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In this report

High-performance and value-packed plasma sets from Panasonic

We name the Samsung PNF8500 the Best Reviewed plasma TV overall (see our coverage of the Best Samsung Plasma TVs for more information on that set). However, that doesn't mean that it's the best plasma TV for every buyer and every situation. Indeed, several plasma TVs from Panasonic are earning tons of accolades, and one of those could be a better choice for many.

"Every kingdom needs a king," offers Lee Neikirk at Reviewed.com Televisions when discussing the picture quality of the Panasonic Viera TC-PZT60. Other reviewers unanimously agree. The only debate is whether the TC-PZT60 delivers picture quality that is better than Pioneer's legendary Kuro plasma sets, or merely every bit as good.

The ability to produce deep black levels is why picture-quality perfectionists drift to plasma technology despite its normal limitations in terms of ambient light levels, and no set currently available can outdo the TC-PZT60 on that score. Several reviewers maintain Pioneer Kuros to use as reference sets, and say that side-by-side differences are too small for even the most ardent perfectionist to notice. Colors are extremely accurate and well saturated in this THX-certified set. Picture quality in well-lit rooms holds up better than that of most plasma TVs, though the Samsung PNF8500 is still better in that regard, CNET editors note.

Picture quality is the chief selling point for the Panasonic Viera TC-PZT60, but the set is well equipped on the feature front. Among plasma TVs, Panasonic's Viera Connect smart TV features are a bit of a laggard, but they've been spiffed up for this year, with a healthy selection of apps and a marketplace where you can access additional apps. Navigation is easy, though CNET editors say that the user interface is nowhere near as "ambitious or capable" as Samsung's Smart Hub and On TV offerings. My Home Screen is one nice touch; it allows different users to set up their own home screen, with direct access to programming and apps that appeal to them. There's no gesture control, but there is voice recognition integrated into the included touchpad remote control. The active-shutter 3D performs relatively well, and two pairs of glasses are in the box; Sound & Vision editors say that the TC-PZT60 produces better 3D than any plasma it's ever tested, though editors at CNET give the brighter Samsung PNF8500 an edge.

Value is the fly in the ointment. For example, Jerry Del Colliano at HomeTheaterReview.com says that the Panasonic TC-P65ZT60 is "the best HDTV that money can buy," but that it's not really a great value. However, he adds, "Neither is an ML63 AMG Mercedes, but it sure is cool to have 560 horsepower in an all-wheel-drive SUV to take to the grocery store." Two screen sizes are offered: the 60-inch Panasonic Viera TC-P60ZT60 and the 65-inch Panasonic Viera TC-P65ZT60 .

Note that, while no current plasma TV can produce a better picture than the Panasonic TC-PZT60, there's at least one set that can match it: that's the Panasonic TC-PVT60. Reviewers who have looked at both sets pretty much say the same thing: side-by-side and in a darkened room, picture quality is nearly identical. The key difference is in how well the sets handle reflections. The Panasonic TC-PVT60 outperforms many plasma sets in well-lit rooms, but not the TC-PZT60, and certainly not the Samsung PNF8500 with its advanced filtering and high brightness output. Sound & Vision's Tom Norton notes that the reflective screen could be a factor even in a darker setting. "The only difference I noticed was that the ZT60 sometimes had a little more pop than the VT60 even in the darkened room I use for my evaluations -- likely because it is more resistant to reflections not only from the room but also within the panel itself," he says.

The two sets are otherwise nearly identical spec and feature wise, though the TC-VT60 includes an integrated camera (that's an extra-cost feature on the TC-PZT60) for Skype and facial recognition, which lets users automatically access their personalized home page.

Reviewers are impressed overall, granting either the TC-PZT60 or TC-PVT60 a decimal point or two higher rating, depending on if and how much value plays into the equation. Those who have only looked at the TC-PVT60 have no reservations. For example, FlatPanelsHD.com gives the TC-PVT60 its Reference award, the first time that honor has been bestowed in years – since, you guessed it, the site last evaluated the Pioneer Kuro. Three models are offered: the 55-inch Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT60 , the 60-inch Panasonic Viera TC-P60VT60 and the 65-inch Panasonic Viera TC-P65VT60 (Est. $2,300).

However, while the sets above get tons of accolades, we found some of the most effusive praise for the step-down Panasonic Viera TC-PST60. CNET gives it a rare Editors' Choice award and is almost over-the-top in its evaluation. David Katzmaier calls his review of the set one of the most important he's written in the 10 years he's been covering televisions. "I'll cut to the chase: if you value picture quality, don't have money to burn, and don't game seriously enough to worry about input lag, you should buy the Panasonic TC-PST60," he says. The set earns a heretofore unheard-of 5-star rating at CNET. Others don't go as far out on a limb, but don't lack for good things to say or awards to bestow upon this plasma TV. Those include Editors' Choice titles (or their equivalents) at Reviewed.com Televisions, FlatPanelsHD.com, Sound & Vision and elsewhere.

