The metaphorical ink had not even dried on my review of Panasonic's TC-P60ST60 when a sample of the higher-end TC-P60VT60 arrived on my doorstep. I'm not complaining, mind you; in fact, I'm thrilled to be able to directly compare these two plasma TVs and give you a clear idea of what you get when you move up to the VT60, which has a $2,999.99 MSRP that is almost double that of the ST60.
In generations past, the VT Series resided at the very top of Panasonic's plasma line and offered the best of the best that the company had to offer in both performance and features. Last year's VT50 was heralded by many (myself included) as one of the best performers ever. With that in mind, anticipation for this year's VT60 should have been high, but the arrival of the VT Series was a bit overshadowed by Panasonic's introduction of a new top-shelf line, the ZT Series. We'll be looking at the ZT model soon enough; in the meantime, though, I can tell you that there's still a lot to get excited about in the VT60. This THX-certified 1080p plasma uses Panasonic's Infinite Black Ultra panel; it offers 30,720 shades of gradation, employs 3000 Focused Field Drive technology to improve motion resolution, and includes two ISFccc calibration modes. The TC-P60VT60 is an active 3DTV, and the package includes two pairs of active-shutter RF glasses. Other features include the VIERA Connect Web platform, built-in WiFi, DLNA/USB media playback, an integrated camera, the TouchPad remote with voice recognition, and compatibility with the VIERA Remote2 control app for iOS and Android devices.
Setup & Features
The TC-P60VT60 includes all of the core features and picture adjustments found in the ST60 so, rather than go through the complete rundown again, I suggest you read that review first and then come back here to learn where the VT60 differs. The first difference is that the VT60 has a slightly more stylish design that includes a single pane of glass with no raised bezel (although there's still about an inch of black space around the screen, so it doesn't have that bezel-free look where the picture almost extends to the edge of the frame). Closer inspection of the VT60's front face reveals another noteworthy difference: the VT60's two tiny speaker panels run down the front sides of the TV, instead of underneath, as is the case with the ST60. This would prove beneficial in the sound quality department, allowing for a fuller, more natural-sounding and more focused audio presentation. The VT60 also includes a brushed silver stand with a V-shaped bracket that holds the screen higher off the table. The bottom of the TV sits about four inches off the table, instead of two inches with the ST60; this may seem inconsequential, but it could prove very helpful for anyone who plans to mate the TV with a soundbar. The taller bracket could lift the TV's IR port above the soundbar's height so it will be easier to send commands from the remote. (I just finished reviewing two soundbars with the ST60, so perhaps I'm overly sensitive to the frustration of having the TV's IR port blocked.) The 60-inch TC-P60VT60 weighs 80.5 pounds (without the stand) and measures 56.2 inches wide by 23.7 inches high by two inches deep.
The TC-P60VT60 has three HDMI inputs and lacks a PC input, just like the ST60. Last year's VT50 added a fourth HDMI input and a PC input, both of which should be included on a TV at this price point. You do get three USB ports instead of two; however, given that the VT60 has a built-in camera and built-in WiFi/Bluetooth, the extra USB port seems less important. I would rather have the extra HDMI port. The back panel also lacks an RS-232 or IR port for connection to an advanced control system.
Whereas the ST60 comes with a basic, non-backlit IR remote, the VT60 includes both a standard IR remote (with backlighting) and the smaller, Bluetooth-based Touchpad Controller that combines a round touchpad with nine hard buttons, including power, volume, channel, return, home, and more. One of those buttons has a microphone icon on it; that's where voice recognition comes into play. Press the mic button and talk into the remote to launch commands like mute, volume up/down, on/off, search, launch Web browser, etc. I prefer this method of voice recognition, as opposed to integrating the microphone into the TV itself; you don't have to yell across the room to launch commands. (I'll discuss performance in a moment.) The TV's built-in Bluetooth also allows for the addition of a wireless keyboard or wireless headphones, options you don't get with the ST60.
Panasonic added a lot more picture controls to the ST Series this year, but the VT Series still has a few more. Because this is a THX-certified display, you get THX Cinema and THX Bright Room picture modes for 2D content, as well as a THX Cinema mode for 3D viewing. Within the THX modes, you can make basic adjustments to color temperature, brightness, contrast, color, etc.; however, you can't access the Pro menu to perform an advanced calibration of white balance, gamma, and color. The Pro menu includes controls for two- and 10-point white balance, color management of all six color points (the ST60 only allows adjustment of red, green, and blue), six gamma presets and 10-point gamma adjustment, multiple color space, and the ability to adjust panel brightness, among other options. The Pro menu is available in the Cinema and Custom picture modes, and you can enable two ISFccc modes that also include these adjustments. That's a total of four picture modes that can be fully and independently calibrated per input. The VT60 also adds a 1080p Pure Direct mode that enables support of a 4:4:4 video signal with 1080p HDMI. In the 3D realm, beyond adding the THX Cinema 3D picture mode, the TC-P60VT60 has the exact same complement of setup options, including the new 3D Refresh Rate that lets you choose between 96Hz, 100Hz and 120Hz for 24p 3D content.
