Samsung D550 (PS51D550) FULL HD 3D Plasma Television Review
Looking for a big, budget 3D TV? Maybe the Samsung PS51D550 could be the answer...
IntroductionThe PS51D550 sits low down in Samsung’s plasma range and, indeed, represents their entry-level Full HD 3D product. The 550’s relatively humble status shouldn’t put anybody who has read our reviews of the more budget orientated Samsung’s off, however, as the Korean manufacturer regularly produces great value televisions, performing above their station. It may be lacking Samsung’s, rather excellent, internet offerings but that won’t cause concern for some; and the fact that it’s a 50inch plus Full HD 3D capable display - priced comfortably sub £800 – will no doubt turn a few heads. We’ve already witnessed the higher end PS51D6900, thePS51D8000 and the PS64D8000 give Panasonic’s top plasma’s a real run for their money; can the D550 make the same kind of impact in the entry level market? We’ll be subjecting the D550 to the full array of testing, read on to see how it fares.
Design and ConnectionsWhilst the PS51D550 is a little bit of a throwback, design wise, it certainly looks nothing but contemporary. Samsung have reverted to the, fairly narrow, rose-tinted black bezel (and stand), with a clear strip forming a near transparent frame, but we like it and we’d take it over the D8000’s metallic surround; any time. It was nice to see the weighty, glass base stand allowed for generous swivel and the D550 feels well engineered, overall, akin to the slightly more costly D6900. Its chassis is not particularly slender, by today’s standards, but it’s far from bulbous – measuring 6cm at the deepest point - although it won’t suit those looking for an ultra-flush, wall mounted set up. The screen is quite reflective so it’s probably best to avoid situating it somewhere where it will be hit with a lot of direct light but the D550 does have a filter that combats ambient light reasonably well.
Strangely, and thanks perhaps to the omission of a dedicated SMART button, the remote control is actually a little more substantial than those we saw in the D8000 and D6900 but there’s no backlight either. Button lay-out is typically Samsung with the majority of the most commonly used commands placed toward the centre. The bottom of the handset is shaped to fit in the palm but may prove a tad uncomfortable for those with smaller hands. All in all, there’s little to either fall out with, or get excited, by but it gets the job done and we were actually expecting worse.
Unlike a lot of budget sets we see, the D550 features the ‘full complement’ of 4 HDMI ports; with two outward facing, to the rear, and two on the side connecting plate. Almost inevitably the side-facing inputs are too close to the side to keep all but the slimmest of cables from protruding, so angled adapters (or even leads) may be preferred. In addition to the digital video inputs we also have legacy Scart, Composite and Composite terminals; a D-SUB PC in (with corresponding audio) and, on the audio front, SPDIF Digital Audio out together with a headphone jack. The aerial socket and LAN connection are also on the rear connection panel. Accompanying the side facing HDMIs are two USB inputs and a CAM, interface for premium digital services. It’s a very respectable set of connections for a low end set and likely to keep most satisfied for the foreseeable future, although I sadly can’t count myself amongst them.
MenusThe Menus are split in to 6 main sections - Picture, Sound, Channel, Network, System andSupport - as per the models reviewed previously and contained almost identical options. We’d suggest checking out Steve’s PS64D8000 review for more exhaustive coverage of the Menus but we’ll go through the important picture altering parameters – plus a couple of others – here.
Within the Picture Menu we can choose a picture mode with options of Standard, Dynamic and Movie. As ever we found Movie to offer the closet pictures to industry standards, without major adjustment, and we’d advise it as the starting point for everything bar gaming, unless your room is fairly bright. Naturally the D550 has the usual Contrast, Brightness, Colour and Sharpness controls, found in every other flat panel, but there’s also the more interesting Cell Light option that increases light output whilst having little effect on peak white or causing clipping. It’s a useful tool to have provided Contrast is set very carefully, which is generally a requirement with Samsung PDPs. Pre-set Brightness was also miles out, particularly in Standard picture mode, so we’d advise owners to obtain a PLUGE pattern to ensure there’s no unnecessary crushing of detail near black. We also have a Tint (Hue) slider that might be called for as make-do CMS should measurements reveal any use in doing so. Completing ‘Page 1’ of the picture options there’s Screen Adjustment allowing the matching, or otherwise, of content to aspect ratio. For your HD sources Screen Fit is the preferred option.
