Overall, the Samsung PN50A550 produces an excellent picture, with highly accurate colors, very little noise, and solid processing. Its can deliver relatively deep blacks, although it can't muster quite the inkiness of Pioneer's Kuro sets or the latest generation of Panasonic plasmas. Our one gripe concerns its ineffective antireflective screen, which makes it less desirable in brightly lit conditions.
During calibration we took advantage of the PN50A550's numerous picture adjustments, although we didn't have to do much because the default Movie preset came very close to what we consider ideal anyway. We tweaked the white-balance control just a bit, set the gamma to achieve a shallower, more natural-seeming rise out of black while still preserving shadow detail, and utilized the great "blue-only" mode to adjust the color and tint controls without having to rely on a filter (see Tip No. 2 for details). We also tried to improve the already accurate primary and secondary colors using the Custom color space controls, and while they worked better than most other color management systems, they still necessitated compromises that made the default Auto setting a better choice. For our full picture settings, check out Tip No. 1.
For the majority of our image-quality tests we watched Live Free or Die Hard on Blu-ray, comparing the image of the Samsung PN50A550 directly to that of a Panasonic TH-46PZ85U as well as to our current reference HDTVs.
Black level: While the PN50A550 was able to muster a convincingly dark shade of black, better than either of our Sony reference displays, for example, it didn't get quite as dark as either the Panasonic or the Pioneer PDP-5080HD plasmas in our comparison. Blacks in the letterbox bars, shadows, and nighttime skies, for example, all appeared a bit lighter on the Samsung, although even in a side-by-side comparison the PN50A550 still held its own well. Details in shadows, such as the bricks and boards in a blown-out wall during an apartment firefight, looked as excellent as on the Pioneer, with a more-natural rise from black than the Panasonic exhibited.
Color accuracy: Here's where the Samsung shined. After calibration, the set's color temperature was quite close to the standard, leading to natural-looking skin tones and white areas, such as the overcast sky and the sides of the police cars during the helicopter assault. The Pioneer appeared a bit reddish and the Panasonic a bit more bluish in comparison in most areas. Primary and secondary colors were also right on, from the greens of the trees alongside the highway to the blue of the skies; the orange of the explosion from the VTOL jet fighter that follows Bruce Willis down the section of freeway looked closer to our reference on the Samsung than it did on the Panasonic. Color decoding was again very accurate, and we saw no red push, even in delicate skin tones such as the face of Lucy after her make-out session.
Video processing: Unlike most HDTVs we've tested, the Samsung PN50A550 was able to successfully de-interlace 1080i film-based material once Film Mode was engaged. It also handled video-based material well and, as expected, successfully displayed every pixel of both 1080i and 1080p sources. Not that it mattered much; as usual we found it nearly impossible to distinguish any difference in detail between the 1080p Samsung and the 720p Pioneer.
The Samsung did produce a cleaner, less-noisy image than either of the other plasmas. With all of the noise reduction controls turned off, they showed more dancing motes of "snow," and when we turned the Samsung's NR to Auto and the other plasmas' up all the way, the Samsung again looked cleanest. The difference wasn't drastic, especially between the Pioneer on High versus the Samsung on Auto (although the Samsung's High was cleanest of all), but people who are sensitive to video noise or sit relatively close to the screen may well appreciate it.
Uniformity: The PN50A550 appeared just about perfectly uniform across the screen and when seen from off-angle. We also noticed a bit less false contouring than on the Panasonic when looking at test patterns, and a bit more than the Pioneer, but during Die Hard we didn't see any contouring on any of the displays.
Bright lighting: Samsung has been working on its antireflective screens over the last couple of generations, but the one on this model, dubbed FilterBright, wasn't as effective as the screens on the other two plasmas in our comparison. The Pioneer and Panasonic both did a better job of reducing glare from the windows and bright overhead lights, and on both displays the dark areas stayed truer--they washed out a good deal more on the Samsung.
Standard-definition: On our standard-def tests, the P50N550's performance was about average. It displayed every line of DVD resolution, but the grass and bridge from the detail test appeared a bit softer than we'd like to see. The set also didn't remove the jaggies from moving diagonal lines very well. As with HD material, SD noise reduction was superb, and the set had no trouble engaging film mode's 2:3 pull-down detection.
PC: Like most Samsung HDTVs we've seen, the PN50A550 performed extremely well as a big computer monitor. When connected via the HDMI input, the PN50A550 performed very well, resolving every line of both horizontal and vertical resolution when given a 1,920x1,080 source and set in the Just Scan aspect ratio. We connected our PC via the analog input and experienced the same results after we hit the Auto Adjust command.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6957/6620||Good|
|After color temp||6526/6502||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 275||Good|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 166||Average|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.635/0.328||Good|
|Color of green||0.301/0.579||Good|
|Color of blue||0.147/0.061||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Yes||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Pass||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Pass||Good|
|Samsung PN50A550||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||446.6||373.8||326.2|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.42||0.35||0.31|
|Cost per year||$136.35||$114.24||$99.79|
|Score (considering size)||Poor|