It’s actually easy to forget that Samsung still manufacture plasma panels. They certainly don’t make a great song and dance about them, instead favouring the super slim and sexy LED TVs to front their press campaigns and that’s a bit of a shame as, in the last couple of years, they’ve made great strides with the technology. This year does, however, promise to see further improvements in Samsung PDP’s picture quality and with the inclusion of the new Real Black Pro technology we’re expecting improved black levels and greater dynamic range, which should at least reduce that advantage the Panasonic plasma range have held for some time.
Samsung, as we know, are all about ‘Smart’ features and there’s a jaw-dropping amount of features, content and applications to discover. Prime amongst these is their new ‘Smart Evolution’ concept that they claim will completely reengineer your TV without having to replace the whole set. There’s also voice, gesture and motion control to get to grips with and a new accessory or two to discover. As ever the menus will be crammed full of dizzying options and the Smart Hub stuffed with goodies to explore. It’s probably a sign of the times we’ve yet to mention 3D but, naturally, the Samsung E8000 is capable.
The Samsung E8000 plasma television is a real pretender to the crown so gloriously grabbed by the Panasonic VT50 earlier in the year and we’re champing at the bit to see what it can do. Now, down to business.
Design and Connections
The Samsung 51E8000 ships with two remote control handsets – one conventional and another not so. The non-standard ‘Smart Touch Control’ is Samsung’s answer to Panasonic’s TouchPad controller and LG’s Magic Motion controller and provides a promised simpler interface for accessing both Smart TV functions and simple TV control, not only for the TV, itself, but also for connected Blu-ray players and Set Top Boxes via the included IR Blaster. We’ll give our thoughts on voice, motion and touch pad control for later on, in the Features section.
The all new Smart Touch Control is surprisingly heavy and has quite a high-end feel and look to it but we would have taken to if far more readily had it simply been equipped with a Menu button. Had that of been the case, the Smart Touch could easily replace the standard controller for day to day use instead of just providing the basic TV controls. It does have other properties, of course, and contains a built-in microphone for voice commands, another multi-coloured button for Smart Hub access and the ability to be used as a ‘universal’ remote control for devices connected to the TV via the supplied IR Blaster. To use the blaster, owners will need to go through a pairing and set-up process where the IR codes for the connected devices are downloaded but once that process is completed, it worked quite well although the controls available are fairly limited.
The Samsung E8000 plasma is about 5.5cm at its deepest and should make for a reasonable candidate for wall mounting as all the HDMI inputs are side-facing, at a sensible distance of 19cm from the edge of the bezel. When we say ‘all HDMIs’ we mean, the disappointing 3 HDMI ports on-board, which is really not enough for a flagship TV and it meant our having to switch cables on a frequent basis. Slightly irritating. Also on the side connections panel are 2 USB ports, the adapter input for Scart sources, a S/PDIF digital audio out and a jack for Samsung engineers that can accept RS232 commands so should also be beneficial for customer installers. Running along the bottom there are legacy composite and component connections with L/R audio jacks, a LAN port and the Satellite and Aerial connection terminals.
The Picture Menu houses the customary, huge array of options to explore although the ‘first page’ is fairly basic and unthreatening to novice users. Here we have the usual Contrast, Brightness, Colour, Sharpness, Tint controls as well as the Screen Adjustment (set to Screen Fit for HD sources) and Cell Light options. The cell light acts over and above the Contrast control and is effectively like the Backlight controls found in a LED/LCD TV, as it raises panel luminance rather than having direct governance over white levels. Moving down the page and we have the 3D controls, Advanced Settings and Picture Options.
Under the Advanced Settings we have Black Tone which allows you to change the brightness level and is best left off; Dynamic Contrast that we’ll look at later on; a global Gamma control that we may need during calibration; Skin Tone, possibly ditto, but hopefully the Colour Management System (CMS) should render it redundant; Expert Pattern which provides a series of test patterns on the built-in tuners and RGB Only Mode which allows you to see each of the three primary colours individually and is a useful for checking correct colour decoding. Also within Advanced Settings is an option called Colour Space which gives you a choice between Auto, Native and Custom; if you choose custom you have access to the CMS which should allow for accurate calibration of the colour gamut. There is also a choice of a two point White Balance control or a ten point White Balance control which will allow for very accurate calibration of Greyscale.
