There’s always a learning curve in life. From the first time I put my feet on the pedals of a bicycle to the first time I asked a girl on a date, I learned how to make the best of these experiences despite how complicated or awkward they seemed at the time. Admittedly, asking a girl on a date for the first time could have gone a little smoother. In my 20’s, fresh out of university, I wanted to explore the world without fear and remember the time I climbed a mountain with a friend in the Yukon off the Dempster Highway and stumbled upon a Grizzly bear and her cubs. Now I’m in my mid-thirties and truly appreciate learning new things from the experiences that life sends my way. Case in point is Samsung’s new PN64E8000 3D plasma TV ($3,999) from the top-of-the-line E-series. Evaluating TV picture quality and features is my passion and provides me with plenty of new things to learn – and is much safer than some of the other experiences since it keeps me from being mauled by Grizzly bears.
Samsung has created some wonderful products over the years, each with its own uniqueness compared to the competition. In addition to watching movies and TV shows, Samsung’s TVs allow us to visit exotic places around the world from the safety of the living room couch. The 2010 plasma C-series offered a significantly improved picture quality over previous generations. The 2011 D-series further improved picture quality, while making a rapid movement to make TVs “smarter” than ever before. The new 2012 E-series, subject to this review, continues this trend, especially in the “smart TV” department, offering features previously not available in TV sets from any manufacturers.
The exterior of the PN64E8000 appears to look identical to last year’s D-series. Its depth measures just 1.9 inches and the dark borders around the screen create the perception of a greater contrast ratio when compared to Samsung’s borderless LCD brothers. The screen surface has a tinted and semi-reflective finish to reduce reflections from the viewing environment and likely to assist with achieving deeper black levels. The connections on the back include 3 HDMI inputs, 2 USB inputs, a terrestrial/cable RF input, and composite/component inputs. The PN64E8000 has built-in Wi-Fi capability and also offers a hard-wire Ethernet option for faster and more reliable online service. A 53 page printed manual is included in the box and an expanded E-manual can be accessed directly on the TV itself.
Samsung has given owners many options for controlling this TV. In the box, there are two remotes. The first one is a traditional Samsung infrared remote with large backlit buttons – it is comfortable to hold and use. If you are buying this TV just for its image quality and won’t be using any of its “smart” features, this remote is for you. But those who want to venture beyond the traditional world of television, will quickly turn their attention to the new Smart Touch Controller which offers far more functionality – once you learn how to use it of course. Since this remote communicates with the TV via Bluetooth, you can control it pretty much anywhere in the room without pointing it directly at the TV. The Smart Touch Controller does have the essential TV buttons for power, channel, volume up/down, and some new keys for menu navigation, voice control and functions. Functions are controlled by sliding your finger around and light presses of the touch pad on this remote. Since this is a universal controller it will allow you to control other components such as Blu-ray players, satellite boxes, etc. You will however need to use the external IR blaster (included) to allow this Bluetooth remote to send IR commands to other components. Would you prefer to use your Android or Apple device to control the TV? Samsung has got you covered here as well – you can download control apps for just about any Android and Apple product.
Oh, and we’re not done yet. I never thought I’d be writing about “Smart Interactions”, Samsung’s new buzz term for voice and gesture controls. That’s right – with the help from a built-in camera the TV can recognize hand and arm movements to change volume and channels as well as allow menu navigation. For this to work, the TV must be mounted at a height where the camera can see you and there must be some light in the room. Is this the future of TVs or what? The camera also doubles for Skype video calling. A built-in microphone delivers your voice to those on the other side of a Skype call, and like the camera, it doubles as a voice controller for the TV. If you are within 14 feet of the TV, it will respond to your commands after saying “Hi TV”. At this point, the volume of the TV drops and the TV listens for another voice command. A cool feature indeed! This reminded me of the scene in Back to the Future II when Marty McFly walks into his living room and activates his wall mounted TV with voice commands. Since the movie takes place in 2015, it looks like the film writers were dead-on with this technological innovation. I’m still waiting for the hoverboard however. In practice I found the gesture and voice control to work well for the basic TV functions but I did reach for the “simple” remote to do essential first time set-up items like configuring my wireless network. If you don’t want Smart Interactions to interfere with your daily business or to avoid any embarrassing moments, you have the option to disable both features. When looking at all the control options, Samsung has clearly left the power in your hands – this time not literally!
