Which is the best Plasma TV for 2012? It is all Samsung vs. Panasonic but…

Since Pioneer left the plasma TV market, choosing the best plasma HDTV have without exception become a Samsung vs. Panasonic exercise. It is not that LG does not deliver. But when it comes to picture quality, LG has so far failed to match the other two.

For 2012 this is no exception, with Panasonic and Samsung offering solid propositions characterized by extensive features, excellent styling, and stellar picture quality. In particular, Panasonic ST50 and Samsung E6500/E7000 series represent exceptional value, delivering similar features and overall performance.

Yet, despite the many similarities between these Samsung and Panasonic plasma TV series, there still remain differences — no matter how small — in both features and performance that may direct discerning consumers to disregard brand loyalty and go for one and not the other. For these consumers, the whole is… Which 2012 plasma TV series delivers the best overall value?

Read here to discover more! You may join this discussion by submitting your comments using the comments submission form at the end of this webpage.

Which deserves the ‘Best Plasma TV’ title: Samsung or Panasonic?

We have recently published two detailed reviews covering Samsung and Panasonic upper-tier series for 2012, namely the E6500, E7000, and E8000 Samsung plasma HDTVs, and Panasonic ST50, GT50, and VT50 plasma TVs. As expected, both TV makers are offering extremely capable HDTVs with one of the best HD pictures we have ever seen. Even mid-tier 2012 HDTVs from both brands are capable of a surprisingly superior picture, with a picture quality that is almost ‘on par’ with that of the Panasonic VT50 and the Samsung E8000 series flagship HDTVs.

Equally important is that both TV makers’ lineups share very similar features. For example, premium plasma HDTVs from Panasonic and Samsung add dual-core processing; and in both cases, this feature does not add anything to the TV picture!

No Flagship Series in the ‘Best Plasma TV’ Equation!

When we reviewed the latest Samsung and Panasonic upper-tier HDTVs, the best plasma TVs overall for 2012 did not turn out to be the flagship but the Panasonic ST50 mid-tier series and Samsung E7000 premium HDTVs. Samsung’s E6500 mid-tier series also represents a possible best plasma TV option — mainly at the 60-inch — but only if 3D viewing does not represent one of your entertainment priorities, and if what you will be watching is mainly pristine HD content. Otherwise, the E7000 remains Samsung’s best plasma TV series overall.

The whole issue is not that the Panasonic VT50 and the Samsung E8000 flagship series are not capable performers. Rather, these are both capable of exceedingly deep blacks and exceptional overall picture performance. But the extra features present on these series with respect to the more affordable HDTVs within the same lineups come at too high a premium. Suffice to note that at the 65-inch, the VT50 flagship costs $1,100 more than the ST50 equivalent! The problem with the flagship is that this extra premium does not translate into a noticeable improvement in picture quality over the less expensive mid-tier series, nor does it equate to a marked improvement in the TV experience as a result of the improved feature set.

The same holds true with the Samsung flagship even though the price difference between the flagship and the mid-tier Samsung E6500 HDTVs is less significant. But at a premium of $500 over the E6500, the Samsung flagship still feels expensive as features like Smart Interaction on the E8000 does not deliver a better picture, nor a better user experience. You see, controlling your television by waving your hands and ‘shouting’ at the TV is not more convenient than the push of a button on a standard TV remote!

At the premium HDTV category, pricing takes a somewhat different course between these two TV makers, with the Samsung premium series being the only one that becomes relatively more affordable with respect to mid-tier HDTVs.

Suffice to note that at the 60-inch, the Samsung E7000 is selling at just under $200 more than the E6500 equivalent, a premium which in our opinion is general justified by the enhanced overall performance of the E7000.

Instead, the 60-inch GT50 Panasonic HDTV is selling at over $400 more than the 60-inch ST50 HDTV equivalent. Yet for this extra premium, you would not gain any picture improvement as the presence of the THX picture modes on the GT50 (the main picture related upgrade over the ST50), does not produce the expected improvement in overall picture performance over the less expensive Panasonic HDTVs.