Under the Advanced Settings, we’d advise owners to leave Black Tone and Dynamic Contrast off, whilst Gamma is only best adjusted in conjunction with suitable measuring equipment, patterns and software. The advanced menu also gives access to an RGB only mode, useful for a quick colour luminance calibration without need for measuring equipment; choices for Auto or Native Colour Space and further options – Flesh Tone, Edge Enhancement and Motion Lighting – that had no beneficial effects on image quality. The PS51D500 is equipped with 2 point white balance sliders, instead of the 10 point version found in the D6900 and D8000, and there’s no CMS either, so hopefully out of the box colour reproduction won’t be far off.
Moving on to the Picture Options sub-menu and we find the Film Mode that has Auto1, Auto2 and Cinema Smooth options. Note: The Cinema Smooth option only appears when 24p material is detected and we'd recommend engaging it for this particular kind of material to ensure smooth, flicker free images are displayed for most of your Blu-ray discs. There are also a couple of noise filters (Digital Noise and MPEG) that may benefit low quality source material but we found no need to engage them during testing. Colour Tone (read Colour Temperature) is also selected here and, in conjunction with the Movie picture mode, Warm 2 proved closest to our target. Finally we have a setting for HDMI Black Level that is set at Normal for Video content and Low for PC levels.
The 3D options contain 3D Mode, allowing for selection of 2D to 3D conversion, Side by Side etc and a 3D Perspective control. There's also a Depth option that only affects the 2D to 3D mode and L/R Change that swaps the images for each eye for those experiencing discomfort at default settings. We found setting 3D Auto View operated flawlessly in detecting the nature of the 3D signal being received during our time with the D550. For those searching for a Game mode, it’s squirreled away under the System tab of the main menu screen and then buried under the General sub-menu. Why? We don’t know but it needs moving to somewhere more visible, and logical.
Test ResultsAfter running our usual sweep of measurements to ascertain the best starting point for a calibration, we were far from astonished to find the Movie pre-set was easily the closest to our targets. With Brightness, Contrast and Cell Light optimally set for our surroundings, we took the following readings:
It’s far from a bad result here and if we are to have an excess of anything, it’s best that it’s blue as the error is less perceptible to our eyes. Gamma is tracking very well to our 2.2 target and images are already very acceptable, even if a little cool. We should be able to improve things further with the White Balance controls but we’ll need good out of box colour reproduction as we’re lacking a colour management system. With the Auto Colour Space selected, performance here was actually very good, if showing a tendency to over-saturate. We can mitigate the over-saturation by bringing down luminance so we’d expect the, already fairly natural, looking colour palette to improve further following greyscale calibration and a few clicks down on the global Colour control.
Whilst we have a slight spike of Blue at 50% stimulus – and a corresponding dip in gamma – we can’t really lament the lack of 10 point controls too much as real world material is now looking satisfyingly good. We’d need to spend an awful lot of time, in side by side comparisons with a reference display, to note any deviance. Delta Errors are almost all below the threshold of 3 (where our eyes can’t distinguish any lack of neutrality), except near white, where there is the merest suggestion the panel is beginning to clip. There is no discolouration in reference white – or just above – so we’re good to move on to the (limited) colour calibration.
There’s not a huge improvement here but then we didn’t really need there to be. Getting the greyscale in line has brought Magenta bang-on hue and, together with lowering the luminance of red, skin tones are nigh on perfect. We have got overall errors below 3 and, crucially, luminance errors are at a minimum. Our eyes will forgive (and forget) errors in hue and saturation far more than in luminance so we’re happy with these excellent results on this very inexpensive panel.
We’ve seen some retrograde steps from the Samsung plasma’s, this year, in their ability to lock on to the PAL 2:2 film cadence but evidence that some of last year’s chips’ processing is on-board the 550 surfaces when it manages to lock on straight away; meaning film transferred in the PAL format, and sent interlaced to the TV, won’t suffer from deinterlacing artefacts. The same can be said of the most common NTSC 2:3 cadences too, so anyone with a large collection of NTSC discs might find some benefit here over the D6900 and D8000. Standard definition scaling was not so good, however, and test patterns displayed some softening and haloing, with some detail lost. We’re not sure how much interlaced SD material our readers view, nowadays, but with the ever-increasing amount of HD content available, we can almost forgive the transgression here.
