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Samsung PN51F8500AF Plasma TV Review

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Samsung PN51F8500AF Plasma TV

Samsung PN51F8500AF Plasma TV

Summary

  • Product Name: PN51F8500AF Plasma TV
  • Manufacturer: Samsung
  • Review Date: September 10, 2013 17:00
  • MSRP: $1,900
  • First Impression: Gotta Have It!
  • Buy Now
Design
  • Type: Plasma
  • Color: Titan Black
Video
  • Screen Size: 50.7"
  • Native Resolution: 1920 x 1080p
  • 600Hz Subfield Motion
  • Cinema Smooth +
Audio
  • Dolby Digital Plus/ Pulse
  • Sound Effect System: DNSe+
  • DTS Premium Sound 5.1
  • 3D Sound
  • Sound Customizer
  • Sound Output (RMS): 10W x 2
  • Speaker Type: Down Firing + Full Range
Wireless Connectivity
  • Wi-Fi: Built-in Wi-Fi
  • Wi-Fi Direct
Features
  • Smart Hub
  • Processor: Quad Core
  • Apps Platform: Smart TV with Apps, S-Recommendation and Full Web Browser
  • Camera Built-in (Pop-up-Style)
  • Voice Interaction (NLU)
  • AllShare: Content Sharing and Screen Mirroring
  • Smart View: Dual View and Clone View
  • Smart Evolution Ready
  • 3D
  • Real Black Pro Panel
  • Wide Color Enhancer Plus
  • Auto Volume Leveler
  • ConnectShare Movie
  • RVU (Direct TV Ready)
  • Smart Phone Remote Support
  • OSD Language: English, Spanish, French
  • InstaPort S (HDMI Quick Switch)
  • Anynet+ (HDMI-CEC)
  • BD Wise: BD Wise Plus
  • Closed Captioning
  • Game Mode
  • Sound Share
  • MHL
  • Bluetooth
  • USB HID Support
  • Eco Sensor
  • Auto Power Off
  • Clock & On/Off Timer
Inputs & Outputs
  • HDMI: 4
  • USB 2.0: 3
  • Ethernet
  • Component
  • Composite In (AV) (Shared with Component)
  • RF In (Terrestrial/Cable Input)
  • Digital Audio Out (Optical)
  • IR out
  • RS232 (AV Control)
Dimensions
  • Product Size (W x H x D) Without Stand: 46.9" x 28.0" x 1.9"
  • Product Size (W x H x D) With Stand: 46.9" x 29.4" x 10.6"
  • Shipping Size (W x H x D): 50.9" x 33.5" x 15.0"
Weight
  • Product Weight Without Stand: 46.1 lb.
  • Product Weight With Stand: 51.6 lb.
  • Shipping Weight: 65.0 lb.
 Power
  • Power Supply (V): AC110-120V 60Hz
  • Typical Power Consumption: 155 W
  • Maximum Power Consumption: 467 W
  • Standby Power Consumption: Under 0.5 W
System
  • TV Tuner: DTV Tuner/Digital Cable Tuner/Analog Tuner
  • 3D Active Glasses: 4 (SSG-5100GB) Included
  • IR Extender Cable
  • Remote: Samsung Smart Touch Control (TM1390)
  • Mini Wall Mount Compatibility: Compatible
  • Vesa Wall Mount Compatibility (400x400)
  • Slim Gender Cable: 1 Component (AV share)
  • Power Cable: Included
  • Warranty: 1 year Parts and Labor

I love plasma TVs. I love how black the blacks get. I think that LCD has gotten tremendously better over the years, but when I come back to plasma it just reminds me of how good television can be. But this isn't a plasma TV technology review, it's a review of Samsung's latest and greatest television, the PN51F8500. This is the best plasma TV Samsung has ever released. In fact, it's probably the best plasma TV we've ever reviewed. In fact, it's probably the best TV you're going to see this year. Just let that sink in a bit...

Let me justify that last statement, cause I know it's a doosie. Samsung is now using what it refers to as a "Real Black Pro" filter. This is a third generation filter that really makes the screen jet black where it's not in use. So that means that when it's off, the entire screen is jet black, not dark gray. When you watch cinemascope aspect ratio movies, the letterbox areas are jet black...and when you watch this in a completely light-controlled room, as we did, the dark areas are.. yes, you guessed it—jet black. 

Here's Samsung's explanation of the feature:

Real Black Pro Filter is a technological advancement that combines a hardware and software enhancement to improve picture quality with deeper blacks, bolder color, and higher contrast by reducing light reflection. The Real Black Pro filter improves deep black levels in bright room conditions, and Adaptive Reset Control does the same for darker rooms. The result is deep, rich colors and spectacular contrast.

The First Plasma TV as Bright as an LED Panel

And that alone would be impressive, but this panel is actually brighter than any other plasma we've reviewed. I mean LED backlit TV bright. It's over twice as bright as the a typical plasma TV and that means that for the first time, Samsung has completely upended my whole reason for recommending LED and LCD backlit TVs. They've really...they've really ruined everything. I mean, what am I going to say now when people ask if they should buy a plasma TV or LCD? I used to say, "Buy a plasma if you have a light-controlled room, but you may want an LCD TV if you can't control light." Now I have to say, "Buy a Samsung PNF8500 series plasma." That's pretty much it. Unless you're on a budget, in which case the $1,900 cost for this 51" display might scare you off. It's totally worth it, though. It really is.

