Editors' Note 04/17/2008: The rating on this review has been modified from 8.0 to 7.6 due to changes in the competitive marketplace.
While Samsung seems to devote more marketing dollars and advertising hype to its line of flat-panel LCD TVs, the company also produces flat-panel plasmas. They might not look as appealing when turned off or when reduced to a spec sheet, but the HP-T64 series of Samsung plasmas, the company's second-highest-end line, definitely holds its own where it counts. The 50-inch HP-T5064 is a great example, and in many ways its picture quality outclasses that of the Panasonic TH-50PX77U, its direct competition. It has similar black level performance and superior color accuracy compared to the Panasonic, but its glare-reducing screen isn't nearly as effective. Taken as a whole, however, the Samsung HP-T5064 is finally a worthy competitor against the Alpha-caliber Panasonics and Pioneers of the plasma dog pile.
The HP-T5064 doesn't have the same kind of sculpted, aggressively high-tech look as Samsung's LN-T65F series of LCDs. Instead the squared-off corners and flat planes of its glossy black frame create a more traditional, albeit perfectly handsome, appearance. The swath of frame below the screen opens up into a long horizontal slit at its bottom edge, from which the sound of the otherwise hidden speakers emerges. Samsung does include the same kind of swivel stand found on its LCDs, which allows the panel to move up to 20 degrees in either direction. Including stand, the HP-T5064 measures 48.5 inches wide by 33.3 inches tall by 13 inches deep and weighs 97 pounds; without the stand, the panel comes in at about 48.5 inches tall by 31 inches wide by 3.5 inches deep and 91.4 pounds.
Samsung's remote is almost the same as last year, and we generally found the slender wand easy to operate. Only the keys for volume, channel, and device control (the universal clicker can command four other pieces of gear) are illuminated, but that's better than most TV remotes, which skip backlighting altogether. All of the buttons are nicely separated and differentiated, with the exception of secondary controls clustered at the clicker's base, which kind of blend together. We'd like to see dedicated buttons for each input, although since the set automatically senses and skips inactive inputs, cycling between sources is less arduous than usual. The menu system is easy to navigate, and we appreciated the text explanations that accompanied the selections.
Like most 50-inch plasmas, the Samsung HP-T5064 has a native resolution of 1,366x768, which is plenty to resolve every line of a 720p source. All sources, whether HDTV, DVD, standard-def TV or computers, are scaled to fit the pixels.
As we mentioned at the top, Samsung is touting the glare-reducing properties of its plasma screens this year. The main difference between the HP-T64 line and less-expensive HP-T54 line is that the 64 models, like this one, have better glare-reducing screens. For more on how the HP-T5064's screen stacks up against the competition, see the Performance section.
The HP-T5064 has nearly all of the numerous picture-adjusting features of the company's LCDs. It starts with three picture modes that are each independent for each input, allowing you to customize each source with three different groups of picture settings. Only Movie mode allows full adjustment, however, so we recommend using it for the most-demanding viewing conditions.
In addition to the five presets for color temperature, there's a full set of detailed color temperature controls. Labeled "white balance," they offer both gain and offset adjustments for red, green, and blue, which allows more-advanced users to really zero in the set's grayscale. The My Color control, on the other hand, doesn't seem to do much of anything, so we left it in the default positions. The selection of secondary picture controls includes items labeled "black level," which affects shadow detail; dynamic contrast, which adjusts black level on the fly; gamma, which affects the rate of progression from dark to light; and a selection for color gamut, which controls the range of colors the display can reproduce.
We appreciated the solid collection of aspect ratio controls, which include four choices for HD sources. Just Scan is our favorite because it introduces minimal overscan. Standard-def sources allow four choices as well, including two zoom modes you can adjust vertically, to see subtitles or obscure tickers, for example. The Samsung also has a picture-in-picture function that allows it to display two programs at once.
The setup menu also contains a section candidly labeled "Screen Burn Protection" that provides more options to remedy burn-in than we've seen yet in a plasma TV. The "white" option simply fills the screen with a white field while the "scrolling" option created a black-to-white ramp that scrolls slowly across the screen; both are designed to remove burned-in sections of the screen if they appear. There's also an adjustable "pixel shift" function that slowly moves the entire image across the screen to help prevent stationary screen elements, such as letterbox bars and tickers, from burning in to begin with. Finally there are two settings, dark and light, for the side bars around 4:3 programs. As much as we consider burn-in a greatly exaggerated issue with plasma, we still like the fact that Samsung includes all of these reassuring options.
Like more and more 2007 HDTVs, the Samsung HP-T5064 offers three HDMI inputs, as opposed to just two. Two are on the back, while a third can be found in a recessed bay along the panel's left side. The Samsung's commendable connectivity continues with a pair of component-video inputs, an AV input with S-video, two RF inputs for cable and antenna, and a VGA-style RGB input for computers (maximum resolution 1,366x768). That recessed bay offers an additional AV input with S-video as well as a USB port that can interface with thumbdrives to display photos (JPEG only) and play music (MP3 only).
All things considered, the Samsung HP-T5064 delivers excellent picture quality for a flat-panel plasma. We were particularly impressed by its primary color accuracy and shadow detail, although we would have liked to see a bit more accurate color decoding and a better glare-fighting screen.