Despite that for 2013, we have a rather reduced lineup of plasma TVs, choosing a Plasma TV still remains among the most challenging task for those looking for the best that today’s TV display technologies have to offer. Why?
The latest premium and flagship plasma TVs for 2013 have reached the apex of picture performance. Mind you, we do not have many new features for 2013; what we have instead is mainly a refinement of the plasma display panels found on 2013 HDTVs; these new panels are proving to be superb display performers – delivering an impeccable picture and a brighter image. In addition, Internet driven content and TV web browsing have got much better mainly thanks to the use of fast processing technology on premium and flagship HDTVs.
In this plasma TV review roundup, we discuss the latest plasma HDTV line-ups, indicating which in our opinion are the best plasma TVs for picture performance and overall value. You will also find links to a number of detailed HDTV reviews covering some of the best plasma TVs currently available on the market.
Plasma Television: Still the TV of choice among demanding consumers
Panasonic VIERA TC-P55ST60 55-Inch
Plasma HDTVs have been around for over 10 years. Yet 2013 seems to be the year that is marking the beginning of the end. As further detailed in our article, Panasonic has already announced the end of its R&D on plasma display panels. This in our opinion is a bit unfortunate for those who care about picture quality since Panasonic has always proven itself capable of delivering among the best plasma TVs irrespective of price. Suffice to note that the midrange Panasonic TC-P55ST60 has so far been rated in various plasma TV reviews as the best value HDTV you can buy, thanks to a picture performance that is in line with that of the more expensive premium HDTVs.
Some may argue that there remains LG and Samsung, but…
LG may have not announced the end of its plasma display technology R&D, yet the indications are that in effect, it has already done so prior to Panasonic announcement! For the first time ever during these last years, LG did not come with a flagship plasma TV in its 2013 HDTV lineup; in addition, LG’s plasma TVs for 2013 seem to be making use of 2012 plasma display technology. This contrasts heavily with Panasonic’s new 2013 HDTVs; these represent a ‘marked’ improvement in picture performance over the already superb performance of its 2012 plasma TVs.
Samsung PN60F8500 60-Inch
With Samsung, things are a bit different in that like Panasonic, Samsung’s new 2013 plasma TVs are proving to be of significantly superior performance to 2012 models. Just take the new Samsung flagship for 2013, the PNF8500 shown here. This is definitely a TV in a class of its own, delivering not only superior picture performance but also a picture that is practically as bright as that of a LED TV.
Though there are no indications that Samsung will be stopping its R&D anytime soon, it remains a worrying fact that Samsung’s plasma TV lineup for 2013 is surely the smallest we have ever seen in years from a TV maker that is usually the one with a the largest lineup of HDTVs irrespective of display technology.
Well… What appears to be the possible demise of plasma TVs within the coming two years or so, is being brought about by consumers’ continued preference of LED TVs over plasma despite the latter superior picture and lower price. Unfortunately, as things stand, OLED display technology is in no way a possible affordable option to plasma display technology for anyone who cares about picture quality.
Therefore, if for whatever reason, you have been holding back from buying yourself a plasma TV — hoping for a better picture or lower pricing — this may be your last chance to enjoy what the very best in display technology has to offer today!
To help you in this respect, we are presenting a summary of the plasma TV options presently available from Panasonic, Samsung, and LG.
Panasonic, Samsung, or LG… Which one delivers the best plasma TV?
Flagship plasma TVs from Panasonic and Samsung have become the most awaited year after year by demanding home theater enthusiast looking for the best picture.
While up to 2012, the best plasma TVs from LG were not far either from the other two, with sets such as the LG PM6700 premium LG plasma HDTV being among the best-rated in customer feedback, for 2013 we do not have any flagship model from LG. Mind you, the new LG premium plasma TV, the LG 60PH6700 is still a great TV that comes with a feature set that is similar to last year LG’s PM9700 flagship except for a few minor differences – and a cheaper price! It is no wonder this LG plasma TV is enjoying great consumer feedback.
