Just last month, we told you that Panasonic was thinking of pulling the reigns back a little bit on its plasma panel production. Don't start panicking just yet; the company has plenty of plasma TVs for everyone this year, from entry level models to the most advanced plasma TV ever made.
Last week, we doled out details on the new LED TVs that Panasonic is releasing this year. However, the company does have a plethora of new plasmas as well -- and they're looking pretty awesome. That's because the company has made a lot of improvements this year that will make those black levels blacker, colors brighter, and your friends and family jealous.
It's also important to note that Panasonic is shipping some of these plasmas with a lot of the same perks being featured in the company's 2013 LED models. That includes the new My Home Screen. Besides being able to access a ton of cool apps, users can choose between three different preset My Home Screen designs to make sitting down in front of the TV a very personalized experience. The first option is a Lifestyle screen, which will give users instant access to important items such as a calendar and local weather. The Info screen includes web access and social networking services. Last, but not least, there is the Add New Screen option, so you can pick and choose favorite apps for quick access.
This year's top-of-the-line model is the ZT60 Series, which will be available in a limited production run.
Select plasmas will also have voice control, as well as the new Voice Guidance feature. Perfect for the visually impaired or those that have a hard time reading tiny type on a big screen, this option will actually read aloud any words that appear on the TV.
Another option that's unique to this year's plasma line is the Touch Pen. Available on the VT60, ST60 and S60 lines only, this allows users to indulge in one of their biggest fears -- and invite the entire family to draw right on that big, beautiful plasma screen. Don't worry - it won't leave a mark! The light pen allows you to draw on a photo or screen capture on the screen and then you can swipe that dooled picture right onto a phone or tablet using the latest version of Panasonic's VIERA Remote app for Apple and Android devices.
Speaking of the app, this year marks the debut of VIERA Remote 2, an app update that includes a couple of new features: Smart Calibration allows you to access picture setting controls from your smart phone so you can dial that calibrated picture in. And the enhanced Swipe & Share 2.0 feature allow you to view or stream audio, video and still picture content from a smartphone or tablet to the TV and back to another tablet or phone. You can even save the content on the TV if you connect a USB flash drive to the back of the set.
Now that we've hit some of this year's highlights, let's break down what plasma models we can expect to see from Panasonic this year.
Smart VIERA ZT60 Series
Panasonic's top-of-the-line plasma can hold its own against a very coveted piece in plasma history: the Pioneer Kuro. Panasonic was displaying its latest state of the art set, the ZT60 against Pioneer's now defunct model at this week's press event. Apparently, it's no coincidence that many of Pioneer's engineers went to work at Panasonic after Pioneer got out of the TV business.
"The ZT60 and VT60 offer huge improvements in black-to-white gradations, leading to smoother transitions between light and dark and better detail," said BPBS editor, Chris Boylan, who attended this week's launch event in New York City. "Also, they actually put a ZT60 head-to-head against a Pioneer Kuro plasma, and it held its own. There were equivalent black levels and much better motion resolution on the Panasonic -- and don't forget all of the Smart TV features that are missing from the Kuro." [See "HDTV Battle: Panasonic ZT60 Plasma vs. Pioneer Kuro: Who Wins?" for an in-depth peek at this comparison.]
While the ZT60 does not offer the voice control and built-in camera of the VT60 (described below), it does include the new "My Home Screen" feature and the latest version of Panasonic's VIERA Connect streaming platform, so you'll get all the streaming goodies such as Netflix, VUDU, Amazon VOD, Pandora, YouTube and more.
In terms of performance, the ZT60 Series features a full 1080p image with full HD 3D, THX certification for 2D and 3D modes, the reference-level Studio Master Panel and Ultimate Black features for the best picture possible. The Studio Master Panel features a proprietary filter that is bonded directly to the plasma panel eliminating the air gap between panel and glass on most plasma TVs. This leads to greater light transmission and deeper blacks, and eliminates potential reflections within the panel itself. This filter is unique to the ZT60.
The ZT60 also features Panasonic's one sheet of glass design, built-in WiFi, the new 3,000 Focused Field Drive, and 30,720 gradation steps from full white to full black. Enhancements to the red phosphor allow the ZT60 and VT60 to represent 98 percent of the DCI (Digital Cinema Initiative) color space. This means that the TV can produce more vivid, more saturated colors than a standard flat panel HDTV.
