Panasonic TX-P42ST60 (ST60) Plasma TV Review
Shh, don't tell anyone!
What is the Panasonic TX-P42ST60?In some ways, the ST series is the forgotten son of the Panasonic plasma range this year. The 2012 ST50 series blew us away for its outstanding price vs performance ratio but with the advent of the new flagship ZT series, the ST60 finds itself as an also-ran as far as Panasonic’s marketing efforts are concerned; which is a shame as it boasts most of the features found in the higher echelons of the range and should offer at least close to the performance of the outstanding GT, VT and ZT series. At a retail price currently under £800, this ‘also-ran’ is looking like a fine prospect!
Design and ConnectionsThe ST60 is a bit more 2012 than it is 2013 but it still looks great despite the hand-me-down appearance from last year’s design sheets. There’s a narrow black bezel which is encased in a shiny metal-effect trim that’s offset by a slightly more matte finish to the base-stand, which is a swiveller. Panasonic’s slightly redesigned remote control features new and prominent buttons for Home and Apps, which ties in well with Panasonic’s newly designed interface. The remote has a gloss black finish and feels very comfortable to hold and has well thought out button placement.
All 3 HDMI connections are sideways facing, which makes wall mounting easier, but are less than 10cm from the edge of the bezel. Along with the HDMI ports, also side-pointing are two USB ports, a headphone socket, a SD card slot, a Common Interface (CI) slot and an optical digital audio output. Facing downwards there is an Ethernet port and the component and composite connections. The AV2 connection doubles up for component and composite video and the AV selection menu lets you manually select which type of signal is being sent, whilst the AV1 input is exclusively for SCART sources. There’s also a DTV aerial terminal for Freeview HD.
New to the Panasonic plasmas this year, is the inclusion of an electronic Touchpen, which Panasonic have ported over from some of their professional panels. The Touchpen pairs with your TV via Bluetooth and then uses the light from each pixel to provide positioning data which, thanks to the fast response time of the panel, allows for free drawing on the screen. There is a protective layer on the screen that you touch the pen against, although Panasonic do stress that you don’t push too hard. You can use the Touchpen for drawing pictures, adding messages or playing games and, although it does work very well, the novelty ran out quickly and probably those most impressed by its capabilities (children), are the very ones it needs to be kept furthest from.The TX-P42ST60 ships with one pair of Panasonic’s latest active shutter 3D glasses (TY-ER3D5MA), which seem to have had a slight makeover since last year. The new glasses share the same general design as the earlier ones, so they’re still relatively featherweight and comfortable to wear and they’re also pleasingly tint-free so wont discolour 3D images in any meaningful way.
MenusAfter first tuning and setting up the ST60, owners will be greeted by Panasonic’s new My Home Screen which comes with 4 default views – Full Screen TV, TV Home Screen, Lifestyle Screen & Info Screen – with a further option to create customised screens as one sees fit. We’re not going to give you chapter and verse on it here, however, as we’ve given it in-depth coverage in a separate review of Panasonic's smart Viera platform but the short version is, we really like it.
Moving in to the Menus ‘proper’ and the basic look of the interface is familiar from last year’s ranges with a two-tone blue and gold colour scheme and sharp, easy to read text in sharp white. The Menus are split in to six sub-menus, Picture, Sound, Network, Timer, Set and a new Help section which, amongst other things, includes an ‘eHELP’ interactive menu. The Picture Menu has seen some additions since the 2012 system with many of the new ‘enhancements’ being the first things you should be looking to switch off. There’s also the new Viewing Mode - Custom - to accompany the existing Dynamic, Normal, Cinema and True Cinema option. The first page includes the standard picture controls, plus Vivid Colour, Ambient Sensor and Noise Reduction, which should be shut down.
Moving on to the second page there are controls for the MPEG Noise Reduction and Intelligent Frame Creation - all of which should be turned off if image fidelity is important to you. Don’t forget that Intelligent Frame Creation switches to 24p Smooth Film when you’re watching 24p content and in some of the modes it defaults to maximum, so make sure that is off as well. Also on this page you can access the Advanced Settings, Option Settings, Screen Settings and 3D Settings sub-menus.The Advanced Settings sub-menu includes some new features and the most important is the Panel Luminance Settings which offers a choice of Low, Medium or High. There is also an Adaptive Gamma Control and a Black Expander feature, both of which we zeroed and the Colour Gamut, with the option to select Normal best suited for HDTV content. Then we have all the conventional calibration controls in the form of a two- and ten-point White Balance, preset Gamma values with a 10 point adjustment feature and a Colour Management System for detailed adjustment of the primary colour. The Option Settings sub-menu allows for selecting the Game Mode and the Film Cadence Mode.
