Best TVs: Picture quality(Updated November 26, 2013 11:24 PM PST)
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 an 8 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 reviewed six TVs so far that qualify. No surprisingly the top four are plasmas, but the two LED LCDs below represent the best of the breed we've seen so far. 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.
One other TV deserves mention. In August I got enough hands-on time with one of the first two OLED TVs, Samsung's KN55S9C, to confirm OLED can produce better images than any LED LCD or plasma. It's not a full review so it doesn't make this list, but if it was, it would take a rightful place at the top.
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 extremely bright 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 top three for half the price, the 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?
Maybe you have something against plasma. Maybe you're a gamer who wants the lowest input lag available. Or maybe you just love the idea of Quantum Dots. For any of these reasons or another, the Sony KDL-55W900A is a great alternative. It boasts slightly better black levels and color, and thus overall picture quality, than the Samsung F8000 below. It can also overcome even brighter rooms than the Samsung F8500 plasma. Best of all, a massive drop from its original asking price has made it oh-so-much more recommendable. The main downside now is that it's only available in a 55-inch size.
For plasma-phobic videophiles who want a TV in a size other than 55 inches, the Samsung F8000 will likely remain our top pick. It's close enough to the Sony that both earned identical picture quality scores, and both sets' local-dimming schemes do a great job of pushing edge-lit LED as high up this list as it can go. Video processing and 3D actually surpass the Sony, but in other areas F8000 is a tiny step behind. No matter -- if you "settle" for this amazing TV you can console yourself with the best design and features on the market.