A plasma for all seasons
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What is the Samsung PS51F8500?Make no bones about, 2013 has been a vintage year for plasma TV even if its time as a technology is nearly up. If the demise is to be as imminent as some would believe, then it’s going out with a bang and truly laying the gauntlet down to its probable usurper - OLED. Panasonic set the ball rolling with the almost equally superb GT60, VT65 and ZT65 all providing masterful pictures but, not to be outdone, we were given the opportunity to get up close and personal with the 64-inch variant of the TV under review here today. Steve was bowled over by its combination of contrast, accuracy and style and whilst we’d expect largely similar performance between the two, Samsung traditionally manages to extract deeper black levels from its larger panels so perhaps the PS51F8500 might not run the Panasonic’s quite so close. There’s only one way to find out.
Design and ConnectionsWe were surprised just how much the appearance of the F8500 polarised the opinions of our membership when it took its bow at CES 2013. The curved ‘Metal Flow’ base-stand has proven to be marmite-like (I can take it or leave it) in dividing taste sensibilities but we’re all of the firm opinion it’s absolutely gorgeous in the flesh. It even looks good before you pop on the display but we guess its major drawbacks are that you’re going to need a unit wider than its 120cm span – overhang is not cool – and it naturally doesn’t swivel. Assemblage was surprisingly simple as a solo project but before Elf and Safety have us – we would advise having someone else on hand when taking delivery.
At the top, and situated just behind the brushed ‘titanium’ bezel, sits a five mega pixel camera which can be retracted. Aside from the increased resolution, Samsung has made a number of other improvements to the camera, especially in terms of the light levels it needs but although Steve found it worked very well in his environment it proved useless further North in daylight – not that you’ll catch this reviewer routinely using gesture controls with a TV at this early stage of the technology’s evolution.
4 HDMI inputs should be a legal requirement for a Flagship TV and we’re pleased to report we don’t have cause to call the connectivity police in on Samsung as they’ve obliged by providing same; but they might be due a caution for placing them sideways facing, less than 8cm from the edge of the bezel. When a TV looks this good, you really don’t want to be spoiling those lines with unseemly cables poking out of the side so angled HDMI adapters and cable tie are likely to be a necessity for some. One of the HDMI inputs supports the Audio Return Channel (ARC) whilst another supports Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL). As well as the HDMI inputs along the side, you also get three USB ports and an optical digital audio out.
Facing downwards there is a LAN socket, legacy connections using breakout cables and aerial and satellite connectors for both FreeviewHD and FreesatHD. There are twin tuners for each, which means if you add a HDD you can create a fully functioning PVR. Finally, in the rear panel itself there is a CI (Common Interface) slot and a special port for adding any future Evolution Kit. It should be noted that the PS51F8500 doesn't include a headphone socket. Also among the connections is a jack for the IR blaster, which is thankfully much smaller than last year, and once you have paired it with the TV you can use it to convert the second remote into a universal controller, albeit with limited (or limiting) control options. For example, to get to the TiVO EPG necessitated calling up an onscreen menu and then navigating to a second page, which is a bit cumbersome.
As is the case with all of Samsung’s high-end models, the PS51F8500 comes with two remote controls, the first of which is a small black plastic version of Samsung’s standard controller. Whilst it includes all the usual controls, along with a Smart Hub button for accessing Samsung's internet platform, it’s diminutive and simplistic nature shows that Samsung would rather you used the other remote provided. This is the Touch Pad remote, which uses RF to connect to the F8500 and includes basic controls along with its eponymous touch pad. There is also a built-in microphone which is used for voice control and we certainly found the touch pad useful for effectively navigating the Smart TV System. However, despite offering a graphical representation of the full remote onscreen, we found that for basic control the simpler remote was a lot quicker and easier to use, especially when calibrating. As has been the case since last year, there is no P. Size button on either remote, so you either have to use the dedicated Picture Size page in the menu or the Tools button to change the aspect ratio.
MenusThe F8500’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. When a menu option is selected it is highlighted with a light blue overlay and the various sub-menus are listed and can then be selected using the directional keys on the remote control. The transparency of the overlays can be adjusted and one useful feature is that when you select the various menu options a box appears to the right which briefly explains the purpose of that particular control.
The Picture menu offers a choice of four types of Viewing Mode - Dynamic, Standard, Relax and Movie. The latter is designed to approximate industry standards and thus it should offer the most accurate out-of-the-box setting. Both the Picture Mode and the Sound Mode can be accessed directly using the Tools button on the remote control. 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. You can also apply your calibrated picture mode to other inputs, although it would appear you can’t copy the white balance or colour space settings, which is annoying.
