Top Ten TVs of 2012
We've seen the lot, here's the cream of the crop
It’s been another interesting year in the world of televisions; with LG and Samsung showing off their OLED tech at the beginning of 2012 at CES and the later months being dominated by Ultra-HD releases and announcements from the likes of Sony. Both those technologies are a long way off becoming mainstream, however, so we’re here to give your our run down on what have been our favourite TVs in 2012.
The DT50 may have been knocked off its flagship status by the WT50 series but, for us, it merits inclusion above Panasonic’s current top-tier LED TV by offering a compelling combination of looks, performance and features. The DT50 exudes Panasonic’s usual level of craftsmanship with excellent build quality and a stylish silver trim but eschews the current trend of off-the-wall stand designs and instead sits on a more traditional rectangular base – which we like. Panasonic has upped their Smart game this year and the DT50 includes built-in Wi-Fi, a Freeview HD Tuner, a generous media player and internet applications aplenty with the likes of BBC iPlayer, Netflix, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter amongst the services available as well as a decent web browser.
Out-of-the-box colour accuracy in the Professional and True Cinema modes was nothing short of outstanding. Video processing was also very impressive and low energy consumption makes the DT50 an eco-friendly display. The current online asking price of the Panasonic DT50B has dropped significantly since launch and if your requirements are for a bright, accurate picture with pleasing motion handling, fantastic 3D and more than a handful of features, you could certainly do much worse.
We’ve always been fond of the classic Samsung TV design, so the PS60E6500’s charcoal grey bezel with transparent strip surrounding was not an unwelcome sight. The remote control is a slimmed down iteration of those of recent years with a highly effective design, sensibly deployed button lay-out and is easily operated comfortably with just the one hand. Menus are simple enough to navigate, although the sheer number of options might bemuse some. Thoughtfully Samsung has provided an excellent e-Manual built in to ease the confusion. As ever, with a Samsungproduct, the number of Smart features is dazzling and the Smart Hub is filled with video on demand services, streaming possibilities, gaming and social networking apps and any number of diversions. Samsung still certainly leads the way in the Smart Stakes.
Following a painless calibration, the PS60E6500 produced some of the very finest pictures we’ve seen in 2012. With outstanding black levels and excellent dynamic range, believable and accurate colours and smooth as silk motion handling. 3D performance was pleasing, although we don’t get on at all well with Samsung’s SSG-4100 3D glasses. As ever some crosstalk could be spotted in high contrast scenes but it was never enough to break the immersion. Once again Samsung’s 6 series plasma offers a serious amount of screen, with a great deal of quality at a price that’s almost shockingly low.
The LG 42LM660T is another thing of beauty from the Koreans, in fact we think it’s probably their best of 2012, and the fact it’s predominantly black in colour certainly finds favour here. The bezel is extremely slender with a broader bottom featuring an attractive chrome effect. The supplied standard remote control is nicely ergonomic and all the buttons sit where you’d want them with the possible exception on the INFO button which is awkwardly placed to the bottom left. LG’s new GUI for their Home page is absolutely first class, navigation is extremely swift, especially using the Magic Motion controller, and the content is all easily accessible thanks to the ‘card’ style format for the different categories. There’s most of the usual 2D video on demand suspects in there with YouTube, Demand 5 and LOVEFiLM and also Facebook, Twitter and Skype video apps too.
Like the Panasonic DT50 above, out-of-the-box colour accuracy was nothing short of astonishing and LG certainly knows how to imbue their TVs with top-notch video processing. 3D images were fabulously bright, without any crosstalk or flicker and we found the whole 3D experience of the LM660 to be thoroughly engaging. We realise some don’t like passive technology, for one reason and another, but if you’ve yet to see it and were previously discounting it on the grounds of ‘reduced resolution’, we’d urge you to check it out with your own eyes. The LG LM660T’s feature-set is as superb as its presentation and the 3D pictures are fantastic. We loved the design and the Magic Motion Remote Control is a mini-revelation, making it well worthy of your attention in the Winter Sales.
The P50GT50B is a very attractive TV, indeed. The black bezel with its silver trim on the outer edge is elegant and sets off the screen nicely and the angle of the two tone stand gives the impression that the panel is floating above it. The new remote control is a lot more shiny than previous incarnations but button layout remains sensible and it’s easy to operate with one hand. Menus remain simple to navigate and the GT50 is blessed with an excellent feature-set. Highlights of VIERA Connect include a HTLM5 capable Web Browser and video on demand services including Ace Trax, YouTube, BBC iPlayer and Netflix. The VIERA app store is rapidly filling up with games, ‘lifetstyle’ apps and assorted content, including Panasonic’s VIERA 3D World offering free streaming of content in the 3rd dimension. Another notable feature is the robust media player and, thanks to DLNA certification, media can easily be played over your home network. Further features include Skype video calling, provided the appropriate camera/mic attachment is purchased, and Personal Video Recording (PVR) like capabilities from the internal tuner.
