Panasonic Viera TX-P60ZT65B review
For a long time, the Pioneer Kuro plasma TV has been the darling of plasma TV enthusiasts. That's an incredible achievement when you consider that Pioneer stopped making TVs in 2008. Panasonic continued the legacy by hiring Pioneer's engineers and buying Kuro-related patents, but avoided comparing its own plasma sets to what became a benchmark for picture quality. Until now, that is. The ZT65 is Panasonic's exclusive, limited-edition TV, and it’s designed to replace the Kuro as the ultimate plasma display.
Panasonic's top-end Plasma for 2013 comes in just one size, a relatively massive 60in screen, but then it's made for those who design their lives around home cinema and not those who expect home cinema to fit into their lives
When you first see the ZT65 it’s hard to believe it uses plasma technology. It's almost as thin as some top-end LCD TVs. The aluminium trim, metal bezel and silver stand make it look every bit the premium TV, and it would look just as impressive mounted to a wall.
At the back of the set you'll find a fairly comprehensive collection of inputs, although we think there should be four HDMI inputs, not three. The twin AV inputs for legacy devices require adaptors for SCART, component and composite equipment, but you can connect digital optical audio devices directly. There's also a headphone audio jack, SD and Common Interface card slots and three USB ports, one of which is a USB3 port. You can use the USB ports to attach a portable hard disk and use it to record from the aerial or satellite tuners.
You can connect the ZT65 to your home network and the internet via its built-in Wi-Fi adaptor, or its Ethernet port, should you prefer a wired connection.
Panasonic's redesigned Smart Viera user interface has five customisable home screens that can display reminders, calendar appointments, the weather, web bookmarks and shortcuts to on-demand services, as well as what's on TV. You can also stream multimedia files from a networked DLNA server such as a PC or NAS, accessing each one directly from the home screen. We were able to play most of our video files, but the TV couldn't detect MOV or native DivX clips.
Internet services have never been Panasonic's strong point, and although this year is easily the company's best effort yet, the ZT65 still loses out to the comprehensive selection found on Samsung and LG's TVs. On-demand films from Netflix, catch-up TV from BBC iPlayer and web video from YouTube and DailyMotion are the highlights, with news, sport, weather and internet radio rounding off the selection. We’re disappointed that BBC iPlayer is the only catch-up TV service, especially on a TV at this price. There's also a web browser, Facebook and Twitter clients. You can video chat using Skype, but you’ll have to buy Panasonic's expensive camera accessory (£90 from www.johnlewis.com) to make the most of the service. This is disappointing, as other manufacturers have built cameras into their flagship sets.
You can browse between channels and services using the chunky remote control, which has a faint backlight for the number keys but none of the menu buttons, or you can use the secondary touchpad remote. It makes using the web browser much easier, but it isn't particularly useful for anything else.
The ZT65 also comes with a “Smart Pen”. It's an interesting, if slightly odd inclusion that lets you turn the TV into a giant digital sketch pad. The Paint app has several pen, pencil and colour effects, but we aren't convinced you'll encourage your children to scrawl all over a £3,500 TV.
We enjoyed the ZT65’s novel features, but we were more interested in its image quality. Standard definition TV impressed us immediately thanks to excellent image processing that even managed to make low-quality Freeview channels such as BBC News look respectable when upscaled to 1080p. With a little tweaking, the noise reduction, resolution enhancements and frame creation can produce incredible results from low-quality live TV transmissions. When viewing high-definition broadcasts, the ZT65 continued to impress thanks to its vivid colours and pin-sharp picture.
Of course, the ZT65 really shines when playing Blu-ray video, as it produces some of the deepest blacks we've seen from a non-OLED display. Our Star Trek reference scenes looked incredible, with bright laser fire contrasting nicely with the almost totally black depths of space.
As is the case with many modern TVs, the ZT65 has a dynamic contrast setting that alters the contrast setting depending on the image displayed. Although we prefer not to use dynamic contrast, as we find it can’t keep up with real-time image changes, the ZT65’s default dynamic contrast setting isn’t too bad. It’s okay for watching TV, but we’d switch it off if you’re watching films.
MADE TO FRAME
As the ZT65 is intended for serious home enthusiasts, it should come as no surprise that it has a comprehensive set of image modes and settings that you can tweak and adjust. This includes a multi-stage frame creation setting that smooths playback, although this feature can make films look more like soap operas if you set it to maximum. Of course, you also get the usual brightness, contrast, sharpness and colour sliders, choice of colour temperatures and colour gamut modes. This includes the Rec. 709 standard, which is a high-definition video standard that dictates frame rate, pixel count and colour space for flawless Blu-ray playback; it’s a much better option than simply choosing warm or cool colour temperatures.
Colour accuracy is nearly perfect using the Professional image preset, and you'll only get better results by calibrating the TV with its extensive white balance, colour management and gamma settings. However, plasma technology isn't perfect, and the ZT65 is no exception. Up close, you can spot some dithering when darker images are on screen, but the effect is so small that you won’t notice it when viewing it from a sensible distance. As it is, the ZT65’s 2D image quality is as close to perfection as we've seen from a plasma TV.
The ZT65 had no trouble displaying 3D content, and we saw no artefacts or signs of judder. Plasma TVs have much faster response times than LCD TVs, so there was no ghosting in 3D films whatsoever. We saw some evidence of crosstalk in the Kill Zone video game, but none when watching Avatar. Two pairs of active shutter glasses are included in the box, so you'll have to pay around £70 per pair of extra 3D glasses should you need more for family viewing.
Unsurprisingly, given its thin frame, the ZT65’s sound quality can't match its near-flawless picture, despite Panasonic adding a 10W subwoofer to the two 5W stereo speakers. It's a cut above most TVs, though, producing clear speech, a crisp high end and even a small amount of bass. For the best viewing experience, you should use the ZT65 with a dedicated speaker system or sound bar.
Considering its legacy, there was always going to be massive pressure for the ZT65 to amaze, but Panasonic has produced what we think is the best-looking plasma TV ever made. Colour accuracy, image sharpness, contrast and black levels are all phenomenal, and the ZT65 has an incredible selection of image settings and presets to customise the picture to your own tastes.
Panasonic has chosen to only release the ZT in a 60in screen size in Europe, but it does do a larger 65in model (that's 17.4% larger in area) in its very-similar VT range. That 65in screen costs a little less than this 60in one, so it's a tough choice to make between the two. That aside, the price is approaching that of 55in 4K sets but you'll have to pay a lot more for a 4K set of this size or bigger, with 65in sets at around £6,000, plus with content to make the most of such TVs still thin on the ground the ZT65 still deserves top marks.
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