Samsung B560 (PS50B560) Plasma TV Review

AVForums investigates a Samsung Plasma with fantastic accuracy, deep blacks... and a video processing flaw.

by AVForums
TV Review

193

Samsung B560 (PS50B560) Plasma TV Review
SRP: £1,000.00

Introduction

They may be one of the biggest names in the LCD world, but that hasn't stopped Samsung from producing Plasma displays in the larger screen sizes. Some of Samsung's more recent LCD displays can safely considered as bargains due to the picture quality that it's possible to wrangle out of them using the extensive Calibration options, and the company's high-contrast panels. This Plasma display appears to have essentially the same software as the company's LCDs, promising the same level of calibration control, but can the quality of Samsung's Plasma glass compete with what's being produced by LG and Panasonic? Read on.

Design and Connections

Samsung's displays are unmistakable, usually thanks to the level of gloss black coating that the company helped pioneer. Despite my well-documented disdain for this coating, though, I can't deny that the PS50B560 is a nice-looking display. The extreme edges of the bezel feature a glass-like transparent perspex finish, which looks pretty snazzy. On the right side of the frame, you'll find touch-sensitive buttons which duplicate some of the most commonly used remote control buttons, should you ever need to control the TV without the handset.

The display also covers most connectivity bases, with 4 HDMI inputs (3 rear, 1 side), 1 RGB SCART terminal, 1 fairly useless Composite-enabled SCART terminal, an analogue PC "VGA" input and accompanying audio connector, and the mandatory Component video inputs. The RF input can receive DVB-T or DVB-C (terrestrial or cable) feeds, but at the time of writing, cable companies in the UK would appear to force you into using their own set-top box, so the TV's tuner is only useful for receiving Freeview terrestrial broadcasts in this country. Additionally, there's a USB input. You can plug a hard disk or USB memory stick into the TV and view stored JPEG, MP3 and AVI movies on the display: not a feature I can personally see myself using, but potentially useful all the same.

Menus

Samsung's recently redesigned menus are great. In the more basic incarnation seen here, they respond quickly and are easy on the eyes. What's even better is that almost all of the variables in these screens are stored per-input, and give full control to all aspects of the TV's image reproduction. Even the White Balance and Colour Management System settings are stored per-input, meaning that you can calibrate each connected device to its very best. There are basic adjustments like Contrast, Brightness, Sharpness, Colour and Tint, and a Samsung-specific control called "Cell Light", which increases overall light output.

There's an Advanced Setting screen with a few gimmicks, and also an option to raise or lower the overall Gamma, a "Colour Space" option which conceals a full 3D colour management system and a "White Balance" screen which gives access to user-accessible Greyscale controls. We really can't ask for more than that – well done, Samsung! There's also a strange "Flesh Tone" adjustment, which I never found a use for, and an "Edge Enhancement" control.

Finally, a "Picture Options" screen lets you choose a Greyscale preset (called "Colour Tone"), the aspect ratio, and an effective but not fault-free "Digital NR" option (3D Noise Reduction type) which is best left off. There's also a demo for "1080 Full HD Motion", which splits the screen in two and runs a moving ticker along the bottom. Plasma displays have naturally excellent motion resolution anyway, so I wasn't surprised to see that both the "On" and "Off" sides looked identical. What a strange feature to build into a PDP TV!

The "Film Mode" option controls cadence detection – that is, the detection of Film contents "hiding" inside and Interlaced video signal. "Off" forces Video deinterlacing mode, which will be fine for video camera contents but will compromise Film material, "Auto1", which biases detection in favour of film material, and "Auto2", which still allows for film cadence detection, but biases in favour of video mode. The "Auto2" option is useful in cases where Video material is incorrectly detected as Film, such as when a news channel's headline ticker becomes corrupted.

Test Results

When I first turned the PS50B560 on, the image quality was, to put it frankly, hilarious. The TV defaults to a "Dynamic" mode, which clips white detail, black detail, boosts colour, and has a glowing blue tint over it. Selecting the "Movie" mode made an instant improvement to the picture. In my case, I could still raise Brightness by 3 clicks to get maximum shadow detail (the default setup clipped all tones below 18, whereas video black should start at 16). This is likely to vary between DVD/Blu-ray player designs, though, so as with any other setting you read online, don't assume that it's right for your own setup. Setting the Colour control was easy, too, thanks to Samsung's inclusion of a Blue Only mode.

While I had a Colour bars test pattern on screen, I found that the function called "Edge Enhancement" doesn't actually do what you'd expect. Normally you'd expect this to give the illusion of greater detail by sharpening the Luminance component of the picture (this is what our eyes are most sensitive to), but in fact, it does nothing to Luminance and only alters the Colour components of the image. The "edge enhancement" control actually works more like a Chroma Upsampling filter, and makes the colour resolution of the image appear to be higher. It can, however, obscure details near the edges of coloured areas.

