Best HDTVs: Picture quality(Updated May 21, 2013 2:30 AM PDT)
Our "best products" lists (on the left) take into account design, features and value as well as picture quality. However, for people seeking the best picture quality only, the models below will fit the bill. Each TV scored at least a 9 in the Performance subrating, and in the case of a scoring tie, we've ranked them in order of which TV we think delivers a better overall picture.
I've winnowed the list down to just four TVs for the moment, all of them 2013 models, and all plasmas. As usual, the prices below represent just one size in the series; click through to the review to see other sizes. In case you're wondering, this list excludes projectors and all TVs produced before 2013, even if they're technically still "current" like the Sharp Elite.
Panasonic's ultimate plasma TV is the best-performing television we've ever tested. Both it and the less-expensive VT60 have finally surpassed the overall performance of the Pioneer Kuro, a legendary and long-extinct television that held the "best ever" mantle since 2008. And the ZT60 is just a bit better than the VT60, by virtue of its better performance in bright rooms. And that's it. Turn down the lights, and the two Panasonics at the top of this list are virtually indistinguishable.
The dominance of Panasonic on this list is due primarily to its extremely deep black levels, which contribute to better contrast, pop, saturation and pretty much everything else that makes home-theater image quality shine. The VT60 matches the black levels of the step-up ZT60 in a dark room, and exceeds the image quality of every other TV we've ever tested. Yes, those inky blacks can't stand up to those of the ZT60 when the lights come up, but if you have a really bright room, and want to get a plasma, neither Panasonic is as good as door #3.
The best TV Samsung has ever produced, the F8500 plasma offers something the Panasonics on this list lack: the ability to get much brighter. That light output capability means the F8500 performs great not only in a dark room -- where it's worse than only the ZT60 and VT60 anyway -- but also in brighter rooms where other plasmas fear to tread. If you have such a room but have avoided plasma in the past, the F8500 might be just the ticket.
With a picture to rival the other three for half the price, the 2013 ST60 sets the new standard for value in a videophile-grade TV. It might get bumped down this list as I review more TVs in 2013, but until then it's a solid No. 4. Just about the only area where this set falls short is in 3D quality, but do you really care?