So, I was eager to check out the PS50B650, a similarly named, and similarly performing PDP from Samsung. (In case you didn't catch the difference, that's 650 against 560). Will it be a knockout bargain, or will similar issues spoil the fun? Read on.
Styling and Connectivity
The TV has 4 HDMI inputs, 2 SCART terminals, Component video inputs, a "VGA" input for PC use, and legacy Composite video and Stereo audio jacks. There's no S-Video support, but I doubt that this will concern anyone, especially not here in Europe where RGB SCART has always been the favoured (and superior) high quality standard-def connectivity method.
Most impressive is the level of control that Samsung gives users. All of the basic video processing controls are here, as are some irrelevant controls (such as Black Tone and Dynamic Contrast). Dig into "Advanced Settings" and you'll find a basic Gamma control, White Balance (what we normally call "Greyscale"), and Colour Space controls ("Colour Management System" in our terminology). Samsung are bettered only by fellow Koreans LG in consistently offering this level of control across their entire range of displays (and even then, LG don't offer as complex a colour management system as Samsung do). Very, very impressive.
Calibration: Before & After
So, after letting the PS50B650 warm up, I performed a Basic Calibration on the TV. This involved setting the basic controls (Brightness, Contrast, etc) up using test patterns, to make sure we arrived at the best possible starting point for a full calibration later. Firstly, I selected the "Movie" preset, because this is the mode that comes closest to delivering accuracy out of the box. The "Brightness" control was actually revealing a little too much "below black" information, so I adjusted this gently to fall in line with mastering standards. "Sharpness" was also too high at 20, adding ringing and harsh edges to the image. Here's how the TV measured afterwards (don't worry if you're new to the charts and graphs - an explanation follows).
Taking a look at the "RGB Level Tracking" chart shows that there's an excess of red at all intensities in the Greyscale. In other words, the colour of Grey is always slightly too red-tinted, to varying levels. (An ideal chart would have the red, green and blue lines entirely straight and overlapping each other at all times, so we're some way off ideal here).
Colour performance with test patterns was measuring well, but in the "Auto" colour space mode, colours were consistently under-saturated. In any case, to really make judgments about how the colour performance was affecting the image, we'd have to get rid of the underlying Greyscale error first. In any case, as far as uncalibrated results go, these aren't too bad, but perfection is always our goal, so I used the full range of calibration controls provided to see to what extent the results could be improved upon. Remember that this type of calibration can't be done by eye: measuring the TV's output and using specialised software is necessary.
After calibration, you can see the changes for yourself. Using the "White Balance" controls and the basic "Gamma" adjustment, it was possible to bring the TV's performance much further into line with mastering standards and remove any unintended colour cast from the picture. In its post-calibration state, Greyscale errors were all but irrelevant on the Samsung PS50B650, and Gamma tracking only slightly deviated from our target of 2.2 (which means the amount of lightness at any given intensity will be just about right). The "Gamma" control on the TV does not allow for fine-tuned control, but instead allows us to move the curve up and down. Setting it to "-1" brought the result you see on the chart.
And then, we have Colour, which satisfies the requirements for "Reference" status. The colour management system on the PS50B650, while slightly unconventional in its implementation, allows you to fine-tune the display and obtain breathtaking levels of accuracy (which in turn, allow for huge realism, provided that this was the intention of the filmmakers - if it wasn't, you'll get whatever they wanted you to see, regardless). The only tiny error is with Blue, which is slightly under-saturated. This appears to be a flaw in the design of the Colour Management System rather than a physical panel limitation, but in any case, it should basically be unnoticeable. Fortunately, none of the miniscule colour errors are severe enough to result in an Error measurement of higher than 3. As a result, I've given AVForums' highest recommendation to this area of the TV's performance.
Deinterlacing is also not a problem for the PS50B650. The display passes the 2-2 cadence test on the HQV Test Disc, indicating that it can correctly detect and process standard definition film content without creating flickering, jaggies, or resolution loss. The same is also true of the American-centric NTSC 3-2 film test, as well as the 30fps 2-2 test, meaning that the most common content will play back perfectly. The most obvious implication of this to us here in the UK is for owners of large collections of US DVDs, but remember, the TV's video processing isn't relevant if you're using an Upscaling DVD player, because its processing will handle the same tasks instead.
The TV also did well with Video Deinterlacing, which is required when the content you're watching originates from a video camera, rather than from Film. Using the Jaggies test patterns, it was easy to see that all of the three rotating lines were smooth for the most part, only showing very small flicker at extreme angles. (In fact, the performance of the video processing chip in this TV is likely to be better than in poorer quality Upconverting DVD players, so if you own one of those, try turning its Upconversion features off and see if you notice an improvement).