Speaking of Sharpness, because I was calibrating with a 1080p source mapped exactly to the panel's pixels, I found that the default setting of 20 was too high. Lowering the Sharpness control to toned down ugly ringing artefacts, but a TINY amount of sharpening remained at all times. It wasn't enough to create visible halos so looked fine for video content, but when I hooked a computer up to the screen and looked at the Windows desktop briefly, it became apparent that there was a tiny bit of tinkering going on. One thing to mention: the perceived detail this screen is capable of reproducing is well and truly excellent. On most Plasmas, I've come to expect the finest on-off-on-off single pixel patterns to crawl or dither with PWM noise, but this was not the case on the PS50B560. Each pixel was as clear as day, which does give the perception of better detail.

One thing I did notice though, was Image Retention. These fine patterns temporarily remained on screen even after I'd turned off the pattern generating device, and faded completely a few minutes afterwards. I wonder if other manufacturers choose to create a sort of "dithering" effect to keep the picture moving and avoid image retention – perhaps temporary image retention is the cost that comes associated with a little bit of extra perceived detail.

For an (almost) out of the box result, the PS50B560 delivered wonderful accuracy. If you look at the "RGB Color Balance" section, you'll be able to see that there's too much blue and too little red in the mix at almost all levels (an ideal result would have the red, green and blue levels being exactly the same). However, this deviation would really not be easily noted by most eyes. These measurements also let us see that there was a very slight discolouration present at 100 IRE (full white). This was solved by reducing the Contrast control by a few notches. Gamma was fairly high in the low intensities, which will result in lessened shadow detail. Samsung do provide basic a Gamma adjustment, which, when combined with Greyscale calibration, will hopefully allow this aspect of the display's performance to be improved.

Colour reproduction was excellent: all of the primary and secondary colours came very close to hitting the industry standard production targets, meaning that the on-screen pictures were very, very close to those intended by the filmmakers and photographers. Luminance levels (the amount of each colour present) were also close to ideal. This is a fantastic out of the box result. But, all of this can be improved. Why? Because Samsung has given us the controls and has allowed us to do so! The level of control they provide is only just short of exemplary. Greyscale controls for the High and Low intensities are provided, and the company provides a slightly unusual but nevertheless excellent Colour Management System. This operates using RGB principles instead of HSL (Hue/Saturation/Luminance), and I'll admit that when I first saw this on the company's LCD displays, I was a little phased by it after being so used to the more conventional HSL controls. But once you get your head around the slightly unusual implementation, it's possible to make huge improvements to the picture using it.

Feast your eyes on these end results. Greyscale tracking is of Reference quality: the colour of Grey remains consistent from the darkest to the brightest shades. It's never contaminated with any bias towards red or blue. Colour, on the other hand, is just below Reference quality – just. Every single one of the colours, except for Blue, is basically perfect. Blue is slightly desaturated, but quite honestly, I didn't feel this visibly impacted itself upon the TV's real world performance (as luck would have it, Blue is the colour where our eyes are most tolerant of deviation). The other colours are perfect in terms of Hue and Saturation, or so close that the human eye can't easily detect that they're not. The same is true of Colour Luminance levels.

This TV's measured Greyscale and Colour characteristics honestly remind me of the Pioneer Kuro KRP-500A. It's utterly stunning performance which I wasn't expecting at all, and it's all possible with some adjustment because Samsung built the proper controls into the TV! The only thing holding it back slightly is Gamma, which was never ruler flat, meaning different intensities (for example, 20% brightness) will appear slightly darker (or slightly brighter, in other cases) as to how they would on a reference display. Without having one of these to compare with, though, this didn't bother me: without comparisons, I was happy with the PS50B560's performance here.

The PS50B560 is using Samsung's new image processing chipset, which offers stunning SD video processing. The best feature of this is the edge adaptive scaling algorithm, which resizes SD material to fit the 1080p HD panel in a very natural, smooth, and convincing way. It doesn't look quite as crisp as some of the scaling algorithms found in video processors and high-end DVD players, because it doesn't emphasise high frequencies as much. But, for standard definition Digital TV broadcasts, this is beneficial, because it means that the TV also won't emphasise mosquito noise (a compression artefact which results from low bit rate broadcasts).

Video deinterlacing is the best I've ever seen in a television, and indeed is better than several standalone devices, with Interlacing jaggies being suppressed wonderfully. This will please fans of standard-def sports, which have the tendency to look incredibly jagged on displays lacking in this area. Finally, the cadence detection (Film Mode) options do a great job at detecting Film content and processing it accordingly. It works for 2-2 PAL and 3-2 NTSC cadences, which should cover most bases. In fact, you might find that if you have a poorer quality upscaling DVD player, that you'll get better results by getting it to send Interlaced Standard Def video to the TV, and letting it handle the conversion. Just be sure to have Film Mode set to Auto1 or Auto2 for the cadence detection to work.

Like most PDPs we've tested at AVForums, video games are very responsive on this display. There's no noticeable delay in actions you input through the gamepad getting played out on screen, so games feel responsive and fluid. Although some well-designed LCDs have matched such performance, PDP's naturally excellent motion resolution has the edge here: the TV's video processor does not have to analyse motion ahead of showing it to decide whether or not to "overdrive" pixels, because the panel can achieve fantastic motion clarity on its own.

