Samsung PN50B550 Plasma 1080p HDTV

Print

Product: Samsung PN50B550 Plasma 1080p HDTV
Provided By: Samsung Canada
Price: Find Lowest Price Online

 

Introduction:

Today we are taking a look at another HDTV from Samsung, but this time we have a Plasma unit on our bench and in the living room.  This is the first Plasma I've looked at from Samsung and I think it will be interesting to see how it compares in terms of black performance, color accuracy and refresh rate and speed when watching sports.  This is probably one of my favorite things to review as I get to sit down and watch some hockey, football and a little NASCAR as part of my job.  This TV lacks some of the add-on features of the LN40A650 - such as RSS feeds and weather, but it makes up for it with a monster 50" panel that outputs at 1080p and does very good up-scaling of Standard Definition content.

Before we really begin, let's take a quick refresher course on Plasma TV technology.

A plasma display panel (PDP) is a type of flat panel display common to large TV displays (32" inches or larger). Many tiny cells between two panels of glass hold a mixture of noble gases. The gas in the cells is electrically turned into a plasma which then excites phosphors to emit light. Plasma displays should not be confused with LCDs, another lightweight flat-screen display using different technology.

 

Keep in mind that there really is no back-light on a Plasma display.  The gasses that are turned into Plasma essentially emit the light.  It sounds like a futuristic sci-fi idea, but it works.

 Box of Plasma
Box of Plasma
In The Box
In The Box

 

The PN50B550 box is massive and should not be handled alone.  The box is actually as long as my upright piano.  This series of TV from Samsung is pretty darn heavy, and while not as thick as earlier plasma TVs, it's still pretty thick.  Shipping weight on this unit a touch over 85lbs, and that should be a consideration when choosing a wall-mount, stand and for handling.  It would be a shame to drop this unit when trying to install it.



Features & Specs:

Before we get too in depth with technical details, let’s take a quick look at the published specifications for this TV. Keep in mind that these numbers are produced under ideal circumstances and are not always indicative of real world performance.

With SAMSUNG's Touch of Colour™ design aesthetic, our feature-rich 1080 p Full HD plasma 550 Series slips effortlessly into any lifestyle. Enhancements such as 2000000:1 Mega Dynamic Contrast Ratio, FilterBright™ and 600 Hz sub-field drive, make for a television with substance—and style. Add an Energy Star® 3.0 rating, with lead-free materials, and the 550 Series becomes the ultimate television for today's discerning viewer.

Touch of Colour™ design
SAMSUNG's trademark Touch of Colour™ (ToC) design is interpreted in sophisticated charcoal grey. With its swivel base and mounted on a floating, reinforced glass stand, the 550 Series works a room like never before.

600 Hz subfields
SAMSUNG plasma TVs achieve faster, move fluid moving images due to the fact that they have more subfield per second than any other plasma. With 600 subfield in every second, they deliver images that appear seamless, smooth, and stunningly natural.

response time 0.001ms
No matter how fast the action, SAMSUNG Plasma TVs are ready to perform. The response time 0.001 ms equals to light speed that creates clear and non-blur scenes at the highest speed.

game mode
Game Mode enhances your gaming experience by providing you with smooth moving images, incredible sharpen of detail, and sound that is clear and powerful.

Anynet+
Connect and create your ideal home network environment with one remote control device using our Anynet+ technology. Simply connect all individual components to your SAMSUNG Plasma TV and enjoy one-touch of a world of exquisite entertainment.

USB 2.0
USB 2.0 provides an expansive entertainment environment. Simply connect any portable digital media devise to the TV via the USB 2.0 input and watch your, photos and music come to life on the big screen.

mega dynamic contrast 2000000:1
True cinematic clarity is achieved by the incredible Mega Dynamic Contrast Ratio, which saturates every image with rich detail and enhanced intensity. Capable of creating pure black and pristine white tones, SAMSUNG Plasma TV's expand the spectrum to provide colours that burst from the screen.

FilterBright™
SAMSUNGs patented FilterBright™ technology enables you to enjoy clear images in any lighting condition. Unlike conventional Plasma which can be blurred by bright daytime light, SAMSUNGs Plasma has an advanced super black panel that absorbs external light and minimizes reflections for high picture clarity, brightness and darker black expressions.

Wide Colour Enhancer 2
The colours, perfected by nature remain vibrant and pure. Images are saturated with vivid, natural colour due to the expanded range of colour expression. By strengthening the reds, greens, and blues, you get more depth and intensity in images that might have previously looked weak, or washed out.

anti burn-in technology
SAMSUNG's Plasma HDTVs are built to last. Anti-burn-in technology uses auto pixel shift, signal pattern processing function and all white screens to ensure that no images are burned into your plasma panel.

