A Review, Samsung PN50B860 50" Plasma TV

 

 

Introduction

I've often asked if I use my HDTV to view images and what kind of TV I use.  I'm going to limit this review to answering these questions and the 'why' involved with my decisions.  I'll also go over some techniques/knowledge you might find useful if you're planning your own purchase.

I consider many factors, but because these aren't actual imaging monitors I'm more concerned with pricing than I normally would be.  My priorities are tilted to favor features, image quality, and pricing.

 

 

Plasma, LCD, LED, 3D, What Type To Get?

As consumers we're faced with tons of choices and with televisions an annual product cycle.  In the spring time they roll out the new sets telling us that last years sets are obsolete and somehow magically not the great technology they were the year before.  Understand that most of this is marketing rather than substance.

I'm going to simply run down a list of the advantages and disadvantages of each type as they apply to my personal criteria.

 

Samsung 3d 2010 models

 

 

3D

3D sets are all the rage of the newest models being released this month in Asia.  There aren't many movies out yet in 3D but I'd imagine there will be more titles available with time.  The issue for me is I don't want to wear glasses to view a movie and all of these sets come with only one pair of 3D glasses with additional pairs for other family members and guests costing upwards of $300 USD's or more.  Even if I had 3D I doubt I'd use it much.  3D viewing is fatiguing, requires the wearing of glasses, and if the movie theater experience is any judge I'm just not very interested.  I wouldn't be too concerned with this feature, I could easily do without 3D.

 

 

LED LCD

All flat panel televisions are 'backlit' with some type of lighting.  Usually these come in the form of FFL's (thin flourescent tubes) located behind the display that light the pixels from the rear.  The newest technology for back lighting is the Light Emitting Diode, or LED.

LED's have several advantages and no serious disadvantage other than what I call "new technology pricing."  They are much more efficient than FFL's, produce less heat, and light more evenly.  Without a doubt these are the future of flat panel design.  Unfortunately the technology is still very new (on the market) which makes it only available in the most expensive feature laden sets and subsequently very expensive.

I like LED technology but I can wait until it's mainstream both in availability and pricing.

 

 

LCD

Liquid Crystal Displays, or LCD's have been around a long time now.  They are yesterdays LED's.   We were told (accurately) that soon LCD's would replace plasma technology and require less power to run and (inaccurately) would provide better image quality.  LCD's use FFL's for backlighting.  LCD's are everywhere at all price points.  If you're buying a new television today you'll probably be buying an LCD whether you know it or not.

 

 

Plasma

Ten years ago plasma technology was the brand new technology and priced accordingly.  For most, they provided the first very flat and very bright screens that seemed to jump out at you.  There were other technologies competing (DLP, projection, CRT's) but they're all history now.  Plasma persevered.

Plasma sets use plasma filled capsules vs. the liquid crystals of LCD's and are backlit with FFL's just like today's LCD's.  However, because of their inherent characteristics plasma's are brighter and more lifelike than their LCD counterparts though newer LCD technology has closed 'most' of this gap.  Plasma's use more energy than LCD's by about 10% and more than LED sets by about 30-35%.

Here's where I pay attention.  The best quality plasma sets have the best image quality (of any type) and because plasma is at the end of its produce lifecycle plasma's are also priced very low.  You can get 720p plasma's for well under 25,000 baht inside Thailand.  The best sets retailed during this last year for as much as 129,000 baht.  Clearly for an HDTV purchase that will be used part time for image presentation plasma holds several advantages.

 

 

My Choice

It's spring time and the major manufacturers are preparing to roll out the latest high-tech models throughout Thailand.  This (and the recent political protests closing shopping centers and forcing down sales) means whatever inventory remaining on the shelves is subject to heavy discounting and other promotions.  However, I was only interested in one particular set from the outgoing models.  The Samsung PN50B860 50" Plasma 1080p.   From my research and hands-on observation I knew I would find this set acceptable for the right price.  So I went shopping.

 

Over the course of several days I talked to many salespeople, and in Thailand this means I kept shopping until I found a salesman not only who knew the product, but was willing to work with me and who had the set I was after.  I found him at the Mall Bangkapi in "The Mall Store."

