For the last couple of years it seems that our job as TV reviewers comes down to determining which TV is better: the best Panasonic plasma or the best Samsung plasma. In 2011 the vessel bearing the Samsung flag is the PND8000, and while Panasonic's VT30 still deserves the overall picture quality nod in our book, the Samsung is good enough to match the Panasonic's numeric Performance score of 9. The PND8000's picture quality is superb, and we don't expect any other TV aside from the VT30 to surpass it this year--although the less-expensive PND7000 series, which we have yet to review, might equal it. The kicker, and it's a big one, is that the 59-inch Samsung we reviewed actually costs less than the 55-inch Panasonic, while delivering a better design and even more features. Unless you're the pickiest of videophiles with the most unlimited of budgets, it's tough to justify the cost of the VT30 over the PND8000.
Samsung differentiated the equal-size D8000 and D7000 plasmas by coloring their metallic frames "titanium" and "brushed black," respectively. While both look plenty slick--especially with the company's trademark transparent edging--we slightly prefer the darker D7000. We also like the latter's stand better, with its rectangular base and transparent stalk. The D8000's chrome-colored spider stand is a great reason to get this TV wall-mounted.
Thinner than its Panasonic and LG counterparts and sporting a new, more compact frame around the screen, the D8000 series gets our vote for the best-looking plasma TV available. That bezel is narrower than any plasma's we've tested, outdoing the Panasonic GT30's by 0.19 inch. The bottom edge of the frame is a bit thicker (2.13 inches) but that does nothing to spoil the PND8000's LED TV-like dimensions.
The remote included with Samsung's flagship TVs like the PND8000 is a flipper. The top side of the wedge-shaped rectangle offers standard TV controls that shoot infrared commands to the TV, while the bottom gets a full QWERTY keypad along with a screen, and works via Bluetooth (which doesn't need line-of-sight).
The new Smart Hub is the home page for all apps and provides shortcuts to local streaming sources (music, photos, and videos via DLNA and USB), inputs, and even a schedule manager. It delivers a wealth of options, albeit on a crowded screen that's intimidating at first. There's some ability to customize the Hub, and we liked that we could place AllShare, Channel, and others we didn't want into a folder (although they couldn't be removed completely).
The PND8000 includes two separate app and widget interfaces: the main Samsung Apps Smart Hub and, yes, Yahoo Widgets. The latter offers 43 total choices as of press time, ranging from local TV station apps to Twitter to Revision3 to eBay to NASA Live TV. We really wish a single interface could deliver all of the content to one place, but since most of the important apps can now be found in Smart Hub, we doubt most users will even access Yahoo.
Samsung's 2011 TV menus have been refreshed and also feel a bit snappier than before. The main column of adjustments, formerly transparent, is now bright opaque blue on the D8000, with rounded edges and good-size text. Each major menu item gets a text explanation, and many are accompanied by helpful little illustrations.
Samsung's PND8000 is the best Samsung plasma we've ever tested, and the third best of all time after the Kuro and the Panasonic VT30. Its black level performance was very good, with the ability to produce extremely deep blacks, although it failed to resolve full shadow detail--and properly reproduce 1080p/24--when calibrated for those deep blacks. Color after calibration was, simply put, as close to perfect as we've seen on any TV, bright-room and 3D picture quality were excellent, and of course it trounced any LCD in terms of uniformity and off-angle viewing.