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 Movie mode most of these controls default to off which is good and we recommend you leave them that way.
Within Advanced Settings there are also all the key calibration controls, starting with Gamma which globally adjusts gamma across the entire image. Then there's a choice of a two-point or ten-point White Balance controls which will allow a professional to accurately calibrate the greyscale. Finally, there's an option called Colour Space which gives you a choice between Auto, Native and Custom; if you choose Custom you have access to a full Colour Management System (CMS). This allows for the accurate calibration of the colour gamut by adjusting the luminance, saturation and hue of the three primary colours (red, green and blue) and the three secondary colours (cyan, magenta and yellow).
In 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. We found that Warm2 comes closest to the industry standards. There is 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. We'll come back to the Black Optimiser in the Test Results section.
Test ResultsIt was obvious from the outset that the PS51F8500 was showing a very high degree of image accuracy in the out-of-the-box Movie mode, which cuts both ways from a calibrator's viewpoint. On the positive side, it means the calibration should be quick and relatively trouble free but they’ll be left wondering quite how they can quite justify the fee. With greyscale errors all below the tolerable level of 3, any improvements will be fairly incremental. Depending on the lighting conditions for a given environment, gamma is tracking very well indeed at between 2.3 and 2.4, which is excellent for very low-light but we choose a steady 2.2 for reviews for a couple of reasons: a) it will work better in an average living room and b) it gives LED/LCD TVs a more level playing field as most don’t cope well in giving good shadow detail when pushed that dark. As we can see from the CIE to the right, at least there’s some work to do with the green primary which is too blue and surprisingly over-saturated.
Samsung’s calibration controls are an absolute pleasure to use and in no time at all we’d tweaked the greyscale to absolute perfection and gamma tracking true and flat. Flicking quickly as we could between a calibrated and non-calibrated input displaying the same content, we could just see that a very slight green cast was not evident on the calibrated version so at least there was some justification for the inclusion of a 10 pt White Balance option.
Colour performance improved more dramatically and was easy to spot the more natural hues in grass and foliage. Getting the colour luminances spot-on does wonders for a picture and with all components in place, the F8500 was now firmly in a reference calibrated state.One of the reasons for measuring all the colours at different saturation levels is to look for any issues that might not be apparent when measuring at 100% saturation. After all we don’t watch 100% saturated images much of the time. Thanks to Samsung’s excellent processing, we were able to line up both primary and secondary colours almost perfectly in their targets coming out of white, save for a very mild over-saturation of red at 75% intensity.As we said in the intro, Samsung’s larger plasma panels tend to have the edge of the smaller screen sizes and so it proved true again. We talk about the conundrum over using the Black Optimiser option in the Picture Quality section on the first page of the review but the short version is, we turned it off. Out of curiosity we took measures with it both Off and in Dark Room configuration and found that on an all-black screen the F8500 measured considerably darker with it on at 0.0061cd/m2, which is only a fraction off the Panasonic 60 and 65 Series. With the option disabled we got what is still a very impressive result at more or less dead on 0.02cd/m2 but this difference whilst small on paper, is certainly very easy to see in a dark – or near dark – room. That’s not the whole story, however, and a more representative test is measuring blacks whilst brighter content is on-screen. Using an ANSI checkerboard pattern we took identical black readings with the option turned on but it’s still not as simple as that, even, and the truth is somewhere in between for real world content but engaging black optimiser does cause floating blacks so you’ll need to decide if you can live with that. We can’t.
Much of the marketing blurb surrounding the F8500’s launch centred on its LED-like luminance levels and they certainly weren’t exaggerating those particular claims. Even in the most accurate Movie Mode, the F8500 was capable of hitting an eye-blistering 225 cd/m2 on a white window which should be more than ample in almost any environment, especially when the quality of the filter and anti-reflective coating is considered. No doubt some will have read through the last two paras looking for the numbers so here they are: With Optimiser set to ‘Dark Room’, On/Off Contrast = 20,164:1, going up to 36,885:1 if you max out the Cell Light. With Optimiser off, On/Off Contrast = 6,060:1, maxing out at 11,363:1 if you can stand it. ANSI contrast figures are identical at 5,447:1.
Screen uniformity of a plasma TV is generally not a great concern although we do see the odd bit of trouble along the way. The F8500 was a close to perfect as makes no difference but we could – just once or twice – notice a very faint horizontal line, about 1cm wide, running just below dead centre. We only saw it on a very pale background and, to be honest, had we not been forewarned by our forum members, we might not have spotted it so quickly. In all truthfulness this will be a non-issue for 99.9% of owners so please don’t let it put you off.
