We’re putting this at the top of the review so gamers can read the rest of it without worrying. Panasonic’s ST60 plasma, reviewed last week, delighted us with its picture quality, but we warned gamers that its video processor responsiveness was slower than the outgoing ST50, although it was far from intolerable. This worried us, because it’s unusual for higher-end models (which are typically more heavy on video processing) to be faster for gaming than the basic ones.
Well, the GT60 is. It’s a return to Panasonic’s typical buttery smooth gaming responsiveness. Tested with the high speed camera and cloned PC output method, we clocked it in at an average of just 23ms. The Leo Bodnar lag tester device, as usual, is less forgiving, reporting a reading of 43.4ms (which is actually 2ms or so less than it reports for the ultra-smooth ST50). We are still running both lag test methods simultaneously, to get a better understanding of how both interact specifically with regards to the sub-field drive of a Plasma display panel (PDP).
We were almost wiping sweat off our brows, but are delighted to report a top-notch gaming experience on the TX-P50GT60. Panasonic – you scared us!
Black Level and Contrast Performance
The Panasonic TX-P50GT60B features the exact same outstanding contrast performance that we found on the step-down ST60 series, which stands to reason, because both ranges are promoted under the same “Infinite Black Pro” banner, with “Infinite Black Ultra” and “Ultimate Black” are reserved for the VT60/65 and ZT60/65, respectively.
That translates into full-screen black measuring at just 0.005 cd/m2, a tiny amount (compare that to the 0.05 cd/m2 that the current top-end LED LCD TVs are managing – pay attention to the position of the decimal point!) Unlike LED LCDs which employ overall backlight dimming tricks, the self-emitting Plasma display panel can show these jet-black shades on screen at the same time as incredibly bright whites, without compromising the vibrancy of the colours or the brightness of the whites. During the ANSI checkerboard test pattern, the presence of full-white boxes didn’t barely caused the TXP50GT60 to flinch, with the centre black patch still measuring 0.008 cd/m2 (the miniscule increase in measured value is completely invisible to the eye in the presence of brighter areas – in other words, it’s out of the reach of the contrast perception of the human eye).
Just in case you missed it earlier in the review, the Viera GT60 has no contrast limitations in any of its picture modes. All of them can have their light output increased, easily satisfying our target of full video white measuring 120 cd/m2 (some of last year’s Panasonic plasmas came in at a dimmer 80 cd/m2, depending on the picture mode).
It’s almost too good to be true, knowing that the higher-up VT65/VT60 and ZT65/ZT60 are likely to feature even darker blacks. Even if they didn’t, we wouldn’t hold that against them – 0.005 cd/m2 is insanely dark. This year, we’re also expecting to see great things from Samsung’s F8500 plasma, but we wouldn’t be surprised if Panasonic’s industry-leading contrast performance is safe for another year running.
The Panasonic GT60 series is rated as featuring the company’s “3000hz Focused Field Drive”. We’ve compared “2000hz”, “2500hz”, and now “3000hz” variants, and find that there’s little appreciable difference in each; the motion clarity is excellent in all cases. Very fast motion during 60hz content (such as the test sequences on the FPD Benchmark Disc) reveal the usual subtle green and purple phosphor trails beside fast-moving bright objects, although like many “torture tests”, this is hardly visible at all during standard programme material. LCD televisions can now often produce very good motion clarity too, but only via the use of motion compensated processing which calculates intermediate frames. That often does work fairly well, but trades LCD panel blur for some small motion glitches. On plasma, the high motion clarity is achieved naturally without any laggy processing, which also means that these HDTVs can display 60fps video games with full motion clarity AND without any added input lag – a feat that only plasma (and CRT, if you have space for one of those) can pull off simultaneously. (As for OLED, well, we’ll wait and see!)
Panasonic’s plasmas do include motion interpolation features too, though, called [Intelligent Frame Creation] (which is labelled [24p Smooth Film] depending on the input signal type). With 60hz high motion video content, we found that this made a very small difference, although it did slightly reduce thin purple trails accompanying fast bright objects.
