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Zenith Plasma TV Review

Model: Zenith P60W38 Plasma Television
Description: 60-inch HDTV Plasma Display, Widescreen 16:9 Format
Resolution: 1280 x 768 (WXGA)
Includes: Remote and controller box
Color: Brushed silver bezel
Reviewer: Robert Wiley
Date: 08-09-04

The Zenith P60W38 plasma monitor replaces the P60W26 and has markedly improved (stated) contrast ratios -- 1000:1, up from 550:1 with the P60W26. Zenith has also added a DVI digital input to this plasma display.


zenith plasma tv

Unlike many plasma display TVs manufactured for the consumer market, signal processing for the Zenith P60W26 does not go through an outboard processor/receiver. Instead, video signal sources plug directly in to the unit's set of inputs: 1-composite video, 1-s-video, 1-15 pin RGB/VGA, 1 set of component video inputs, and one DVI digital input. I actually prefer this input configuration with no outboard processor, as I believe the user has more flexibility with direct inputs. A poor outboard processor can drastically affect the performance of the entire plasma, and adding a line doubler will do little or nothing to improve it.

The Zenith P60W38 must be evaluated in a couple of different viewing distances while utilizing different input signals. I'll start with plain old cable or antenna by stating that the Zenith P60W38 does little to upgrade the signal internally. It does have internal upgrading technology such as a Faroudja scan converter; however, the internal conversion I witnessed did not compare well to the up-conversion I have seen on some of the better models in the market. It will display a nice picture from cable, satellite, or antenna sources but the plasma tends to be very bandwidth dependent. You will see much variation depending upon the bandwidth, or reception you are receiving. I recommend purchasing a good HDTV decoder box, or line doubler if using this plasma panel for home use in a video setting. Indeed, signals processed through my Samsung HDTV decoder box were cleaned up nicely - vibrant and colorful with much less pixelating artifacts.

Now that I have mentioned pixelating artifacts I need to emphasize that they are a problem with this unit as with most very large PDP displays. They can be noticeable and distracting at first. Viewing distance becomes increasingly important the larger a plasma display panel is. With this 60" plasma, I viewed different signals from 10 feet and from 17 feet with, of course, 17 feet being the preferred distance. The eye has a much harder time perceiving the flickering pixelation. Increased distance improves perceived picture performance. Therefore, I recommend 15 to 20 feet viewing distance for this particular plasma panel. Unless, that is, you are watching 90% HDTV. In that case it really would not matter as almost all displays look great with good HDTV broadcasts.

With DVD signals from progressive scan 480p there was noticeable improvement in the black levels and contrast and a reduction in false contouring gray levels. Color saturation increased but reds and orange tones ran hot - affecting skin tones. I found it necessary to optimize skin tone coloration by decreasing the color setting to 40 or by decreasing the color temp setting for red to -2 in order to bring the unit closer to achieving D6500. One problem is that the Zenith P60W38 will need to be recalibrated back to near factory settings to optimize for 480i viewing for best performance there. Interlaced 480i and progressive scan 480p bring out entirely different color and contrast characteristics in the Zenith plasma. Unless the viewing room is near completely dark, contrast ratio should be set around 80 to enable enough light to penetrate and color saturate the pixels. While 480i signals from DVD are more realistic in color rendition, they were very pixilated. Motion artifacts and artificial boundaries were apparent - especially from the 10 foot distance range.

There is a peculiar feature on this plasma TV called "Auto Picture Control" controlled by the APC button on the remote control. This feature allows the user to choose between three modes to either make the picture appear brighter, or the black levels appear darker. I found the user mode to be the best of the choices between user, clear or soft. The feature seems superfluous with contrast and brightness controls possible.

Overall the picture from the Zenith P60W38 is acceptable from the 15 to 20 foot distance arena. I would not discourage purchase of the unit, but keep the above deficiencies in mind and purchase some line doubling technology to go with the unit.


One of the first positive attributes about this plasma that struck me when reviewing is that this plasma TV is virtually silent. It has three fans in the back upper half, which barely make an audible sound. This is unusual for a plasma display this large and especially impressive considering the 650 watts of power it takes to run the unit.

Another positive aspect of the unit is its good looks. The aesthetically pleasing bezel design and brushed silver color are impressive.

Next the nice looking ergonomically pleasing but extremely quirky remote control. It looks straight forward but has some surprises: 1) The wide button is used to control the three aspect ratios which are 16:9, 4:3, and Zoom. There is no other clue. 2) The input select button does not control input selection. Instead you will need to utilize the video/pc button on the remote control to change your input selection (i.e. from your incoming DVD player to your incoming cable signal). 3) The picture button controls the above-mentioned user, clear, or soft modes.

This plasma panel also contains a feature called Aspect Ratio Correction. This feature tries to figure out which mode will be the best to algorithmically stretch the displayed signal. This means that the aspect ratio that makes sense to you say, 16:9 for a DVD widescreen picture may not always be optimal. I found it necessary to just try all three modes with each input device to find out which, "intelligent resizing" looked the best.

I have to say that the menu is both frustrating and sometimes counterintuitive to use. Without going into detail, I'll just say that the arrow key controls and menu controls sometimes don't match up well.

The Zenith P60W38 Plasma does have an interesting PIP (picture in picture) and Twin Picture feature. The twin picture feature does a pretty good job of scaling and conversion to display a viewable picture. One word on these features, you cannot watch a composite (cable) signal input with an s-video input (satellite). These two do not interact in the programming menu for PIP or twin picture. If you want to watch two TV signals at the same time, you will need to tune one of the signals with a device (such as an HDTV decoder) that outputs in 15 pin VGA. This input will combine with either the s-video or composite video signal to give you split screen or PIP. Another remote control snafu is that the viewer cannot use the Twin Picture or PIP buttons to controls those features directly. First, the VGA button must be pressed.

All these little programming and engineering hiccups are fairly typical of the Korean made plasma TVs I have tested in the past. They can be annoying at times and might get more so over a period of ownership.

VALUE - 85/100

The Zenith P60W38 is actually produced by LG in Korea. Most of the technology of the two manufacturers is shared. There are minor differences. At a street price of around $10,500 (the MSRP is just under $15,000) the Zenith P60 gives a lot of plasma screen for a fair amount of money. Plasma screens of this size are quite expensive to produce, and much of that cost is passed on to the consumer. It's not nearly as impressive as the NEC in terms of picture capability, but it does a decent conversion job with most signals and has a few extra quirky features. But the MSRP on NEC plasma display is about $5000 more than the Zenith P60W38 60-inch plasma display, though admittedly, the NEC has a higher resolution and is an inch wider. Still, if one works on the quality of input, one can make the Zenith P60W38 perform like a $10,000 plus monitor should. Your friends will at least be impressed by the sheer size and brushed silver cabinetry housing the plasma.

OVERALL RATING (with Picture double-weighted) - 83/100

Rating scale from 70 (denoting poorest quality) to 100 (signifying the very best quality). A rating in the 60s for any particular category of a product review indicates a serious defect which causes the product not to operate properly. Picture quality is double-weighted in the Overall Rating Score calculation.

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