My thoughts on the Panasonic 65ZT60 vs. Samsung 64F8500 (from an actual owner of both)
First of all, I know how opinions like the one I am about to express, end up causing discourse. Owners of either of these two displays are going to take issues to heart and defend their product to no end. That's understandable. I am going to say right off the bat that both the ZT60 and F8500 are the best plasma displays I have had the opportunity to try. Each has their own advantages and each has their shortcomings. Neither is 100% perfect.
Before I post my opinions, there are a few people I need to thank....
First and foremost is Robert Zohn and Value Electronics. I put that man through hell over the past few weeks, and he remained patient and gracious. He knew I was unhappy with my ZT60 and allowed me several weeks to make certain I was making the right choice in trading up to the F8500. I would highly recommend if you are going to buy any display, to use Value Electronics.
I want to thank a few online members, particularly Ken for inviting me to his home and allowing me to look at his Samsung display in order to make an educated opinion. I want to thank Jamie for keeping in touch with me. He actually traded his F8500 for a ZT60 and was going through the same fear that I was about whether the right choice was being made. Finally, I need to thank Ed for phoning me and guiding me through the Samsung menu system to make recommended adjustments. What a nice guy to talk to. Finally, HTF member RickardL who has been providing me with settings that have made a positive change to the display. Thank You, Rickard!
I didn't need to buy a new plasma. I already owned a 3 year-old LG THX 3D display that I was very happy with. However, when Panasonic announced it was going to stop making plasmas, I knew I had to own one. I have industry friends at Panasonic and was one of the very first consumers to see their 3D prototype several years ago. Ever since then, I have always believed Panasonic to be an innovator in plasma technology.
I contacted Robert Zohn at Value Electronics, went to his store, and looked at the Panasonic 65" ZT60 and Samsung 64" F8500 side-by-side. Both Mr. Zohn and agreed that the F8500 looked better. It was brighter and sharper than the Panasonic. The Panasonic looked washed out and dull. I left the store not knowing which I would purchase. When I returned home, I spoke with my business partners who know plasmas much better than I do. Both told me never to judge a plasma in a lit store. Furthermore, one of my business partners just bought a ZT60 and he was raving about it.
I decided to order the ZT60. When I got it home, I was disappointed. Blu-rays looked terrific. There were levels of black I had never witnessed before. Movies had that smooth, cinematic look to them. The problem was broadcast television and 3D. There just wasn't enough light being outputted on the Panasonic ZT60 to give dark scenes more detail. I am a huge fan of 3D. I own well over 100 3D Blu-ray titles (most of which I have reviewed on this forum), and I know what every one of them should look like. I was disappointed to find a loss of detail and pop-out because the Panasonic ZT60 just couldn't push enough luminance.
While I received several remarks from online ZT60 owners that I should be making adjustments to the panel brightness, I spoke with two separate leading calibrators who both admitted that this display could probably not be driven much higher in luminance.
Mind you, I was watching the ZT60 in a totally darkened room. It wasn't a matter that the display was awfully dark. It just always seemed to me that the picture should have a little more brightness to it. Certainly, it wasn't up to the level of brightness I had experienced on my LG display. The Panasonic didn't have that punch in picture that I was used to seeing. Everything from broadcast to Blu-ray had a much softer look to it. That has its advantages and disadvantages (which I will go into shortly).
I contacted Robert at Value Electronics, asked if I could swap for the Samsung F8500, and he agreed.
In the meantime, I started reading all these horror stories from F8500 owners about plasma buzz, vertical banding and severe 3D crosstalk. Trust me, I was getting nervous that perhaps I was not making the right decision.
Samsung F8500 vs. Panasonic ZT60
To begin with, I am basing these opinions on out-of-the-box settings. Neither display was properly calibrated. I will be the first to admit that experiences could be altered through calibration. However, I am also presuming a great deal of people will be happy with the settings out of the box (both look exceptional) and will not need calibration.
When I first turned the Samsung F8500 on, I was immediately upset that the picture looked as dim as the ZT60, that is, until I went from STANDARD to MOVIE mode. All of a sudden, the display lit up like a night game at Shea Stadium. It's amazing to see how much brighter this display is.....
...and for me, that made all the difference in the world.
Everything from broadcast television to Blu-ray looked brighter, punchier and sharper. One of the first things you notice is how "white" the whites actually are. I was able to boost their level with the help of Ed, who told me to put the display settings in Warm1.
Amazingly -- and you can believe this or not --- the Samsung F8500 has the same black levels as the Panasonic ZT60. I see no difference in blacks. They are just as deep. I put in a Blu-ray copy of Mary Poppins, a film I had recently watched on the ZT60. In the second or third chapter of the film we first watch Mr. Banks walk into his home. The color of his suit is just as immensely black on the Samsung as it was on the ZT60. This display does an unbelievable job of displaying black levels. Even the OPPO Blu-ray menu is as inky black on the Samsung as it was on the Panasonic. So, to my eyes, there is no loss in black level anywhere.