Of more relevance to readers in Europe (and Australasia) is how the TXP50GT60B handles 50hz content, since this is what we get from broadcast television sources, and the majority of DVDs (Blu-ray Disc is 24p worldwide – thank goodness). Just as we found on the ST60, the motion quality degrades a little in this case; presumably due to the fact that the troublesome European 50hz standard has to be output by the plasma panel in a different way to 60hz, to avoid producing flicker. The result with our custom 50hz motion tests is a small increase in tone jumps (posterisation) being visible during motion, where smooth gradients can break up into mode discernable stripes (sometimes with a tinge of unwanted green or purple colour).
We’re very happy with the motion clarity overall. Both well-done LCD and plasma have strengths and weaknesses in this area, with LCD being more blurred, and plasma being sharper but a little rougher during difficult motion.
Like basically all of Panasonic’s plasma-based 3D TVs, the TX-P50GT60 uses the multi-line simultaneous scanning method (aka “single scan 3D”) to build extra-dimensional images. In plain English, that basically means that the TV is drawing the brightest and the darkest parts of the image at full 1080p precision, and intermediate shades at 540p, and applying extra video processing to try to conceal the intermediate loss. The result is still very impressive, but a trained eye can spot the loss of resolution during motion, where the secondary “antialiasing” stage designed to conceal the loss doesn’t appear to be attempted (our usual example is the opening fly through Paris in Hugo, where the constantly moving diagonal architecture can be a match for this display method).
The advantages of this method, we’re told, are that it results in higher contrast performance and smoother gradation than would be possible were very subfield addressed at full 1080p precision. Certainly, we had no complaints with 3D quality beyond the usual plasma issues of higher noise, and a little more brightness wouldn’t go amiss, but still, this is a high quality presentation – especially after 3-D calibration, if you can find someone to perform that service!
Like with all Panasonic 3D plasmas, all three-dimensional content is output without judder or stutter on the TX-P50GT60B, unlike many LED LCD 3DTVs, which force everything through a 60hz-centric design, and add motion judder in the third dimension.
The Panasonic GT60 excels with SD content, featuring crisp, clean scaling that looks little different (and that’s no bad thing) to last year’s high-end efforts. Jaggies suppression in interlaced content is as good as ever, and the 50GT60 also detects the most common film-to-video transfer cadence on European TV (2-2).
We did find a minor bug where standard-def content from the satellite and terrestrial tuners appears vertically jagged upon powering on (and after jumping to the tuners from the HDMI inputs), but jumping to an HD channel and then back to SD cures it and gives the quality you’d expect. If Panasonic’s attentiveness to similar software quirks in the past is anything to go by, it’ll probably be fixed with system updates beamed to the TV by the time GT60s start landing in consumer’s hands (eh, walls).
The high-def picture quality on the Panasonic TX-P50GT60 is phenomenally good. Delivering videophile-grade quality at this price point means that the GT60 series is likely to become the darling of this year’s Viera plasma lineup: we imagine that while the higher-up ranges will technically improve on this in terms of contrast performance, the advancements will be incremental rather than substantial. We say that because frankly, we can’t imagine that there’s much further for them to go, although naturally we’ll withhold judgement until we see the VT65 and ZT65 (the 65s are the UK variant models of what the rest of the world calls VT60 and ZT60, by the way).
Honestly, dim the lights, sit down in front of a well-mastered Blu-ray Disc on a lightly adjusted, or better yet, fully calibrated TX-P50GT60B, and we challenge you to find anything to complain about. It’s difficult to believe that you can see image quality this good in your own home, but it’s here, and it’s available to ordinary consumers if only the panel is set up correctly.
Regarding gradation: last year’s GT50 and VT50 series plasmas kept the best gradation quality to the “Cinema” and “Professional” picture modes, therefore, these modes featured the “calmest” near-black shades with lessened plasma dithering in the shadows. However, these modes also featured limited light output (duller whites) and less impressive (emphasis on “less”) black levels. While we imagined that Panasonic would take our comments from last year regarding light output in the [Professional] modes on board (it just didn’t make sense that their 2012 midrange panel had anything over the higher-up ones), we assumed that the two characteristics would continue to be separate.