However, for 2013 it is Panasonic and Samsung the brands videophiles will be looking at. Both of their flagship plasma TVs have reached a picture quality that is at the apex of picture performance, one that is by far superior to that of the best LED TVs. In addition, published plasma TV reviews by major review sites all agree that the new 2013 plasma TVs from Samsung and Panasonic are capable of superior blacks, improved color accuracy, improved shadow detail, lower power consumption, and a brighter image over 2012 HDTVs.
At the same time, consumer reviews keep hailing the LG premium plasma TV for its extensive features and overall performance at a price that is among the cheapest around – making the LG option among the preferred choice by consumers looking for premium features and performance on a budget class HDTV. We say budget class because the 60-inch LG premium TV referred to above is selling online for just $1,000!
Thus, despite the reduced lineup of plasma TVs for 2013, for discerning HDTV buyers, 2013 still brings more than just a lineup of ordinary HDTVs. There is surely a TV for you, whether that being a cheap plasma TV with no frills but that gives you a bigger screen for less, or a premium/flagship 1080p plasma HDTV. In this plasma TV review discussion, we present the latest available options to make your choice easier.
Panasonic Plasma TVs: Rated as the best in black levels…
Panasonic TC-P65VT60 65-Inch
Since Pioneer left the plasma TV market, many started considering Panasonic as the king of plasma TVs. With its new 2013 lineup, Panasonic has more than the required potential to be the undisputable king. Why? If picture quality is your priority, there is a lot to like about the new Panasonic plasma TVs – even at mid-range category.
Plasma TV reviews are constantly showing that the latest Panasonic plasma HDTVs are capable not only of superior blacks but also exhibit accurate color and grayscale tracking. This applies mainly to Panasonic plasma HDTVs using the new range of NeoPlasma Black and NeoPlasma Black 3000 panels, namely the mid-tier ST60, premium series VT60, and the flagship ZT60 series.
For 2013, Panasonic has fifteen models covering a full range of HDTVs — from inexpensive entry-level X60 and S60 plasma TVs, to the mid-range ST60 series (a follow-up to the highly successful ST50 series from 2012), and premium VT60 and flagship ZT60 HDTVs.
Top in the list of new key features for 2013 include the new NeoPlasma Black 3000 panels found on the flagship and premium series, and the NeoPlasma Black on the ST60 mid-range series; these new panels are complemented by improved black filters. It is this panel-filter combination that is responsible for Panasonic’s superior blacks even under bright room conditions.
The flagship and premium series also come with 30K shades of gradation for improved picture rendering instead of the 24K levels of gradation found on corresponding 2012 models.
In addition, all 1080p HDTVs are using faster switching phosphors. This is again complemented by a new sub-field drive system designed to render fast action content better – the 3000 Focused Field Drive (3000FFD) on the flagship and premium HDTVs and 2500FFD on mid-range series TVs. This is Panasonic’s proprietary technology for motion image performance. It is a superior implementation of the 600Hz sub-field drive system found on the majority of plasma HDTVs today, as it optimizes the display light emissions at much faster rate to deliver superior 2D and 3D fast action clarity with no afterglow.
2013 Panasonic plasma HDTVs also get improved dual-core hexa processing engine that not only provides the necessary image processing power but also supports multitasking between the Smart TV functions, interactive content (including support for an optional electronic touch-pen despite its questionable usefulness in home entertainment), web browsing, and content streaming applications.
Also, all Panasonic 3D HDTVs include two pairs of the new 3D glasses; like their 2012 equivalent, they are light, work via Bluetooth and support the new Full HD 3D glasses universal standard. The latter means that for your additional requirements, you are not bound to make use of Panasonic’s relatively expensive 3D glasses. The problem with the new glasses is that their thin temples do not effectively block light from the sides, and do not provide a good fit over prescription glasses.
Panasonic TC-P65S60 65-Inch
At the entry-level, there are the S60 1080p series and the X60 720p series plasma HDTVs. These are bare-bones HDTVs though the S60 includes built-in Wi-Fi, TV web browser, and Panasonic’s Online Movie feature; the latter supports reduced online content from popular movie content providers, including Amazon Instant Video, Hulu PLUS, YouTube and other services.
These are really cheap plasma TV options designed to provide inexpensive big screen TVs for general home entertainment. Suffice to note that the 50-inch version comes at just $700 while the massive 65-inch TC-P65S60 featured here is selling at amazon for under $1,500.