Now that I learned how to control the TV, I began exploring its features. Samsung’s Smart Hub gives you the feeling that the TV and the PC have converged in the same device. When connected to the home network, the web and media entertainment can be enjoyed on a truly large screen rather than the dinky screen of a desktop or laptop computer. Many activities previously available only on computers are now possible right on the TV: an advanced movie, photo, and music experience; surfing the Internet on a full web browser; using applications such as Facebook and Twitter; and being able to watch Video on Demand. There are over 200 free and paid apps available for download from the app store (just like on your smartphone). Similar to the sharing capability of Apple products, Samsung’s Allshare technology allows content sharing with compatible Galaxy Tablets and mobile phones. The Smart Hub is navigated by the Smart Touch Controller and becomes fairly easy to operate once you get the hang of it.
The Smart Hub has received a facelift since I last looked at it when reviewing the 2011 Samsung TVs. I immediately started looking at the free fitness apps and downloaded an app that has a nice Australian-accented fitness instructor telling me how I’m gonna do a great job. Rather than watching the routine full screen, I chose to watch myself in a virtual mirror as I’m doing the exercises. Since the built-in camera is located at the top of the TV, if you plan on wall mounting it and intend to use the camera, the TV must be at a height that is suitable for Skype calling and other interactive activities or else all you might see is your head and the top of the room. If you use a wall-mount, make sure that it pivots.
But what if you don’t care about any of the above features? Regular CANADA HiFi readers should recall that previous generations of the Samsung plasmas have been praised for excellent image quality in these pages. Those looking for a top notch picture quality will also want to turn their attention to the PN64E8000 since it offers the very best picture of any Samsung TV.
The PN64E8000 has several picture presets all of which can be customized on a per input basis. With the exception of the Dynamic picture mode, all other modes can be calibrated in the picture settings menus. The graphical design of the menu gives an on-screen explanation of how each image adjustment affects the picture, rather than needing to refer to the manual.
The picture presets include Dynamic, Standard, Relax and Movie. The manual’s explanation of these presets is useless. They assume you will never have this TV adjusted correctly to your video equipment and room environment, so provided are a few options that you can match “closest to” as the names somewhat suggest. The amount of control Samsung gives over image parameters is mind boggling for the novice and without an understanding of the video system and capable measuring instruments, they will be left untouched. Samsung has rightly buried all of the advanced controls in the “advanced” and “picture options” sub-menus. Video calibrators may find it a bit cumbersome to navigate so deep in a menu structure for single adjustments (an advanced menu hot key on a remote would be a great addition). For those of you interested in having this reference video display calibrated, Samsung offers both 2-point and 10-point systems for precision gray scale and gamma adjustments, as well as a Colour Management System (CMS). With correct positioning of the controls, there is enough range for the picture to achieve a bright picture without clipping, the brightest white signals while also delivering deep black levels without sacrificing black detail.
Sitting at the top of Samsung’s TV line-up, the PN64E8000 is an active 3D TV and will also convert 2D content to 3D content. The 3D picture controls are kept almost 100 percent separate from the 2D modes, so the image can be specifically calibrated with standard image controls and the 2-point grayscale system. The 10-point control is locked out and the CMS adjustment borrows the values from the 2D mode. Despite the inflexibility of the 10-point control and CMS with 3D, I didn’t find I needed that extra control in 3D as I needed it in 2D. The television comes with two pairs of active, lighter weight, third generation 3D glasses which are much more comfortable than any other pair I have previously used.
Using my Accupel DVG-5000 video generator, both 1080i/p and 720p signals were displayed with no overscan and looked equally sharp. 480i/p signals did have a bit of overscan applied and did not have a screen fit option or an ability to adjust height and width separately. This means if you play a DVD with 480i/p resolution, a little bit of top-bottom-side information will be lost. If using a Blu-ray player set to either high def resolutions this won’t be an issue.
Black level measured 0.0062 fL with a 0% PLUGE pattern because if the TV is fed 0% only, the TV dims the panel to black like LCD sets do (measuring this doesn’t represent the TV’s real black level with picture information and will give a false contrast ratio measurement). While not the blackest panel available, it is one of the higher performers. The PN64D8000 is not short on light output for a screen this size and can compete with a wide variety of room lighting. Without clipping the signal, this TV can easily achieve a reference light level of 45 fL. I’ll accept these measurements as a reference any day!