What we weren’t expecting was to get the double benefits of high contrast and high gradation together, but that’s what Panasonic have delivered. We could easily set the 50-inch GT60 up to produce an accurate, vibrant, bright picture with very smooth gradation. Panasonic’s Plasma TVs have always featured a picture that features very low amounts of panel-generated dither, especially relative to the much loved Pioneer Kuro plasmas (which featured a high amount of dither in static pictures but fewer motion artefacts than the competition, compared to Panasonic’s occasionally coarse moving areas but overall much cleaner image). The TXP50GT60 is basically this, and then some. Of course, there’s still dither (it’s still a plasma television!), but near-black areas are reproduced with brilliant calmness as well as the signature Panasonic inkiness.
The incredibly deep blacks, bright whites, and uniform panel surface – free of the unevenness that affects even the best LED LCD products – combine with rich, accurate colours, silky-smooth gradation, and full resolution 1080p output. There is no unwanted noise reduction or other abstractions being imposed on the picture. The only thing that will raise a videophile eyebrow is the fact that Panasonic are still applying some gain to the highest frequency portion of the image, presumably to give a tiny and almost imperceptible “kick” to texture details. The tiny high frequency sharpening doesn’t make any sense to us (why not just skip it when the “Resolution Remaster” feature is shut off?), but doesn’t actually harm the picture (it doesn’t draw visible halos). Panasonic’s tendency to apply minor exaggeration to tiny details in the picture doesn’t make any sense to us – these are the last HDTVs which need tricks like that to stand out – but it’s better than the alternative, which would be the display system softening them out, like Pioneer’s much-lauded last-gen KUROs did. The only place you’ll ever notice this is with a specific test chart, and while we still don’t understand the point, we also aren’t losing any sleep over it.
We had a spin of some of our favourite Blu-ray Discs on the Panasonic TX-P50GT60, and will spare you the superlatives. Moneyball, an outstandingly detailed, sharp disc derived from a 35mm negative scan, is real fodder for film lovers (we can only imagine how detailed DoP Wally Pfister’s other work, the Chris Nolan Dark Knight trilogy, could have looked on Blu-ray had they been taken from a digital intermediate instead of a lower-down optical copy). In the digital cinema world, Skyfall is our current favourite, showcasing the outstanding dynamic range and resolution possible with the Arri Alexa digital cinema camera.
We were enthused by the picture quality even before calibration, by the way – a [Professional] or [Custom] mode with only minor adjustments still looked excellent, although the out-of-the-box behaviour exaggerates shadow details, robbing the picture of a little bit of its punch. Calibrating the TX-P50GT60B to perfection resulted in a considerable amount of “pop” and reduced the subtle green tint we measured. Also, in the pre-calibrated THX Cinema mode, we could see the effects of slightly non-linear gamma tracking in brighter parts of the picture before calibration: for example, during the opening stunt chase in the gorgeous Blu-ray Disc of Skyfall, the sunnier regions on Bond’s face appeared a little jaundiced, with the difference between the shadowed and brighter areas being slightly exaggerated. You would need a trained eye to notice this sort of thing, though – we only do because of our job of looking at accurate screens all day, every day; the side-by-side comparison we have access to helped as well.
Getting down to the level of the plasma panel’s inherent quirks, there is still occasional posterisation visible during the playback of 24p content from Blu-ray, but you have to go looking for it. Very fast camera pans will occasionally result in striped areas appearing during motion, but if they do appear, they almost always take on the same colour as their surroundings, making them easier to ignore.
We really struggle to think of anyone finding fault with this HDTV – we sure as hell can’t. Again, the only people we think won’t be pleased are those whose eye-brains aren’t compatible with Plasma televisions and their method of rendering video frames, or who, for whatever reason, don’t like Panasonic’s approach to plasma panel driving.
If this is what the Panasonic GT60 is like, then it begs the question, what’s left for the two higher-up models? Of course, we’re playing devil’s advocate with that question: internet rumblings and the demonstrations we’ve seen of prototypes promise black levels that are better still, and also better anti-reflective screen coatings to keep the picture appearing that bit more vibrant in bright rooms.