Measured energy consumption with the screen showing different intensities of white, after full ISF calibration:

Black screen: 149 watts. Grey screen: 250 watts. White screen: 316 watts.

Picture Quality

After watching the excellent Serenity on Blu-ray Disc, I decided to check out the TV show that started it all, Firefly. The PS50B560 did an absolutely wonderful job of displaying this well-shot, filmic television series. The first thing that took me by surprise was the contrast that Samsung's panel was capable of: you can expect deep blacks and rich whites from this display. This honestly surprised me, because I don't remember older Samsung PDPs achieving this type of contrast. Without having one to compare it to, it honestly looks as good in this regard as the most recent Panasonic NeoPDP displays. 24p input was handled correctly, without any goofy video processing (there is a "Cinema Smooth" option tucked away in the "Film Mode" menu, but it's quite subtle), so no extra judder was added to the show in the process. There was also very little PWM noise visible up close, which is always nice.

Unfortunately, the above is only true of 24p and 60i/60p input, such as what you'd get out of most Blu-ray Discs and US DVDs. European 50hz video revealed some truly nasty video processing flaws which manifested themselves as a "tearing screen" effect near the bottom of the image, and a strange phenomenon where white areas in the image appeared to get cut into blocks and corrupted. Interestingly, this also affected the TV's on screen menus, indicating a panel driver issue rather than a video processing fault. I tried absolutely everything to avoid this happening, but there is no way to get rid of it. The problem is largely confined to 1080p/50hz and 1080i/50hz feeds (this means that movies from an HD satellite or cable decoder will be affected). 576i/50hz (standard definition interlaced video) features the fault, but intermittently rather than constantly. This means that TV shows via the Freeview Digital Tuner are affected. Ouch.

I created a test pattern which highlights the issue clearly. This pattern features a check-board background which slowly rotates, and another check-board box which bounces around the screen, doing the same. All of the boxes rotating become corrupted when input at 50hz, but are crystal-clear and uncorrupted when input at 60hz. The test disc has been sent to Samsung along with an explanation. For a real-world example, though, imagine a film scene where an actor walks quickly past a white fence, with the camera moving to the right. The white fence corrupts in the same way that the white and black boxes in our pattern did.

Asides from these issues, the image quality of this display is very, very good. The calibrated greyscale provides a solid basis for natural colour reproduction, and the Colour Management System allows fine-tuning of both primary and secondary colours. Skin tones aren't pushed towards purple, as they often are on uncalibrated Wide Colour Gamut displays, and grass looks green, not glowing. Here's hoping that Samsung (who are usually quite attentive to such issues) will issue a firmware ugprade to remove the other problem. If that happens, we'll certainly re-evaluate the TV.

Verdict

7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Reference quality Greyscale performance means that there's no unintended colour bias in the image
  • Spectacular colour accuracy ensures natural, accurate pictures
  • Standard definition scaling and deinterlacing are wonderful
  • Contrast and black level are excellent

Cons

  • 50hz video processing issue creates visible corruption in certain video content
  • Gamma tracking could be flatter
  • Temporary image retention can be irritating

Samsung B560 (PS50B560) Plasma TV Review

Well, this has been a strange review: a display with incredibly accurate Greyscale and Colour which manages to miss out on a Recommendation due to other issues. In fact, this display shares many of the same strengths and weaknesses as the recently reviewed LG50PS7000, another Plasma display which provides a wonderful amount of accuracy through its user control, and then misses out on an AVForums badge due to last-minute quirks (albeit the Samsung's are more severe).

Let's pretend that this unfortunate 50hz tearing issue didn't exist, though: if that were the case, then the Samsung PS50B560 would be (almost) all smiles. This Plasma display features excellent black levels, high contrast, absolutely wonderful video processing (50hz issue notwithstanding), Reference Level Greyscale accuracy and absolutely excellent Colour accuracy. The slight cases of image retention (where fixed graphics like TV station logos and video game scores remain on screen temporarily even after you've changed channel) might annoy some people, but it clears up fairly quickly after changing channel or input.

In its current state, I can't recommend buying the PS50B560 unless you can avoid the 50hz tearing issues. People who live off a diet of 24p Blu-ray Disc and 60hz video games, and who never watch actual TV broadcasts have nothing to worry about, but I suspect this is a fairly small percentage of us. I really hope that Samsung patch the issue – if they do, there's likely to be a "Highly Recommended" badge waiting for this display based on its other highly desirable traits.

Scores

Sound Quality

.
.
.
7

Smart Features

.
.
8

Ease Of Use

.
.
8

Build Quality

.
.
8

Value for Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
.
7

Picture Quality

.
.
8

Video Processing

.
.
.
.
.
.
4

Greyscale Accuracy

.
9

Colour Accuracy

.
.
8

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level

.
.
8

Screen Uniformity

.
.
8
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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