Suppression of jaggies was actually quite good in our deinterlacing tests for both 576i and 1080i signals and HD sources, in general, were handled very well both interlaced and progressive with 1080p24 Blu-ray material playing judder and flicker free, once Cinema Smooth was enabled in the Picture Options. We’re happy to report that we didn’t notice any high frequency detail being supressed by the D550, as we’ve witnessed with some of the higher end Samsungs.
The Samsung PS51D550 proved no slouch in the gaming stakes, returning figures of around 32milliseconds lag, which equates to about one frame of the average console game running at 30 frames per second. That number can be almost halved by renaming the HDMI1/DVI input to PC in the Tools menu, should you wish to hone response further. We don’t expect many will bother but the option is there. The usual instances of 30fps games displaying some double imaging, on plasma, is present – as expected – but, again, it’s not likely to trouble the majority of gamers. We did witness some image retention, after gaming for around an hour, so those that are bothered by that should probably give the screen - as well as themselves - a break every so often.
Averaged power consumption in calibrated 2D mode was a reasonably respectable 270W – compared to 295W in, out of the box, Standard mode, so perhaps a good excuse to get a professional calibration approved by the other half. As expected 3D processing was a little more power hungry in consuming an averaged 332W.
Picture Quality - 2DOne immediate difference between the PS51D550 and its more illustrious stable-mates shows itself obviously in ‘brightish’ conditions; and that’s seeming the lack of any anti-glare coating that means the screen is very reflective and doesn’t cope at all well with any lights hitting the screen. It’s not a major problem for those that prefer subtle room lighting but it’s one that needs to be considered when planning placement. There is, least, a filter built-in and it does a reasonable job of maintaining contrast but the reflections can be killer, in the wrong situation.
Contrast performance, itself, is very respectable with commendable black levels, at this price-point and, in darkened conditions, a match for those of the D6900. As per the other Samsung PDPs, minimum luminance levels are affected by the panel refresh rate, i.e. the source will govern how black it goes. The deepest levels are reserved for 60Hz, unfortunately, with 50Hz material and 24p Blu-rays about equivalent, provided Cinema Smooth is engaged for Blu-ray. We have to say in our usual critical viewing circumstances, with just a light behind the display, the D550 took us by surprise, particularly with Hi Def material that looked every bit as good as the D6900. The natural tones afforded by excellent gamma and greyscale tracking combined with the, again, excellent colour reproduction to give images absolute believability. Put the D550 in the right environment and you be forgiven for smiling smugly to yourself, reflecting on a few quid saved; plus there’s none of the inconsistent backlighting so many LED/LCD exhibit!
Like the D6900 that passed through here, the D550 did exhibit the odd ‘brightness pop’, where screen luminance would suddenly increase/decrease in images that were in transition from dark to light or vice versa. It’s certainly not going to be a big issue, for many, but certain content will trigger it more than others and it is a potential source of irritation; although each and every display we review will have at least potential flaw that owners may find unacceptable so folks need to choose their poison. The D550 undoubtedly delivers HD images in fine fashion and we can forgive the slightly sub-par SD presentation when pricing is taken in to account.
Picture Quality - 3DWe went in to this area expecting the 3D processing to be more akin to the 2010 ranges, rather than the, rather good, 2011 vintage. It turns out our predictometer needs recalibrating as we saw no difference in the 3D presentation, when compared to either the D6900 or D8000. The 3D resolution tests revealed both horizontal and vertical resolution were being displayed in full and crosstalk was reasonably minimal, with overall performance more or less equivalent to our reference for active shutter tech, the Panasonics. It’s a bit of give and take as whilst crosstalk is slightly more in evidence with the Samsung’s, they do better the Panasonics in their abilities to produce bright images, which is important when the glasses take so much luminance from the picture.
We don’t like to keep harping on about this but, again, we have to stress that the reflectivity of the screen is an issue; and with 3D material it can cause even more problems, making it uncomfortable to view, not to mention very difficult to actually see. That, important, caveat aside, we were truly impressed with PS51D550 here and it’s a credit to Samsung they haven’t passed down last year’s inferior 3D processing.
FeaturesWe shouldn’t really complain about the lack of Smart Hub on the PS51D550, given the price, but having got used to its myriad charms with a raft of Samsung product this year, we can’t help feeling the 550 has had its wings clipped somewhat. That said, new owners might well be in the market for a 3D Blu-ray player and could use the opportunity to join the party, relatively inexpensively, by purchasing one of the Samsung spinners.
