While LED LCD TVs seem to get all the attention, and certainly the lion's share of sales, 2013 is actually turning out to be something of a renaissance for plasma TVs—at least in terms of picture quality.
Leading the charge are Panasonic and Samsung, which both have new flagship plasma models: the VT60 series for the former, and the F8500 series for Samsung. (Panasonic also offers two models in an even pricier ZT60 series, but it's not as widely available at the VT60 sets, and LG has one plasma series for 2013).
Both sets have been touted as raising the bar for plasma TV performance. We just completed our detailed testing of Samsung's 64-inch PN64F8500 model, which is now in our newest TV Ratings. And we're just about start our evaluation of the 65-inch Panasonic Smart Viera TC-P65VT60 (plus 17 other new sets), which will be added to the Ratings in coming weeks. Both sets are loaded with features, including each company's smart TV Internet service, and each sells for about $3,400.
So how did the Samsung PN64F8500 do in our tests?
In terms of overall picture quality, it was a top performer, one of the best TVs we've tested so far this year. Its high-definition picture quality was excellent, with great detail, excellent color accuracy, and very good contrast. This model had deep black levels, among the best we've seen. It also had very good 3D performance.
Find the right model for your needs and budget in our TV buying guide and Ratings.
But it didn't top our Ratings. While it earned the highest scores possible for picture quality, sound was only good, below that of a handful of other sets. That's important if you won't be using an external sound system, such as a soundbar speaker. We also didn't love Samsung's new simplified "thumbpad" remote, which required a fair amount of thumb dexterity to perform even some basic operations. These two elements dragged down the TV's overall score.
Still, there's a lot to like about this model. Befitting its flagship status (and price), the TV is stylish, with a brushed metal bezel and a unique-looking curved base that runs the entire width of the TV. Also, of course, it's loaded with every feature Samsung offers, including a quad-core processor, built-in Wi-Fi, and the company's Smart TV Internet platform, with a full Web browser, an apps market, and access to streaming movies and TV shows from several services. And the TV can perform two-way mirroring, so you can show content from a mobile device on your TV, or TV content on your phone or tablet.
Next up: the Panasonic VT60. If you're looking for a state-of-the-art plasma TV that can deliver top-notch picture quality, the F8500-series plasma sets are worthy of your attention, especially if you intend to use an external sound system that can do justice to the TV's great images. When we're finished with our review of Panasonic's VT60-series set, we'll be able to compare the two models and see if there's a clear winner.
But you don't have to spend nearly that much money to a get a great TV with a lot of features, including access to online content. You'll see from our TV Ratings that several bigger-screen, full-featured sets can deliver excellent, high-def picture quality for about half the price—or even less—of these flagship models.