As with most of the top-tier products this year, from the various manufactures, Samsung have included a built-in eManual for users to learn the various functions and features of the TV and they’ve made a very good job of it too, making it easily navigable and understandable for not only novice users but TV reviewers alike!
By default, the Movie mode will provide the colour gamut afforded by the Auto setting, with the other choices being Native and Custom. The latter of those gives access to Samsung’s, rather good, RGB based Colour Management System (CMS). It’s worth noting that Custom actually gave more accurate results than those of the graph for Auto, shown below. The only significant issue in hitting the Rec.709 standard here is with the red primary. It’s off-hue and slightly orange whilst being too bright and under-saturated. In fact, there’s a general trend towards over-luminance, across the board, so we’ll probably utilise the global Colour control prior to making finer adjustments with the CMS.
Having gained an extremely satisfying result with the greyscale and gamma, we moved on to the CMS and, if anything, we were able to gain even better results with the colour palette. Bar a very minor under-saturation of red we have again effectively reached a state of perfection. We were able to get red further out to the perimeters of the triangle representing the Rec 709 standard but that was at the expense of introducing a larger, and more noticeable, error to the luminance element that the eye will more readily spot. Other than that, there’s very little to talk about other than to give commendation to Samsung for another job well done.
Video processing is a traditional strength for Samsung TVs and the 51E8000 continues the heritage with absolute aplomb. Beginning with the SMPTE 133 pattern and the E8000 scaled the full 576i and 480i images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. The plasma also performed more than capably when it came to video deinterlacing, with jaggies only appearing when the line was at a very acute angle in the first test of the HQV disc. In the second test the motion adaptive deinterlacing was also excellent with only very slight jaggies appearing on the bottom most extreme of the three moving bars. As is usual with the Samsung displays, it failed the test displaying film material with scrolling video text when Film Mode was set to Auto1 but passed when it was set to Auto2- which does promise to handle both video and film, where Auto1 is more a specialist film material setting. In the cadence tests the D8000 had no problems correctly detecting both the 2:2 (PAL - European) and 3:2 (NTSC - USA/Japan) tests and a few more obscure ones, besides.
The Samsung 51E8000 also performed very well in tests on the HQV Blu-ray benchmark disc and with the player set to 1080i the PS51D8000 correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests (provided the Picture Size is set to Screen Fit). The 8000 also showed a fast response to changes in cadence as well as excellent scaling and filtering and good resolution enhancement. The PS51D8000 had no problems handling 24p material either when Cinema Smooth was engaged which multiplies the 24 frames to 96 via 4:4 pulldown technique.
Moving on to the Spears and Munsil test disc and the E8000 skipped merrily through all the cadence and deinterlacing tests. Additionally, we were able to use the ‘Dynamic Range High’ test that showed the TV as having excellent headroom performance from reference white (video level 235) up to peak white (video level 255) with absolutely no signs of clipping, even with Contrast and Cell Light set very high. The disc also has a pattern allowing you to check the black and white dynamic range, which the E8000 again aced, being able to display all the darker shades simultaneously with peak white. In short, there’s almost nothing to fault in the Samsung PS51E8000 picture processing prowess, particularly as a consumer grade television.
The Samsung E8000 provided a nicely responsive gaming experience for our relatively gentle console pursuits. Traditionally, or so the received wisdom goes, the renaming of an HDMI input to PC was thought to lower input lag but we can say with some certainty that the trick doesn’t work for this plasma. To get the lowest latency, it’s best to simply select the Game mode from the General area of the Setup menu. Doing so brings lag down to the mid 42 millisecond range which puts it toward the top of the TVs tested with the LagTest device.
For a 51inch plasma TV, energy consumption was very respectable with the E8000 drawing slightly more in the, much brighter, calibrated Movie mode than in the drab, out-of-box Standard setting. The calibrated picture drew an average of 230W, with factory settings at 213W. Naturally the added luminance needed for 3D meant an increase on those numbers with the E8000 averaging almost exactly 300W.
