An inside look at Panasonic's high-end plasma series.
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Short of actually owning a product, the best way to get a feel for it is by seeing it in action. That is especially true of televisions—but these days, it's hard to truly get hands-on, even in a big box retailer. The reason for this is simple: Today's televisions are more complex than ever before. Between manufacturers, the differences in smart, 3D, software, processor, and screen functionality are as pronounced as those between Mordor and the Shire.
While we've been objectively reviewing TVs—and translating our scientific findings—for years, we're always looking for a better way to get our readers up close and personal with the televisions they love, are curious about, or are thinking of buying. That's why, starting with Panasonic's much-vaunted VT60 series, we'll be running a new feature over the remainder of the year: The Hands-On series will see us looking past the hard data at what it's like to own and use a particular TV.
The 60-inch VT60 is very, very heavy. Each side of the box has two hand grips, and moving it more than a few feet at a time with two people is a tiring process; really, I don't think you could get it up a set of stairs with just two people, unless they were particularly strong. Like most TVs, the VT60 is shipped in a top-sealed box with removable sealing pegs on the bottom. It's much easier to remove these and then lift out the panel, stand, and accessories. We went the harder route and opened the top of the box, removing everything over the height of the box itself. I don't recommend doing it that way, but we were too excited to get the TV assembled.
There's a lot in the box. The panel itself, the stand (which is really, really heavy), two remotes with batteries, a manual, a warranty card, two pairs of 3D glasses, and the usual fifty pounds of plastic and styrofoam. All of this is wrapped in plastic and taped to the bottom of the box, so it can't be "got at" 'til the panel and stand are out of the way. We laid the VT60 face-down on a flat surface, making sure only the bezels touched the table—putting no pressure on the panel.
From here, we recommend following the manual for assembling and attaching the stand. The VT60 comes with 9 screws: 8 longer ones, and 1 small one. The black-and-white diagrams within the first few pages of the manual were a little obscure, but anyone who's assembled something from IKEA can cobble this plasma together with little trouble.
After we assembled the stand, it easily fit into the opening on the back of the panel. The whole process took less than 10 minutes, and is easy enough to figure out—even without following the sketches in the manual. Remember: This TV and its stand are incredibly heavy. If you purchase the 60-inch VT60 (or 65-inch), you'll want at least two people to help with assembly/lifting. Now that our high-end plasma is assembled, it's time for the fun stuff!
Once we had the VT60 in place, we plugged it in, slapped some batteries into the basic remote, and powered it on. After a brief setup tutorial (highlights included pairing the TouchPad remote with the TV, and listening to an eerie robotic voice describe the Home Screen features), we connected our testing PC, Blu-ray player, and cable box to the VT60's three available HDMI inputs. Sadly, there was no room left over for a fourth device, our PlayStation 3. We're still not sure why Panasonic decided to only include three HDMI inputs, but we can say that our PlayStation is lonely.
We haven't calibrated the VT60 yet, but Blu-ray playback of The Fifth Element looks great. We set up the P60VT60 in a dark, windowless room, and watched the scene where Korban Dallas flees the police in his flying taxi cab. We turned off motion smoothing, and the flurry of cars flying throughout the city still looked crisp and fluid. Details were especially impressive—if you've ever wanted to see Bruce Willis' signature stubble in maximum detail, the VT60 grants that wish.
At low Panel brightness (found in Pro settings), colors still popped: The bright yellow of the taxi cab and the vivid orange of Milla Jovovich's hair contrasted pleasingly with the general grey panoply of the background architecture.
We also watched the space scene from the beginning of the movie, which showcased the plasma's black levels and falloff adherence. Considering that The Fifth Element hails from the 90s, it still looks great in 1080p on this television. Black levels are consistently dark, and screen uniformity is—as we expected—without flaw. There were occasional compression issues, with reds in particular showcasing some fuzziness and "popcorn" effects, but overall these flaws are sparse. In truth, it's perhaps the best The Fifth Element has ever looked, and I've watched it at least a dozen times.
The VT60 is an active 3D-ready television, so of course, we wanted to check out just how immersive Panasonic's high-end plasma could be. For obvious reasons, we couldn't take any screenshots of the 3D images. I will say this, though—watching IMAX SpaceStation 3D on the VT60 was absolutely incredible. There were a few moments where I felt like my brain wanted to leap out of my head—in a good way.
The experience was not without moments of crosstalk—images bleeding into the wrong eye—but the rest of the time, I was wholly immersed. The VT60 enables a bit of motion smoothing during 3D playback, but considering the nature of the content, it actually enhanced the realism I was feeling. Details were crisp and sharp, black levels were just as dark as during Blu-ray playback, and the overall brightness of the image was not deterred in any way. I haven't felt this impressed (and slightly dizzied) by 3D content since Vizio's CinemaWide.
I personally found Panasonic's included 3D glasses to be fairly comfortable for the active shutter variety, and syncing them up with the TV was super easy: There's a strip of plastic blocking the battery that must be removed, and then you need only hold a button on top of the frame to sync up with the VT60 (which must, of course, be turned on). The TV automatically detects an incoming 3D Blu-ray signal, and adjusts its output accordingly.
We will be updating this section with information and photos soon—at the moment, the VT60 is having trouble staying connected to our wireless network, and we'd rather not write it off as simply incompetent. Check back later in the week for a rundown of how the VT60 handles streaming and sub-1080p content.