Earlier this year we called Samsung's most expensive plasma TV, the PND8000 series, the "Best overall TV of 2011 (so far)." Now that we've tested its less expensive brother, the PND7000 series reviewed here, that designation isn't as certain. Sure the PND8000 has a few extra features, chiefly a QWERTY keyboard remote and Web browser, but the two have basically the same picture quality: outstanding, second among this year's TVs only to Panasonic's much more expensive series, and better overall than the Panasonic GT30 and ST30 models. If you're in the market for a high-performance plasma TV and want the best blend of picture quality and value, the Samsung PND7000 is our new go-to recommendation.
Editors' note: The Samsung PND7000 series was originally reviewed in August 2011. In October it received the Editors' Choice Award as our most-recommended TV overall..
Updated September 1, 2011: This review has been updated to correct a mistake regarding the Samsung PN59D8000 used in comparison; see Performance for details. This TV is also undergoing long-term testing, the results of which don't affect this review as yet.
Updated November 7, 2011: Further testing was performed on this TV to evaluate reports of "brightness pops," and we've also addressed reports of screen peeling..
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 59-inch Samsung PN59D7000, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality. That said, we've heard reports that the smaller 51-inch model may have worse black-level performance than the size we tested, although we won't know for sure until we can evaluate one ourselves.
|Panel depth||1.5 inches||Bezel width||1.18 inches|
|Single-plane face||No||Swivel stand||Yes|
Thinner than its Panasonic and LG counterparts and sporting a new, more compact frame around the screen, the D7000/D8000 series gets our vote for the best-looking plasma TV available. That bezel is narrower than any plasma's we've tested, slimmer even than the Panasonic GT30's by 0.19 inch. The bottom edge of the frame is a bit thicker at 2.13 inches, but that does nothing to spoil the PND7000's LED TV-like dimensions.
The Samsung PND8000 and PND7000 plasmas look basically the same from the neck up. Samsung's Web site says the metallic frames are colored "titanium" and "brushed black," respectively, but in person we couldn't see any difference. The two TVs have very different stands, however, and we like the D7000's better. Where the D8000 sports Samsung's four-legged "spider" base, the D7000 has a more traditional rectangular base with a sleek transparent stalk.
|Remote control and menus|
|Remote size (LxW)||8.4x2 inches||QWERTY keyboard||No|
|Illuminated keys||42||IR device control||No|
|Menu item explanations||Yes||Onscreen manual||Yes|
Samsung's 2011 TV menus have been refreshed and feel a bit snappier than before. The main column of adjustments, formerly transparent, is now bright opaque blue with rounded edges and good-sized text. Each major menu item gets a text explanation, although, unlike the D8000, there are no little illustrations or snazzy animations (and the D7000 is a tad more responsive).
We also like the remote included with the D7000, although it lacks the QWERTY keyboard found on the D8000's clicker. Dedicated keys launch an indexed onscreen manual, search, and the Smart TV/Hub/Apps home, and there's even a key marked Social TV that brings up Facebook, Twitter, and Google Talk interfaces. We still like the layout and the extensive illumination, although we'd still prefer some differentiation in button shape to augment the grid of rectangles.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||Plasma||LED backlight||N/A|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||No|
|Screen finish||Glass||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|Refresh rate(s)||60Hz, 96Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||No|
|Other: Optional 3D glasses include SSG-3100GB (nonrechargeable, $50), SSG-3300CR (compact, rechargeable, $130), SSG-3300GR (rechargeable, $130), SSG-3700CR (rechargeable, ultralight, $150); optional Skype camera/speakerphone (STC1100, $170); supports USB hard drives|
The D7000 lacks the QWERTY remote, Skype option, Web browser, and Local Contrast Enhancer found on the D8000, but otherwise the two have identical feature sets. Even without those extras the D7000 is very well-equipped.
One item itis 3D glasses. Retailers may offer promotions at their discretion, but since Samsung doesn't pack the glasses in with the TV, you'll have to check with the retailer first. The PND7000 series is also incompatible with Samsung's 2010 3D glasses models. Bluetooth does make the new glasses easier to use, and they keep sync much better than the old infrared versions.
We applaud the inclusion of built-in Wi-Fi with this Samsung (as well as the D8000 and D6500 plasmas), saving the cost and hassle of the $80 USB dongle.
|Streaming and apps|
|Amazon Instant||No||Hulu Plus||Yes|
|Other: Blockbuster, CinemaNow, Vimeo, MLB TV, ESPN ScoreCenter, Napster, Picasa, Google Maps, Google Talk, numerous games, children's story books, exercise guides|
Like the UND6400, the PND7000 lacks the Yahoo widget engine found on the D8000 models, but otherwise its selection of applications and streaming content is as good as any TV's on the market. The only major missing link so far is Amazon Instant, available on Sony, Panasonic, and LG TVs ().
Smart Hub is basically the same as we described on the UND6400 and on, so check out those write-ups for details. We found its interface somewhat crowded and the Search and Your Video functions, while ambitious, disappointing since neither incorporated apps like Netflix and Hulu Plus, just Vudu and CinemaNow (both PPV with similar pricing). On the plus side we liked the ability to customize our favorites area with folders--especially the ability to dump unwanted but unremovable shortcuts, like AllShare and Channel, into a folder.
Samsung's remote app on our Android phone worked quite well, with excellent response times and most of the functionality we wanted. We liked the easy access to apps and being able to input text searches using the Swype keyboard, but its best feature is changing context according to what you're doing--hitting the Smart tab, for example, brought up a simplified interface that we actually preferred to Smart Hub on the TV. Sure, you have to look at the touch screen, as opposed to feeling your way with the remote buttons, but all told we liked using it better than the QWERTY remote included with the D8000.
New apps launched since we reviewed the PND8000 in June include BBC News, SEC Digital Network, XOS College Sports, Geo-photo, and a few games. The Samsung App Store is more active and useful than Panasonic's or LG's on any TV, but don't expect the same breadth you'd get from a phone-based app store.
|Adjustable picture modes||4||Fine dejudder control||N/A|
|Color temperature presets||4||Fine color temperature control||10 points|
|Gamma presets||7||Color management system||Yes|
As usual Samsung provides one of the best picture adjustment suites for both 2D and 3D sources, delivering extras like a 10-point grayscale and superb color management that many TVs lack. There's also a CinemaSmooth setting in the Film Mode menu that engages a 96Hz refresh rate to properly handle 1080p/24 sources at the expense of some black-level performance (see below).
Calling up the Tools menu and then pressing the main menu button brings up picture adjustments in Netflix. Vudu's picture can also be adjusted, although we didn't try other services.