Next in line is the outstanding ST60. It is here that things start to get really interesting – though this comes at a significant price increase over S60 TVs. Mind you, it is still the series that provides the best bang for your money, with sets such as the 55-inch TC-P55ST60 selling online at $1,350, while the 60-inch version is selling for less than $2,000; the latter is among the most popular and best-selling plasma TVs for 2013.
This is no surprise. This pricing makes the ST60 some $1,000 cheaper than the VT60 premium series HDTVs, yet its solid picture performance is quite close to that of the premium series. It misses on a number of enhanced features found on the premium series such as the faster dual-core hexa processing and THX 3D certification. But more important than the enhanced features, ST60 Panasonic plasma HDTVs enjoy an amazingly good 2D picture quality with exceedingly deep black levels, great shadow detail, accurate colors, and relatively solid bright-room performance even though the ST60 does not perform really well under extreme bright lighting. It also comes with plenty of Smart TV features and sleek styling. The ‘only’ real problem of the ST60 is its 3D quality compared with competing TVs, mainly due to a higher prevalence of 3D image crosstalk.
But otherwise, the ST60 is emerging in plasma TV reviews as the series that delivers the best-value TV for your money; this is also the only TV series that ever managed to earn a 5-star rating in a Cnet review.
Further up the Panasonic lineup is the VT60 premium series and the ZT60 flagship HDTVs. Both share very similar features, including the same NeoPlasma Black 3000 panel, faster phosphors, voice interaction (which in our opinion is more of a gimmick), the use of faster switching phosphors, touch pad controller, ISFCC ready, faster dual-core hexa processing, THX 3D certification, and built-in camera; strange as it seems, the latter however is optional on the flagship!
Unique for the flagship ZT60 series is the use of a superior black filter technology, termed ‘Ultimate Black’ filter instead of the Infinite Black Ultra found on the VT60. The flagship also comes manually pre-calibrated at the factory to ensure you get the best picture possible straight out of the box. No other TV model has ever been released that comes manually pre-calibrated. It is expected to be available towards end July 2013 with a retail price of $4,100 for the 65-inch and $3,500 for the 60-inch. This pricing renders the flagship some $500 more expensive than the premium series. Panasonic is saying this is the best plasma TV ever – aiming that the ZT60 becomes the new reference TV in terms of picture quality instead of the Pioneer Kuro, a place occupied by the Pioneer Kuro Elite PRO-111FD since 2008! As things stand within the plasma TV market, the ZT60 may be the last of its kind.
It is still to be seen if the new Panasonic flagship is worth the extra $500 over the VT60 series, yet we expect the difference in performance between the ZT60 and a properly calibrated VT60 to be practically impercievable with the naked eye especially under controlled room lighting. We are saying this as the VT60 is proving to be an excellent performer in top plasma TV reviews. In their review of the TC-P55VT60, Cnet stated that the VT60 is an excellent plasma with the best dark-room image quality, excellent shadow detail, and rich saturated colors; it even adds that for the first time ever, Panasonic has managed to deliver a TV capable of better overall picture performance than the Pioneer Kuro. The only area where the VT60 somewhat fails to be at the top is in picture brightness. Here, it is the new Samsung F8500 plasma TV the one that takes the lead.
The VT60 is available in three screen sizes, the 65-inch at under $3,500, the 60-inch at $3,000, and the 55-inch at $2,500. Best selling model within the series is the 65-inch TC-P65VT60; this provides the best-value at the top end thanks to its superior performance and rich features. It is also the TV that in our opinion should best appeal to anyone seriously concerned about picture quality – videophiles and home theater enthusiast alike.
Samsung Plasma TVs: For the brightest picture and best-overall feature pack
For 2013, Samsung is offering four different series with a total of 11 models ranging in size from 64 to 43-inch. Actually, the total number of different TVs on offer is 13 because we have two identical 720p entry-level series (F4550 and F4500), with the only difference between the two being a different color for the TV cabinet.
