Now the most common question I get from readers is, "Should I buy a Panasonic plasma now?" My answer in general is almost always "yes," and now that I know they're going to be extinct soon, it's "YES!"
Panasonic will continue to honor the warranty on its plasma TVs, and will continue to support them as usual; the company itself isn't going anywhere. I consider a Panasonic plasma TV bought today as safe an investment as any other kind or brand of TV.
Worried about dimness, burn-in, short lifespans, extra heat or weight, buzzing, phosphor trails, or buying an "old," "dead" technology? You shouldn't be. Any disadvantages of plasma, real or imaginary, are outweighed in my book by its picture quality superiority over LCD.
Will Samsung continue making plasmas next year? What about LG? I don't know, but my guess is now that Panasonic has pulled out, those two already LCD-centric companies will also abandon the technology soon.
I tried contacting Panasonic to get an idea about questions like current and future inventory and possible discounts, but have yet to hear back. I'll update this piece if that happens, but in the meantime, here's my take.
Now that the pull-out is official, I don't expect to see widespread, selloff-style discounts on Panasonic plasmas. Prices on the S60 and ST60 haven't budged much since June, and while the VT60 and ZT60 are significantly cheaper now, I doubt their sudden "last of the best" status will cause them to fall much further in price. (Update: Looks like I was wrong about that last part.) For what it's worth, Mitsubishi didn't discount the last DLPs.
I do expect Panasonic plasma inventory to disappear sooner rather than later. People who've been waiting to pull the trigger on one are a savvy bunch, and they know that the holiday season brings the best prices. Some sizes and models are already sold out (or close), and supply has been intermittent on others all year. I'd frankly be surprised if popular models like the 50- and 60-inch S60 and ST60 were actually still available in March 2014. The company says it will manufacture its last plasma in December, then shut down the last factory, leaving three months to sell off the remainder.
If you've decided to buy a Panasonic plasma, the list below, originally compiled to answer the question "Which Panasonic plasma should you buy?", should help. The list is arranged in ascending order of price.
Update, December 2, 2013: Prices and availability are current as of press time, and only include large online merchants (like Best Buy.com or Amazon). When a model's price, availability or other status has changed since this article was last updated November 15, the current status is listed and the former
S60 series: 42-inch (sold out), 50-inch
($679) $699, 55-inch (nearly sold out), 60-inch ($999) ($1,149), 65-inch ($1,298) ($1,499)
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.
Read the full review of the Panasonic TC-PS60 series.
ST60 series: 50-inch
($979) ($999), 55-inch ($1,295), 60-inch ($1,449) ($1,499), 65-inch ($2,199)
Best for: Mainstream budgets, picture quality enthusiasts who aren't serious twitch gamers.
Until the ST60 came along, we'd never given a five-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 an extra-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
($1,999) ($1,499), 60-inch ($2,299) ($1,749), 65-inch ($2,700) ($2,149)
Best for: Moneyed videophiles who don't demand the ZT60's picture, want better sound.
The VT60 costs
quite a bit 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
($2,999) ($2,499), 65-inch ($3,799) ($3,197)
Best for: Those who want the best non-OLED picture available today.
Did we mention value before? OK, well, compared with OLED or 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 the F8500 and any LED LCD 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.