Enough of what isn’t there and on to what is. It’s always good to see the inclusion of a DVB-T2 tuner, meaning the 550 is capable is receiving free to air High Definition material through the Freeview platform and it’s probably an indication that it’s now becoming a standard feature, regardless of cost. Playback of media files – music/photo/video – isn’t restricted to connected USB devices, and there is also DLNA networking supported. File support was up to the usual Samsung standards and it played most of the .mkv files thrown it’s way – not that our collection is exhaustive.
Owners of smartphones and tablets can benefit from Samsung’s Remote App but the benefits are a little negated by the lack of internet connectivity. Connected devices that feature HDMI CEC ( Consumer Electronics Control) can utilise the D550’s Anynet feature to allow their control by the TVs remote but we often find the interactions to be not total and sometimes frustrating. Last, but not least, the Samsung PS51D550 is a fully fledged 3D TV that also features 2D>3D conversion technology. It’s worth noting that no 3D eyewear is supplied in the box; not that we would expect there to be, at this price.
- Very decent contrast and solid black levels
- High-def material looked excellent
- Excellent calibrated image
- Very good out-of-box colour reproduction
- 3D presentation is very good
- Decent gaming performance
- Reflectivity of screen is a potential killer
- SD scaling not great
- Not much 'Smart' action
- Remote control may be too bulbous for some
- Some brightness pops
Samsung D550 (PS51D550) FULL HD 3D Plasma Television Review
Samsung has done it again by providing a television that belies its modest asking price. It may not have the all the Smart options the higher-end D6900 and D8000 provide but, in terms of both high definition and 3D picture quality, it certainly holds its own. At this price-point there has to be a but and, indeed, there is. Owing to the apparent lack of anti-reflective coating to the screen, the Samsung PS51D550 is like the proverbial mirror; but if you can find the right home for it, then you’ve scored yourself a bargain. In view of the placement restrictions, we can’t go higher than a Recommended – although we were tempted!
The D550’s rose-tinted gloss black look rolls back the years, in terms of design, but it’s still contemporary with a pleasingly narrow bezel and a ‘not-too-tubby’ chassis. The matching rectangular stand swivels and feels reassuringly weighty. The remote control is fairly large by recent Samsung standards but its layout is typical of the Korean’s designs and buttons are well positioned. It feels a little cheap but, then, it’s an entry level TV. We didn’t feel as though we were missing any inputs with the ‘full’ 4 HDMI ports present.
The Menus and general GUI may not have quite the polish of the more costly ranges but there’s almost as many options tucked away. We’re well used to what all the picture controls do but we can see less experienced owners beating a hasty retreat, on first sight. We didn’t have quite the full power of Samsung’s calibration controls at our disposal, with the D550, but the Movie picture mode offers good out of the box performance when teamed up with a colour space setting of auto. We were still able to draw excellent results from the calibration process and pictures benefited greatly from the near ruler flat greyscale and gamma response. Add that to the excellent handling of high definition content, more than respectable black levels and a surprisingly good 3D presentation and the 550 is quite a steal at current online prices. As we mentioned earlier, reflections can be a real killer, for this particular TV, so if the potential destination of your next TV faces a window, or sits in a room where light sources will be directly hitting it, you would probably best seeking an alternative display. Standard definition scaling was not up to Samsung’s usual high standards but it managed to trump the D6900 and D8000 by locking on the PAL 2:2 film cadence. We’d probably say that if you’re intention is to watch lots of standard definition (especially broadcast quality), then perhaps a 50”+ set isn’t the television you’re looking for… Move along.
Both gaming performance and energy consumption figures were very respectable and we can quite envisage the D550 adorning the walls of a gamers den, with its 3D powers making it all the more alluring a prospect as a gaming TV. We’ve the usual plasma ‘problem’ of low motion artefacting/double imaging in games running (natively) less than 60 frames per second but we’re quite forgiving of this foible, those that aren’t – or have never gamed on a plasma – should go check for themselves. In truth, most will never notice! Samsung are truly challenging Panasonic in all sectors of the plasma market this year, from top to bottom. If the level of competition heats up further next year, we could all be in a for a treat!
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,000.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level7
3D Picture Quality8
Ease Of Use8
Value for Money8
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