Somewhat unique with this 2013 reduced TV lineup from Samsung is that apart from bare-bones entry-level 720p F4600/F4550 and 1080p F5300 HDTVs, all Samsung is offering is the F5500 mid-range series and the F8500 flagship TV already referred to above; no premium series is on offer as instead is the case with Panasonic.
Samsung pricing also takes a rather different approach to Panasonic, with the Samsung’s flagship pricing being more in line with the Panasonic VT60 premium series while Samsung’s mid-range F5500 series being significantly cheaper than the Panasonic equivalent, this despite significant similarities between the two in what can be classified as essential features.
Overall picture quality on the Panasonic is a bit better – mainly due to deeper blacks, though the F5500 is more than a valid TV option also capable of solid blacks and great overall picture quality. This renders the Samsung plasma proposals for 2013 more affordable than the Panasonic offer.
However, the problem with leaving out an ‘affordable’ premium option out of this year lineup – as instead has been the excellent PNE6500 series from 2012 – is that stepping from the mid-range to the Samsung flagship calls for a premium of at least $1,500 over the F5500 series. This represents a major jump in TV pricing – leaving customers who cannot afford the flagship with no other option but to go for a mid-range model.
2013 Lineup Summary
These are the TV series designed to provide a big screen cheap plasma TV option for general home entertainment, with prices ranging from just $436 for the 43-inch PN43F4500, to under $650 for the 51-inch PN51F5300 (featured here). Both models are proving to be popular options at the lower end budget category. Big screen options are also exceptionally affordable, with the 60-inch PN60F5300 1080p HDTV selling online at $950!
Next in line is the F5500 mid-range series. This is the series which brings about numerous features. In effect, this comes with almost the same features as the flagship except that it lacks quad-core processing and the Real Black Pro panel of the F8500 – and hence all its picture quality benefits.
Features include 3D complemented by two pairs of 3D glasses, Samsung’s most comprehensive Smart TV suite with full web browsing, dual core processing supporting faster multitasking and improved Smart TV experience, gesture and voice control, DLNA support, built-in Wi-Fi, Samsung Cinema Smooth, Smart Touch TV remote control, and a stylish design; the latter is however questionable as some may object to the use of a black bezel with a graphite color base.
The minimalistic presence of control buttons on the remote – while overall functional, still at times renders the remote less practical than a standard remote; in particular, controlling the TV using the touch-pad is difficult to get used to. But on the other hand, overall picture quality is very good, with excellent deep blacks and accurate colors. Equally solid is the TV 3D performance – doing better in this respect than the Panasonic ST60.
Screen sizes available include 51-inch, 60-inch, and 64-inch. Prices range from $848 for the 51-inch, $1,200 for the 60-inch, and $2,100 for the 64-inch. This renders the 60-inch PN60-F5500 the best value big-screen TV option at this category.
Top of the line is the Samsung F8500 flagship series with its 51-inch, 60-inch, and 64-inch HDTVs. What really differentiate the flagship from the F5500, and what in effect is the reason behind this TV superior picture performance is the new Samsung super contrast panel with the Real Black Pro filter.
This new panel-filter combination renders the F8500 not just capable of a great picture – with exceedingly deep blacks, very good shadow detail and highly accurate colors – but also capable of a level of image brightness unseen before on any plasma TV. For the first time ever, a plasma TV is now able to compete with an LED TV in this respect. In fact, this new Samsung display is almost twice as bright as the Panasonic VT60. This makes the Samsung the ideal plasma TV to use if you want to enjoy the superior picture quality of a flagship TV under extreme bright room conditions. The accompanying screen filter on the F8500 is capable of doing an excellent job in preserving black levels under bright lighting, with colors that look well saturated – doing better than the competition, with the exception of matte-screen TVs.
As expected, with the flagship, you would get not just a superb picture but also a never ending list of features, including the use of a quad-core processor for faster web browsing and smoother interaction, built-in camera, touch-pad remote, IR blaster with cable box control, four pairs of 3D glasses, the best Smart TV platform, and gesture/voice control. Styling is also best in class, using a metallic slim bezel and a unique full-width ribbon stand design.
