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Samsung PS51F5500 Plasma TV Review

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It doesn't like the sunshine but it's stellar in the right room

by Mark Hodgkinson Jul 25, 2013 at 12:00 AM

  • TV review

    53

    Recommended
    Samsung PS51F5500 Plasma TV Review
    SRP: £899.00

    What is the Samsung PS51F5500?

    We have to admit we shed a virtual tear, last January, when Samsung revealed they’d cut its 6 Series Plasma TVs from their product portfolio as they have consistently provided videophile-grade pictures at extremely competitive prices. So now we’re left with the flagship F8500 and the step-down model under review here as the only 1080p plasmas currently being produced by the Koreans. We should be thankful for small mercies, we suppose, it had been feared that at least one manufacturer would pull the plug entirely on plasma technology at CES 2013, so we’ll take what we can get. But is the PS51F5500 blessed with enough talents to fill the void left by Samsung’s former second tier TV? Let’s hope so.

    Design and Connections

    Samsung has long been right at the forefront of pushing new and innovative design but not here; the PS51F5500 is as plain as can be, in this day and age, save for the Quad-Foot stand that’s never really been to our tastes. Otherwise, it’s just a standard, A. N. Other black-bezelled TV that isn’t really going to impress visitors with a svelte design being as it’s 6cm thick at its deepest point. We guess it doesn’t really matter when the lights are down low but it still comes as a surprise when we receive a TV like this in 2013 – ‘We bet you don’t look good on the shopfloor’ – to paraphrase The Arctic Monkeys.
    Samsung PS51F5500 Design and Connections
    Samsung PS51F5500 Design and Connections

    To the rear of the comparatively hulking chassis we have 3 side-facing HDMI ports together with 2 USB inputs and a CAM Slot and, pointing outwards, there are legacy component, composite and Scart video connections as well as the aerial socket, a digital audio out and a LAN port but there’s built in Wi-Fi, too, for extra convenience. We were quite surprised that the F5500 came with two remote controls - a standard controller and the touch pad version that is styled also in black to match the TV. It comes with a built-in microphone which is used for voice features and works pretty well and Samsung is to be congratulated for their largesse in including it with a mid-level TV. It also came as something of a revelation when we discovered 2 pairs of active 3D glasses in the box, more on which later.

    Menus

    The F5500’s main menu offers a basic set of options including Picture, Sound, Broadcasting,Network, Smart Features, System and Support but within these main choices are a large number of sub-menus. The Picture menu offers a choice of three types of Viewing Mode - Dynamic, Standard, and Movie, with the latter the best choice in terms of accuracy. There are also all the usual basic controls that you would expect to find on any modern TV such as Contrast, Brightness, Sharpness, Colour and Tint. There’s also Samsung’s Cell Light control, which allows you to adjust the brightness of the panel. From the Picture menu, you can access sub menus for Picture Size, 3D, Advanced Settings and Picture Options.
    Samsung PS51F5500 Menus
    Samsung PS51F5500 Menus

    Within the Advanced Settings sub-menu there is Dynamic Contrast which varies the Contrast on-the-fly and thus boosts the perceived dynamic range, Black Tone which is best left off as it crushes shadow detail, Flesh Tone does nothing we could see, an RGB Only Mode which allows you to see each of the three primary colours individually and is a useful for checking correct colour decoding, Expert Pattern provides a series of test patterns and Motion Lighting. In here, also, are all the key calibration controls – including Gamma and a two-point White Balance control. Finally, there's an option called Colour Space which gives you a choice between Auto and Native, which we’ll compare in the Test Results Page.

    Further down the Picture Options sub-menu, you can choose the Colour Tone (really colour temperature) which gives you a choice of Cool, Normal, Warm1 and Warm2. There’s also a Digital Clean View and MPEG Noise Filter, both of which we would recommend turning off. In this sub-menu, you will also find HDMI Black Level for choosing between PC and Video levels and the Film Mode option for cadence detection. Finally there is the Motion Judder Canceller, which you shouldn’t need and a Black Optimiser feature. This new feature promises deeper blacks using PDP waveform and signal compensation and offers a choice of Off, Auto, Bright Room and Dark Room. Again, we'll come back to the Black Optimiser in the Test Results section.