The performance of the PS51F8500 in the video processing tests were excellent, as we would expect from a Samsung and there’s no doubt it benefited from the added horsepower provided by the quad-core processing. The Samsung scored very highly in the jaggies tests on both our test discs as well as performing very well on the diagonal interpolation test, with two of the three moving bars appearing smooth and only the bottom most extreme bar showing very slight jaggies. The F8500 had no problems correctly detecting both 3:2 (NTSC - USA/Japan) and 2:2 (PAL - European) film cadence, as long as the Film Mode Auto2 was selected. When it came to 1080i material the 51F8500 correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests provided Screen Fit was selected. When it came to 1080p24 content, the PS51F8500 delivered superbly smooth movement and even on the torturous moving wedge tests on the Spears and Munsil disc were reproduced with little sign of moire or flicker.
Samsung haven’t made it easy to get even a half decent input lag figure. Even with the Game Mode activated in the Setup Menu, latency was measuring over 100milliseconds, which is flat out unacceptable. Renaming one of the inputs to PC resulted in a dramatic reduction to around 55 milliseconds but that’s not going to satisfy a demanding online gamer, although for most single player games, it’s possible to adjust.
- Standby: 0W
- Out-of-the-Box – Standard Mode: 343W
- Calibrated – Calibrated Movie Mode: 214W
- Calibrated - 3D Movie Mode: 408W
Samsung PS51F8500 Picture Quality 2DThe immediate thing that strikes you when first turning on the F8500 is just how ‘real world’ bright this thing can go. We usually steer our readers more toward LED/LCD when bright room performance is an issue but we’ve rarely seen anything better than this in that situation. The inherent strong luminance is helped along by a superb filter - which keeps blacks pretty much black – and the anti-reflective coating is wholly noteworthy for simply acting as described. We’d stop short of saying it’s the least reflective TV we’ve tested – that honour goes to the Philips PFL9707 - but it is most certainly amongst them and truly a plasma for all seasons.
It’s not really all about how bright a display is capable of going, however, more contrast punch is dictated by just how black it can go and the Samsung PS51F8500 presents a conundrum here. One can achieve noticeably real world darker blacks by using the Back Optimiser in its ‘Dark Room’ setting but that’s at the expense of them being unstable and they’ll fairly frequently ‘float’ up to the level you get without the setting engaged. So you’re left with the choice of truly excellent blacks that will shift or very very good levels that remain as is. In the end - after a lot of experimentation – we set the Optimiser to ‘Off’ as it was just too frustrating seeing the levels alter and we watch lots of content with a many scenes therein. It’s certainly something we’d encourage readers to experiment with as tolerances and tastes vary, quite widely.
As we’d expect for plasma, and historically a Samsung model, motion handling really was extremely impressive with rapidly panning movement maintaining much of its detail and sport was a pleasure to watch throughout our time with the F85000. If we do have one criticism of the picture – and to some this will be a plus point – is that pictures sometimes appeared too clean and clinical. We’ve checked for backdoor noise reduction and can’t detect any so it’s simply manifest that this is the direction the Samsung engineers have chosen. Part of the reason we love plasma so much is that it can have a beautiful analogue look to it, where the F8500 looks altogether more digitised. Like we say, this cleanliness – for want of a better term – will no doubt appeal to lots of people, particularly those used to LED/LCD so, again, please go and see for yourself.
Of course what many of you reading want to know is, how does it fare in a head to head - with price and status considered – its biggest rival, the 50-inch Panasonic VT65? The first thing to say is that there no cut and dried winner, personal circumstances and tastes will go a long way in making the ultimate purchase decision and owners of each TV should be sitting pretty whilst basking in the glorious pictures presented to them. If we discount the rather niche (and expensive) ZT65, which only ships in a 60-inch screen size in any case, in our opinion the F8500 runs the VT65 incredibly close. For outright contrast performance, the most important element of an image as far as the brain is concerned, the 50-inch VT65 takes it over the 51-inch F8500 but if you’re not one that watches with the lights off, or at least very low, the difference is negligible and you might want to plump for extra brightness the Samsung has to offer. It’s a testament to both manufacturers that the choice is so difficult this year and only a demo can give you the answer. Speaking personally (hi!), I would take the VT for my near exclusively nocturnal viewing habits but I would absolutely delighted to count myself amongst the membership of the F8500 owners club.