The last sub-menu is 3D Settings and here you can make adjustments to the 3D performance, although generally you shouldn’t need to make any changes when watching 3D content. However should you need to the options include 3D Detection, 3D Signal Message, 3D Refresh Rate, 2D to 3D Depth, 3D Adjustment, L/R Picture Swap, Edge Smoother and Safety Precautions.
FeaturesThe P42ST60B doesn’t include Panasonic’s new Hexa-Processing chip but still makes a good fist of streaming on-demand services. The biggest difference we noted – Hexa vs Vreal - is the slowness of loading web pages so no big deal. There’s two ways in to Panasonic’s smart experience this time around; one can either go straight in to the Apps screen where the full suite can be uncovered or opt to go via the more personalised My Home Screen interface. The Apps screen is very reminiscent of a tidied-up version of Samsung’s Smart Hub and none the worse for it. We like it a lot, especially as it provides a unified location for the full bag of goodies: including access to the Web Browser, Media Player and Server, the Main Menu and TV Guide as well as the installed apps.
As well as the new content and interface, Panasonic has also launched their new VIERA Remote 2 app. This latest version of their remote app is available for both iOS and Android and includes a redesigned interface and some new features such as access to the apps page. There is also Swipe & Share 2.0 which allows for easier sharing of content between devices, with just a flick of the finger (or thumb).
As is almost customary from Panasonic plasma’s, the most accurate picture modes show an excess of green energy in the greyscale and whilst it’s not always glaringly obvious, it’s very easy to see once you compare to a calibrated picture. With delta errors approaching 8 in the mid-tones, we’re certainly in the territory where the green tint is visible to the human eye and the gamma is tracking undesirably low, meaning everything is just a bit more washed out than it really should be in the default True Cinema Viewing Mode 2.2 setting. With both 10 point white balance and gamma controls we should have no issues in flattening both responses. The CIE Diagram, below right, displays a green over-saturated to a surprising extent and an under-saturated red that’s heading off towards orange, which is far less startling and another trait of the Panasonic plasma range.
After first making adjustments to the 2 point White Balance controls, getting delta E’s around 2 throughout, we moved on to fine-tuning with the 10pt controls and were able to completely neutralise the greyscale to a degree that wasn’t really necessary, in all honesty, but since the controls are so good, it’s a shame not to get the most from them! About the only significant omission from the ST60’s calibration arsenal is a full, six axis Colour Management System but there is a three axis control giving full control over the Hue, Saturation and Luminance of the primary colours.
As we can see from the CIE chart above, we were able to fix the over-saturation of green very well indeed although to get the best balance, we left red a little under but with delta Errors under 1 all round, it’s not as though you’re going to notice. The multiple saturation point charts are also superb, with no discernible errors at 25, 50 or 75% and the ST60 is performing just as well as the more expensive sets in terms of its colour reproduction, at least.
Contrast, Black Levels & Screen Uniformity
Consistency is a good thing in this area of testing, especially when the results are consistently superb. The Panasonic TX-P42ST60 gives up very little to its more esteemed contemporaries in terms of black levels and dynamic range and is comfortably able to reproduce whites that hit 120 cd/m2, and beyond. A full screen black pattern gave a reading of precisely 0.005 cd/m2, which puts it in to the realms of being amongst the blackest TVs ever produced. The fact that it could maintain such deep levels with the mixed black and white content of an ANSI checkerboard pattern is also an atramentous result (please look it up, we’re unduly pleased with that one). The scores on the doors for those that need those numbers – On/Off Contrast is 24,300:1 and ANSI Contrast is 16,431:1. Tidy! As we can also see from the ANSI pattern, light distribution is superb and we could detect no trace of vertical bands, which troubled some of the 2012 TVs.
Picture ProcessingIt may not have the fancy ‘HEXA’ processor of the GT, VT and ZT series but the ST60 proved just as capable of providing excellent video processing with impressive scaling of standard definition signals and a cadence detection option that picks up on the most common 2:2 variant used in PAL DVDs. Deinterlacing of video content at 1080i was also excellent and 1080p24 – the most commonly used Blu-ray standard – showed only the inherent stutter natural to the low frame rate. For those that really don’t like it, using 24p Smooth Film in Mid alleviates it but at the expense of making everything look overly smooth. Still, the option is there if you want it, just don’t tell us you use it.
