Samsung PN50B860 Plasma HDTV Page 3
Problems? Yes, a couple. Even after more than a hundred hours of use, the Samsung appeared to be more prone than usual (for a plasma) to temporary image retention. But you should be able to render this moot if you use the included features to minimize this problem. You should also exercise a reasonable—not paranoid—degree of caution in avoiding extended viewing of stationary images.
The set also emits an inescapable mechanical buzz, which varies in level from insignificant to obvious, depending on the average brightness of the image. In my experience, the program material audio nearly always masked it, but your annoyance factor with this may well vary from mine.
The set’s onboard sound is nasal, bass shy, and (without the Auto Volume feature turned on) quite limited in maximum volume. But it shares such problems with most flat panel displays. If you’re using an external sound system, this will be only a minor issue—or none at all.
But the Samsung PN50B860 should delight you if your primary concern is overall picture quality. Even before calibration, its color was impressive. The Photo Research meter we use to calibrate video displays wasn’t available to me during the first two weeks or so of the Samsung’s residence here. But in the Warm2 Color Tone setting, I had no complaints about its color during that stretch, during which I used the set for at least 50 hours of day-to-day viewing.
After calibration, the color was even better. Even on HD cable, fleshtones were believably true, greens were good (with just an occasional trace of the green glow common to digital displays), and reds were constrained only by the natural limitations of the Rec. 709 color standard (slightly orangey). Disc sources were even better. From the natural colors and superb cinematography of Charlotte Gray (still one of the very best disc transfers, even though it remains available only on standard-definition DVD) to the stunning color palette on Kung Fu Panda on Blu-ray, I had no complaints about the Samsung’s color.
The Samsung’s measured resolution left little to be desired, and its subjective resolution challenged the best sources I could throw at it. It resolved the finest details without looking artificially enhanced. Any set that clearly shows the nearly invisible thread by which the mutant spider descends in Spider-Man (Blu-ray), ready to infect Peter Parker with a major case of arachnophilia, gets my vote.
Black level and shadow detail are the twin obstacles that unhinge many an otherwise fine HDTV. And at either a subjective or objective level, the Samsung plasma falls short of the state of the art (see HT Labs Measures). There is an odd twist that sometimes (but not always) drives the set’s black level to nearly off in immediate transitions from a bright scene to black. Still, the black level is most often a lighter gray than I’ve seen on many recent sets—even LCDs. These sets include Samsung’s own, and admittedly much more expensive, LED-backlit UN55B7000.
But that doesn’t mean the Samsung’s blacks and shadow detail are unconvincing. True, the most difficult scenes—such as the belowdecks sequence at the beginning of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Blu-ray), or the scenes on the deck of the Achilles in chapter 3 of Stargate: Continuum (Blu-ray)—weren’t particularly impressive. On the other hand, most dark scenes, such as the final confrontation between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin in Spider-Man (Blu-ray) were reasonably effective. And the Samsung’s blacks never descended into the sort of muddy, bad LCD grunge that pulls you out of a movie.
These black level and shadow detail limitations were more obvious in a fully darkened environment than in a dimly lit room. In modest room lighting, the Samsung retained its image quality better than many HDTVs we’ve tested.
If, like me, you watch movies in the dark and are a nut for the deepest, darkest blacks you can get from scenes with little or no inherent contrast (even if such scenes are relatively rare in most films), this might not be your ideal HDTV. But if you’re looking for an appealing combination of high resolution, accurate color, tempting price, outstanding off-axis and motion performance, useful features, and respectable rather than jaw-dropping blacks and shadow detail—all in a slim, attractive package—this might just be the set for you.