Panasonic Viera TC-P60ST60 3D Plasma HDTV Page 2
Tuning for 3D, using the Custom mode to help wrench a little more brightness from the set, resulted in a far less than perfect result. But it still noticeably improved the image quality against any of the Panasonic’s preset 3D modes. Still, I was never able to get much more than about 4.5 foot-lamberts of light out of the set in 3D, which, while not unheard of, is barely bright enough for satisfying viewing in a totally darkened room. You can read more on that later.
The TC-P60ST60 flew through our video bench tests and did well scaling 480i standard-definition content to fill its native 1080p screen. I watched a few chapters of the DVD of Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash biopic starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, and found it noise free and not distractingly soft, though my Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player produced a noticeably sharper and more saturated image when the upconversion was done there instead. The set also performed well with overhead room lights, and I was impressed to find that in my lit room, even a bright LED flashlight aimed down at the screen from above failed to cause much reflection or seriously wash out the image. Of course, as with all plasmas, viewing angle was never an issue.
As Good as It Gets
As great as the TC-P60ST60 looked without calibration, it took on another layer of goodness after tuning, delivering impressively deep blacks that seemed to drop out to near infinity in my dark viewing room and the deliciously rich, saturated colors I’ve come to expect from Panasonic’s better plasmas. Something as simple as the CBS coverage of a golf tournament became a riot of visual delights. Fleshtones after calibration were slightly more saturated and a bit rosier and more natural than the paler faces in the default Cinema mode. The greens of the golf course were never cartoony or exaggerated, and the teal and orange shirts and bright pastels worn by the more fashion-savvy golfers called attention to themselves, but in a good way—not the kind that makes you reach for the color control to turn things down. Blue skies took on pungency that elicited my “wow” response. Shadow detail in the dark areas was excellent. I had the set’s ultimate black level set so low that at first I thought I’d gone too far and crushed the fine shadings, but as quickly as my eyes adjusted to the black areas, I could see details emerge. When the broadcast’s two anchors came on camera wearing black jackets with white-thread embroidered CBS logos, it took but a moment for me to fully delineate the undulating folds and creases in their sleeves and the clear outlines of their lapels against the body of the jacket. And all the detail in the bright logos just popped right out of all that blackness. There was so much good stuff happening on screen that I actually began looking forward to the colorful commercials, with their punchy golf clothing, sunny golf course landscapes, and tight close-ups of finely detailed metallic club heads or deep, mesmerizing dimples on perfectly white golf balls. This is the mark of a great TV—when every scene change seems to yield fresh, evocative surprises.
Moving on to Blu-ray, I spun the recent transfer of Prometheus my colleague Tom Norton has been using as one of his black-level torture tests and swam into the rich darkness of outer space, with its endless blackness and an unusually sharp pinpoint specificity to starfields you don’t often see with the competitive backlit LCD display technology. Well-defined shadow details were easily evident in the flashlight-lit cave scene early in the movie and later in the aerial space shots of the passing Prometheus ship. This movie overall has a dark and sinister feel, but when color is used, it’s used spectacularly, as in the opening sequence when an alien drinks a nasty cocktail and disintegrates before our eyes. As the camera zooms deep inside his biology, we see his DNA breaking up, a winding helix of yellow so bright and saturated it almost flies off the screen. The various environments on the ship were also breathtaking, and when the camera zooms in on a small artificial Christmas tree set up by the captain, I couldn’t help but be taken with the dead-on accuracy of the green color in this familiar object.
Let There Be Light…Please
I sampled several 3D Blu-ray Discs on different presets before settling on the Custom mode as the best to attempt a calibration because it offers brighter output than Cinema along with that mode’s full access to the white balance and CMS controls. Some of the others had a bit greater perceived brightness prior to adjustment but at the expense of inaccurate color and the ability to tweak. Admittedly, even the calibrated results looked pretty bad on paper, yet the visuals were really quite good—putting aside the general lack of brightness that typically still plagues 3D playback in many sets, particularly plasmas. Still, in my darkened room, I had no problem getting lost in the story of Avatar, with its lush green landscapes and colorful flying creatures, or in the animated fright-fest that is Coraline. The Jet Li film Flying Swords of Dragon Gate proved a good test for 3D because of all the rapidly moving sword fights and the colorful costumes. I ended up having to set the 3D refresh rate to its high setting of 120 hertz and the Motion Smoother control to Strong to keep motion looking natural on 3D titles, though it didn’t seem to put much of that video-like sheen into the 3D image. Nor did a ridiculously low gamma that measured out around 1.5 (!) look even remotely washed out the way it would with 2D.
Unfortunately, along with the less-than-optimal brightness, ghosting was apparent on a couple of the discs. Coraline had a few subtle moments of this, such as when I could see a double shadow against the edge of a black cat’s tail rising up into a night sky, and for some reason Puss in Boots was unwatchable no matter how I tried to tweak the settings. The two live-action movies seemed to be fine, though Flying Swords suffered from some cartoonish-looking low-budget CGI effects, not to mention unintentionally hilarious dubbed English dialogue that cheapened its serious script with awkward Chinese translations like, “Hey, you drank so much pickled-flesh wine that you can’t even draw your sword. You really do deserve to die!”
All in all, I found the 3D playback acceptable with my small sampling of titles but compromised compared with the best we’ve seen lately, particularly from the new higher-end LCDs.
Most of the best plasma HDTVs I’ve seen have a kind of smooth, film-like texture and solidity to the image, coupled with a special quality to the phosphor-based color that’s hard to explain considering that it doesn’t really show up in the measurements. I once asked a plasma TV engineer about this, and he described plasma’s unique look as “organic.” If by that he meant natural, accurate, engaging, dimensional, even addictive, then I think it sums up the Panasonic ST60 series. With its spectacularly deep blacks, excellent shadow details, and richly saturated colors, Panasonic can chalk up another affordable hit for all us little people with big eyes and small budgets.