game, I can have an input labeled, “PS3.”
While adjusting the settings you may develop a love-hate relationship with the TV’s remote. The OK button to accept your selection is surrounded by the directional pads as well as the buttons for Viera Tools, Internet Apps, etc. and I often hit Viera Tools by mistake. The Return button is also sometimes awkward to reach, while the Exit button is more convenient for me; Exit will take you out of the menus completely, while Return will take you to the previous menu, or one menu back. One thing I wish Panasonic had done to make this easier would be to allow you to use the up/down pads to move to the next menu setting. For instance, while adjusting the picture, I would have preferred just hitting the down pad to adjust color, set it, then press down to adjust sharpness, contrast, etc. rather than having to return to the main picture menu over and over again. My aforementioned Samsung made this so much easier, plus, the menus got out of my way; at times the menu obscures more of the picture than I would like.
SMART TV features on the S64 come down to five apps, but they’re the ones most people likely use anyway. For me, I stick with two: Netflix and YouTube, both of which have current UIs. Other apps include CinemaNow, Vudu, and Amazon. The app menu is very responsive and it remembers which app you used last, which I have found handy. The remote also includes a Netflix button, which I find is very convenient, particularly for my wife, who never liked having to figure out how to switch to the input for the PS3 and then use the controller to watch Netflix.
For me, the biggest draw isn’t the menus, remote, SMART features, etc. it’s picture quality. The S64 has handled a variety of content quite well, during various times of the day in a well-lit room to a darkened one. The AR filter works very well to minimize reflections. While you will notice them at the right angle, I don’t feel a need to close my curtains to watch TV unless I’m going to watch a dark movie during the daytime. During daytime viewing with enough light washing over the set the blacks will wash out some, but it is an improvement over past plasmas. Colors look natural and bright during regular programming. Standard definition sources and heavily compressed HD will show themselves on a larger set, so anyone going from a set under 50” to 60” or above, like I did, should be aware that imperfections will be more apparent.
Blu-ray content and even Netflix HD look great. On Blu-ray, scenes from Skyfall were detailed and colors looked natural. During the scenes of Shanghai at night the city looked incredible, with deep blacks dotted with lights from buildings, cars, and city streets. At one point even my wife exclaimed, “Wow! That’s amazing.” And it was, but I wasn’t sure if she were commenting on the shot itself, or the quality the TV was able to bring to it. Action scenes were fluid and the action was discernable, with no unnatural smoothing seen on many LCDs.
While watching The Amazing Spider-Man we also noticed incredible detail in the spider webs, and particularly when Peter is in the spider chamber where the radioactive spiders fall onto him. Skin tones and the rendering of hair, such as on Gwen Stacy look natural and detailed. Likewise, the scales on the Lizard, such as the fight scene in the high school and when Dr. Curt Connors and Peter are talking in the lab and Peter suspects the doctor is the Lizard; the patch of scales on Connors neck show depth instead of just being a green blotch.
I don’t get Super HD, but even in normal HD from Netflix, at which I get 1080p steams, looks good. Viewings of some of the Dreamworks animated CG films were colorful and tones were rendered well. During an episode of The Twilight Zone shadow detail was discernable and contrast was very good, showing that even older content in HD looks good.
Overall the Panasonic S64 is a good performer. The TV can produce rich, yet natural color, deep blacks, and handles motion well. These are all strengths of plasma, and the S64 has a few of plasmas weaknesses, too. During an episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles there were scenes of a checkerboard pattern that caused some line bleeding. While not noticeable for long, it somewhat ruined the effect of the scene. Another scene involved two characters walking in an all-black space. As the characters walked there seemed to be a noticeable flicker presenting itself in unison the characters movements. However, this was over a provider and the source may be partly at fault, as I have not noticed this behavior in other content.
If you’re looking for a great TV at a great price, and you have a club membership, the S64 is a recommended option. The addition of the AR filter bridges the gap between the S60 and the ST60, although the ST60 does have a different panel, supports 3D, has a more extensive SMART platform, and one extra HDMI input. However, you will pay more for those features. In fact, the 65” ST60 is over $1000 more at the time of this review. For my money, I’ll live with the compromise.