Gaming PerformanceAbout the only measurable disadvantage of the ST60 when compared to the higher-tier Panasonic Plasmas is the reaction to controller input which measures at 76.5 milliseconds, even with the Game Mode activated. It’s about the only thing letting the side down too, as games look absolutely tremendous and very smooth indeed with native 60 frames per second. With the advent of the PS4 and Xbox One, hopefully console gamers can begin to stop worrying about performance at below 60 fps. Well, we live in hope anyhow.
...reaction to controller input measures at 76.5 milliseconds
- Standby: 0W
- Out-of-the-Box – Normal Mode: 243W
- Calibrated – True Cinema Mode: 141W
- Calibrated - 3D Mode: 221W
Panasonic TX-P42ST60 Picture Quality 2DWith such high quality ingredients in the form of superb dynamic range, a totally neutral greyscale and supremely accurate colours you might ask what can possibly go wrong? And the answer would be very little indeed; the Panasonic ST60 is close to flawless, and especially when you consider what is an almost laughable asking price for a TV of this quality. If it’s a given that high-def broadcasts and Blu-ray – in particular – are going to look amazing, then it’s a nice added bonus that the ST60 is pretty sympathetic to ye olde standard definition sources; although, of course, a 42-inch panel is always going to show up fewer defects than the ‘big boys’ but it’s good news nonetheless for those that aren’t yet fully HD only.
The two most recent pressing picture quality concerns of Panasonic’s Neo Plasma range have stemmed from a lack of optimisation for 50Hz sources and since that’s what our broadcasters (short-sightedly) decided was going to be our staple fare, it’s kind of important that Panasonic looked to address this. And they have. There is still the occasional double edge to objects under panning or in motion but the horrors of the 50Hz Bug are now largely a thing of the past and motion handling is generally sublime – without recourse to frame insertion guesswork. We still did pick up on some Dynamic False Contouring (DFC), manifest most obviously in magenta and green tinging to cheek and jawbones but also visible on other objects, it’s again reduced from years gone by. Perhaps not quite to the extent that we’ve seen with the GT60, VT65 and ZT65 but it’s a small price to pay, all things considered.
To say the Panasonic 42ST60 punches above its weight, in picture quality terms, might just be the biggest understatement we’ve made in quite a while, it might be better to say it smashes the ball out of the park using a wooden spoon.
Panasonic TX-P42ST60 Picture Quality 3DWithout a proper side-by-side comparison it’s difficult to be definitive about this but our memories tell us that the 3D performance of the ST60 doesn’t quite match that of the upper tier TVs. We could definitely see a touch more crosstalk with our Wimbledon 3D test footage and although colours were quite vibrant it seems to lack the overall punch and depth of the GT, VT and ZT. That’s not to say it’s a poor 3D performer – it isn’t, it’s actually very impressive in many respects - but those (precious few) who value their 3D viewing might want to consider shelling out a little extra to see the best.
- Superb black levels
- Incredible dynamic range
- Outstanding colour accuracy
- My Home Screen is great
- Lots of well implemented smart features
- Nice design
- Amazing value for money
- Too laggy for gamers
- 3D is better on the more expensive Viera plasmas
- We're running out of superlatives
Panasonic TX-P42ST60 (ST60) Plasma TV Review
The Panasonic ST60 might be a ‘last year’ in terms of its looks but it’s still a pleasant sight with a narrow black bezel wrapped up in a silver trim sitting atop a stylish metallic, swivelling base-stand. Connectivity options are decent with three HDMI ports to the side and Wi-Fi built-in. In fact the ST60B lacks very little from the more illustrious Viera plasmas, in terms of the Smart features on-board and can also boast a Web Browser, my Home Screen, Viera Remote 2 and a very decent media player amongst its suite of attractions. We did notice that the experience wasn’t as snappy – it isn’t equipped with the new Hexa Processor – but in day to day use, it proved a very adequate Smart TV.
The lack of processing grunt was actually felt more with gaming where we recorded an input lag measurement around 75 milliseconds, which is tardy by any standards. Other than the lag, there was very little other quantifiable data that would suggest the ST60 possess inferior electronics to that of the GT, VT or ZT, although a little increased crosstalk with 3D and blacks that don’t quite plumb the depths of darkness that the others do are at least notable. With 2D pictures, the Panasonic ST60B is simply sublime, offering up images of such outstanding accuracy and dynamic range that you’re left shaking your head at the sub £900 asking price. It’s an astonishing achievement for Panasonic and yet another reason we’d beg them to hang on to plasma tech just that bit longer; at least until OLED is truly ready for primetime. Best Buy – what else could it have been?
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £799.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level10
3D Picture Quality9
Ease Of Use8
Value for Money8
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