Panasonic ST50 vs. Samsung E6500 and E7000 Plasma HDTVs

Prior to discussing which TV series deserves the best plasma TV title for 2012, we present a performance summary for each of these Samsung and Panasonic plasma HDTVs; for more information on these TVs, please refer to the latest Samsung and Panasonic plasma TV reviews we published on our site.

Panasonic ST50 Performance Summary

The ST50 picture quality is just shy of the superb VT50 flagship with the real difference between the two being the visibly deeper blacks of the VT50 HDTVs. We say visibly because this is something one would only notice in a side by side comparison. The black levels on the ST50 are already exceedingly dark, with a level of black that matches that of the Samsung counterparts. Equally important, black levels remain stable across the entire brightness range.

Color accuracy and color saturation are also very good; the latter is just a bit better than on the Samsung E6500 and E7000 series. Another area in which the Panasonic excel — again doing just a bit better than the Samsung — is in shadow detail, rendering subtle detail in the darker parts of the image better.

Bright room performance is one of the best for a plasma TV thanks to the new louver filter; but here it’s the Samsung that takes the upper hand even though the difference between the two is minimal. This may sound strange as the Panasonic is capable of a higher light output. However, the new Samsung screen is better in minimizing reflections off the screen surface and preserving blacks under bright lighting. As stated elsewhere on our site, a bright image is not enough for the best performance under bright lighting.

Video processing is clean and can correctly deinterlace 1080i film based content. As in previous years, 48Hz playback of 2D-24p content is practically useless due to too much flicker. However, as is the case with the Samsung, these Panasonic plasma HDTVs are still capable of rendering a film-like cadence when displaying 24p content with the 60Hz setting, notwithstanding some minor video processing artifacts.

Instead, the 48Hz playback feature turns out to be Panasonic’s ‘3D saver’. Without 48Hz playback activated, 3D is hardly watchable on these Panasonic plasma HDTVs due to excessive 3D image crosstalk. Activating the 48Hz feature with 24p-3D content results in a solid 3D picture performance; but in this respect, the Panasonic still fails to match E7000 Samsung plasma HDTVs.

Samsung E7000 (and E6500) Series Performance Summary

As stated in our Samsung plasma TV review, there is a lot to like about E7000 and even the cheaper E6500 Samsung plasma HDTVs when it comes to the TV picture.

Both series are capable of a superb 2D picture with exceedingly deep blacks that match those on the Panasonic ST50 and GT50, excellent shadow detail even in the darker parts of the image – though the Panasonic fairs just a bit better here, and highly accurate colors that remain neutral  albeit slightly de-saturated compared with the Panasonic ST50. The latter seems to arise as these Samsung plasma HDTVs limit the maximum light output to a lower level than their Panasonic equivalents, leading to a picture that imparts less ‘pop’ in side by side comparison with the Panasonic plasma HDTVs.

Possibly, the reason behind this lower peak light output is there to avid the brightness pops that plagued 2011 Samsung plasma HDTVs. In any case, brightness pop is no longer an issue – at least with 2D content. In the case of 3D, there is still that rear instance of brightness pop with certain content, but otherwise the 3D picture is very good with minimal image crosstalk irrespective of whether you are watching original 3D material or converted 2D content via the TV 2D-to-3D image converter. This however applies to the E7000 HDTVs only.

With 3D, there arise the first of two major performance differences between E7000 and E6500 series: E6500 HDTVs suffer from considerable 3D image cross talk issues compared to both the Samsung E7000 and the Panasonic ST50 HDTVs. Mind you, this crosstalk issue is not as bad as that on the ST50 without the 48Hz playback active. In this respect, the E6500 3D picture performance can still be defined as ‘pleasing’ and would definitely do for occasional 3D viewing, but we would not recommend the E6500 if 3D is one of your entertainment priorities.

Both the E6500 and the E7000 Samsung series are capable of solid bright room performance – doing even better than the Panasonic despite Samsung’s lower light output level. This is all thanks to Samsung’s Real Black PRO panel ability to minimize reflections off the screen surface and preserve black levels.

