At the end of March, Samsung became the very first manufacturer to begin shipping 3D TVs. First to appear in stores were the company’s LED and LCD series. We got our hands on the Samsung UN55C7000 55-inch 3D LED TV (an LCD TV which uses an LED backlight) and evaluated it for the June/July 2010 issue of CANADA HiFi. While the 3D picture looked promising on this TV, it did have some obvious issues with image crosstalk, like all other 3D LCD TVs we’ve seen so far. But early demos of 3D plasma TVs showed that plasma technology, thanks to its incredibly fast response rate, is capable of producing a much higher quality 3D picture, with very little crosstalk. So how does 3D look on a plasma TV? Then, at the beginning of June, Samsung released two series of 3D plasma TVs – the C7000 and C8000 series – and as you might imagine we just had to get our hands on one of these.
In this review, I take a look at the Samsung PN50C8000 50-inch 3D Plasma TV ($2699), from the company’s flagship C8000 series. Two larger models, the 58-inch PN58C8000 ($3599) and the 63-inch PN63C8000 ($4399) are also available in this series. To test this TV’s 3D capabilities Samsung also sent us its BD-C6900 3D Blu-ray player ($399), a Monsters vs. Aliens 3D Blu-ray demo disc and two pairs of 3D glasses. For a review of the BD-C6900 player please check out the reviews section or the digital edition of the June/July 2010 issue at novo.press/.
In the attempt to produce the most impressive 3D picture Samsung advanced its plasma TV technology in a number of areas. Thanks to these advancements Samsung also upped the ante for the 2D picture quality. The most notable improvements are the 3D HyperReal Engine, which is responsible for the colour reproduction and processing of 2D and 3D images, and the Clear Image Panel, which eliminates the production of dual images and produces a consistent image from any angle by using a film filter instead of glass. During 3D playback, all Samsung 3D TVs deliver a full 1080p image to each eye. In addition to native 3D content playback, the PN50C8000 is capable of up-converting standard 2D content to 3D. Samsung’s Real Black Filter helps minimize the amount of external light that is reflected on the screen, thereby improving image contrast when watching the TV in a bright room. Topping off the technology list is the 600Hz Subfield Motion capable of flashing a single image up to 600 times per second, resulting in smoother images regardless of how fast they are moving. Samsung does not disclose many technical specifications other than the TV’s 1920 by 1080 resolution, 24 fps capability and 18-bit colour depth. Contrast ratio is described as “Mega Dynamic Contrast Ratio”.
As we’ve come to expect from modern TVs, the C8000 series offers a number of enhanced features when connected to a home network via a wired or wireless connection (with a Samsung wireless LAN adapter sold separately). These include Internet@ TV, which allows access to downloadable widgets from a growing number of categories, as well as AllShare which allows content such as movies, photos and music from DLNA devices to be shared on the TV.
The PN50C8000’s suite of inputs includes 4 HDMI (ver. 1.4), 1 component video, 1 composite video, 1 antenna cable jack and 1 VGA. Two USB ports allow for USB flash drives or hard drives to plug in and will enable you to enjoy content stored on them such as movies, photos and music through the TV.
Visually, the PN50C8000 is a gorgeous TV thanks to its titanium bezel which is surrounded by a thin clear frame. It is also ultra-slim, measuring just 35.9 mm deep. The swivel stand allows the TV to rotate 20 degrees left or right.
The included remote is the same as supplied with the UN55C7000 (reviewed in our June/July 2010 issue). Its titanium/chrome finish makes it very attractive and gives it a solid feel. The remote does not have any typical buttons – instead it offers an almost completely flat face, with the exception of slightly protruding markings on volume and channel buttons, as well as dividing lines between buttons. The buttons are well organized and responsive, although the essential volume and channel buttons are not easy to find by touch. The inclusion of a full backlight is very helpful when watching TV in a darkened room.
The PN50C8000 offers six preset picture modes which include Dynamic, Standard, Relax, Movie, CAL-NIGHT and CAL-DAY. Unfortunately none of these modes produces a very accurate picture so to get the most out of this TV, you should take the time to calibrate it.
I began by watching 3D content on the PN50C8000, which of course requires the use of 3D glasses. Samsung’s 3D active shutter LCD glasses are light weight and actually quite comfortable. They have a 3.7 volt lithium ion battery built-in which is said to provide about 50 hours of use, and takes about 2 hours to charge. To charge, they must be connected to the USB port of the TV or the Blu-ray player. The glasses are large enough that they will fit over most prescription glasses.
To evaluate the 3D performance I used the Monsters vs. Aliens Blu-ray 3D demo disc (provided by Samsung) and Panasonic’s Blu-ray 3D demonstration disc. The Panasonic disc contains a trailer for the computer animated movie Astro Boy 3D and various 3D clips of people, animals and nature scenes. Unlike Samsung’s UN55C7000 LCD TV which offers only one picture mode with limited picture controls when watching 3D content, the PN50C8000 offers two – Standard and Movie – and allows complete picture adjustment of each. This was a welcome improvement.
