Samsung may be eating everyone else’s lunch when it comes to LED/LCD TVs, but that doesn’t mean the company has backed away from the basics, and by that I mean plasma. With few exception, plasma TVs produce better pictures than any other available flat panel TV technology (OLED TVs of substantial size haven’t hit the market yet). That said, this Samsung 8000 series plasma is anything but basic. It includes every advanced feature the company could throw at it—some you’ll probably love, and some you may throw back.
We’ve seen so many acrylic accents, floating bezels and other attempts to make TVs look like more than just big chalkboards. The Samsung PN51E8000 sports a conservative black bezel with a clear acrylic accent, which looks wide compared to the pencil-thin bezels of LED TVs. The TV is 1.8 inches at its thickest point and weighs 52 pounds with the stand. The X-shaped stand allows the TV to be swiveled left and right. It actually feels a little wobbly on the stand, so I recommend hanging it on a wall or attaching to table mount.
On the back you get three HDMI ports, one with an audio return channel (HDMI 2), so make sure this is the one you connect to your receiver if you want to use the streaming content features. If your receiver doesn’t support ARC, then you can get the TV’s audio out via the optical port. The third HDMI port supports Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) which allows you to connect a compatible (i.e. Samsung) smart phone or tablet to your TV to display the mobile device’s screen on the TV.
In addition to the digital ports, you get component and composite for connecting older gear like a Wii.
Something else you’ll notice on the back is a slot for an Evolution Kit. This is a neat concept Samsung came up with to give you a little peace of mind regarding obsolescence. If you’re worried about new features coming out on next year’s TV, you can buy the Evolution Kit which will make this TV do whatever new tricks next year’s TV can do.
On the front top of the TV you’ll see something that looks like a PC web camera mounted in the bezel. That’s exactly what it is. This camera allows the TV to be controlled by hand gestures, do face recognition and make video calls. More on those things later.
Like most of Samsung’s new TVs, this one does 3D and comes with two sets of very slim and light active shutter glasses.
Samsung is pushing the entire TV industry forward on innovation lately, but this TV is among the most innovative due to how it integrates new control methods. We’ve written before about how the traditional remote control may be going away over the next few years. You can control this TV with a standard remote, a Smart Touch remote, a Bluetooth keyboard or by waving your hands and shouting (well, not shouting exactly). There’s also an app, of course.
For this review I’ll skip over the standard remote—it’s a remote, you know how those work—and start with the Smart Touch control. This is a squat little Bluetooth remote with only a few buttons (power, volume, channel and Smart Hub). Most of the remote’s face is taken up with a touchpad area. It’s also got a microphone for using the voice control feature, but the TV has its own mic for voice control. The touchpad on the remote makes some onscreen navigation of the Smart Hub features (and web browsing) a little easier, but it wasn’t always very responsive. I found myself reaching for the regular remote frequently.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.