Samsung PND8000 review: Samsung PND8000

Picture settings
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 suites of picture adjustments 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).

When this review was first posted we wrote that picture settings can't be adjusted in Netflix, but that's incorrect. 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.

3D settings are the same as last year, and provide plenty of control as well. You can use the 2D-to-3D conversion system with streaming services and other sources, if you want.

Samsung's picture settings are the best in the business.

HDMI inputs 4 Component video inputs 1
Composite video input(s) 1 VGA-style PC input(s) 1
USB ports 3 Ethernet (LAN) port Yes

Like other thin TVs, the D8000 is light on analog connections and those it does have require breakout cables (included). We'd like to see a headphone jack, but the third USB port might make up for the lack if you're using the Wi-Fi dongle and you like to stream media via USB.

The slim rear panel delivers 4 HDMI and 3 USB, but only 1 analog video input.

Samsung's PND8000 is the best Samsung plasma we've ever tested, and the third-best of all time after the Kuro and the Panasonic VT30. Its black-level performance was very good, with the ability to produce extremely deep blacks, although it failed to resolve full shadow detail--and properly reproduce 1080p/24--when calibrated for those deep blacks. Color after calibration was, simply put, as close to perfect as we've seen on any TV, bright-room and 3D picture quality were excellent, and of course it trounced any LCD in terms of uniformity and off-angle viewing.

The 59-inch version we tested was even a hair quieter (with less audible buzzing) than last year's 50-inch PN50C8000, which itself was quiet enough that we doubt any viewer would find it irksome.

As usual we found Movie to be the most accurate of Samsung's preset picture modes, with very good gamma and color--although it measured a bit too bright for dim rooms (47 fL) with a grayscale that went from too blue in dark areas to too red in brighter ones. Thanks to Samsung's excellent user-menu controls we were able to achieve near-perfect calibration that's as close to reference as anything we've ever seen (check out the chart below). In fact it surpassed the color and gamma accuracy and linearity of our Pioneer Kuro, and we intend to use the D8000 as a reference display for color going forward.

For our evaluation we watched "Tron: Legacy" on Blu-ray and compared the Samsung with the following displays.

Comparison models (details)
Panasonic TC-P55VT30 55-inch plasma
Samsung PN50C8000 50-inch plasma
LG 50PX950 50-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-P50GT30 50-inch plasma
Vizio XVT553SV 55 inch full-array local dimming LED-based LCD
Pioneer PRO-111FD (reference) 50-inch plasma

Black level: After the Panasonic TC-P55VT30, the Pioneer Kuro, and the Vizio XVT553SV, the Samsung PND8000 delivered the deepest black levels among our comparison models. It's easily the best non-Panasonic/Pioneer plasma we've tested in this category, getting twice as dark as the PN50C7000 and also outclassing the TC-P50GT30. As usual those deep blacks had a positive impact on many aspects of picture quality, creating the vibrant, high-contrast picture that we expect from the very best plasmas.

The black-level difference between the VT30, PND8000, and GT30 was relatively subtle even side by side in a dark room, but watching dark scenes we ended up ranking them first, second, and third place respectively among the non-Kuros. The Samsung's main issue was a lack of subtle details in some deep shadows. In "Tron" at the 12:51 and 13:05 marks, for example, Sam's black vest and the guard's black pants appeared a bit less detailed, respectively, than on our reference displays. We saw similar differences in some other shadowy areas, such as in the jungle from "Avatar" we cited in the VT30 review. The Panasonics in comparison showed full detail, albeit a bit brighter than reference, but overall we liked the look of dark areas better on the VT30.

As usual we could have sacrificed some black level on the D8000 to achieve better shadow detail, but we preferred the look of the deeper blacks. Since our gamma measurements were excellent, and we used the same test patterns and methods to set brightness and other controls affecting shadow detail, we suspect the TV might be performing some sort of on-the-fly adjustment to contrast despite our having disabled the Auto Contrast feature (and presumably LCE; see Key Features above). We can't say definitively one way or the other, however, and we noticed no other ill effects.

We also kept an eye out for "floating blacks"--an artifact in which the level of black changes abruptly enough to notice along with the brightness of the rest of the picture--but we didn't see it in "Tron" or in the close-up scenes from "I Am Legend" (Chapter 3). (Update November 7, 2011: Further testing revealed fluctuations in black level on other select material; click here for details). The D8000 does "turn off" and display a completely black image when the picture content goes dark for long enough, but this never happened during normal-length fade-outs in Movie mode in our experience.

These observations were made (and our calibration was performed) with Film Mode on the PND8000 set to Off, not CinemaSmooth. That's because CS caused a relatively large loss in black level, from 0.0071 to 0.0114 by our measure. The picture also dimmed slightly from 40fL to about 36fL, although of course a tweak to calibration (perhaps at the further expense of black level) could remedy that. See "Video processing" for more details.

