Test Report: Panasonic TC-P60ST60 3D Plasma HDTV Page 2

Performance

Contrast ratio was probably the most impressive aspect of the ST60’s overall performance, so let’s talk about that first. I measured black level at 0.0018 footlamberts (ftL). This is actually lower than the already impressive black level of last year’s award-winning VT50 (0.003 ftL). At that low a level, there’s a lot of “wiggle room” in the measurements, so the black levels of the two TVs are likely closer than these numbers first suggest. Sadly, I didn’t have a VT50 on hand for a direct comparison; Panasonic made me send it back. Even so, this is a low, low number— one of the lowest I’ve ever measured on a plasma.

The ST60 is also quite bright, putting out 33.01 ftL on a 100-IRE white window. This wasn’t quite as bright as the VT50 with the same test pattern (41.7 ftL), but it’s still bright enough to give the ST60 an incredible contrast ratio of 18,339:1. The only display of any type that I’ve measured with a higher native contrast ratio was JVC’s DLA-X35 projector, By way of comparison, the VT50’s contrast ratio was 13,900:1.

The combination of low black level and high brightness on the ST60 results in an incredible-looking image. There’s a realism to it that you just don’t get with displays that have a lesser contrast ratio. Take as an example one of the dream (hallucination?) sequences in Life of Pi, where surrealistic colors swirl against a black background. These looked so vibrant and saturated on the ST60 that even in 2D the image seemed 3D. An even better test was one of Pi’s many night scenes, with bright stars set against a dark sky. On an average LCD, even one with local dimming, such scenes would have looked comparatively flat and washed out. (The LCD TV’s backlight would dim dynamically in response to the sky, but the stars would be dimmed as well.) On the ST60, the sky looked black and the stars brilliant. Gorgeous.

Normal colors, like skin tones, all had the realistic look on the Panasonic that’s typical of most displays with accurate color points. Although my measurements show that the ST60’s color points aren’t quite perfectly aligned with the exact HDTV specifications, they’re all close enough that the image looked lifelike no matter what I watched.

Picture detail is fantastic, too. This was most noticeable in the textures of objects, such as the fur on Richard Parker (he’s the tiger in Pi), even as he moved about. In one shot where Parker is sleeping, the detail in his fur, and the contrast between the bright white and dark black of his stripes, made for an especially beautiful-looking image.

The ST60 has the same not-very-useful 48-Hz display mode found on many previous Panasonic plasmas, but it also has the 96-Hz mode found on the company’s recent upper-end models that lets you display 24-frames-per-second content (nearly all movies) in a 4:4 sequence (each frame is displayed 4 times per second). This creates a judder-free motion image without having to add the dreaded interpolation (soap-opera effect) processing used by high-frame-rate LCDs. If, for some reason, you like the look of motion interpolation, that option is available on the ST60 as well.

The ST60’s 3D performance was somewhat of a mixed bag. The 3D effect was decent, but there was also some crosstalk in images. A 96-Hz 3D refresh mode seemed to show the least crosstalk, while the 100-and 120-Hz modes displayed increasing amounts. There was also some breakup of the 3D effect in scenes with fast motion. I’ve seen better 3D performance on other TVs, but I’ve also seen worse. On the plus side, the non-rechargeable RF glasses that Panasonic includes are lightweight and fairly comfortable.

The ST60 isn’t perfect, of course. With the Panel Brightness setting switched to High, shadows looked a little noisy. When I sat 8 feet away from the screen, this wasn’t too noticeable, but if I leaned forward, it was. However, the Mid and Low Panel Brightness settings are only fractionally dimmer, but less noisy-looking. I ended up watching just about everything with Mid selected.

The ST60’s gamma was a little weird, just as it was with the VT50 (especially in the High mode). It seems that Panasonic TVs are engineered to add a little extra pop to brighter objects, presumably to make the TVs appear brighter. I didn’t find this objectionable, but some purists might. The gamma control presets in the menu do move the gamma curve, but brighter objects still get that extra push. For those who want their set calibrated for a more accurate curve, a 10-point gamma adjustment in the Pro section of the TV’s menu provides the tools to make it happen.

Bottom Line

This was one of the easiest TV reviews I’ve ever carried out. The ST60 simply produces a gorgeous picture. The fact that it has a great price, too, makes it one of those “no-brainer” products that I can wholeheartedly recommend, without reservation. High performance, low cost, big size. Stunning.

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