He only had a floor model left and I'd already verified there were no NIB (new in box) sets available anywhere.  This model had been on the floor for four months at 12 hours a day.  I figure roughly 5% of it's life has been used.  Otherwise it was perfect, had all the original accessories, and the original packing.  We sat down to dicker.

This previously 129,000 set (last spring) was most recently 89,000.  However, this floor model with all the current promotions including 7% off for using the right visa card came to 52,00 delivered!  That's 60% of it's original price off, for 5% of it's lifespan used.  Acceptable!  We made our deal, I paid, and delivery was made the next day.

 

 

Samsung PN50B860 1080p 50" Plasma HDTV

 

A Review, Samsung PN50B860 50" Plasma TV

 

I'll start by saying this set so far performs brilliantly and I'm very impressed.  It's a night and day difference over my old 50" 1080p DLP Samsung, though that 12 year old technology has served me well.

This set is just over 1 inch 'thin' and its looks are appealing.  It sets on a brushed aluminum stand with a pivot which allows it to easily be swiveled left or right.

 

A Review, Samsung PN50B860 50" Plasma TV

 

Swiveled to the side it retains it's clean lines and (I think) will remain acceptably chic for most interior designs.

 

Swiveled to the side it retains it's clean lines and (I think) will remain acceptably chic for most interior designs.

 

The back panel is cleverly laid out allowing 4 HDMI inputs, 2 component, and 1 composite.  It also has a computer DVI and VGA D9 plug, a LAN ethernet connector, and S-video.  The panel is laid out in such a way that once the cables are in place the set can still swivel and keep the cables out of sight.

 

Rear Panel View of connectors

 

The bezel is a bit wide for my taste but attractive enough.

 

The bezel is a bit wide for my taste but attractive enough.

 

There are a range of features I'll 'briefly' describe.  The set is "DLNA" aware, which means with the assistance of the provided DLNA software your PC can be detected and content (music/movies) streamed over your home LAN.  A wireless adapter is available.  It also displays a limited set of Yahoo widgets such as weather and major news and can access YouTube, Flickr, and some others.  It can also access Samsungs content library which while interesting is limited.  I found the promise of DLNA alluring.

 

There are a range of features I'll 'briefly' describe.  The set is "DLNA" aware, which means with the assistance of the provided DLNA software your PC can be detected and content (music/movies) streamed over your home LAN.  A wireless adapter is available.  It also displays a limited set of Yahoo widgets such as weather and major news and can access YouTube, Flickr, and some others.  It can also access Samsungs content library which while interesting is limited.  I found the promise of DLNA alluring.

 

The anti-reflective coatings are the best I've ever seen.  My set sits in front of a large wall of glass with the sun shining right on the set, yet reflections are very minimized and the picture is very easy to see.  Plasma's allow the greatest viewing angle of any set out there so your guests seated to the side of the screen will see it as well as you.

 

The anti-reflective coatings are the best I've ever seen.  My set sits in front of a large wall of glass with the sun shining right on the set, yet reflections are very minimized and the picture is very easy to see.  Plasma's allow the greatest viewing angle of any set out there so your guests seated to the side of the screen will see it as well as you.

 

18 bit processing probably sounds like gobblytechnook to most of you, but I highly suspect it's what allows this set to display my images with such precision.  I compared some 8, 12, and 14 bit sets and it's easy to see the difference.

 

18 bit processing probably sounds like gobblytechnook to most of you, but I highly suspect it's what allows this set to display my images with such precision.  I compared some 8, 12, and 14 bit sets and it's easy to see the difference.

 

Here you can see some of the Yahoo widgets available.  Keep in mind that sets built for the non-Thai market seem to support a lot more widgets.  If the widgets aren't supported in the sets firmware you can't use them, which effectively negates its real usefulness to this user.

 

Here you can see some of the Yahoo widgets available.  Keep in mind that sets built for the non-Thai market seem to support a lot more widgets.  If the widgets aren't supported in the sets firmware you can't use them, which effectively negates its real usefulness to this user.

 

Okay, so it's a full featured set that has more bells and whistles than the competition and I got a great deal.  But what can this set really do for me?

 

 

Color Profiling and Viewing Images

For those of you who haven't yet discovered the magic of a properly color profiled computer imaging monitor you probably won't be inclined to color profile your HDTV, but let me tell you that color profiling is the single most important adjustment you can make to your new set.