It is not the ideal TV, and we believe it would not become the reference TV Samsung is hoping for, at least not unless you are testing for a bright room environment. The latest plasma TV reviews show that the F8500 picture performance is not exactly in line with that of the Panasonic VT60 top-end series, even though difference between the two is minimal and can only be seen by the trained eye in a side-by-side comparison.
But the F8500 is definitely a videophile-grade TV, the best plasma TV ever delivered by Samsung, one capable of a superior picture irrespective of whether you are after a TV for the darkened home theater or a brightly lit living room. And if your application calls for a bright room environment, nothing beats the Samsung F8500 bright-room image performance.
It is no surprise that despite these being relatively expensive high-end HDTVs, the F8500 is also the best-selling plasma TV series from Samsung for 2013, with sets such as the 64-inch PN64F8500 and the 51-inch PN51F8500 being among the top 30 best-selling HDTVs at major online retail stores.
LG Plasma HDTVs: Offering more for less but…
As indicated earlier on in this 2013 plasma TV review discussion, LG has the smallest lineup ever since it first entered the plasma TV market – and one that for the first time, does not include a flagship model. In this respect, LG seems interested in targeting only the cheap plasma TV market.
Some may argue that LG has always been renowned for its affordable HDTVs; 2013 LG plasma TVs do not disappoint here, though one does not have much choice. In total, LG has just five different 2013 plasma TV models, a lonely 60-inch premium model, the LG 60PH6700 – which is the only plasma TV for 2013 that comes with 3D and Smart TV, and four bare-bones entry-level HDTVs. The latter consist of two PN4500 series 720p HDTVs – available in 42-inch and 50-inch screen size, and two PN6500 series 1080p plasma TVs – available in 50-inch and 60-inch.
There are no really new features or improvements over corresponding 2012 LG plasma TVs; rather, the PN4500 and PN6500 seem to be direct descendants of the respective 2012 PA4500 and PA6500 series. None of these did prove to be of particular interest as budget-class plasma TVs in that alternative options from Samsung did prove to offer better value. The same applies with 2013 sets, with corresponding entry-level 720p and 1080p plasma TV options from Samsung offering just a bit more for your money.
All LG plasma TVs, including entry-level 720p and 1080p HDTVs come with a number of common features. These include a TruSlim frame design with a bezel that is less than 1-inch wide, LG’s Intelligent sensor to automatically adjust the picture according to the light and color conditions in the room, LG’s renowned Picture Wizard II for easy picture calibration, and Smart Energy support. In addition, 1080p HDTVs – including the entry-level series – come as ISFccc ready; this is a rather unique offering at this price category.
The only real plasma TV option of interest from LG for 2013 is the 60-inch 60PH6700. This LG plasma TV is definitely a TV worth considering if you want to make the most of your money; it is selling online at under $1,200. Main competition is from the Samsung F5500, and to a certain extent also from the Panasonic ST60, though the latter is significantly more expensive than the 60-inch LG option
The PH6700 comes with a most complete list of features though the feature list itself is a clear indication that LG is mainly concentrating its R&D efforts on the LED TV lineup. Suffice to note that LG is making use of a slower dual-core processor on its plasma than on its LEDS TVs.
Feature-wise, the PH6700 follows on the footsteps of the 2012 PM6700 TVs – with a feature set that is practically unchanged except for a few minor differences. This also means that with respect to the 2012 PM9700 flagship plasma, the new top-level LG plasma TV misses on both the TruBlack filter responsible for the inky blacks of the 2012 flagship model, and THX display certification. So do not expect some impressive picture performance though we have to say that overall, the 2013 LG 60PH6700 is capable of an amazing picture – one that is definitely better than that of more expensive LED TVs!
Features include LG’s Smart TV suite complete with full web browser and LG Cloud, active 3D, built-in Wi-Fi, LG’s excellent Magic Remote with voice control, and MiraCast. The latter is an interesting feature that builds upon Wi-Fi Direct technology to stream content from compatible devices wirelessly, without the need for a Wi-Fi AP i.e. without making use of your wireless home network.
One final feature available on this LG plasma TV is support for LG’s PenTouch option. As expressed earlier on in this plasma TV review, we have serious reservations on the usefulness of such a device in home entertainment… but if you need it, this LG plasma TV supports it!