However, let’s put comparisons aside… the TX-P50GT60 is a phenomenally excellent HDTV. It excels in every area we can think of (bar the quality of its built-in sound, which is the usual as-expected fine-for-casual-viewing flat-screen TV fare). Its black level depth is some of the deepest we’ve ever seen and measured, and this time, it does not come at the expense of overall brightness or other aspects of picture quality. Contrast performance on both ends of the scale is stunning. LED LCD TVs can manage an incredibly bright image, but the Panasonic TX-P50GT60B is in the contrast sweet spot, with a great level of brightness and customisation to a wide variety of room environments thanks to the uncapped [Contrast] control.
The attempt at naturally coloured video before calibration (that is, in the THX and pre-calibrated Professional picture modes) is good, albeit not the best we’ve seen. We absolutely recommend you find an ISF/THX calibrator to take advantage of the fully-fledged calibration controls Panasonic has built in, though, because the resulting neutrality and picture “depth” is a worthwhile improvement on the very good starting point.
Gamers are covered as well, with almost no input lag worth worrying about in the Game Mode – which is a huge relief after the slower-than-usual ST60 plasma we reviewed last week. 60fps games are a total joy to play on the TXP50GT60 thanks to the ultra-high motion resolution and freedom from noticeable lag.
It’s also loaded with Smart TV features, which are more usable than in years past thanks to their responsiveness. The “My Home Screen” is great to use thanks to its snappy navigation and clean design too, and we think is on par with Samsung’s excellent Smart TV system (although we’re still impressed by the Korean giant’s method of controlling external set-top boxes from pay TV providers via the television itself).
The use of Plasma display technology – specifically Panasonic’s NeoPlasma technology – puts it a healthy distance in front of the competition, most of which is LED LCD. LCD-based HDTVs are far from bad, and we always recommend them over plasma for very bright environments, but we feel plasma’s inherent strengths and weaknesses are a better match for most normal rooms. Unless you’re watching in a room full of very bright sunlight, the Viera GT60 is blatantly better than the majority of displays in this price range, which are using LED LCD technology. It’s just a shame that the biggest size it comes in here is 50″ – hardly small, but who could say no to more of the same? (The only 65in Panasonic Plasma coming to the UK is the TX-P65VT65B, which should be even better still, but at a different price point, naturally). In short, it’s difficult to imagine anything at this price point, and even above it, significantly bettering the picture quality.
So, here comes the “Reference Level” rating, which is a heavy statement to make in itself. Readers shouldn’t take this rating to mean that the TX-P50GT60B is a flawless product, but one that we feel has no significant disadvantages and one which we don’t feel Panasonic’s engineers could have done a better job on, at least not without serious re-tooling. We assign this rating taking the 2D display mode into mind; 3D quality on all plasma TVs is visibly less than 2D, in various ways.
If you, for whatever reason, don’t like the panel driving algorithm inherent to Panasonic Plasmas, the GT60 is not going to change your mind. It’s still a plasma display, it still has dither, and yes, it will still make a small audible sound when you have bright content on screen, but in our opinion, getting too concerned with these small issues would be to miss the forest for the trees.
What’s interesting is that the VT60/VT65, and especially the ZT60/ZT65, are logically expected to be better still, so unless something goes wrong (very unlikely, but not impossible), these are logically also going to satisfy our conditions for Reference Level ratings. Knowing that, isn’t it strange to assign this rating if we know that something technically better is coming?
We don’t think so. The fact that we’ve gone from Panasonic having mostly “Highly Recommended” plasma products in 2012 to the possibility of no less than three “Reference Level” ratings this year says more about the quality of the GT60 and Panasonic’s addressing of feedback than anything else. In our opinion, denying this rating to an HDTV of the TX-P50GT60′s quality would just be shifting the goal posts for arbitrary reasons. Or, put another way: we know that the VT and ZT are 99% certain to be even better, but the GT should not be penalised for completely satisfying us just because it isn’t the most expensive product.
It has basically every single base covered. The picture quality is sublime, it’s chock-full of Smart TV features, it’s loaded with HD satellite and terrestrial tuners and recording functionality, and it’s a fantastic gaming display. It’s bright when it needs to be bright and jet-black when it needs to be dark; its colour can be accurate and natural. Go check one out in a suitably-lit environment – we think you’ll be as impressed as we were. More than ever, we can’t wait to see what’s in store higher up the Viera plasma ladder, but we imagine the TX-P50GT60B is going to stay in the price-performance sweet spot.
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