If every TV we saw was capable of delivering pictures with the exceptional contrast performance of the GT50 we wouldn’t really care about the features. This Panasonic plasma gives superb pictures with the impressive dynamic range blending with the stunning colour reproduction to produce staggering life-like images. Panasonic have again been delivering the 3D goods this year, both with Plasma and LED, and the GT50 maintained that run of form. For the most part, 3D pictures are deep, standout and crosstalk free. Panasonic's incredible year continues, and the GT50B is yet another fantastic offering to join the ranks of the excellent ST50B and the reference status winning VT50.
When it comes to looks, the ES8000 is a clear winner, delivering the kind of design panache we have come to expect from Samsung. The bezel-less frame and ultra-thin chassis give the impression of a black mirror that looks as striking when it’s off as it does when it’s on. The ES8000 comes with two remote controls, one is the standardSamsung remote and the other is a touch pad remote that makes navigating the Smart TV features a doddle. The Smart Hub is superb, offering an excellent entry point to all ES800’s smart features and its design and layout is attractive and easy to navigate. There is an extensive selection of VoD services as well as an impressive range of apps available from Samsung's app store. The dual core processing results in a fast and responsive platform, a decent web browser and the Your Video feature is genuinely useful. The ES8000 has all the usual social networking features and the inclusion of a camera and microphone means that you can easily make Skype video calls. The built-in camera and microphone also allow the ES8000 to include voice and motion control features, although how well they work will depend on the quietness and lighting conditions of your living room.
The picture performance of the 55ES8000 was very impressive, especially in terms of image accuracy. The video processing was excellent and the backlight uniformity was surprisingly good for an ultra-thin display that uses edge LED lighting with the ES8000 delivering some great blacks and dynamic range. The 3D performance was also impressive, thanks to the brightness of display and there was very little crosstalk, especially when watching 3D Blu-rays. As a result the images were generally free of distracting artefacts that might otherwise impact on your enjoyment of the 3D. The Samsung UE-ES8000 represents the zenith of modern TV design and capabilities, offering a genuinely breath-taking range of features and backs that capability up with a very solid picture performance that is sure to please.
The Panasonic ST50B is a tremendous amount of screen real estate for the asking price but, not only that, it delivers big in all the areas in which Panasonic’s typically excel – deep black levels, excellent contrast and accurate colours. We’ll forgive Panasonic borrowing the ST50’s styling from a certain prominent Korean manufacturer's design books and at least they’ve gone with a charcoal colour scheme to give it distinction. The remote is as easy to use as the menus and we never found ourselves seeking out important options in obscure places. The Viera Connect platform goes from strength to strength and offers a good mixture of video on demand content, games and applications.
Picture quality is excellent, thanks in large part to the superb black levels and contrast allied with the convincing colour palette. We do wish there was at least one more accurate picture mode aboard the ST50 as it makes having set-ups for both day and night viewing environments more tricky. The 3D picture quality is just as pleasing as the 2D and the Panasonic ST50B delivers deep and enveloping images; but don’t sit too close or you’ll think you’re falling in to the screen. Video processing was of the calibre we’ve come to recently expect from Panasonic, i.e. excellent. The ST50B is an absolutely fantastic mid-range plasma and If you're in the market for a new TV then you owe it to yourself to demo one.
We were impressed with the elegant design of the Toshiba YL963; despite the fact it’s quite plain, the ultra-slim brushed charcoal bezel exudes the kind of understated charm we like. Connectivity is good and we have all the inputs we’ve come to expect in a flagship TV. In terms of the Smart TV functions, it’s a fairly basic suite, for now, but the likes of YouTube and BBC iPlayer are present and we’re certain there will be plenty more, going forwards.
Out of the box image accuracy was quite impressive and the optional TPA-1 Colour Analyzer is capable of improving on that, although it’s not a totally reliable process. The (very decent) picture processing and near reference colour performance blended with excellent contrast performance and deep blacks to produce two dimensional images that were very pleasing in both high and standard definition. Unusually for an edge-lit set, we were able to engage the backlight dimming to its maximum setting, to increase contrast, without creating major issues and Toshiba’s implementation is as good in this regard as any. Gaming was a pleasure on the YL863 with response times acceptable to us at around 30 milliseconds lag, equating to just less than a frame for the average console game. We think with its contrast rich and natural looking images the YL863 does enough to gain a place on your go-see list.