Picture Quality - 2D
Other than the - slightly lower than expected – contrast performance, the Samsung PS51E8000 largely delivered on all other fronts. For those that have glanced at the Test Results page, it will come as no surprise that the Samsung produced an absolutely glorious calibrated image. The colour palette is almost immaculate in its realism, motion is silky smooth and the video processing is excellent, which all contribute to deliver some of the best pictures we’ve seen in an HDTV this year. Since we’ve highlighted an area where the E8000 has to cede superiority to the 2012 Panasonic Plasma’s, it’s only fair we redress the balance by saying it barely suffers with dynamic false contouring (DFC) and, when it does, it’s nowhere near as evident in skin-tones as the Viera’s DFC can be. For 50Hz content, i.e. all UK/European broadcasts and DVDs, there’s no doubt the E8000 shows a clean pair of heels to the Panasonic’s, in terms of motion handling, where it delivers panning shots with sublime fluidity making it an absolute treat to view sports and other fast moving content on. The E8000 can also boast a considerably higher maximum light output and we were comfortably able to get around 140cd/m2 in movie mode, without clipping. We still think the VT50 rules the roost with Blu-ray but that’s not to say the E8000 won’t leave you with mouth agog and it’s really only the greater dynamic range of the Panasonic that wins the day.
A couple of last year’s problems haven’t been resolved, however, and we did notice both ‘brightness pops’ and ‘floating blacks’, although the latter was very infrequent and certainly not something that got under our skin. The brightness pops were of a slightly more distracting nature; the effect could be quite highly pronounced and pretty regular with the right (wrong?) content. For instance, we were watching a Scandinavian drama where the snowy countryside of Norway would trigger the screen luminance to bob up and down at a fair rate of knots. Popping Fargo in to the Blu-ray player resulted in the same effect on a similarly frequent basis. To be fair, both examples are of material of an unusually bright nature so we wouldn’t expect most will notice it, day to day, but it is there for the time being although we would hope Samsung can address it.
Picture Quality - 3D
We’ve lost count of how many times we’ve sat through the 3D presentation of Avatar now and the E8000 certainly looked every bit as stunning as almost anything we’ve seen so far this year. Thanks to our resident 3D junkie, Steve Withers, we now have the rather jolly Happy Feet 2 as our real world crosstalk torture test, and the Samsung PS51E8000 coped commendably well with the many high contrast scenes on offer. It does show some crosstalk, they almost all do, but it was never enough to drag us out of the experience and the generally smooth motion contributed ably to the mix. We’ve seen a number of TVs struggle with 50Hz Side by Side (SBS) content, which is of particular importance to us as it’s the only way we get to see it through broadcast channels. Happily, the E8000 was amongst the very best we’ve seen at this particular task. The Samsung PS51E8000 – nice 3D, shame about the specs. Still they were free, at least!
We’ll give Samsung the benefit of the doubt; much of what they are attempting is genuinely innovative and we wouldn’t expect perfection at the first time of asking so we’ll be looking for improvements next time around in the commands department but the rest of what is on offer – and there’s masses of it – is absolutely first class.
With whatever method you choose to get there, the Smart Hub is festooned with readily accessible apps, video on demand content, media sharing possibilities and key ‘regular’ features allowing it to become the command centre for all your TV activities. In fact, that’s almost certainly what Samsung will be hoping you elect to do. It’s all totally customisable, too, and it’s a synch to create folders and move content around to avoid the pages looking cluttered. Sitting on top of the Smart Hub is the 'Your Video' section that actually works on a recommendation engine, where your viewing habits are tracked and suggestions based on genre, subject matter, director, actor/actress are made for your further viewing. The engine will search material from the various VoD services, including iPlayer and YouTube too. Habits are tracked from EPG selections, searched for material through the Smart Hub and recordings scheduled using the PVR functions as the E8000 also has the ability to make recordings to external storage via USB with them also available through the Smart Hub.
