Samsung F5500 series plasma review: Like a gremlin, this TV hates bright lights

Picture settings: You get a choice of three picture presets with the F5500: Vivid, Standard, and Movie, though as usual with Samsung, the best from an accuracy standpoint is Movie Mode. The television lacks the Color Management System found on the F8500, though it does have a two-point grayscale adjustment and adjustable Gamma settings. Given how good the defaults were on the sample I received, I didn't need to change these too much.

Connectivity: The TV comes with three HDMI ports (though lacking the currently trendy MHL support), a digital optical audio socket, and a shared component/composite input.

Accessories are the name of the game here, and the TV includes two USB ports. To this you could connect a separate Skype camera ($99), for example, and this would enable the gesture control of the fancier TVs in the range.

Internet connectivity is enabled by an Ethernet port and a wireless adapter.

Picture quality
Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration.

It's been neck and neck between Panasonic and Samsung for several years when it comes to the picture quality of the company's respective plasmas, and in the F5500 this trend is set to continue. While it's better than the Panasonic S60 in some ways -- color especially -- it's also worse in others, such as black level, shadow detail, and bright room performance. A few years ago all plasmas performed poorly in bright rooms; that was to be expected. But while most got better, Samsung's F5500 performs worse in the light. Even though the F5500's black levels improved on last year's E550, you won't get to enjoy them in anything but a pitch-black room, with high reflectivity and poor contrast in most lighting conditions.

If you're able to control the amount of light in your room, the Samsung is capable of a very good picture with excellent contrast, rich colors, and plenty of detail. I'd still recommend paying more for the superior and much more versatile Panasonic ST60, though.

Comparison models (details)
Panasonic S60 50-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-P50ST60 50-inch plasma
Vizio M-series 55-inch edge-lit local dimming LED
Samsung PN51E550 51-inch plasma
Samsung PN60F8500 60-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-P65VT50 (reference) 65-inch plasma

Black level: While LCD black levels don't change much year to year, plasmas somehow manage to improve each time. This is certainly the case with the F5500 which has doubled the depth of black compared to last year (0.004 versus 0.008; lower is better) and side-by-side the differences were obvious. In a dark room, the F series easily beat the older E series for the depth of its images and purer blacks.

But just as the E550 couldn't compete against the Panasonic UT50 last year, even with the improvements the F5500 still loses out to this year's Panasonic S60 for black levels. Both the Panasonic S60 and ST60 beat the Samsung at portraying a darker shade of black and were also better at illuminating shadow detail.

The Samsung F5500 did portray a family resemblance in its shadow detail in that it performed very similarly to the much-more-expensive Samsung F8500, which is also to say not as good as the rest of the group. At 1:08:49 in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" you see Snape standing against a window wearing his usual black cape. On the Panasonics (and last year's Samsung E550) you could see buttons and folds, but on the two new plasmas you can see only a black blob.

Color accuracy: Color performance of the F5500 was mixed, but generally it rated well and especially in comparison to the Panasonic S60. Where the Samsung had the S60 licked here is that low level colors were "truer" as the S60 had a tendency to make shadows green. I believe I personally would trade the slightly worse black levels and shadow detail of the Samsung in this case for better color overall.

As the color charts and graphs at the end of this review illustrate, this TV has some issues with the colors red and cyan which couldn't be corrected with the controls. Playing with the Tint control and using "The Tree of Life" (Chapter 5, 37:18) as a reference I wasn't able to get the mother's cyan dress to look natural, and only by advancing the color control to cartoonish levels was I able to match the other TVs for the saturation of the mother's hair. On a lesser note, the grass around her was a little less blue than it should be. In comparison, both the Samsung 8500 and last year's E550 have better secondary colors with the mother's hair and skin tone rendered almost identically on both units.

Video processing: The Samsung F5500 is very light-on when it comes to processing, and this is good news for gamers but bad news for movie fans. With a score of 38.8 milliseconds in gaming mode, this TV should give a great gaming experience, but by failing both our image processing tests, it means it's not a great movie screen. It failed the 24p test with too much judder in playback, while the 1080i test was subject to artifacting.

Bright lighting: The Samsung F5500's bright room performance is poor -- much worse than last year's E550. The F5500's screen was the most reflective in our lineup, and black areas were the most washed out, robbing dark scenes of punch and impact. If you only watch daytime TV it's fine, but you'll want to pull down the shades to watch a movie or crime show. With TVs like the ST60, screen coatings have become so good that they've raised the bar for all competition.

Sound quality: As the price of the Samsung F5500 sits between the S60's and ST60's, it's fitting that the sound quality does as well. When watching action movies the Samsung has some low-end punch, which is something that the S60 lacks, but in exchange the S60 has greater high-end detail. When compared to the Panasonic TV above it, the Samsung is able to deliver voices in a natural way while the ST60 was a little more chesty. The trade-off here is that the F5500 lacked the midrange detail and true low-end delivery of the ST60. But when it came to music playback, all three were pretty terrible, with the Samsung F5500 and the Panasonic capable of spectacularly farty bass, even in Music mode. If you are looking for a TV that can play music, try brands like Sony or even Sharp.

3D: While it's a great TV, the competitive Panasonic ST60's only real failing is that it's not very good for 3D. In comparison, the cheaper Samsung is a little better overall, but not by much. Using our "ghostly hand" test ("Hugo," 4:44) the F5500 displayed significant crosstalk on static contrasting edges, but this was counteracted by much better movement resolution than the ST60 during the "Hugo" chase scene (7:40).

Power consumption: Power usage is a plus for this television as even in a calibrated mode it uses relatively little electricity.

GEEK BOX: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.004 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.17 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 1.000 Good
Near-black error (5%) 0.233 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 1.121 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 1.345 Good
Avg. color error 3.013 Good
Red error 6.469 Poor
Green error 3.642 Average
Blue error 1.995 Good
Cyan error 3.607 Average
Magenta error 1.447 Good
Yellow error 0.919 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Fail Poor
1080i De-interlacing (film) Fail Poor
Motion resolution (max) 800 Average
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 800 Average
Input lag (Game mode) 38.8 Good

Samsung PN51F5500 calibration report

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

Samsung PN51F5500

Part Number: PN51F5500

MSRP: $1,349.99

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Enhanced Refresh Rate 600 Hz
  • 3D Active 3D
  • Display Format 1080p
  • Diagonal Size 51 in
  • Type Plasma
  • Network connectivity Bluetooth
    Wi-Fi
    Ethernet
  • SmartTV Yes
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