Regarding Web-based services, the VT60 adds all the same upgrades that I discussed with the ST60, such as the new Home menu, the redesigned VIERA Connect interface, the new VIERA Remote2 control app and support for the optional Electronic Touchpen (the TY-TP10U, $79), which allows you to virtually draw on the screen. The VT60 upgrades to a dual-core processor that allows for faster performance than the ST60, and the VT60 Web browser adds Flash support. The VT60's integrated camera allows for seamless video conferencing via Skype, as well as the ability to sign in to your own customized Home screen via facial recognition. The camera can be pushed down behind the screen when it's not in use, and it will automatically pop up when you launch a program like Skype that needs to use it.
The TC-P60VT60 includes a pixel orbiter (set to auto by default) that ever-so-slightly shifts the image to prevent a static picture from being left on the screen for an extended time. This is designed to prevent short-term image retention, and I did not see any blatant problems in this area with the VT60.
Click over to page 2 for the Performance, the Competition and Comparison, the Downside and the Conclusion . . .
I began my evaluation by measuring several of the TC-P60VT60's picture modes exactly as they come out of the box. Not surprisingly, the THX Cinema mode came the closest to reference standards, with the Cinema mode a very close second. The THX Cinema mode is almost reference quality without a single adjustment, with an average color temperature of 6,360 Kelvin (6500K is the target) and an average gamma of 2.24 (the target is 2.2). Delta Error tells you how far a certain measurement is from the reference standard, with zero being right on the mark. Anything under 10 is considered tolerable, anything under five is considered very good for a consumer-grade display, and a Delta Error under three is imperceptible by the human eye and thus ideal. In the THX Cinema mode, all six color points came in under DE3 with no adjustment required. The grayscale Delta Error was 3.96, just a bit above the DE3 goal; the color balance did have a slight green emphasis with darker signals, and a red emphasis with bright ones.
The THX Cinema mode begins with a rather low contrast setting of 60 (out of 100), resulting in a brightness of about 29 foot-lamberts in a 100 percent white window. That should be fine for dark-room viewing, but is a bit below the THX target of 35 ftL and may look somewhat dim in a room with some light. Simply turning up the contrast to 85 got me to the 35-ftL target, but it also produced a brighter gamma, which may not be as desirable when viewing film content in a dark room. It is called the THX Cinema mode, after all. If you want to keep that mode ideally set for movies, there's also a THX Bright Room mode for daytime viewing, although its color points and especially gamma are further off the mark. As I said above, the THX Cinema mode can't be fully calibrated, but a couple of tweaks to the contrast, brightness and color controls (using patterns on Digital Video Essentials) improved performance even further and brought everything under the DE3 target - meaning you can get reference-quality performance without investing in a full calibration.
That being said, a full calibration of the Cinema mode yielded outstanding results, with even more precision across the board. The Cinema mode is pretty good out of the box, with a color temperature average of 6,363K, a gamma of 2.38, a grayscale DE of 5.1 and every color but magenta falling under the DE3 target. With the full suite of advanced calibration controls at my disposal, I was able to obtain nigh-perfect color points and color balance, a closer-to-reference color temperature of 6,432K, and a grayscale DE of just 1.23. Additionally, the calibrated Cinema mode offered the desired 35 ftL of light output in tandem with a right-on-target gamma of 2.2.
The resulting image was simply spectacular with both Blu-ray and HDTV content - rich color, neutral skintones and excellent contrast. The TC-P60VT60 has an incredibly deep black level, and its ability to render fine black details is excellent. How did it compare with the ST60, you might ask? The TC-P60VT60 did produce a deeper shade of black, although the difference was not as dramatic as last year's difference between the VT50 and ST50. It's not that the VT60's black level got worse; it's that the ST60's black level got a lot better. In a direct head-to-head comparison, the ST60's light blacks and dark grays often had a reddish tinge that I did not see in the VT60, which produced much truer-looking blacks and grays to further improve the cinematic quality of my darkest film demos from The Bourne Supremacy (Universal), Flags of Our Fathers (Paramount), and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Buena Vista).
When calibrated, the VT60 and ST60 both offered light output around the THX target of 35 ftL, but I felt the VT60 did a slightly better job of rejecting ambient light to further improve image contrast during the day. Once again, the difference wasn't as pronounced as I saw last year between the VT50 and ST50, but I did feel the VT60 had an edge in this area. Of course, this plasma TV's overall image brightness is not as high as many LCDs, but the image still looked vibrant and well-saturated in a room with a fair amount of daylight.
In the areas of detail, motion detail and video processing, performance between the two plasmas was pretty much even - i.e., both served up an HD image with great detail, and motion resolution was very good. With the Motion Smoother function turned off, the VT60 produced visible lines just beyond HD 720 on my FPD Benchmark resolution pattern; with Motion Smoother enabled, it produced clean lines all the way to HD 1080. With the noise reduction control set to Auto, the VT60 served up a generally clean image with very little digital noise or color shifting in solid backgrounds and light-to-dark transitions. Of course, viewing angle and screen uniformity weren't concerns with this plasma.