We nearly forgot to mention that the E8000 will act as quite an accomplished media player and we had no problems with anything we threw at it using a variety of media servers – PS3 Media Center/Servio/WMP and Samsung’s own, Smartshare software. Owners of mobile devices – either iOS or Android - can benefit from an App that turns it into a remote control that works through Wi-Fi home network and those with Galaxy Tab’s are able to even stream content from the TV to the tablet using the Smart Share app. To be honest, we weren’t very impressed with the Android remote control app as it’s badly sized for anything other than a tablet.
In a first for AVForums, the two TV hardware reviewers were able to chat fairly effortlessly and seamlessly through the built-in Skype functionality. The built-in camera is of a sufficiently high resolution to make a 51” Steve Withers no blurrier than he already is and we were able to easily talk intra TV app and also between the PC application and TV app. It’s a great addition for those who live at long distances from friends and family and one that works (almost) surprisingly well! All in all, the E8000 is packed to the gills with diversions and features and Samsung still leads the way in the Smart Stakes for our money.
- Amazingly accurate colours
- Superior video processing
- Engaging dynamic range
- Solid blacks with excellent shadow detail
- Stupendous feature-set
- Fantastic calibration controls
- Sublimely fluid motion handling
- Brightness pops
- Floating blacks
- Silly 3D Glasses
- Only 3 HDMI Ports
- Quad stand cheapens the looks
- Voice and Motion control feels gimmicky
Samsung E8000 (PS51E8000) Flagship 3D Plasma TV Review
The Samsung PS51E8000 looks every inch the Samsung top-tier product it is and the native gun-metal coloured bezel appears ever darker as the day wears on, eventually settling at deep graphite grey for night-time viewing. It’s a nice touch and our only gripe with the design sits below the panel, in the form of the chicken foot (quad) stand Samsung seem to be insisting is stylish. It’s not to our tastes but we are fans of the newly designed, sleeker remote control that comes in the box of the E8000 even if they have needlessly removed the Aspect Ratio button. This being 2012, it wouldn’t be a flagship product if it didn’t have at least one other controller to get to grips with and, sure enough, the 8000 ships with the new ‘Smart Touch Control’ which reminds us strongly of a Star Trek communicator, not least because it has a built-in microphone for voice control purposes. It also has a touch-pad – hence the name – which makes web browsing on the inbuilt browser much easier than it is using the standard controller. One thing that certainly didn’t shout ‘top tier product’ at us was the rather stingy 3 HDMI inputs located around the back of the TV – the box proclaims that these TVs are the ‘future now’ but, in that respect, Samsung are living in the past.
We never really found the new control schemes genuinely useful. The voice control worked well enough when through the Touch Control but if you need to pick up a controller for it to work properly, what’s the point when you can get where you want to quicker with a couple of button presses? If we tried to command the TV directly, it would often get confused by the sound coming out of its own speakers. The motion control didn’t function at all well in the room it was placed, either day or night, so was really a non-starter. When we could get it to work, again, we found ourselves wondering why? It’s a thumbs up for the Touch Control but the reverse for voice and gesture commands.
The rest of the feature-set – and there are LOTS – is almost mind-boggling in its expanse. The centre of operations, as ever, is the excellent Smart Hub from where the entire cornucopia of diversions can be accessed. Starting from the top, there’s the Your Video section that works as a recommendation engine, where your viewing habits are tracked and suggestions based on genre, subject matter, director, actor/actress are made for your further viewing pleasure. Working down the page and we come to the featured apps that presently include the likes of BBC iPlayer, Netflix and the BBC Sport app, just in time for the Olympics. Besides the aforementioned VoD services, there’s lots more besides, including Samsung’s own Explore 3D streaming service which remains a bit shaky and looks like it could use more server capacity. Across the middle of the Hub, the new Family Story and Kids apps sit. Anyone that has used a PS3 and ‘Play memories’, will be in familiar territory with Family Story as it allows users to build up a scrapbook of photos and memories, via text notes, for the family to treasure forever – or at least as long as they keep the TV! The Kids app delivers a number of educational and recreational games that can, in theory, be gesture controlled. If what’s on the Hub already is not enough, owners can dive in to the Samsung app store to download more where the usual array of games, puzzles and further VoD services awaits. Below the app based fun sit a number of more regular items, including access to the EPG and tuning menus. There’s also access to the camera – whether for Skypeing or not – the USB PVR recordings and the Media Player that proved as robust as any we’ve seen so far in 2012. What’s more, purchasers of this TVs won’t find themselves looking on in envy at whatever innovations Samsung come up with for 2013, if they decide to purchase a card to stick in the upgrade slot at the back of the TV.