Motion and Voice

This TV has the same motion and voice control as the Samsung UN55ES8000F we reviewed late last year...Actually that's not true. The motion control seems more refined. I had less issues getting it to recognize my hand and activate the various controls. And the voice control now uses natural language. You can now say such things as "Hi, TV. I want to watch Star Trek." and it will pull up all available Star Trek shows and movies for you to watch. You can also ask the TV for general recommendations. For example: "Show me Sci-Fi movies." Yes, the Samsung now has natural language voice recognition. It's very cool and a feature that should actually get a lot of use. The bottom line is that the new TV's interface is a far cry from the constraints of previous Samsung Smart TV systems.

Samsung 8500F plasma voice control

Samsung 8500F plasma voice commands

Remote Control & Interface

But it kind of has to be better, because this Smart Touch remote control... Well, it has a beautifully responsive touch interface and a minimalistic backlit set of buttons. It gets the job done, but ergonomics were not on the menu apparently, because you're going to find yourself swiping and tapping a lot to get to even basic features. For example, the Samsung takes over my DISH Network Guide, so if I want to use the better one that comes with the DISH Hopper that I have connected, I need to bring up the on-screen More remote on the Samsung and use that guide button.

Samsung 8500F plasma remote

Samsung 8500F plasma remote

If I want to go directly to another channel, I need to speak to my TV, or pull up the More on-screen remote and dial it in with swipes and clicks. Don't get me wrong, I like this remote in principle, but I wish Samsung had given me the option to simply call up my own Guide instead of using theirs. Also, should you lose the remote...the PNF8500 series is going to be completely dependent upon voice commands. There are no buttons on the TV itself. Absolutely none. About the only other difficulty I had was that the program guide sent out errant IR codes for channels in the beginning, but a quick firmware update via the TV's Support menu solved that, and the Guide works flawlessly now with my DISH Hopper via the included IR emitter.

On a technical note, one thing that niggled me with regards to the Samsung's interface is that it has very little tolerance for a selected input that isn't receiving video. I have the PN51F8500 wired into a wireless IOGear HDMI switch so that I only have to send it one HDMI cable. The result is that I have to switch my IOGear device to send it the proper signal. Each time I do, the Samsung times out waiting for the new input and throws up a message on the screen that I have to dismiss with the remote. This wouldn't be bad if, for example, the presence of a restored video signal dismissed the on-screen warning. But it doesn't. As you can imagine, this wreaks havoc with IR remote-based macro commands. There are workarounds, but I think the Samsung could be more forgiving in this area (Hint: Samsung, a firmware update to address this would be much appreciated!)

The Smart Hub

Samsung 8500F plasma camera

The Smart Hub has been redesigned in the PNF8500 series as well. There are more programming options than ever, like HBO Go, which wasn't on prior versions of the Smart TV. And of course, the built-in camera lets you do easy Skype calls in addition to motion control. Skype calls were fun, but there was a bit of an echo on our end of the TV which made it a bit less than practical. The new camera is also really cool and now flips up and tucks back down when you don't need it (or when you get concerned the NSA might be spying on you).

Samsung 8500F plasma Smart Hub

Samsung 8500F plasma Smart Hub

Samsung's Smart View app lets you watch TV content on your other devices...sort of. Unlike DISH Anywhere, the Samsung app only works when both devices are on the same WiFi network, and it doesn't allow anything connected via HDMI to show up on your mobile device, only analogue inputs. There's also a power button which, when you push it, turns off the TV—and you have to turn it on again via the remote in order to use the app again. And this is a great place to move into viewing tests, because despite Samsung's enthusiasm over its simplified remote and its human interface, I don't think you should be buying this TV for anything other than it's absolutely stellar picture quality. 

Viewing Tests

As always, I had a lot of movies in the queue for this review, including Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Thor. These are great movies because of texture, fast motion and black levels. On Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the life-sized chess pieces had wonderful detail, and even though the scene was intensely dark. there was a lot of depth and resolution. Check out the shadows in the children's clothing and the many recesses of the moving chess pieces. This entire movie is dark, and the dynamic range of the PNF8500 was really above and beyond anything I've seen. I would typically never recommend a plasma for bright viewing in daytime, but even darker movies like this were watchable in a fully lit room. Between this and the fact that this TV is less than 2" thick at its widest point, I'd almost accuse Samsung of mistakenly sending me an LED TV—but this plasma is the real-deal.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Thor's Asgard

Thor's Asgard

Thor showed me that the Samsung's motion judder-reduction is pretty effective, but even turning it off yields an excellent (and more film-like) picture with no perceivable artifacts. Samsung has the 24 fps to 60 fps conversion process down pat, and slow pans across buildings and even the pinwheel-styled set pieces in Asgard yielded no jaggies or dithering errors. Broadcast shows like TNT's Falling Skies and reruns of Dr Who on BBC America also looked stunning. After watching literally hours of movies and high-definition television on this display, we came up with our opening conclusion. This is the best TV you're likely to see this year. Your only hard choice is whether or not you can afford it and what size you want: this 51-inch, the $2,800 60-inch or the $3,400 64-inch model.

Samsung 8500F plasma

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Unless otherwise indicated, this is a preview article for the featured product. A formal review may or may not follow in the future.

About the author:
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Clint Deboer was terminated from Audioholics for misconduct on April 4th, 2014. He no longer represents Audioholics in any fashion.

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