The initial problem with the Samsung, however, is that it has an entirely different type of picture than the Panasonic. As I mentioned above, the Panasonic picture is soft, smooth, and very cinematic looking. Film looks like film. On the Samsung, everything looks like video. I watched Mary Poppins and it looked like it was shot on video -- almost like a live stage play. I put in a 3D Blu-ray of Avatar and it looked like a video game.
I was able to alleviate the problem by going into picture settings and enabling Cinema Smooth. It seemed to make the image more film-like. I am probably going to opt for professional calibration to get the image more likened to what I saw on the Panasonic.
To give credit to the Panasonic, I feel the ZT60 had deeper, more saturated colors than the F8500. However, again, calibration might improve upon that.
Here Is The Real Beauty of The F8500
3D. By far, watching 3D on this Samsung is more enjoyable than it was on the Panasonic.
Light output is everything. I was seeing a level of depth and detail that I could not achieve on the Panasonic. Pop-out is immensely more evident because of the improved luminance level. Using the crappy 3D glasses that came with the display, I sat there with my mouth hanging open at how friggin' great the level of 3D was. Even my LG Plasma (which was a 1st generation 3D display) couldn't achieve this level of dimensionality.
Crosstalk? Didn't see it. In fact, I was looking at a perfectly bright 3D picture that exhibited no ghosting whatsoever. Mind you, I only tried about three discs. I haven't looked at HUGO, which is one of the most crosstalk riddled 3D Blu-rays out there.
But, again, I am not going to give total praise to the Samsung on its 3D. It still looks more "video" like in appearance. This could be the reason for the exaggerated levels of 3D depth and pop-out. However, I must admit, I am enjoying it.
Have already ordered the $50 rechargeable Samsung glasses from Amazon and will try those out later today when they arrive.
APPS AND CONNECTIVITY
Only briefly had the chance to really play with the apps. However, I can say that the web browsing experience is much better on the Samsung, particularly in allowing me to use a Logitech keyboard. The Panasonic would recognize and pair my Logitech DiNovo keyboard, but it would not recognize its built-in trackpad. The Samsung had no problem allowing me to use my DiNovo, fully, with its built-in mouse trackpad. It's nice to be able to sit in my home theater and check my online email. I am just a little surprised that despite my direct ethernet connection, the browser response time is a bit slow. This is probably due to a limited amount of processing power being allocated to the browser. After all, this isn't an HTPC.
Also found the Samsung built-in virtual keyboard to be easier to use. It attempts to auto-complete words as you type, learning new words (such as email addresses) as you type them in.
One of the things I was most looking forward to was the SCREEN MIRRORING function. Using my Samsung Galaxy Note 3, I was successfully able to transmit content from my phone to my display. I watched a few HD recordings that I made on my phone. They looked outstanding on the Samsung display, though there were initial hiccups in the streaming (it paused several times) that improved substantially upon second and third attempts. In all, it's kind of cool to know that I can take photos and videos on my Samsung phone and wirelessly transmit them to my display.
The fixed camera atop the television is useless to me. I sit on a couch to watch television, and the camera won't look that far down. I am hoping there is an external camera I can purchase that will allow me to tilt it downwards.
Also tried the hand gesture control with the pop-up camera. Maybe I don't have it set up correctly, but I haven't been able to pause movies with my hands. Perhaps I just haven't gotten the hang of it. Also, since I have a Tivo, all the remote control functions and hand gestures don't work with that brand despite the fact that I set up an IR commander beneath the set-top box.
Again, I stress, both the Panasonic ZT60 and Samsung F8500 are exceptional displays. As everyone else has stated, if you are in a darkened environment, the ZT60 is the better choice. In a room with a lot of windows and light, the F8500 is the better choice.
I think the ZT60 offers a more cinematic, softer picture. The F8500 looks more "video" in appearance. Thus far, enabling Cinema Smooth has greatly reduced that "soap opera" effect.
For me, I just didn't think that the ZT60 was capable of pushing enough light for my tastes, even in a totally darkened room. This is not a popular opinion, but there have been several online members who have expressed they wished the Panasonic pushed just a little more luminance.
Of course, stating these kind of opinions on an Internet forum filled with owners of both displays is only going to cause discourse. I can only attempt to appease both sides by saying once again that both these displays were not calibrated and that each display is exceptional, but has trade-offs.
For my tastes, the Samsung F8500 is the better display, particularly for its 3D output. The Panasonic just didn't do justice to 3D content compared to the Samsung. I also feel the Samsung has much better whites while retaining the same black levels of the ZT60.
...and thankfully no issues with my Samsung. There is absolutely no panel buzz. I see no vertical banding. 3D is just friggin' unbelievable with no noticeable crosstalk.