Overall video processing on the Samsung HDTVs is clean and free from video artifacts. These sets are also capable of correctly de-interlacing 1080i film-based content and of playing 24p movie content with a correct filmlike cadence. Here arise the second most important preference difference between the E6500 and the E7000: E6500 HDTVs are not capable of doing a good job with noisy low quality video sources; activating the noise filters on the E6500 would not help as this would lead to too much image blur.

Choosing the Best Plasma TV for 2012

There is no doubt that both the Panasonic ST50 and Samsung E7000/E6500 series are extremely valid HDTVs with only minor differences that does not really impact their ability to deliver one of the best HDTV pictures in most applications. In this respect, they both deserve the ‘Best Plasma TV’ title; as such, choosing one series over the other is far from easy!

In these circumstances, many go by brand loyalty. At the same time, there still remain minor differences that may direct discerning home theater enthusiast in choosing one over the other. For example, for daytime use, the Samsung may present a better option due to its ability to maintain deeper blacks better, thus maintaining better contrast. Again, if 3D viewing is a priority, the E7000 can do better than the ST50 and the E6500. The E7000 also adds dual core processing (a feature also present on the GT50 Panasonic equivalent); this helps render the Smart TV experience more pleasing and complete thanks to faster apps load times and multi-tasking support.

On the other hand, if you are after the best picture quality, the ST50 can do that bit better thanks to its slightly better ability to render more accurate subtle shadow detail in the dark parts of the image. If your TV viewing takes place mainly under controlled lighting in a darkened room, the Panasonic picture delivers the better picture. But there again, here we are speaking about difference in picture quality between these two brands that are discernable only in side by side comparisons. In other words, the Samsung TV picture still looks exceptionally good.

In these circumstances, there remains just one equally important factor to take into account to help us pick the best plasma TV for 2012, and this is PRICE!

There was a time when price hardly factored in choosing the best HDTVs; but one cannot leave the price out of the overall value equation especially when the economy is still struggling and everyone is trying to make the most of the available money.

It is this that leads us to choose the E7000 as our favorite for the best plasma TV for 2012. This premium plasma TV from Samsung comes at just $50 more than the corresponding 60-inch mid-tier Panasonic ST50 HDTV, yet apart from an almost identical picture, the E7000 also supports a slightly better feature set and a more extensive suite of picture controls — one that would surely be appreciated by demanding videophiles looking for the best TV picture.

Conclusion: No clear winner but…

Personal preferences play a big part here. We all want to choose the best plasma TV for our money, yet for many, choosing an HDTV is first and foremost a brand issue. Many would go for the Panasonic as the best plasma TV for 2012 – which is fine. But if brand is not an issue, then we sincerely believe that the E7000 series, with sets such as the 60-inch PN60E7000, delivers that bit more overall than both the ST50 and E6500 HDTVs, at least at these screen categories.

We are mainly concerned here with the 60-inch as it is the TV size that is slowly becoming the preferred choice among serious home entertainment enthusiasts. The 55-inch still remains the preferred TV size in the home but TV makers like Samsung and LG have skipped the 55-inch from their 2012 plasma HDTV lineup in their bid to push the larger screen size TV to the home.

If what you are after is a 55-inch or even a 50-inch, your best plasma TV option is definitely the Panasonic ST50, with sets such as the 55-inch TC-P55ST50 selling at $1,450, just $100 more than the 51-inch E7000 Samsung HDTV. However, with the available alternative options at the larger screen sizes, the Panasonic ST50 is not our preferred choice

The Samsung E6500 is also a solid contender to the Best Plasma TV title but only at the 60-inch, in which case it still takes second place — with its PN60E6500 — in our preferred list for the best plasma TV. This 60-inch comes $150 cheaper than the ST50 and $200 cheaper than the E7000 alternative; it represents a solid yet affordable 60-inch HDTV option for home entertainment. The E6500 is so good in particular with 2D that we were somehow tempted to give the best plasma TV title to the E6500 if it were not for its crosstalk issues with 3D and its inability to correctly deal with noisy content.

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