That we’ve spent so much time discussing the features might just be a clue that Samsung have been spending more time and money on making the TVs smarter than they have on improving the picture quality. And so it would seem. That’s not to say the pictures the E8000 puts out are sub-par, they are in fact some of the very best we’ve seen so far in 2012, just that they haven’t moved on as much as we’d hoped from last year. The new Real Black Pro technology has translated better in to the filter rather than in improving the absolute black levels. Contrast is still plentiful, shadow detailing is excellent and the calibrated colour output was nothing short of sublime but we do feel just the slightest tinge of disappointment that Samsung hasn’t bridged the dynamic range gap between themselves and the Panasonic plasma’s to a greater extent. The other disappointments came in the shape of luminance shifts at both ends of the scale, in the form of ‘brightness pops’ and ‘floating blacks’ that we really think Samsung should have brought under control by now. The PS51E8000 does hold some advantages over the Viera’s; owners will be hard pressed to spot any dynamic false contouring or panning issues with 50Hz content and it does go significantly brighter than the 50 series’ in their most accurate mode so it’s an ideal choice for plasma lovers who prefer their living rooms to be on the brighter side of ideal viewing conditions.
If anything, Samsung has improved upon the already excellent foundations laid by the 2011 plasma’s and 3D images were pleasingly bright and engaging. We’ve lost count of how many times we’ve sat through the 3D presentation of Avatar now and the E8000 certainly looked every bit as stunning as almost anything we’ve seen so far this year. Thanks to our resident 3D junkie, Steve Withers, we now have the rather jolly Happy Feet 2 as our real world crosstalk torture test, and the Samsung PS51E8000 coped commendably well with the many high contrast scenes on offer. It does show some crosstalk, they almost all do, but it was never enough to drag us out of the experience and the generally smooth motion contributed ably to the mix. We’ve seen a number of TVs struggle with 50Hz Side by Side (SBS) content, which is of particular importance to us as it’s the only way we get to see it through broadcast channels. Happily, the E8000 was amongst the very best we’ve seen at this particular task. All the above comes with the caveat that we really didn’t get on with the supplied 3D glasses that had an almost criminal lack of shielding from extraneous light hitting the lenses in place. We’ll whisper it very quietly and don’t tell anyone but we actually used a pair of compatible Panasonic glasses for the majority of our 3D time with the E8000. Samsung do also offer much better alternatives too!
Gamers should find the Samsung E8000 of sufficient responsiveness with a mid 42 millisecond lag, which puts it toward the top of the TVs tested with the LagTest device. Energy consumption was also very respectable with the E8000 drawing slightly more in the, much brighter, calibrated Movie mode than in the drab, out-of-box Standard setting. The calibrated picture drew an average of 230W, with factory settings at 213W. Naturally the added luminance needed for 3D meant an increase on those numbers with the E8000 averaging almost exactly 300W.
The Samsung E8000 is an absolutely excellent television, in all respects. From the market leading Smart TV suite to the gloriously fluid, contrast rich and supremely accurate pictures, there’s almost nothing to fall out with. In fact, the E8000 is tantalisingly close to delivering virtually flawless pictures but the manufacturers need to work on further increasing dynamic range by decreasing black levels, making sure those blacks don’t float and, at the other end of the scale, stopping the whites from fluctuating. With Samsung’s 55” OLED TV just around the corner, a continued emphasis on LED TVs and seemingly massive investment in their Smart TV pursuits, not to mention declining sales of plasma panels worldwide, we fear they might think it’s just not worth their while. It’s a Highly Recommended for the E8000 but somehow we were hoping for just a little bit more.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level
3D Picture Quality
Ease Of Use
Value for Money
Our Review Ethos
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