Available as the 60-inch TC-P60ZT60 and the 65-inch TC-P65ZT60, the ZT60 Series will be limited in production due to the complexity of its manufacturing process. Panasonic has yet to announce pricing on these models, but both sizes are expected to ship with two pairs of 3D glasses sometime in late May or June 2013.
Smart VIERA VT60 Series
As mentioned above, the VT60 is another awesome option for the year, available in the 65-inch TC-P65VT60 (MSRP: $3599.99), the 60-inch TC-P60VT60 ($2999.99), and the 55-inch TC-P55VT60 ($2599.99).
This model has the customizable My Home Screen, Swipe & Share 2.0, and all of the voice features. It also adds in a little pop-up camera, for making and taking calls from Skype. It's also important to note that the VT60 Series has the one sheet of glass design, a full 1080p HD image, 3D, Infinite Black Ultra, the 3,000 Focused Field Drive, and the 30,720 gradation steps with DCI 98 percent color space and THX certification in 2D and 3D modes. Performance-wise, the VT60 should come pretty close to the ZT60, lacking only the top of the line set's special screen filter.
Other features include built-in WiFi, DLNA support, enhanced integrated side speakers, three HDMI inputs, and three USB ports. All four models ship with the Touch Pad Controller with built-in mic and two pairs of 3D glasses. The VT60 also works with the new Touch Pen so you can scribble on the screen to capture photos or leave notes for your loved ones.
The ST60 Series features support for the optional Electronic Touch Pen accessory.
Smart VIERA ST60 Series
The ST60 Series is the entry level 3D-capable high performance panel, with full VIERA Cast Support. IT also supports the new Touch Pen, an optional accessory that allows users to write right on the screen of the 50-inch TC-P50ST60 ($1149.99), the 55-inch TC-P55ST60 ($1499.99), the 60-inch TC-P60ST60 ($1699.99), and the 65-inch TC-P65ST60 ($2599.99). It's a neat perk, if you're looking to use the TV as a whiteboard or to tweak and save a few doctored photos.
Like the two lines listed above, the ST60 Series comes packing the new My Home Screen. Swipe & Share 2.0 features, a 1080p image and active 3D support. This one drops the voice control, but does include Voice Guidance. It also has the Infinite Black Pro enhancement, as well as a 2500 Focused Field Drive. Although the ST60 does not offer the full 30,000+ steps of black/white gradation found in the VT and ZT series, it does offer over 12,000 steps of gradation, twice as many as found in the S series or entry-level models. Other features include three HDMI inputs, two USB ports, and two pairs of 3D glasses in the box.
Smart VIERA S60 Series
The three models in the S60 Series are the last smart TVs in Panasonic's 2013 plasma TV lineup. Now, these models don't have access to VIERA Connect, but can stream content from Netflix and Hulu Plus. Also know that the 50-inch TC-P50S60 ($829.99), the 60-inch TC-P60S60 ($1299.99), and the 65-inch TC-P65S60 ($1699.99) all work with the Electronic Touch Pen mentioned above.
The S60 TVs are not 3D TVs. However, all three come with a full 1080p HD image, the Swipe & Share 2.0 feature, the 600Hz sub-field drive, built-in WiFi, two HDMI inputs, and two USB ports.
If you aren't interested in web streaming or 3D effects, Panasonic has a pair of good plasmas in its U50 Series. The 50-inch TC-P50U50 ($999.99) and the 60-inch TC-P60U50 ($1299.99) each have a full 1080p HD image, the 600Hz sub-field drive, a media player for movies and photos, and a game mode. It's also easy to add a streaming set-top like the Roku 3, a Blu-ray player or another AV device, using each set's two HDMI inputs and one USB port.
Panasonic's X5 Series features two no-frills models with a 720p HD image.
The last entry in Panasonic's 2013 plasma lineup is the X5 Series. Designed for smaller rooms and smaller home theater setups, this line includes the 42-inch TC-P42X5 ($499.99) and the 50-inch TC-P50X5 (official pricing TBA). Both models have a 720p image, the 600Hz sub-field drive, and the media player for movies and photos. Each set also has a pair of HDMI inputs and one USB port.