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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Samsung PNB850/860 series overview

Samsung PNB850/860 series side view

Samsung PNB850/860 series corner detail

Samsung PNB850/860 series stand detail

Samsung PNB850/860 series remote

Samsung PNB850/860 series HDMI inputs

Samsung PNB850/860 series analog inputs

Samsung PNB850/860 series Yahoo widgets main screen

Samsung PNB850/860 series YouTube widget

Samsung PNB850/860 series Yahoo widget gallery

Samsung PNB850/860 series Content screen

Samsung PNB850/860 series main menu

Samsung PNB850/860 series screen burn protection menu

Samsung PNB850/860 series white balance menu

Samsung PNB850/860 series software update menu

Samsung PNB850/860 series picture quality

In the battle between plasma and LCD, the former generally comes out ahead in most areas of our picture quality tests, while the latter has dominated the less important, but somehow costlier, dimension of depth. LCDs such as the Samsung and Sony edge-lit models and the Hitachi UT37X902 charge a hefty premium for knocking an inch or two from the standard panel's thickness. Now plasma makers want in on that premium, and the PNB850 and PNB860 series represent Samsung's less-depth-for-more-money gambit.

Like the company's thicker, less expensive PNB650 series, the PNB850/860 series offers excellent picture quality with accurate color, deep black levels--albeit not as deep as the best plasmas and LCDs--and solid video processing. In fact, we awarded the two Samsung plasmas the same score in Performance, although the PNB850/860 gets the nod in Design. If you can stomach the higher price and like the thin profile, however, the PNB850/860 makes a compelling option.

Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
$2,099.99 MSRP
At just 1.2 inches thick, the PNB850/860 cuts a slim figure when seen edge-on.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
$2,099.99 MSRP
Glossy black and a transparent edge comprise the Samsung's understated design scheme.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
$2,099.99 MSRP
The transparent stalk is reflected in the stainless steel-colored stand base.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
$2,099.99 MSRP
The remote control is very good, and includes a sort of fin added to the back that keeps it stable on a flat surface. The buttons are big, backlit, and easily differentiated by size and shape, and we liked the dedicated "Tools" key that offers quick access to picture and sound modes, the sleep timer, and the picture-in-picture controls. However, we didn't like the remote's glossy black finish that picked up more than its share of dulling fingerprints after a few minutes.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
$2,099.99 MSRP
Four HDMI ports are arranged vertically along the PNB850/860's shallow input bay.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
$2,099.99 MSRP
A single component-video input, which can be converted to composite-video, is the only analog video input option. A PC-style analog VGA input is available for computers.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
$2,099.99 MSRP
Yahoo Widgets appear along the bottom of the screen.
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$2,099.99 MSRP
YouTube is one of the more complex widgets available.
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$2,099.99 MSRP
The Gallery offers access to additional widgets for free download.
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$2,099.99 MSRP
Built-in content includes directions on how to make a salad.
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$2,099.99 MSRP
The well-designed main menu gets a blue color palette.
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$2,099.99 MSRP
Options for dealing with potential burn-in abound.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
$2,099.99 MSRP
As usual, we appreciate the presence of detailed color temperature controls.
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$2,099.99 MSRP
Software and firmware updates can now be made available online.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
$2,099.99 MSRP
Overall the picture quality of the Samsung B850/860 series is superb, albeit a bit short of its prime competition, Panasonic's V10 series. Between the two we give the Panasonic the edge in black level performance and the Samsung the nod in terms of color--with the V10 winning overall in our opinion, if by just a hair. Notably, the B850/860 delivered overall performance that was very similar to that of the less-expensive B650 series, although between the two, surprisingly, the B650's black levels were just a bit better.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
$2,099.99 MSRP
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