If you look at CNET's lists of best TVs this year, or any recent year, chances are good there's a plasma TV made by Panasonic at the top. That's because they consistently offer excellent picture quality for the price.
Sure, Samsung's plasmas also do very well, and for that matter we've lauded a number of LED LCD TVs by Vizio, Sharp, Sony, and others. We've also given plenty of flat-out bad reviews to Panasonic's LCD TVs, and even to the cheapest Panasonic plasma last year (this year's version, the X60, just started shipping). But no combination of brand and technology has done as well in our reviews over the last few years as Panasonic's plasmas.
So if you're thin-slicing the hopelessly confusing and BS-riddled TV market in search of your next set, you could do worse than simply asking yourself the question in this article's headline. The breakdown below, arranged in ascending order of price (prices current as of press time), should help with the answer.
S60 series: 42-inch ($599), 50-inch ($699), 55-inch ($999), 60-inch ($1,149), 65-inch ($1,337)
Best for: Tighter budgets, somewhat dimmer rooms, serious twitch video gamers.
The S60 represents the low end of Panasonic's 1080p plasma lineup, but its picture quality is simply phenomenal for the price. Its main downside is a screen finish that doesn't hold up well in bright rooms. It's not a full-fledged dumb TV, but the selection of just six apps -- Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, YouTube, Hulu Plus, and CinemaNow -- is refreshingly simple and easy to access via a little pop-up menu and built-in Wi-Fi. Among the TVs on this list it also has the lowest input lag, making it the best choice for twitch gamers. The S60 is also the only one available in a 42-inch size.
Read the full review of the Panasonic TC-PS60 series.
ST60 series: 50-inch ($999), 55-inch ($1,349), 60-inch ($1,499), 65-inch ($2,399)
Best for: Mainstream budgets, picture quality enthusiasts who aren't serious twitch gamers.
Until the ST60 came along, we'd never given a 5-star review to a TV at CNET. It's just that good. The picture quality will please even the most persnickety videophile, although those who can afford better might be even happier with a VT or ZT below. Gamers who demand instantaneous response should avoid this laggy set, but more-casual gamers are unlikely to notice the difference. We gave the ST60 and S60 the same 10 in value, but the ST's superior antireflective screen makes it much more versatile under all kinds of lighting. If you're not on a tight budget, it's worth stepping up to the ST even if you don't care about its added features like Smart TV and 3D.
Read the full review of the Panasonic TC-PST60 series.
VT60 series: 55-inch ($2,449), 60-inch ($2,754), 65-inch ($3,369)
Best for: Moneyed videophiles who don't demand the ZT60's picture, want better sound.
The VT60 costs about a grand more than the ST60 at every size, and for TV shoppers with limited budgets, it's simply not worth it. On the other hand, if you've got the money, Panasonic's got the PQ for you. This plasma earned a 10 in image quality and outperforms every other TV we've ever reviewed, with the exception of legendary Pioneer Kuro (the VT60 basically tied it) and of course Big Zed below. It beats the ST60 in every way including daytime viewing, although if your living room is particularly bright, the ZT60 is an even better choice. In the dark the two are equal in every important way, however -- and when you throw in its superior sound quality and features, the VT is the better value, too.
Read the full review of the Panasonic TC-PVT60 series.
ZT60 series: 60-inch ($3,499), 65-inch ($4,099)
Best for: Those who want the best all-around picture available today, damn the price.
Did we mention value before? OK, well, compared with OLED or Sony's 4K TVs, the ZT60 isn't a bad value at all. It's still crazy-expensive, however, and only high-end shoppers with a burning desire to own the best image quality we've ever tested need apply. It beats the VT60 in only one area, bright rooms, but on the other hand isn't quite as good in those situations as the ultrabright Samsung PNF8500, or any of the brighter LED-based LCDs. The ZT60 trounces both in the friendly confines of a dark room, however, giving it an overall edge that deserves the "reference" hype.
Read the full review of the Panasonic TC-PZT60 series.
Looking for specs and more info? Compare these TVs head-to-head. Click through to the reviews for additional screen sizes.