One area where the VT60 showed significant improvement over the ST60 was with 3D content. My ST60 review sample produced an oddly disorienting effect with motion in 3D content; it almost looked like poorly implemented frame interpolation in the new 3D Refresh Rates that caused artificial smoothing and weird focus issues. However, the VT60 uses those same 3D Refresh Rates, and I didn't see the problem here. I watched Life of Pi on Blu-ray 3D through the VT60; switching between the 96Hz and 120Hz 3D modes, I saw little to no crosstalk with either setting. (In my favorite crosstalk demo from Monsters vs. Aliens, Chapter 12, the 96Hz mode produced less ghosting around the flying spoon.) Thanks to the active 3D technology, the TC-P60VT60 served up a 3D image with excellent detail; the image was rich and engaging, albeit a little too dim in the darkest scenes of Life of Pi. My review sample came with the same battery-powered, non-rechargeable 3D glasses that I got with the ST60; the TY-ER3D5MA glasses are light, but they were a bit too large for me. The VT60 supports the universal HD 3D standard, so you can use other manufacturers' active 3D glasses if desired.
The TC-P60VT60 uses the same video processing chip as the ST60; as such, its performance with standard-definition content is the same - i.e., average. Upconversion of SD content to the panel's 1080p resolution is solid, but the TV failed a number of the film and video cadence tests on the HQV Benchmark DVD. It also produced artifacts in my real-world DVD demo scenes from Gladiator (DreamWorks) and The Bourne Identity (Universal). If you still watch a lot of SD content, you might want to let your source devices or receiver handle any upconversion from SD to HD.
The Infinite Black Ultra panel is reflective, which can be problematic in a very bright room. Panasonic continues to improve the screen's filter to cut down on reflectivity, but you should still be mindful of where you place the TV in relation to lamps and windows. Next to a drape-free window, the picture get did washed out by the incoming sunlight, more so than the Sony XBR-55X900A LED/LCD that arrived near the end of my time with the VT60. The LCD did a better job producing deeper-looking blacks and a well-saturated image in a very bright room.
In the features realm, I'm disappointed that Panasonic has omitted the fourth HDMI input and PC input found in the previous VT Series. Admittedly, though, my disappointment is more in principle than practicality, as I don't connect a PC to my TV and I route all my HDMI sources through a receiver anyhow. The new voice-control function is unreliable at best. Sometimes it launched commands, sometimes it didn't. I found that speaking too slowly actually hurt performance, so you're better off talking in a normal, less deliberate manner. Even then, though, commands did not always execute, and ultimately I found it to be more trouble than it's worth. That has been my sentiment about all the voice-recognition services I've tried with TVs thus far; this is not specific to Panasonic.
The Touchpad Controller was occasionally unresponsive, and I found it to be overly sensitive, causing me to often miss the mark when navigating menus. I tried adjusting the remote's sensitivity in the setup menu, but never found a speed that worked for me, which was especially frustrating when trying to input text using the onscreen keyboard. I'd rather stick with the traditional IR remote or iOS control app; the ability to add a Bluetooth keyboard for Web browsing and text entry is also a plus.
Competition and Comparison
In the plasma realm, the TC-P60VT60's biggest competitors are Panasonic's own TC-P60ST60 and TC-P60ZT60 (review to come), as well as Samsung's new PN60F8500, which by early accounts represents a big step forward for Samsung in plasma performance. Of course, there are also plenty of LED/LCDs to choose from at the 60-inch screen size; to get black-level performance anywhere comparable to the VT60, you probably need to look for a model with local dimming, such as the new Samsung UN60F8000, Sony KDL-55W900A and LG 60LA8600. You can get more information about all of the flat-panel HDTVs we've reviewed here.
The TC-P60VT60 is simply an exceptional performer that produces a gorgeous reference-quality image, with very deep blacks, rich contrast, great detail and accurate color. To top it off, the TV is loaded with worthwhile features, including the excellent VIERA Connect platform, built-in WiFi, an integrated camera, support for Bluetooth peripherals, and the inclusion of two pairs of active 3D glasses. As I write this in late May, the VT60's street price remains close to the $2,999.99 MSRP amongst the big-name retailers, and that price is pretty much in line with many of the 60-inch competitors I listed above. A notable exception, as I said in the opener, is the TC-P60ST60, which costs about half as much as the VT60. Last year, the VT Series offered a big enough improvement in performance to make it an easy recommendation over the ST Series for the more discerning videophile. This year, the ST Series upped its game, so the victory is not as clear-cut for the VT Series. Yes, the VT60's black level and gamma are better, and it has a few more tools that allow you to calibrate it to near perfection. However, all but the most hardcore videophiles should be perfectly thrilled with the ST60, at least with 2D content. If you plan to watch a lot of 3D, then the VT60 is definitely the better choice. The VT60 also offers a few more perks, like better sound quality, the built-in camera, the Touchpad Controller, the dual-core processor and Flash-supported Web browser, and the nicer aesthetic. Is that enough to drop an extra $1,000-plus over the ST60? You be the judge. Either way, you can't go wrong.