The Year of the Plasma
Much to everyone’s surprise, display technologies that have been promised for years were suddenly front and center again at this year’s show. We’ve got 4K Ultra HDTVs and content delivery services launching, and OLED, still just a promise, is threatening to show its face. The two most impressive video demos I saw at CES belonged to Sony and Panasonic, each of whom showed its own version of a 56-inch 4K-OLED hybrid TV.
You only had to take one look at those prototypes to know this could be the real future of television. Panasonic, for its part, has stated publicly that it plans to skip the 4K LCD TV phase that other manufacturers are participating in this year and go straight to 4K-OLED, perhaps as early as next year according to industry news reports. I’ll believe it when I see it, but in the meantime, I’m not whining about the Panasonic plasmas that will someday be made extinct by the company’s ambitious plans.
Our first review of a 2013 plasma was Panasonic’s ST60 series. Regular readers will know that the ST plasma has been one of our most popular recommendations for the last two years thanks to its tremendous value. This year’s model didn’t disappoint, either—far from it. Check out our review.
But that’s only the beginning. See Tom Norton’s review of Samsung’s new F8500 plasma, its best ever. We’re also working on reviews of plasmas in Panasonic’s VT series—which, till now, has been the company’s top of the line and regarded as the best picture you could buy in this post-Pioneer Kuro world—and step-up ZT series. I was lucky enough to be able to directly compare all three of these HDTVs side by side, each adjusted to its optimal settings by a team of expert calibrators, at an event in New York this spring. The 9th Annual HDTV Shootout held by Scarsdale, New York, retailer Value Electronics, pitted these three flat panels against each other and Sony’s new XBR-65X900A Ultra HD 4K LED LCD, Samsung’s F8000 LED LCD, and Panasonic’s new top-of-the-line WT60 series LED LCD.
The experts ran test patterns and movie content into all the sets simultaneously to allow the audience participants to rate them in critical areas like black level, contrast, color fidelity, motion resolution, bright room viewing, and overall image quality. Oh, and did I forget to mention that there was a late-generation Pioneer Kuro plasma monitor on hand for reference? Despite being off the market for three years, the Kuro remains the HDTV against which Home Theater and everyone else pits all serious contenders.
There was no question for anyone in attendance that the three new plasmas and the old Kuro stole the show, and there was much excitement about the significant leap in quality of this year’s crop. It would appear that the plasma TV, after being written off by many as an endangered species, is enjoying a renaissance. That ol’ gray mare is proving to be a lot blacker than we thought.