1080 Full HD motion
With faster speeds and shorter decay times, that other manufacturer's Plasma displays, SAMSUNGs Plasma TV delivers stunning HD TV motion clarity that keeps delivering 1080 lines of Full HD resolution even in fast moving scenes like sports, movies, and games.
 

 

Short Specifications

 

Of all of these specifications the 2,000,000:1 Dynamic Contrast ratio is the most interesting.  You will notice that this number is far greater than the typical 50,000:1 contrast ratio that is typical for other Samsung LCD TVs.  The other specifications are fairly normal and there is nothing else that is particularly noteworthy.


First Look:

I'll be honest, the 50" Plasma from Samsung is nothing really ground-breaking in terms of looks.  It looks like most other Samsung TVs and my only concern is the stand that supports the TV by a acrylic pillar.  It does swivel though and that is a good thing if you have the TV set on a stand perpendicular to a wall and want to angle the TV for better viewing.  The back of the TV is quite well ventilated and contains a lot of ports that we'll look at in a minute.

 Unboxed
Unboxed
Rear View
Rear View

 

The ports are located on the rear of the unit as well as along the left side (when facing the TV).  They include almost everything you'll ever need - including 4x HDMI ports.  You can connect non-HDMI devices through the VGA connector or the 2x Component inputs on the rear.  One of these can double as a straight up composite input as well.  The PN50B550 is not merely a plasma monitor; it also has a TV tuner for those of you that are still trying to get analog signals into your TV.  On the side of the TV we find the fourth HDMI port, a USB port and a regular set of composite inputs.

 Rear Ports
Rear Ports
Side Ports
Side Ports

 

While we're on the subject of hooking things up and cables, I highly recommend that you check out monoprice.com if you haven't already.  Independent tests show that their HDMI cables - of any length - have identical quality to overpriced cables such as the monster, and it can save you $500 easily.  It is important to note that if you are hooking up a computer from a DVI port, you'll need to use HDMI 2, and the appropriate audio cables to make things work seamlessly.  Other than that, it's pretty much a no-brainer.

 

TV Menus:

Although the TV picture and audio seem to work very good out of the box, there are a lot of settings that allow you to tweak, mess, and possibly degrade your picture quality.  Samsung has included several pre-defined settings that control both audio and video settings.  For example, "Sports" mode boosts the saturation and brightness while "Cinema" drops the color to a more neutral tone and the brightness dims for a better viewing experience in a darkened room.

As the menu was pretty boring this time around, I didn't include pictures of them.  The only thing that really interested me was the Dynamic contrast ration level.  It appeared to make a bit of a difference, but we'll take more about that when we test this large TV.

 

Testing:

Testing is always the hardest part about a TV review.  Image quality can be such a subjective experience and I usually like to operate with cold hard facts in hand. Most of these tests are subjective however there are a few quantitative tests mixed in.  Just like with our LCD reviews, we have incorporated a bit of hardware that allows us to test contrast ratio, color accuracy and lighting uniformity.  If you want more details on how we test LCD panels and TV, please check our article here.

Spyder 3

First up we used the Spyder 3 Colorimeter to measure color accuracy when plugged into a PC.  I used this system to play back some Blu-Ray and HD-DVD movies as well as gaming, web-surfing and more.  Initially, the color seemed a little bright and over saturated and the colorimeter tells the story better than I can.


 Target
Target
Uncalibrated
Uncalibrated
   
 Correction
Correction
 Calibrated
Calibrated

 

As you can see in the images above, the color was very "boosted" by factory default and required a pretty impressive color calibration in order to bring the TV into a proper calibrated state.  Oddly enough, once viewing the TV for a couple of weeks uncalibrated, once it was calibrated the color looked much more subdued and dull.  That is why some TVs in the store look much better than the others beside them - some are boosted to look brighter and more colorful, when actually the color is unrealistic.  To the average consumer however, the brighter one is usually the one they take home.

When it comes to lighting uniformity, we use a luminance meter in a darkened room and take measurements at the LCDs default settings.  Usually brightness is set to 50%, and for contrast ratio tests, we use  the maximum contrast ratio available.  Take a look at how evenly (or unevenly) the backlight is on this TV.