Of course, there is just one problem, which is to some extent shared with the previously reviewed Samsung PS50B560. The PS50B650 unfortunately has an intermittent glitch where white portions of the picture can break into blocks and become torn and corrupted, depending on the input signal types. I made Samsung aware of the issue and produced a test disc which reproduces the problem clearly, but the company's stance on the issue is that it is a natural occurrence of Plasma technology - a conclusion we disagree with due to the intermittent nature of the fault, and the existence of competing Plasma displays which can be set up in such a way that similar issues do not occur. The good news is that the problem seems to be rarer than on the previously reviewed TV (where it severely affected the TV's final scoring, despite its many other strengths), and that like last time, it only occurs with 50hz input signals. This means that European-centric video sources such as Broadcast TV signals and UK DVDs will sometimes show this digital corruption (although to be fair, the average user may never spot the issue). 60hz sources (US DVDs and almost all modern video gaming consoles) and 24hz sources (most Blu-ray Discs worldwide) are entirely problem free, and fortunately for me, most of my use is with these sources.
There's one slight quirk. When you're playing back 24p movies (such as from Blu-ray Disc), the TV, by default, will play the film back at a display refresh rate which doesn't divide into 24. This results in subtle picture judder, and to get around it, you have to enter the TV's menu and activate the "Cinema Smooth" option, which plays 24p content back at a multiple of the input frame rate, resulting in smooth, cinematic, judder-free motion. Problem solved, right? In theory, yes, but of course, it's not quite that simple. Enabling "Cinema Smooth" cures the motion issue, but also changes the Gamma and Greyscale characteristics of the display very slightly, resulting in a slightly raised black level. Fortunately, the picture quality is still absolutely excellent, but the implementation of this mode is a little user un-friendly and ideally, the characteristics wouldn't change.
The perceived resolution of the panel in this display is absolutely excellent: it's slightly more detailed than both the LG and Panasonic displays. Samsung have, for some reason, cheated a little, though: the panel is naturally clearer on its own, but they've also seen fit to include just a pinch of artificial edge enhancement, even when the Sharpness control is set to 0. This is totally unnecessary, because the panel is capable of producing incredibly clear video on its own. Fortunately, it's also extremely subtle and it's safe to say that you will never notice it with photo-realistic content.
Image retention is an issue with this display. After watching a TV channel with a fixed on-screen logo, I was left with a slight shadow of the offending screen graffiti afterwards (particularly visible in a darkened room on a black screen). Similarly, after watching a 2.35:1 or 1.33:1 movie (which doesn't fill the entire TV screen), slight shadows of the top and bottom (or side) bars would be visible in the same fashion. Fortunately, none of this was permanent, and Samsung's TV does have a "screen wash" function accessible in the Picture Menu, which displays a scrolling gradient pattern. A few minutes of this would clear away the retention.
Energy Saving OFF: 82w, 244w, 377w.
Energy Saving "Medium": 77w, 167w, 315w.
- Full host of picture calibration controls
- Calibrated Greyscale accuracy is excellent
- Calibrated Colour accuracy fulfills requirements for AVForums "Reference" status
- Standard-def video processing is excellent
- Picture detail is the best out of any current Plasma display
- Extensive multimedia options (audio/video playback from USB, Internet features)
- Panel image retention can be irritating
- White objects in 50hz video sources (UK TV, DVDs) can suffer from motion corruption, which some people may notice
- Black level is not as deep as the current NeoPDP Plasmas from Panasonic
Samsung B650 (PS50B650) Plasma TV Review
Like the B560 version, Samsung's PS50B650 is a slightly frustrating, but still recommendable HDTV. There's so, so much going for it: excellent styling, great video processing, calibration controls which allow for Reference quality colour reproduction, as well as Greyscale and Gamma accuracy that's nearly as great. Not just this, but there are features galore, and incredible picture detail. Irritatingly, a few quirks spoil the party: there's motion artefacting in certain video sources, the "Cinema Smooth" feature which is needed to get judder-free motion from 24fps film content changes the picture characteristics ever so slightly and needs to be enabled manually, and the panel's image retention might be slightly irritating for some.
If you absolutely can't wait in the hope that an updated model will fix the few remaining issues and must buy a Plasma TV now, then the Samsung PS50B650 should make it onto your shortlist, provided you're aware of the potential issues. It's currently available from retailers such as PRC Direct for just under £999 - at this price, I feel that it's flaws are tolerable given its other strengths (of which there are many).
Had Samsung fixed the "50hz flaw", the PS50B650 would have unquestionably received a "Highly Recommended" badge and would have been an obvious choice for a bargain-priced display. In its current incarnation, all I can do is present the hard data and ask you to draw your own conclusions as to whether this TV is for you. We look forward to seeing what Samsung can do to improve upon this HDTV in an updated model, but for now, the PS50B650 stands as something of a bargain that's just a little rough around the edges.
Note: the score for "Video Processing" takes into account the aforementioned flaw.
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