The KDL-55HX853 is a thoroughly welcome return to form from Sony and, what’s more, the once all-conquering giants of the TV world have managed to achieve a display of all round excellence at a price that should have their competitors seriously concerned. The Sony HX853 manages to pack in high quality pictures with convincing contrast performance, natural colour tones and top-notch picture processing for a sum that won’t break the bank. Perhaps the best thing of all is that Sony seems to have devoted plenty of resource in to producing a panel that doesn’t often offend with picture spoiling uniformity issues so common in LED TVs.
Sony has also been busy improving the online experience too and the new SEN interface is a big improvement over the previous method of accessing content, even if we would like more screen real estate devoted to the GUI. As ever there are dozens of Video on Demand services plus a web browser and Sony's own Music and Video Unlimited services. Once calibrated, the HX853’s images took on an incredible believability with the deep and relatively uniform blacks underpinning it all. The excellent video processing helps, even if most of the multitude of processing options need to be disabled to achieve picture fidelity. One of the biggest improvements Sony have made since last year’s TV is with their 3D processing; it’s no longer a cause for embarrassment and the Sony HX853 can hold its own with most of the other 3D displays out there.
The Samsung E8000 looks every inch the Samsung top-tier product it is and the native gun-metal coloured bezel appears ever darker as the day wears on, eventually settling at deep graphite grey for night-time viewing. It’s a nice touch and our only gripe with the design sits below the panel, in the form of the chicken foot (quad) standSamsung seem to be insisting is stylish. It wouldn’t be a 2012 flagship product if it didn’t have at least two remote controls to get to grips with and, sure enough, the 8000 ships with the new ‘Smart Touch Control’ which reminds us strongly of a Star Trek communicator, not least because it has a built-in microphone for voice control purposes. It also has a touch-pad – hence the name – which makes web browsing on the inbuilt browser much easier than it is using the standard controller.
The feature-set is almost mind-boggling in its expanse. The centre of operations, as ever, is the excellent Smart Hub from where the entire cornucopia of diversions can be accessed. Apps include BBC iPlayer, Netflix and the BBC Sport app and besides the VoD services, there’s lots more besides, including Samsung’s own Explore 3D streaming service. What’s more, purchasers of this TV won’t find themselves looking on in envy at whatever innovationsSamsung come up with for 2013, if they decide to purchase a card to stick in the upgrade slot at the back of the TV.
The E8000 puts out pictures that are amongst the very best we’ve seen in 2012; the new Real Black Pro technology has translated better in to the larger screen size, 64 inch model than the 51” but contrast is still plentiful in both. Shadow detailing is also excellent and the calibrated colour output was nothing short of sublime. If anything, Samsung has improved upon the already excellent foundations laid by the 2011 plasma’s and 3D images were pleasingly bright and engaging. The Samsung E8000 is an absolutely excellent television, in all respects. From the market leading Smart TV suite to the gloriously fluid, contrast rich and supremely accurate pictures, there’s almost nothing to fall out with. In fact, the E8000 is tantalisingly close to delivering virtually flawless pictures.
Panasonic has finally delivered on their early promise and produced a TV that genuinely lives up to the hype that has surrounded the manufacturer since the last days of the fabled Pioneer Kuro. The VT50 retains the glass facia and slick styling that graced last year's VT30 and with its silver trim and solid construction, it certainly looks like the flagship TV that it is. The VT50B comes with just about every feature a modern TV can possess and also includes two pairs of RF active shutter glasses and an additional touch pad remote control.
In performance terms the VT50B is approaching peerless, with the kind of inky blacks that other manufacturers can only dream about. This deep black base delivers a truly impressive dynamic range and the resulting images are breath-taking. The inclusion of a comprehensive set of calibration controls means that the already excellent out-of-the-box performance can be improved to deliver absolutely reference measurements. The video processing is also first class, passing all our tests and delivering fantastic standard definition images and some wonderful high definition pictures, especially from Blu-ray.
The 3D images produced by the VT50 were also fantastic, with well-defined depth and a sense of solidity to the objects on screen. ThePanasonic VT50 is a fantastic display that delivers the kind of performance that enthusiasts are looking for, without the need to resort to expensive professional monitors or second hand TVs with none of today's modern features. Panasonic set the bar high this year and the VT50 thoroughly deserves its AVForums Reference Status – the first domestic TV to attain that badge in 4 years.
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