Panasonic DT60 review (TC-L55DT60): Pretty but poor performer

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Panasonic DT60 review (TC-L55DT60): Pretty but poor performer
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THE GOOD The Panasonic DT60 offers a very attractive design and some useful interface tweaks; solid color and 3D performance; decent sound quality.

THE BAD Pricey; poor black levels, shadow detail, and picture uniformity.

THE BOTTOM LINE The Panasonic DT60 is an attractive looking, well-featured LED LCD TV, but mediocre picture quality and worse value make it a tough sell.

Panasonic has been “kicking goals” for years with its plasma range but has struggled to produce competitive LED LCDs. While its performance is seemingly a bit better than the previous model, which put up one of the worst pictures of last year, the new DT60 still flounders against its 2013 peers.

The DT60 offers a striking design, probably one of the company’s best ever, and nifty features such as voice search. Its picture quality is just mediocre though, for while color is better than last year, black levels are similarly poor — and I simply expect much more at this price.

The DT60 is a case of “better, but not nearly good enough,” and until proven otherwise, we’ll continue to strongly recommend Panasonic’s plasmas and just as strongly tell you to avoid its LED LCDs.

Series information:I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch TC-P55DT60, but this review also applies to the 60-inch size in the series. Both sizes have identical specs, and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.

Models in series (details)
Panasonic TC-L60DT60 60 inches
Panasonic TC-L55DT60 (reviewed) 55 inches

Design
The DT60 is a fine-looking television, with a very thin chrome bezel and the same kind of floating glass/plastic bottom edge that first appeared on Sony’s TVs. It comes comes attached to a swiveling silver stand via the now-familiar V-shaped plinth. While last year’s LG G2, for example, shared a similar color scheme, it didn’t look anywhere near as classy as this.

 

The TV ships with two silver remotes — one standard-issue Panasonic and a touch-pad remote. The standard remote is covered with a plethora of buttons but is easy to use, if only the Menu button was a little more obvious. The touch-pad remote is similar to that which ships with the VT60 and incorporates an onboard microphone, but lacks some of the buttons you’ll need for the new Home interface such as apps and the colored buttons.

Key TV features
Display technology LCD LED backlight Edge-lit
Screen finish Glossy Remote Standard and Touchpad
Smart TV Yes Internet connection Built-in Wi-Fi
3D technology Passive 3D glasses included Four pairs
Refresh rate(s) 120Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing Yes
DLNA-compliant Photo/Music/Video USB Photo/Music/Video

Features

Voice interaction is probably the “biggest” feature of the DT60, with a microphone integrated into the touch-pad remote, but this is all very tied to the Web-browser (see below).

The TV is a passive 3D model, and thus Panasonic is able to include four pairs of glasses in the box — they’re cheap to make compared to active glasses. If you ever kept the 3D glasses from the cinema, you can use those as well.

Like many LED LCD TV makers, Panasonic is inflating the number associated with its refresh-rate specification; in the DT60’s case the claim reads “1200 backlight scanning.” At least the company is honest enough to include the “120Hz” spec too, which is the only one that really matters.

If you have a smartphone, Panasonic’s improved Viera Remote app enables some functions like basic control if you misplace the remote and “swipe and share” to display photos on the big screen. It also allows direct access to relatively advanced calibration functions, although I didn’t test this feature.

Smart TV:Panasonic customizable “welcome screens” lack the pizzazz of competing Smart TV systems and with their analog clocks and calendars look more like a ’90s version of Microsoft Office than a modern entertainment suite.

The multiple “pages” show the currently playing input in an inset window along with the grid of apps. You can place any app anywhere you want on the grid, a welcome change from interfaces from makers like Samsung that offer only partial customization. Panasonic ups the custom ante further by offering three different templates for new pages you can create, custom backgrounds (including your own pictures), and the ability to name pages — for example, each member of a particularly tech-savvy family could set up his or her own page.

The series of new home screens are an interesting idea, but I’m not too certain people will customize more than one screen — even large households. You can easily toggle between each one if you like, though.

The app selection is superb and very similar to last year’s with Netflix, Amazon Instant, and Hulu Plus all present. If you want to dive into the non-pre-installed selection in the Viera Marketplace, there’s also Vudu, Pandora, TuneIn Radio, Rhapsody, and full episodes and photos from a Panasonic-sponsored series on National Geographic TV about World Heritage sites. There are also a smattering of kids apps and a few forgettable games.

With the touch-pad remote comes voice search, but it’s much more limited than Samsung’s system — it doesn’t integrate with your cable box or any many Smart applications, but mostly lets you search the Web. Yes, the TV includes a Web browser, but with better browsers on mobile devices, who really needs one on their TV? Navigation is a little better with the touch pad, but sometimes pages don’t render properly, and using voice search results in a two-step process that is frustrating at best — especially when it mishears your search terms! While you can also browse connected USB disks or networked servers, it’s probably something most people will use only once.

Picture settings:
The DT60 offers a full complement of picture controls, ranging from a 10-point grayscale to configurable gamma settings to two dedicated ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) modes.

Panasonic DT60 review:

Pretty but poor performer

There are two potential problems with activating Game mode. First it’s hard to find, lurking in the Advanced picture menu, and secondly, once it is enabled it is activated in all of the picture presets. While the last part is great if you want minimal picture processing, it’s bad if you forget to turn it off and want to enjoy the improved picture quality other modes offer. I’d like to see an onscreen reminder here, like Sony used to have, telling you game mode was activated.