I started with the trailer for Astro Boy 3D which looked very impressive. I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the 3D picture that I was seeing. There were numerous improvements in the quality of this 3D picture, compared to the Samsung LCD TV reviewed in our previous issue. First, I was very glad to discover that image crosstalk (ghost outlines around characters and objects) which was very obvious on the UN55C7000, as it is on all LCD based 3D TVs that I’ve seen so far, was substantially minimized on this plasma TV. An untrained eye may not notice crosstalk altogether. Second, the colours were much more accurate and natural on this TV – this of course wasn’t a surprise but rather an expected difference between the LCD picture and the plasma picture. All of these improvements combined, resulted in a truly fantastic 3D viewing experience. Believe it or not, the quality of this 3D picture was better than that of Toy Story 3 which I saw in a 3D IMAX theatre just a couple of days ago – the picture at the theatre had lots of very obvious image crosstalk.
In addition to its native 3D playback, the PN50C8000 also offers a 2D to 3D conversion feature. I first experienced this feature with the UN55C7000 and was surprisingly impressed. The TV offers a Depth control (ranging from 0 to 10) for this 2D to 3D conversion feature. I found a setting of 5 to produce most desirable results. When watching The Killers: Live From the Royal Albert Hall on Blu-ray, the lead singer was clearly placed directly in front of the viewer and the drummer just behind him. At the same time, other parts of the stage were noticeably recessed into the background. When the camera focused on the audience the picture looked a little artificial – the part of the crowd that was jumping appeared to be in a single layer in the distance, while the rest of the crowd was in a separate, more distant single layer. The processing wasn’t able to place the faces of the crowd with gradual 3D depth. Nevertheless, the effect was surprisingly pleasant especially considering that this 2D to 3D conversion was done “on the fly” and that this is Samsung’s first generation engine.
So the PN50C8000 had impressed me with its 3D picture performance but what about its 2D performance? After all, even if 3D catches on, most content will continue to come out in 2D. As mentioned above, none of the PN50C8000’s preset picture modes offer a very accurate picture. Out of the box, the picture has a noticeable red push. Reds appeared oversaturated and flesh tones looked sun burnt. The good news is that the PN50C8000 has extensive user accessible picture controls that can be used to dial in a much more accurate picture. While calibrating the picture, I also turned off the Motion Judder Canceller, and I recommend that every owner does so as well. This feature, now included in most TVs, attempts to solve the picture judder in fast moving scenes but instead gives the picture a very unnatural motion.
After a basic calibration with the Spears & Munsil disc, skin tones in Yes Man on Blu-ray and various channels from my digital box looked considerably more realistic. All colours now appeared properly saturated and took on natural tones. In outdoor scenes, the grass looked realistically green and the sky had an appropriate hue of blue. The fine-tuned picture settings also benefited from a very good balance between black level and contrast. While watching Star Trek on Blu-ray, the black bars on the top and bottom of the screen reached a very respectable level of black. The blacks were among the best I’ve seen lately from a plasma TV, without any black enhancement options turned on. For those who wish to achieve even deeper black, the PN50C8000 offers adjustable Black Tone and Dynamic Contrast, both which work reasonably well. Shadow detail on the PN50C8000 was excellent. Fine details in dark parts of various starship hulls and other dark scenes were clearly visible.
Image retention on the PN50C8000 isn’t the greatest, compared to other plasma TVs I’ve watched. After a few minutes of watching a channel like CP24, which displays a static grid displayed on the screen, the ghost lines of the grid were visible for another few minutes after changing the channel. However, unless you watch mostly news channels or are a hardcore gamer, this should not affect an average users viewing experience.
I watched the PN50C8000 under both dark and bright conditions. As expected, the best performance was achieved in a darkened room but this TV also performed very well even in a room with lots of sunlight. Its picture was more than bright enough for a bright room and its screen very effectively reduced reflections.
The PN50C8000 performed an average job of de-interlacing 1080i content (converting from 1080i to 1080p), passing the commonly used frame sequences found on various discs. This means that you can trust the PN50C8000 to do a respectable job with 1080i channels from a digital or satellite box. 720p and 1080i content from my digital box showed good detail and looked crisp on the 50-inch screen. As expected from being blown up to a screen of this size, standard 480i/p channels had noticeably less detail and an overall softer look, but were still completely enjoyable.
The Samsung PN50C8000 3D plasma TV produces an excellent 3D picture and one of the better 2D pictures available today. At $2699, it is much more affordable and offers significantly better performance than any 50-inch 3D LED-backlit LCD TV that I’ve seen so far from any manufacturer. Consider its 2D to 3D conversion a bonus. Samsung has done an amazing job with its first generation 3D technology!
Samsung PN50C8000 50-inch 3D Plasma TV