Why Samsung's F8500 is the last great plasma TV

Contrary to what the company indicated at CES, Samsung won't bring to market any new plasma TVs for 2014 -- aside from a single mainstream 64-inch model. That leaves the carryover F8500 as default champion of non-OLED picture quality.

Samsung PN60F8500
The Samsung PNF8500 from 2013, distinctive O'Keeffe-esque stand and all, will continue to be sold through 2014. Sarah Tew/CNET

Last year the superb Samsung PNF8500 series of plasmas was our third-favorite TV overall for picture quality, losing out to Panasonic's VT/ZT series by a nose. Now that those two are gone, never to be replaced, the 8500 is top dog for picture quality.

Now Samsung has officially confirmed to CNET the reports that, aside from a single 64-inch model, it will not be making any new plasma TVs in 2014. It will, however, continue producing the 8500 and a couple of other models "through 2014."

That new TV, the PN64H5000, "falls between the [2013] F5300, which is our Full HD entry series, and the F5500," according to a Samsung spokesperson. In other words, it promises mainstream-level picture quality that is, at best, a match for the PNF5500 series.

So long, H7000, we hardly knew ya

The PN64H5000 should be a fine TV, but it's hardly the kind of world-beater the company mentioned as a possibility at CES. That TV, described to the CES Daily in an article with the hopeful title "Samsung Affirms Plasma Commitment," was supposedly the H7000 series. It was said to offer similar picture quality to the F8500 but at a price $300-$700 less, an appealing combination indeed. It will not be brought to market.

"Given the popularity of the award-winning F8500 series and requests from retail partners, Samsung will carry over the series into 2014 instead of adding a new midtier series," said a company statement supplied to CNET, when we sought an update on the H7000.

Of course anything is possible, and perhaps Samsung will reverse course and decide to resurrect the H7000, or another plasma series entirely, after all. But the company isn't promising anything, and remarks made at CES by John Ryu, vice president of Samsung's Visual Display R&D office, are telling.

Ryu said that he doesn't think plasma has a future beyond 2014 at his company. He cited the difficulty of making a cost-effective 4K version -- reportedly a factor in Panasonic's pull-out -- and the overall cost of production compared with LED LCD.

Samsung PN60F8500
The 8500 plasma from 2013 may also produce the best non-OLED picture of 2014. Sarah Tew/CNET

Another nail in plasma's coffin

Plasma is on life support as it is, and Samsung's confirmation of its lack of commitment to developing the technology further in 2014 represents more bad news. If I was a betting man, I'd wager 2014 will be the last year Samsung and LG, the last two makers of plasma TVs left, continue selling them.

In the meantime, here's a look at Samsung's full 2014 plasma lineup. All of them, until Samsung decides to finally pull the plug, will be available for sale throughout 2014.

Series Sizes (inches) Year introduced
PNF8500 51, 60, 64 2013 (carryover)
PNH5000 64 2014 (new)
PNF5300 51, 60 2013 (carryover)
PNF4500 43, 51 2013 (carryover)

Samsung also told us, in response to our queries, that club versions (special models for certain stores) of the 5300 and 4500 series will continue to be produced throughout the year. The PNF5500 series, meanwhile, will not be available after the second quarter of 2014.

The PNF8500 series will continue to work with upcoming Evolution Kits, the 2014 version of which will be available in May (model SEK-2000, $249).

Unless we actually review an OLED TV, I expect the PNF8500 to remain at the top of our Best TVs: Picture quality list throughout the remainder of the year. It's just that good, and none of the new TVs I saw at CES will necessarily perform any better overall. No, it can't offer the amazing value of the dearly departed Panasonic ST60, but at least it's still available -- for now.

And since Panasonic is out and LG's plasmas aren't in the same league, the Samsung PNF8500 is the last great plasma TV.

 

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