Connectivity:The TV includes a rather stingy three HDMI ports, which doesn’t even include the now-fashionable MHL port. There are a lot of USB ports though, three to be exact, and you can connect USB disks, Skype cameras, or even keyboards. Other connections include a composite/component input, digital audio and Ethernet. Like many Panasonic TVs, you also get an SD card slot, although there’s no PC input.

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV’s picture controls worked during calibration.

Picture quality
Black level is the single most important picture component and the one we give the most credence to when assigning our picture quality score. While the Panasonic DT60 does reasonably well in other aspects — color, 3D, bright lighting — it’s the light black levels and poor uniformity that bring the TV’s score way down. In a theater environment, the TV lacks the punchiness of the other televisions on test, and its decent color doesn’t make up the difference.

Comparison models (details)
Sony KDL-47W802A 55-inch LED-based LCD
Sony KDL-55HX850 55-inch LED-based LCD
Sharp LC-60LE650 60-inch LED-based LCD
Samsung UN55ES8000 55-inch LED-based LCD
Panasonic TC-P55ST60

55-Inch 1080p 120Hz

Smart 3D IPS LED HDTV

Wholesale supplier from

China only: $420

Black level:Of our six-strong lineup the DT60 had the poorest black levels of the group, evincing gray-blue shadows in dark scenes. At the start of Chapter 12 in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II,” the TV wasn’t able to make any sense of the small army on the hilltop scene — it looked like an goth cupcake with skull sprinkles…shot through a wall. As the camera spun around the group the detail improved and the hazy skulls became wizards, but the too-light blacks meant impact was quashed. On every other TV in the lineup, from the W802 to the ST60, you could tell from the opening moments what the scene was about, but with the Panasonic you just couldn’t.

Switching to a less demanding scene, the unique New York skyline of “Watchmen” Chapter 3 (12:24), didn’t help. With the DT60, I was greeted with the least dynamic picture deadened by crushed clouds and a very flat, cardboard cutout look to the apartment buildings in the foreground. While the Sony placed second-to-last, there was still a significant jump in the performance over the DT60, with the W802 able to provide some light and shade in even the most difficult scenes. The next worst was the Samsung E8000 which had overly green shadows and light blacks, but it still trounced the DT60.

Color accuracy:While last year’s DT50 had a problem with diluted colors, the DT60’s palette is much keener this time around. From the opening shots of “The Tree of Life” Chapter 5, I could see that the Panasonic was capable of communicating natural colors — from the cyan of the mother’s dress to the lush green grass, the DT60 had notably better color than the similarly priced Sony W802.

While colors across the group were fairly consistent, as you’d expect from a set of calibrated units, and the DT60 sat in about the middle in terms of saturation. The W900 and ST60 were superior but the Sony is much more expensive due to its proprietary quantum dot technology and the plasma’s color is likewise superb. The only “issue” I saw with the DT60’s color was that brown could be a little more red than on the other TVs, but not a big deal.

Video processing:The Panasonic features a “hex-core processor”, but I’m unsure what effect this has on image processing as it was only just passable. The TV passed the oscillating test pattern in our synthetic tests, for example, but it displayed some moire in the subsequent pan of the sports stands. On the 24p test of the air carrier fly-by, the TV was able to correctly reproduce the cadence of film.

In our gaming test, the TV was able to achieve a lag time of 34.37ms in game which means it achieves a “good” rating. This puts it on a par with the much cheaper Panasonic S60 though.

Uniformity:If you choose not to use the AI dimming mode, then uniformity is a problem with this TV, with lighter corners and yellow spotlights appearing over the bottom and top of the screen. Without frame-dimming, the set’s uniformity problems looked identical to the Sony W802A’s, with yellow spotlights along the top and light leakage out of the corners. If you do use AI dimming — and you should as it gives you a much better picture — then the yellow spotlights disappear, but the corners are still discolored.

The DT60 does have very good off-axis performance. There is very little tailing off of image quality until you get to an extreme angle, and this lack of sweet spot means it’s quite usable in a large living space.

Bright lighting:The DT60 served up a mostly good performance in the light with softer reflections than some of the other TVs in the lineup, but some of the blacks were still blue-tinted. For whatever reason, there were a couple of obvious “projector iris-like” effects under lights as the frame dimming activated, though. When compared to the other TVs, the DT60 dimmed down or up a lot more obviously.

Sound quality:The sound quality of the DT60 was actually acceptable with an all-rounder performance from the two front speakers and dedicated 75mm woofer. While dialogue could sound a little distant most of the sound spectrum could be heard: from the boom of an exploding rocket to the smashing of glass.

Music was only just OK, with a distinct separation between the bass and the vocal line on “Red Right Hand” and only the faintest distortion of the bass itself — some of these speakers really shake themselves apart on this song!

3D:By using a passive system, the TV performed similarly to the Sony W802 in 3D with no crosstalk and a solidity to motion that the active TVs in the lineup lacked. The Panasonic performed slightly better though as the default depth for the W802 was a little too strong. Furthermore, the Sony W900 has a strange anti-ghosting system that can make some objects look see-through and the Panasonic ST60 is unable to track objects very well at all. Color and shadow detail in the default 3D modes was almost identical on both TVs. The downside to passive technology is that it divides the resolution in two, and the inevitable interlacing could be distracting to some viewers used to active HD.

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