A proper analogy for color profiling would liken it to giving a car a tune-up.  Depending on where the cars dwell and timing and carburator settings were to begin with, a tune-up can make the difference between barely starting and running like a top.  Televisions have just as much range of adjustment as a car, just because it currently 'appears' to be running correctly doesn't mean it is.  Profile your television and computer monitor to discover the hidden power and efficiency you've already paid for but haven't been getting.   Did you know there are "color technicians" whose full time job is to color profile high-end home theater systems?  Their testing gear costs thousands of dollars, but you can do 95% as well for under $100. 

How you color profile your HDTV depends on what you're connecting to that input.  I will list each experience by the input.

 

 

Computer Workstation via HDMI Input

 

And I do that by using X-rite's Eye One Display 2 device.

 

I connect my workstation to the Samsung HDTV via a 10 meter long HDMI cable so my computer is providing the video signal.  By putting the HDTV "normal" color mode I can now use my workstation to build a color profile the same way I do for a computer monitor.  And I do that by using X-rite's Eye One Display 2 device.

If you know how to built a color profile for your regular computer monitor than you can do exactly the same with your HDTV connected to your workstation via HDMI or any other means of connection.  However, you must have a video card that supports the additional LUT.

Properly profiled my images appear 'perfectly' on the Samsung 50" Plasma panel with a visual impact only 50 inches of monitor can provide.  There is not a single iota of difference in color and/or brightness between my computer monitor and the plasma when running this profile.  The images are stunning!

 

 

Western Digital TV Live via HDMI

 

Western Digital TV Live via HDMI

 

I'll be reviewing this gem of a media server in the following weeks, but for now know that it works really well as advertised.  It detected any content on my network storage or any PC's on my home network and plays them on the Samsung Plasma.  The standard color settings work very well but I wanted them better.

 

Color Test Image

 

I brought up a standard color test image on the screen and carefully adjusted the controls on the Plasma to match what I knew from experience it should be.  This isn't close enough to make images like on an imaging workstation, but it works great for viewing movies.  I didn't expect to notice much difference but there was a significant improvement.

 

 

DVD Blue-Ray via HDMI

 

There are some inexpensive 'test' DVD's available where you an adjust by eye, but if I'm going to spend all the money for a 50" Plasma, a Blue-ray player, and a Blue-ray movie, then I want it to be right.  For this I've been using Datacolor's Spyder3tv device which effectively operates under the same principals as when profiling a computer monitor.  The actual workflow is a bit different and takes longer, but the results are worth it!

 

This is where it gets tricky.  You just can't throw up a test image on a DVD player.  There are some inexpensive 'test' DVD's available where you an adjust by eye, but if I'm going to spend all the money for a 50" Plasma, a Blue-ray player, and a Blue-ray movie, then I want it to be right.  For this I've been using Datacolor's Spyder3tv device which effectively operates under the same principals as when profiling a computer monitor.  The actual workflow is a bit different and takes longer, but the results are worth it!

 

The difference in this case is shocking!  I've always known a properly profiled computer monitor makes a world of difference when viewing images, so it only makes sense it could/would on a TV as well.. and it does.

 

The difference in this case is shocking!  I've always known a properly profiled computer monitor makes a world of difference when viewing images, so it only makes sense it could/would on a TV as well.. and it does. 

 

 

Conclusion

Folks, it's 2010 and we live in great times for new technology and this plasma demonstrates this with aplomb.  This is not your grandfathers 12" Emerson!  This is a stunning visual experience whether you're viewing your favorite images or the newest movie.

I'm really happy I have one of the last great plasma sets.  I compare them to muscle cars in that they use more power and the environmentalists don't care for them, but it's an experience you'll only get with a large displacement V8 or a top quality plasma.

And no.. you cannot use a HDTV of any type as a substitute for a computer monitor.  The resolution of an HDTV 1080p is 1920x1080, and spread across 50 inches or more this makes for very large pixels that would strain your eyes.  But from across the room for viewing an image they're wonderful!

As I write this review, 2 days before it goes live, I've verified there are several of these sets out there (Seacon Square for one) at similar discounts.

I'll be enjoying my set for many years.