There are some trade-offs with the Viera TC-PST60 when compared to the TC-PVT60, but black levels are not one of them. Reviewers who look at both sets find little to distinguish between them with most content -- which means that black levels are simply stunning. The performance under bright lights is good, but not quite as good as the TC-PVT60, which reviewers say does a little better job in maintaining those terrific black levels in well-lit rooms. Color accuracy is good, but turning up the panel brightness from its default low setting can add some red tint, Reviewed.com Televisions reports -- a finding echoed elsewhere. The TC-PST60 loses the THX certification carried by Panasonic's two more upscale lines.

On the features front, the TC-PST60 mirrors the TC-PVT60, minus the integrated camera (which the even  more upscale TC-PZT60 also lacks) and the touchpad remote with voice commands. However, the smart features are powered by a weaker processor, which affects the user experience. FlatPanelsHD.com's Rasmus Larsen is among those to say that smart features are "noticeably faster" on the TC-PVT60. One downside of this and other Panasonic TVs is that it pushes third-party advertising to you when first turned on; fortunately, there's a way to turn off that feature.

Overall, though, the best feature of the TC-PST60 is its value. Sound & Vision calls it "world class." PlasmaTVBuyingGuide.com names it one of this year's best value TVs. HomeTheaterReview.com's Adrienne Maxwell says that while she's sure she'll review other great-performing TVs this year, "I'm not sure I'll encounter a better combination of performance and price." Others voice similar sentiments. Four models are offered in this series: the 50-inch Panasonic Viera TC-P50ST60 (Est. $1,000), the 55-inch Panasonic Viera TC-P55ST60 (Est. $1,350), the 60-inch Panasonic Viera TC-P60ST60 (Est. $1,500) and the 65-inch Panasonic Viera TC-P65ST60 (Est. $2,200).

If you value picture quality foremost and don't care about -- or wish to pay for -- add-ons such as smart TV or 3D, the budget-priced Panasonic Viera TC-PS60 might be for you. Aside from lacking fancy features, its biggest drawback is bright-room performance that's typical of many plasma TVs -- in other words, not very good. "It should still look great in many moderately lit rooms, but if you have an extremely bright room or just prefer watching an extremely bright picture (like Vivid or Dynamic on your current TV), you may want to get a different TV," says CNET's Katzmaier.

In the right setting, things look downright terrific. "In a dark room its inky-deep black levels, accurate color, and perfect uniformity can make it look almost as good as flagship models that cost twice or three times as much," Katzmaier adds. Blacks are again impressive; perhaps a notch or two lighter than those of the very best plasma TVs, but the differences are hard to see outside of side-by-side comparisons, reviews say. As is the norm for all of Panasonic's sets this year, color accuracy is excellent.

While the TC-PS60 is a basic TV, it's not completely feature-free. It lacks Panasonic's full Viera Connect platform, but has built-in Wi-Fi and access to a limited roster of streaming Internet content via a basic interface. All are entertainment oriented, and include top providers such as Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus, YouTube and Vudu. "This is far from top-level internet usage for modern TVs, but it's not a bad little addendum considering the S60 is first and foremost a TV geared for top-notch picture quality," says Neikirk at Reviewed.com Televisions, which grants this set an Editors' Choice award.

This series was originally available in four screen sizes, but CNET reports that the 42-inch model is out of stock and discontinued. However, you can still get the 50-inch Panasonic Viera TC-P50S60 (Est. $700), 60-inch Panasonic Viera TC-P60S60 (Est. $1,000) and 65-inch Panasonic Viera TC-P65S60 (Est. $1,400).

Panasonic's most basic series of plasma TVs is its TC-PX60 range. Professional reviews have been lackluster for this 720p set. Reviewed.com Televisions' report seems especially hostile. While Neikirk and the rest of that site's staff have heaped praise on most of the company's plasma sets, the scales are definitely tipped in the other direction when it comes to the TC-PX60. Blacks are described as only okay, and brightness is dim. Color performance takes even worse criticism.

Neikirk's bottom line is that the set has few redeeming attributes: "Neither appearance, nor performance, nor software are commendable in any way." Other professional reviews are a little kinder, but still fail to recommend the set. On the other hand, user reviews, while not plentiful, are far more positive. At BestBuy.com, 98 percent of owners recommend the 42-inch Panasonic Viera TC-P42X60 (Est. $400). The 50-inch Panasonic Viera TC-P50X60 doesn't fare quite as well, though around 93 percent still approve.

Plasma TV Runners Up:

Samsung PN51F8500 Est. $1,900

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Samsung PN64F8500 Est. $2,800

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Panasonic Viera TC-P65ZT60 Est. $3,000

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Panasonic Viera TC-P50ST60 Est. $1,500

9 picks including: Amazon.com, CNET…

Panasonic Viera TC-P55ST60 Est. $1,500

9 picks including: Amazon.com, CNET…

Panasonic Viera TC-P65ST60 Est. $1,500

9 picks including: Amazon.com, CNET…

Panasonic Viera TC-P65VT60 Est. $2,300

8 picks by top review sites.

Panasonic Viera TC-P60S60 Est. $700

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Panasonic Viera TC-P65S60 Est. $700

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LG 60PH6700 Est. $1,000

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LG 60PN5300 Est. $700

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LG Electronics 60PH6700 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz Active 3D Plasma HDTV with Smart TV (Black) (2013 Model)
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