    Test Results

    As we almost always find, the Movie Picture Mode along with a Colour Temp setting of Warm 2 allowed the PS51F5500 to perform most closely to the industry standards. Greyscale was very impressive for an out-of-the-box preset with just a tad too much Red and not enough green or blue energy in the mix. Gamma tracking was also pretty spot on and with Delta Errors averaging around 4, not too much work for the 2 point White Balance controls to have to take care of. Colours were good but there’e a very significant luminance error with red at full saturation, that we may or not have to live with depending on how its tracking at lesser saturation levels.
    Samsung PS51F5500 Test Results
    Samsung PS51F5500 Test Results

    After some to-ing and fro-ing with the controls we were able to get combined greyscale and gamma errors down below 2, which should mean a very neutral palette on which to build the colours. As we can see from the results below, we were able to bring errors down to very tolerable levels but for reasons we’ll explain later, we left some of the luminances higher than target at full saturation.
    Samsung PS51F5500 Test Results
    Samsung PS51F5500 Test Results

    The graph below shows how the F5500 performs at lesser saturation levels and as we can see, there are a few issues. The primary concern is that green has a heavy yellow bias, which we can see by comparing grassy scenes against a currently resident Panasonic VT65, which is superb throughout the saturation levels. There’s nothing we can really do about it as there’s no Colour Management System. We did try the tint control but that caused more problems than it solved so we have to accept that colour fidelity could be better. As we mentioned in the section above, we had to deliberately make colours a bit too bright at full saturation to allow red to get close to hitting its marks lower down. This was more a process of comparing real world material rather than measuring patterns but we have to accept that there will be some compromises with a value panel and picture looks excellent, in any case.
    Samsung PS51F5500 Test Results
    The really interesting thing about the Samsung plasma line-up this year has been the inclusion of a new Black Optimiser setting, with the promise it will deliver incredibly deep blacks when set to ‘Dark Room’. On a fully blackened screen, it certainly does help and with it engaged gave the F5500 a black reading of 0.019 cd/m2, compared to 0.027 without. As with the F8500, it made no difference to mixed content on an ANSI checkerboard pattern but with real world material, on very dark scenes, you could see that it was working. Unfortunately the reason why it was so visibly ‘effective’ is that the black level will often creep back up to ‘native’ levels – i.e what you get without Black Optimiser on – causing what can be distracting fluctuations, a.k.a floating blacks. This reviewer has an allergy to this particular video phenomenon so left it switched off. Oh, some numbers – On/Off Contrast measures at 4,388:1, whilst ANSI clocks in at 3022:1 - so very, very good indeed. As it’s a plasma the uniformity of the blacks was also superb and the only thing that ever got in the way was the PS51F5500 susceptibility to image retention. We noticed that the Checkerboard pattern took around 3 hours of ‘normal’ use to shift after being left on for only around 5 minutes but there is a ‘screen wash’ facility in the System Menu which owners might want consider using from time to time.
    Samsung PS51F5500 Test Results
    As we would expect from Samsung, the PS51F5500 was possessed of very good video processing circuitry. It proved efficient at deinterlacing as well as scaling of standard definition content, although it does neither quite as well as the flagship F8500 - we could see some jaggies on our rotating bars tests and just a spot of ringing with standard def. With the Film Mode set to Auto 2 the F5500 also had no problems locking on to both 3:2 and 2:2 film cadences correctly and scrolling video text over film was also delivered perfectly, with no shredding. The quality of the video deinterlacing at 1080i50 was also very good and there were no apparent issues with 24p content.

    There was no need to rename an HDMI input with this particular Samsung, as we have to with certain others, as engaging the Game mode in the System Menu brought input latency to a very respectable range of 30-34 milliseconds reaction to controller input. This kind of performance should keep most console gamers happy, at least, but why Samsung continue to secrete the Game Mode in such an illogical place beats us.
    • Standby: 0W
    The following measurements were taken with a full screen 50% white pattern:
    • Out-of-the-Box – Standard Mode: 359W
    • Calibrated – Calibrated Movie Mode: 244W
    • Calibrated - 3D Movie Mode: 398W

    PS51F5500 Picture Quality 2D

    It’s probably best to get this out of the way right from the off – the PS51F5500 is not one for brighter rooms and certainly not a display you would want placed facing a light source, such as a window. We had hoped that the demise of the 6 Series would see the F5500 inherit its filter but that’s clearly not the case and it struggled in our living room with the current sunny weather. It is very reflective and poor at blocking out ambient light but give it the right room, i.e. one that’s lowly lit, and it is a totally different proposition, delivering rewarding black levels with plenty of shadow detail and rich, convincing colours.

