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Panasonic TC-PxxST60

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Review: Panasonic TC-P50ST60 plasma


With last year's ST and GT50 plasmas, Panasonic produced what could very well have been the most solid bang for the buck displays in years. Nipping at the heels of the highly esteemed VT50, the ST50 lacked some calibration flexibility and refinement, but offered very similar core performance. Rumor had it that the new 60 series would not be significantly overhauled from the 50 series, but Chris, owner of Cleveland Plasma, invited me over to judge for myself.

The ST60's thin, black bezel design is simple but attractive. In addition, it has an effective screen filter, keeping blacks fairly dark even in moderately bright ambient light. However, reflections were more distinct and obvious on the ST60 than on some other top performers like the Samsung F8500.

Buzzing was minimal; just audible with bright test patterns in a quiet room at a distance of six feet. In normal use, the buzzing caused by this particular sample would be of absolutely no concern, as should image retention, which seemed very minimal with my test patterns.

One of the things that distinguished last year's VT50 from the ST50 was the VT's more comprehensive calibration adjustments, allowing the VT to be tuned with more precision and netting a slightly more refined picture as a result. This has taken an interesting twist with the 60 series, with the addition of 10 point gamma and white balance controls and CMS adjustment for the primary colors. These are mostly what the ST50 lacked, and Panasonic has thoughtfully included them in the new ST60. The new adjustments are available in the Cinema and Custom picture modes.

Before calibration:

The ST60 comes roaring out of the gate in Standard mode. Well, on second thought, Standard actually seems more like a disinterested, boring trot. Dim, with bluish whites and dark details sinking down into black, it would be smart to change out of Standard mode as soon as possible.

Home Theater picture mode, a new addition for the 60 series, gave a very pleasant picture on the ST60. I was impressed with the punchy, exciting contrast, reasonably good shadow detail, and pleasant looking color with the exception of slightly pinkish skin tones. A quick and easy switch to Home Theater mode will show a lot of what the ST60 is capable of.

Cinema mode also looked good overall, though I was aware of slightly greenish overtones in the picture. In addition, skin tones were not nearly ruddy and rich enough, leaving people looking a bit lifeless and jaundice. However, good traits were abundant, most notably of which was a seductively rich contrast and a clean presentation overall.

Custom mode, while an excellent candidate for calibration, did not fare nearly as well before any adjustments were made. The picture was nice and bright, but it was lacking in shadow detail, making dark objects appear to sink down into a black blob. In addition, skin tones had a healthy dose of chronic sunburn, giving lobster-like reddish tones to ordinary looking people.

Vivid was like a pumped up Custom mode- all the unpleasant characteristics appeared to have been carefully nurtured and multiplied. Whites, already a bit overbearing in Custom, appeared strained, bluer, and brighter still in Vivid. Skin tones weren't merely red; in Vivid they nearly glowed. Graininess abounded in a gaudy, overly enhanced picture.

Calibration:

Calibration was performed in Custom mode. Panasonic's menu timeout makes calibration somewhat frustrating; in addition, I was bothered by slightly finicky measured performance that reminded me a bit of the older and fussier VT30. Since the review sample only had about 30-40 hours on it, those traits are hopefully just a byproduct of a panel that hasn't quite had a chance to settle in yet.

While CMS adjustments have been included for the primary colors, I could not find similar adjustments for the secondary colors, so I was glad to see that the secondaries fell into alignment fairly well after adjustment of the primary colors.

Another addition to the ST60 is a 96 Hz mode for Blu Ray, though inputting a 1080P/24 signal and having the ST60 set to 60 Hz looked pleasing and at least as good as 96 Hz. The ST60's handling of motion can also be modified with the Motion Smoother, which adds frame interpolation, leading to an unnatural look if overdone. After adjustment of these settings, I was pleased by the ST60's motion.

As suggested by the before calibration viewing, black levels and contrast on the ST60 were outstanding. With Custom mode calibrated to 51.4 fL peak white, full field black measured .00232 fL, and the modified ANSI contrast was 11,200:1 (.0029/32.48 fL). A full, 100% white field generated 18.47 fL. Custom mode reached the calibrated 51.4 fL at a contrast setting of 78. Consistent with prior models, panel brightness high was not as accurate as mid, and normally using mid will give plenty of light output and would be the preferred setting. Maximum light output could go even higher with little or no compromise in image accuracy, which is a very welcome characteristic. With more loading of the ABL circuitry, the ST60's white balance shifted red; larger windows and fields measured warmer than very small windows. For pixel perfect resolution at 1080P, overscan must be turned off and H size 1 selected.

Evaluation:

Unfortunately, my viewing of the ST60 was limited to Blu Ray viewing in a moderately bright room. Evaluation of different content in a dark room will have to wait for a follow up. In this less than ideal environment, the ST60 satisfied with a rich contrast and very good sense of depth. Skin tones had excellent color, though the ST60's handling of brightly lit faces reminded me of the GT50's rendition in THX Cinema mode: some shadings were not quite natural. This, I suspect, is a byproduct of the slightly fussy calibration behavior, which I am hoping was due to insufficient break in time. Regardless, it was minor and the overall presentation was extremely good. Sharpness was natural; not hyped or enhanced, but fully detailed when the scene supported it. Color appeared to be very accurate and lifelike in every scene I looked at. Other aspects of the ST60's performance were masked by the ambient light in the room and will have to wait for further testing.

The ST60 does seem to be a significant advance over the ST/GT50; it's contrast measuring better than anything I have obtained with those models, and more detailed calibration adjustments allowing for more refinement and flexibility. I loved the GT50 so much last year that I did something I had not done before and have not done since: I bought one for my own living room shortly after finishing the review. I do believe Panasonic has succeeded in making an outstanding bang for the buck performer significantly better. Please, please don't give up on plasma, Panasonic! The ST60 is a gem!

Chad B

 



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