Overview

Ever since we tested the Panasonic TC-PVT25 series in June, we've been itching to compare it directly to Samsung's flagship 3D-compatible plasma HDTV for 2010. After finally getting the chance to review the Samsung PNC8000 series--the odds-on favorite, if there is one, to defeat the Panasonic--we can declare the verdict in this dogfight: Panasonic by a black nose.

The PNC8000 is an excellent performer, and deserves the silver medal among plasma TVs we've tested so far this year. In addition, we'd wager no other as-yet-announced TV will outperform either one in 2010. But the Samsung's crucial reproduction of black can't achieve the same inkiness as the Panasonic, so it falls short. It beats the VT25 to a greater or lesser extent in a few other areas, including overall color reproduction, bright room performance and video processing, but none of those margins of victory are convincing enough to close the gap. The Samsung costs less, however, and its style and feature set will certainly turn heads, although for this price we'd expect to get a pair of those 3D glasses thrown in too. The VT25 might be the better performer, but the picture quality of the PNC8000 series will rightly claim its share of videophile devotees.

Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Side view

This is what 1.4 inches deep looks like.
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Corner detail

We're fans of the clean, classic styling of Samsung's plasmas.
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Stand detail

A transparent edge along the frame matches the stand stalk.
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Connectivity

The slim panel necessitates a cramped input section. Four HDMI are onboard, but only one component-video input.
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Remote control

When we reviewed Samsung's UNC8000 LCD in May we complained about the chrome- and round-edge remote. The PNC8000 plasma includes the same clicker, which reminds us of an overgrown candy bar-style phone. It looks sexy and feels solid. Too bad it's such a pain to use.

The buttons are just poorly-differentiated divisions of the flat face, and it's impossible to tell them apart by feel. We constantly had to look down (away from the TV screen) when doing anything more basic than navigating via the cursor controls. We'd trade this remote in for a universal model in a second. Select Samsung phones can apparently control the TV, as can the company's own optional touchscreen remote to better Tweet from your TV

Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

3D glasses

Samsung's compatible 3D glasses, model SG-2100AB, cost about $150 per pair. You can also opt for the 3D starter kit, with two pairs of glasses and a movie, if you buy a Samsung 3D Blu-ray player.
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

3D formats

Like all current 3D TVs the PNC8000 can handle a variety of 3D formats, including the side-by-side method used by DirecTV. There's also a setting that converts 2D to 3D content. Here's a look at how the same system on the UNC8000 handles "Avatar."
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

3D menu

Samsung offers a smattering of settings for both native 3D content and 2D to 3D conversion. With the former you can fool around with "3D viewpoint," said to adjust perspective, while the latter provides a "depth" setting that gives a similar adjustment option. On the other hand the C7000 lacks the 3D Optimize option found on the UNC8000 LCD. It's also worth noting that engaging 3D changes to a separate set of picture settings, and removes some of the options available in 2D mode (like Eco settings, aspect ratio adjustments, and more).
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Samsung Apps

The Samsung Apps platform provides access to more streaming-media services than competing TVs.
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Hulu Plus App

Hulu Plus has a great interface and very good image quality, but we were irked that we couldn't change the picture controls.
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Hulu Plus playback

Streaming on Hulu Plus works a lot like Netflix, aside from the commercials.
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Yahoo widgets

Yahoo Widgets are available along with Samsung Apps, and since both interfaces offer similar services (both have Facebook and Twitter, for example), it can be confusing.
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Online firmware updates

Like all Samsung Internet-connected TVs, the PNC8000 can receive online firmware updates.
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Picture presets

Samsung's PNC8000 adds a couple of extra picture modes intended for calibrators, but anybody can access them.
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Video processing

The PNC8000's extra video processing features noted above manifest in a pair of dejudder presets, entitled Standard and Smooth, which join our favorite such setting (Off) in the Motion Judder Canceller menu. The Film Mode menu hides the Cinema Smooth setting reserved for 1080p/24 content. We really appreciate that, after first selection, it engages automatically when it detects such content.
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

10-point white balance menu

Highlights for tweakers include a new 10-point system--it works better than what we saw on LG's PK950 plasma, --in addition to internal test patterns and red, green and blue color filters, all to aid would-be calibrators.
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Picture quality

With both 2D and 3D sources the Samsung PNC8000 is the second-best-performing TVs overall that we've reviewed this year, although it does fall short of the Panasonic TC-PVT25 series. The Samsung's color accuracy and video processing--as long as you disable the dejudder function--are top-notch, its antiglare filter is a real asset in bright rooms, and naturally it shows all of the uniformity and off-angle advantages typical of plasma. Its depth of black was very good, although it qualifies as a weakness at this level since blacks were still lighter than other flagship contenders. The PNC8000's 3D picture quality was as impressive as any TV we've seen, again with the exception of the Panasonic VT25.
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:
Hot Galleries

CNET's Holiday Gift Guide

'Tis the season for a gadget upgrade

Check out these 8 tablets you'll want to bring home for the holidays.

Hot Products