 LCD - Chart
2D Brightness

 

LCD - 3D
3D Brightness

While it may not look like very good lighting uniformity, the reality is that there are a couple of spots that are 17% dimmer than the brightest spot.  This cannot be observed with the naked eye though and that is why we measure with our meter.  We want to see how even it really is.  The 17% variation is perhaps one of the best results we've seen with a large TV and this is actually very good.

When we checked the contrast ratio, we tested several different scenarios such as dynamic contrast, bright backlight, low backlight and settled on a standard "normal" setting on the TV. The Dynamic Contrast ratio was used and tested and the results appeared to be better, but testing becomes sketchier with Dynamic Contrast enabled - at any setting.  The reality is that when you display solid color measuring screens (white & black), the Dynamic Contrast kicks in and tones down the solid colors.  When both are displayed on the screen at the same time, the results are more impressive.  The reality is that we saw contrast ratios float around 2000:1, and that is far short of the 2 Million to 1 Samsung claims, but it is the best showing so far.  Black levels measured in at 0.7 lux and this is tremendous.


Viewing Angle:

While some panels - both in LCD monitors and TVs have issues keeping color uniform when viewing from different angles, the viewing angle on the PN50B550 claims to be over 174° both horizontal and vertical.  While many other displays I've used do indeed produce some sort of picture at these angles, the quality of the image is less that ideal - much less.  Take a look below at the viewing angle shots from a frame from Discovery HD.

 Side Angle
Side Angle
Vivid Picture
Vivid Picture

 

As you can see by checking out the images above, the viewing angle stays pretty consistent until it gets pretty extreme.  At roughly 120° the picture starts to wash out.  It's quite a ways from the 174° (keep in mind that 180° is straight sideways), but overall it has very friendly wide-angle viewing area.  I had no issues watching TV from any seat in my living room.  By the way, the image above-left is Dubai.

 

Gaming: 

The gaming “tests” are always the most fun part of these reviews and this is a great TV to be gaming on.  My TV is the heart of our home entertainment system and I have a lot of movies cached on a NAS.  I also use the computer to play some games such as Devil May Cry 4, Call of Duty 4 and even Lego Indiana Jones.  I had no problems gaming on this TV with Dynamic Contrast turned on or off.  There were also no visible signs of ghosting or image distortion.  The 0.001 ms response time (yeah right) is a non-issue and gaming looked incredible on this TV.  Even gaming on the Wii at 480p up-scaled nicely and it looked great all around.

 

PC Connectivity:

As I mentioned previously, I use this TV hooked up to my PC primarily for entertainment, but also do a bit of web-surfing, Flickr browsing another other HTPC related tasks.  With a nice broadband connection you can easily stream video from sites such as Hulu.  It's nice to be able to do all of these things from the comfort of your recliner.  Even though this unit has a nice high native resolution of 1920x1080, I still noticed that text on the PC was kind of fuzzy.  It didn't look any better through the VGA or HDMI 2 (DVI) port either.  It's not bad by all means, but it wasn't as crisp as I'd hoped.  I guess that a 50" TV cannot replace an actual computer monitor for text-heavy tasks.  Keep in mind that as you lower resolution, this only gets worse.


 

Conclusion:

After using the 50" Plasma from Samsung for almost a month, I've got to say that the 50" is a great size.  Even my parents came over and watched some TV on this unit and were impressed - so impressed that they went out and purchased one for themselves.  The PN50B550 has a decent feature set, tons of inputs and excellent picture quality.  Video played back from HD Satellite TV, Blu-Ray movies and even older HD DVDs is stunning.  Even when up-scaling DVD movies, the Wii and SDTV, the picture quality is very acceptable as this unit does a much better job that I thought it would.  As is the case with many TVs, the colors are boosted from the factory giving the TV an incredible first impression.  Once it was calibrated correctly, it performed even better - albeit a little less dazzling.

The four HDMI ports on this TV assures that you will be able to hook up your favorite components and be able to play all of that HDCP protected content without issues.  The pair of component video inputs as well as pair of composite video inputs gives you flexibility for older devices.

 

Pros:

  • 600 Hz Subfield for smooth fast action
  • Good contrast ratio - blacks are black
  • Lots of inputs
  • Vivid picture

 

Cons:

  • Sound quality not as good as the LN40A650
  • Color boosted to unrealistic levels by default
  • Computer connected text is a bit fuzzy

 

 BCCRating

Silver

I'd like to thank Samsung Canada for sending out this TV for us to review.  I enjoyed watching some great hockey on this unit and my kids enjoyed their games even more than usual.  If you have any questions or comments, please post them in the forum at the "Comments" link below.