    If you like your sports, the F5500 is an excellent TV for that and is able to retain most of its detail, even when on-screen action is very rapid. Motion handling in plasma TVs is generally superior to that of LED/LCD TVs – at least to our eyes – and the F5500 keeps its end of the bargain and holds it own against the very best we’ve seen, in this regard, in 2013. Considering this is a vintage year for plasma TV, that’s some accolade. Our only real bugbears were with some ‘brightness pops’ where we could seem some strobing effects, with extremely bright on-screen action which is potentially as a result of some over-aggressive ABL (auto brightness limiting) circuitry kicking in. Irritable ABL syndrome may be a better term than brightness pops.

    We can’t stress enough that the F5500 needs to be in the right environment but, when it is, it is capable of producing 2D images which make a mockery of the price-tag.

    Samsung PS51F5500 Picture Quality 3D

    Time might nearly be up for 3D but that’s not stopped Samsung from improving their offer in 2013. 3D images were quite bright and engaging and relatively free of crosstalk. There were no real issues with 50Hz Side by Side (SBS) content, our broadcast standard, and Blu-rays also looked great save for the odd bit of frame skipping. We’re not that keen on the active shutter glasses that come with the PS51F500 - for the flicker sensitive, they simply don’t shut out enough ambient light and that can be very distracting indeed.

    Features

    The PS51F5500 features dual core processing so whilst it’s not quite as zippy as the top-tier models, with their fancy quadcore power, it’s certainly responsive enough. There’s also no built-in camera, so no motion controls but that’s no great loss. Since we’ve conducted a full investigation and review of Samsung’s 2013 Smart TV platform, there’s no point us re-treading old ground when you can feast your eyes upon it right here.
    Samsung PS51F5500 Features
    Samsung PS51F5500 Features



    Samsung PS51F5500 Video Review




    Conclusion

    9
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • Impressive black Levels and dynamic range
    • Accurate images - post calibration
    • More than competent video processing
    • Impressive 3D performance
    • Motion handling is superb
    • Excellent array of smart features

    Cons

    • 3D Glasses don't block out enough ambient light
    • Irritable ABL syndrome
    • Floating blacks (with optimiser engaged)
    You own this Total 2
    You want this Total 1
    You had this Total 0

    Samsung PS51F5500 Plasma TV Review

    Pretty, it is not but Samsung probably knows that plasma fans value picture quality over aesthetics of design so we'll forgive its rather outdated chunkiness. Despite numerically ranking 3 levels below Samsung's F8500 flagship plasma, the F5500 still comes with two remotes - one standard, one Touch Pad - with voice control - and a couple of pairs of 3D specs in the box. Connectivity options are decent, with 3 HDMI ports and Wi-Fi built-in being the most noteworthy. As you would expect from a Samsung product, Smart features are bountiful with bazillions of apps and more Video-on-Demand services than you could respectably wave your stick at.
    So does the F5500 deliver when it comes to producing pretty pictures from within its rather plain frame? Why, yes it does, with deep blacks, fabulous motion handling and a very believable colour palette. There is one major caveat to all the above, and that is the PS51F5500 is only really capable when placed in the right room. It has very little built-in protection against ambient light so images will wash away when lighting is high and, added to that, it is also highly reflective. As a TV for daytime watchers, it's not well suited; it's one for the discerning night time crew who like a touch of class, at a price that's right.


    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £899.00

    The Rundown

    Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level

    8

    Screen Uniformity

    8

    Colour Accuracy

    8

    Greyscale Accuracy

    8

    Video Processing

    8

    Picture Quality

    8

    3D Picture Quality

    9

    Sound Quality

    5

    Smart Features

    9

    Build Quality

    8

    Ease Of Use

    9

    Value for Money

    9

    Verdict

    9

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