Samsung PNB850/860 series overview

In the battle between plasma and LCD, the former generally comes out ahead in most areas of our picture quality tests, while the latter has dominated the less important, but somehow costlier, dimension of depth. LCDs such as the Samsung and Sony edge-lit models and the Hitachi UT37X902 charge a hefty premium for knocking an inch or two from the standard panel's thickness. Now plasma makers want in on that premium, and the PNB850 and PNB860 series represent Samsung's less-depth-for-more-money gambit.

Like the company's thicker, less expensive PNB650 series, the PNB850/860 series offers excellent picture quality with accurate color, deep black levels--albeit not as deep as the best plasmas and LCDs--and solid video processing. In fact, we awarded the two Samsung plasmas the same score in Performance, although the PNB850/860 gets the nod in Design. If you can stomach the higher price and like the thin profile, however, the PNB850/860 makes a compelling option.

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Samsung PNB850/860 series side view

At just 1.2 inches thick, the PNB850/860 cuts a slim figure when seen edge-on.
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Samsung PNB850/860 series corner detail

Glossy black and a transparent edge comprise the Samsung's understated design scheme.
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Samsung PNB850/860 series stand detail

The transparent stalk is reflected in the stainless steel-colored stand base.
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Samsung PNB850/860 series remote

The remote control is very good, and includes a sort of fin added to the back that keeps it stable on a flat surface. The buttons are big, backlit, and easily differentiated by size and shape, and we liked the dedicated "Tools" key that offers quick access to picture and sound modes, the sleep timer, and the picture-in-picture controls. However, we didn't like the remote's glossy black finish that picked up more than its share of dulling fingerprints after a few minutes.
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Samsung PNB850/860 series HDMI inputs

Four HDMI ports are arranged vertically along the PNB850/860's shallow input bay.
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Samsung PNB850/860 series analog inputs

A single component-video input, which can be converted to composite-video, is the only analog video input option. A PC-style analog VGA input is available for computers.
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Samsung PNB850/860 series Yahoo widgets main screen

Yahoo Widgets appear along the bottom of the screen.
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Samsung PNB850/860 series YouTube widget

YouTube is one of the more complex widgets available.
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Samsung PNB850/860 series Yahoo widget gallery

The Gallery offers access to additional widgets for free download.
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Samsung PNB850/860 series Content screen

Built-in content includes directions on how to make a salad.
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Samsung PNB850/860 series main menu

The well-designed main menu gets a blue color palette.
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Samsung PNB850/860 series screen burn protection menu

Options for dealing with potential burn-in abound.
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Samsung PNB850/860 series white balance menu

As usual, we appreciate the presence of detailed color temperature controls.
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Samsung PNB850/860 series software update menu

Software and firmware updates can now be made available online.
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Samsung PNB850/860 series picture quality

Overall the picture quality of the Samsung B850/860 series is superb, albeit a bit short of its prime competition, Panasonic's V10 series. Between the two we give the Panasonic the edge in black level performance and the Samsung the nod in terms of color--with the V10 winning overall in our opinion, if by just a hair. Notably, the B850/860 delivered overall performance that was very similar to that of the less-expensive B650 series, although between the two, surprisingly, the B650's black levels were just a bit better.
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