Color accuracy: As we mentioned above, color was the PND8000's greatest strength and this plasma is our new reference for color accuracy. Program material bore out the excellent measurement results we achieved in calibration. In Chapter 3 (15:30) of "Tron," for example, the skin tones of Sam and Alan appeared realistic and natural without the slight green tinge of the Panasonics or the generally grayer, less saturated appearance of the LG and PNC8000. In this scene and others, we ended up preferring the color rendition of the PND8000 to that of the Kuro by a nose, although the latter appeared more saturated thanks to its deeper blacks.

The color of near-black areas was superb on the PND8000 as well, easily outdoing the others aside from the VT30, which measured a hair better at 5 percent--although the difference was tough to discern, even in our side-by-side comparison.

Video processing: While the PND8000 has the ability to handle 1080p/24 sources with proper cadence thanks to its CinemaSmooth mode (hence the "Pass" in the Geek Box below), we didn't take advantage of it. That's because engaging CS caused black levels to worsen as noted above. We asked a Samsung rep about this black-level rise and he mentioned that it was due to the need to cycle the phosphors more quickly to achieve the 96Hz refresh rate required.

In our test clip of the flyover of the Intrepid from "I Am Legend," the difference between CinemaSmooth and Off was subtle but obvious. In the former mode the movement of objects in the frame has a regular cadence, smooth but not too smooth, that we associate with film. In the latter the cadence stuttered slightly with a sort of hitching motion characteristic of 2:3 pull-down. Such differences won't be as apparent in most scenes, but sticklers who want to see the true motion of film at all times will engage CS to the detriment of black levels on this TV. The Panasonic plasmas handle film cadence without black-level loss, although each also necessitates a minor trade-off to achieve it.

As with previous Samsungs the default Auto2 Film Mode setting for 1080i sources didn't result in proper deinterlacing; we had to switch to Auto 1 to get the PND8000 to pass that Geek Box test.

Bright lighting: Compared with the VT30 the D8000's screen was a bit less reflective, doing a better job of dimming ambient highlights when we turned on the lights. While it did a worse job of preserving black levels under bright lights, it was still very good in that area (and better than any of the other plasmas in the room). We ended up slightly preferring the bright-room picture of the Samsung, but the two were very close.

PC: The PND8000 handled a full-resolution PC signal at 1,920x1,080 pixels, but we noticed some softness and interference in high-frequency test patterns and text. Still, its VGA performance was among the best we've seen for plasma TVs.

3D: The PND8000 is a very good 3D performer. It outperformed the two Panasonics at reducing crosstalk; only the UND8000 LED (which replaced the Vizio in our lineup for 3D tests) was better.

We're able to cite a few examples from "Tron." The word "1989" appearing in the intro (1:28) and the white pattern on Quorra's chest in the mirror (1:04:00) were both instances where the PND8000 showed fainter crosstalk images than the VT30 (the UND8000 was better than either). The two plasmas were basically the same in most other scenes we compared, such as the uniform sequence in Chapter 5 and the beginning of the meal scene in Chapter 9, and very close overall.

Between Movie mode on the Samsung PND8000 and THX mode on the VT30 we preferred the look of the Panasonic. It had better color accuracy to our eye, and skin tones and color looked a bit oversaturated on the Samsung. The Samsung's Movie did look a bit brighter and punchier, but it also seemed a bit too crisp and somewhat edge-enhanced, and had a bluish color palette. We assume the difference could be narrowed in calibration, but we don't calibrate for 3D at the moment.

Power consumption: Don't expect your PN59D8000 to score any points with your environmentally conscious friends. Its post-calibration watts/square inch matches the 55-inch Panasonic VT30, although by that measure the D8000 does improve upon the 2010 C8000. The relatively miserly Panasonic ST30 is the best of the plasma bunch, and as usual you'll get significantly better power savings from LED.

The default Standard mode of the D8000 (25.21fL) isn't nearly as dim as that of the VT30 (just 3.4), although if you engage the light sensor in a completely dark room the D8000's brightness drops to 7.36. The D8000's relatively brighter default picture is why the VT30's default (133 watts) uses so much less power. Both TVs qualify for the current iteration of Energy Star, for what it's worth, but we doubt the D8000 will qualify for Energy Star 5.3 when it goes into effect this September.

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.0071 Good
Avg. gamma 2.1905 Good
Near-black x/y (5%) 0.3312/0.3358 Average
Dark gray x/y (20%) 0.3123/0.3288 Good
Bright gray x/y (70%) 0.3128/0.3293 Good
Before avg. color temp. 6375 Average
After avg. color temp. 6496 Good
Red lum. error (de94_L) 0.0894 Good
Green lum. error (de94_L) 1.4164 Good
Blue lum. error (de94_L) 0.5251 Good
Cyan hue x/y 0.2277/0.3308 Good
Magenta hue x/y 0.3181/0.1529 Good
Yellow hue x/y 0.418/0.5087 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i De-interlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 800 Average
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 800 Average
PC input resolution (VGA) 1920x1080 Good

Juice box
PN59D8000 Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power save
Picture on (watts) 229.91 330.88 159.82
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.15 0.22 0.11
Standby (watts) 0.16 0.16 0.16
Cost per year $50.53 $72.66 $35.16
Score (considering size) Poor
Score (overall) Poor

Samsung PN59D8000 CNET review calibration results

(Read more about how we test TVs.)

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