Hands On: Samsung 50-inch 3D Plasma Smart TV

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There’s smart, and then there’s really smart.


Mar. 01, 2011 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

There’s a lot of emphasis on smart TVs these days, and Samsung is currently making some of the smartest. The 50-inch 3D TV in Samsung’s 8000 plasma series includes an expansive (and expandable) online suite, plus good picture quality, an intuitive menu, effective 3D, and is smart-looking to boot.

Looks and Design
First off, the looks. This TV is nearly as slim—1.4-inches—as many LED LCD TVs, and that’s a difficult trick to pull off in a plasma. The bezel has a brushed aluminum look with a clear acrylic pedestal on a gray metal based. It’s a sharp, very contemporary look. Personally I prefer a glossy black TV such as you’ll find on Panasonic or Sony models, that’s a matter of taste. The clear pedestal is a particularly nice touch. Assembling the pedestal only took about 10 minutes. The TV is also fairly light for a plasma, 63 pounds with the stand, so I was able to get it up on a TV table easily. There’s some basic cable management built into the base, so if you set it up this way, you have an easy solution for hiding your cable clutter.

The remote is very stylish, though after a couple weeks of using it, I came away wanting something a little less fashionable and easier to use. From a purely aesthetic viewpoint, this remote is one of coolest to be found with any TV. The surface is flat, with a brushed metal surface that matches the TV. Instead of regular buttons, the button outlines are etched into the surface and mildly backlit when you press on them. The problem is that without looking, you can’t really navigate the buttons by feel, and even when looking, it’s difficult to see the writing or icons on the buttons.

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Picture Experience
I began my time with this TV, as I do most, by hooking it up to a variety of standard content sources, but this TV’s content strengths are anything but standard.

High definition TV, fed by a Verizon set-top-box, was the first thing I saw, and immediately it was jarring. Even my kids noticed the obvious problem when “Glee” was on—the normally textured, film-like image we were used to on other TVs had taken on an artificially sharp, flat, sit-com effect (I’ve seen this called the “soap opera effect”).

After a little searching around in the menu I found that a feature called Motion Judder Canceller was engaged. Once switched to off, the picture lost the artificial look. This feature is similar the 120 Hz features of LCD TVs in that it’s meant to smooth out the judder that can happen with motion. The problem is that plasmas don’t experience motion judder nearly as badly as LCD TVs, so this feature does significantly more harm than good. That said, it’s easy to turn off and forget.

Poking around in the video menu though reveals other more useful settings. This TV doesn’t come with a THX setting like you’ll find on some Panasonic and LG plasmas, but the Movie mode brings the picture in closest to what most people will need. Most of the other video settings I also left or turned off, such as Dynamic Contrast, Eco Solution (a power saving feature), Digital and MPEG Noise Filters, while other settings work best in auto or low modes, such as Film Mode and HDMI Black Level. There are also more advanced options for calibrators, including an RGB mode, White Balance Mode and Day/Night modes for custom calibrations. All-in-all, Samsung has designed an easy-to-use menu that owners and professionals will appreciate.

The picture on the Samsung plasma mostly looked great. Contrast was good, though not quite as good to my eyes as on Panasonic’s best plasmas, but better than most LCD TVs. Colors also looked good, though in instances reds seemed a bit too intense, but some more time calibrating could probably tame that. It didn’t impact the picture in a significant way. Detail and edges also looked good.

Like most plasmas, this one did have a tendency toward image retention when displaying a network logo or 4:3 bars for an extended period. This isn’t burn in, but a temporary retention that disappears within a few seconds when a stronger image, like a bright background, comes along to wash it out.

Internet TV
The online options are what make this a really rich TV, and it can get richer every day thanks to the industry’s first TV app store.  You can hook up either with a wired, Ethernet cable (which I did) or plug in a USB Wi-Fi adaptor (not included).

When you go to the Internet TV menu, you get a live TV window and a selection of the current apps. The top apps will be the main ones, such as Netflix and Pandora, but you can add you own via an app store which contains, well, I don’t know how many, but a lot. They range from free to about $5 (most are free) and include pretty much anything you can imagine—Facebook, art, games, exercise, Mood Light (a selection of scenes including a fireplace, floating lanterns, candles and a disco ball). Selecting and downloading a new app is very easy.  The few I downloaded took less than a minute each to load and install.

One I really liked that was already installed is AP News.  When launched you get a semitransparent popup window on the left that offers a selection of category options like Tech, US, Business, World, and Sports. You then select your category and are shown a selection of headlines.  The full text story shows up on the right while your original TV program continues to play. It’s a great app for multitasking news addicts.

Another interesting option on the Internet menu is SPSTV, which offers product specific support. You can search through product categories and sometimes even specific models for information videos on the products (there are lots of videos on how to use your Samsung cell phones). If you have a bunch of Samsung products, these videos really are a lot easier than going to a web site to search through endless FAQ pages.

3D
Oh, I almost forgot. This plasma supports 3D when fed a 3D Blu-ray or broadcast program. Unlike some Sony models, you don’t need to hook up a separate sensor for the 3D glasses—it’s built in. Like all Samsung TVs, this one takes active shutter glasses, though the ones Samsung supplies are considerably less bulky and ugly than some of the others I’ve used. The Samsung glasses look almost like regular sunglasses. The TV doesn’t come with any glasses. You have to get them separately in Samsung’s 3D starter pack. Alone, the cost about $150.

I watched a couple of 3D Blu-ray discs including “Avatar” and “Monsters vs. Aliens” (which comes with Samsung’s 3D starter pack.  I believe plasma TVs tend to do a better job with 3D than LCDs, and this one look very good. Sharpness loss wasn’t pronounced, colors and brightness looked good, and I only noticed minimal cross talk. The lightweight glasses made the viewing experience better, and because the sides are somewhat closed, they keep out more side light than some other 3D glasses.

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Samsung is currently leading the charge in the smart TV battle—Sony actually through down the gauntlet first—but the rest of the industry is rapidly catching up. While 3D is nice, it’s not the feature that will get the daily workout the way Internet options will, and Samsung’s more mature app marketplace and smart menu make for a compelling argument.

Specs
Samsung 50-inch Plasma PN50C8000

$2,299 MSRP

1,920 x 1,080 Native Resolution
7,000,000:1 Dynamic Contrast Ratio
600Hz Subfield Motion Refresh Rate
16:9 Aspect Ratio
SRS TruSurround HD
10 Watts x 2 Audio Channels
Wireless Connectivity
Wi-fi Ready (requires LinkStick adapter)
Samsung Apps Platform
3D Enabled
AllShare™ DLNA Networking
ConnectShare™ Movie
BD Wise
Game Mode
Anynet+™ (HDMI-CEC)
Auto Channel Search
Auto Power Off
Auto Volume Leveler
HDTV Tuner Built-in
4 HDMI Inputs
2 Component Inputs
1 Composite (AV) Input
1 PC Input (D-sub)
1 PC Audio Input (Mini Jack)
1 Ethernet Port
2 USB 2.0 Ports
1 Optical Digital Audio Output
1.4” Thin
47.7” x 29.5” x 1.4”
54 lbs.
63.5 lbs. with stand
77.2 lbs. shipping weight



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