Samsung PS51F8500 Picture Quality 3DThe PS51F8500 uses active shutter 3D and comes with a couple of pairs of RF glasses which are extremely light and there’s very little tint to the lenses which means that images in 3D appear more accurate and brighter but the lack of shielding at the sides is a major downer unless your room is very well light controlled. Other than the specs, the F8500’s 3D experience is superb. The inherent brightness of the panel allowed images to be punchy and colourful and plasma’s speedy panel response helped the F8500 deliver images that were almost totally bereft of distracting crosstalk. Our new copy of Life of Pi looked nothing short of sensational and has now been elevated to reference disc status, which is testament enough to the F8500’s abilities with 3D Blu-ray. The future of 3D as a broadcast TV medium isn’t looking too bright but should Sky and – to a lesser extent – the BBC carry on, this TV will not be found wanting with Side by Side content at 50Hz. Our test footage from Wimbledon and the Olympics has rarely looked better and, again, it was difficult to spot any hint of ghosting. Movement was smooth and natural and colours pretty much as they should be. In short, barring the glasses, we have no complaints here, only admiration for a job well done by Samsung.
FeaturesSometimes it’s no bad thing to be number 2 in the queue and so it proves here as Steve Withers was tasked with the huge undertaking that is investigating Samsung’s Smart TV platform and since the F8500 has flagship status, it gets everything they have to offer. You can read Steve’s in-depth review here.
- Excellent dynamic range
- Great shadow detail
- Highly impressive in a bright room
- Reference Colours after calibration
- Almost reference greyscale prior to calibration, perfect following
- Class leading smart features
- Gorgeous design
- Incredibly clean images
- 3D performance is superb
- Comprehensive calibration controls
- Sublime motion handling
- Superior video processing
- Built-in WiFi, Freesat HD and Freeview HD
- Reference Smart TV platform
- Built-in camera
- Minor buzz with brighter scenes
- Mild floating blacks with Black Optimiser engaged
- Sometimes images just look too clean and pristine
- Input Lag is too high for gamers
- HDMI inputs are too close to the edge
- Base stand might be a sticking point in some set-ups and for those with no taste
Samsung PS51F8500 Plasma TV Review
Hello gorgeous, what’s your number? F8500 eh, nice! OK, perhaps we’re getting just a little carried away but we think it’s an absolute beauty, thanks to that ‘Metal Flow’ base-stand which has so divided opinions. To all that don’t like it – you’re wrong – so there! The obvious issues are that you’re going to need an AV unit that’s at least 120cm wide and it doesn’t swivel. The PS51F85000 is connected to the hilt with options including 4 HDMI, MHL, Screen Mirroring, Wi-FI and USB to name a few. As with all the top-tier Samsungs, the F8500 comes with two controllers; one that is very basic and rather cheap looking whilst the other is all touch-feely and sci-fi looking and allows for voice commands via the built-in mic. If that’s not enough for you, the F8500 also sports a camera which is concealed behind the top of the bezel for Skype calls and general larking about in front of.
Samsung’s suite of Smart features is almost ridiculously comprehensive so we wrote a dedicated in-depth review on it which you can read here. Almost as generous are the set of calibration controls that contain everything one needs to tune the F8500 to perfection. In actual fact, so accurate was it in the out-of-the-box Movie mode, we didn’t really have to utilise them to their full capacity but we still managed to make improvements and ended up with a reference set of results in all meaningful categories. Samsung’s video processing is also pretty nifty with both standard and high definition signals and motion handling is also crisp and detailed.
Samsung’s engineers clearly had their sights set on Panasonic’s ‘King of Plasma’ crown this year and, to that end, have been working hard on improving native black levels by including a new Black Optimiser feature that is semi-successful in its brief. With it set to its ‘Dark Room’ configuration blacks are indeed fantastic but unfortunately ‘float’, i.e. they fluctuate in luminance which can be quite distracting so we chose to disable it, which then puts the F8500 in the category of possessing excellent – rather than outstanding – levels. Other than in terms of dynamic range, it’s pretty much a wash between the two manufacturers and some will value the incredible (for plasma) levels of brightness the 51F8500 can produce over ultimate black performance. To be honest we’d be more than happy to have either gracing the living room as this is a superb year for plasma TV.
The Samsung PS51F8500 is big and beautiful as well as smart and supremely capable of producing stunning pictures. What’s not to like? Frankly, we can’t think of anything significant! Highly Recommended.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level9
2D Picture Quality9
3D Picture Quality9
Ease Of Use10
Value for Money9
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