Greyscale was adjusted using both the 2-point and 10-point RGB controls with the latter also used as a functional gamma control. Despite all user presets being far out from the D65 white point standard, I found this TV exceptionally easy to work with during the video calibration procedure, delivering results on the targets I was after. After calibration, the TV measured exceptionally accurate at 10 drive levels, with a dE of 3 or lower. The on/off contrast ratio measured by alternating the 100 % white window and the 0 % PLUGE measured at 7,250:1. More meaningful is the 100 % ANSI checkerboard contrast ratio which simulates real image content; it measured an average of 1,100:1 from all edges to the centre, which is excellent for a plasma. All measurements were taken with my reference Konica-Minolta CS-1000A spectroradiometer. For more extensive calibration results, please visit the CANADA HiFi Forum at novo.press/forum.
Moving from test patterns to real video, I first watched the newly released Wrath of the Titans (2D) Blu-ray, starring Sam Worthington and Liam Neeson. A semi-sequel to the terrible remake of Clash of the Titans, this movie packs both energetic and visual punch in its 90 minute runtime. The image displayed on the Samsung looked stunning with all of its detail and resolution. In this dry world with monsters and mayhem, the violent bursts of flames and kicking up of dust looked convincingly real during Perseus’ battles. There is lots of action on the screen and I didn’t feel that I missed a beat. The Samsung panel is extremely fast in relaying fast action scenes to the viewer which is great for action films and gamers. The high brightness of this TV, without the sacrifice of the deepest blacks, gives an excellent sense of depth and shape to images on the screen. As Chronos goes on a rampage at the film’s climax, his fiery body and unchallenged power threatened to burn up the very room I was viewing the movie in.
I also viewed Jackie Chan’s dramatic role in 1911: Fall of the Last Empire, a film about the fall of the Qing Dynasty by the brave revolutionaries who risked and lost their lives. I was a little disappointed with the length of the movie – feeling that too many events were crammed into too short of a time – but I wasn’t disappointed with how the Samsung delivered this historical Chinese story. The warmth in hues, rendering of colours and excellent contrast delivered in every scene resulted in a visually spectacular treat. I felt the same, if not better, about War Horse. Absolutely striking to look at in every possible way, Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography was replicated in the strictest fashion. I highly recommend revisiting some of your Blu-ray collection on this television.
Satisfied with the TV’s 2D performance, I moved on to some 3D content. The 3D glasses included with this TV operate with Bluetooth technology and their weight is further reduced from last year. I watched my favourite clips from the IMAX 3D discs I own (Under the Sea, Hubble) and a few other films I had on hand (The Polar Express, Final Destination 5). The glasses are a cozy fit and delivered native 3D content with ease. All 3D glasses dim the picture and Samsung makes sure enough light gets through from the panel. After calibrating the 3D mode, I found the image to look spectacular. It wasn’t noisy. It was punchy. It had enormous depth and detail, and colours looked fantastic. It looked just as if I were watching a 2D movie without the glasses. The annoying crosstalk (one eye’s image interfering with the other) doesn’t appear to be an issue here either because I didn’t notice it throughout my viewing. Samsung’s 2D to 3D conversion also performs well for non-3D content.
To see the full resolution of 2D video and to get the immersive experience of 3D, I recommend a viewing distance of 7 to 9 feet for this TV. Further distances are certainly possible, but like any TV, the smallest details of 1080p will become less noticeable.
The Samsung PN64E8000 seems to deliver the same image quality as the previous generation 8000 series, with just a bit more light output. Contrast, colour, grayscale, and resolution have solid delivery. The new Smart Touch Controller and voice and gesture commands take some getting used to but after practice they all become easy to master. The improvements made in the Smart Hub propel this TV to the front of the pack, if social media and web browsing is something you would like to do on your TV. This TV packs excellent value for a flagship model with modern and informative menus, extensive image quality controls, and innovative use. I’m highly impressed!
Mike Osadciw is a THX/ISF Professional Video Calibrator/Instructor with The Highest Fidelity
Samsung PN64E8000 3D Plasma TV
Price: $3,999 CAD