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 determination isn't as ironclad. Sure the PND8000 has a few extra features, chiefly a QWERTY keyboard remote and Web browser, but the two TVs have basically the same picture quality: outstanding, second among TVs this year only to Panasonic's much more expensive TC-PVT30 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.
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, outdoing the Panasonic GT30's by 0.19 inch. The bottom edge of the frame is a bit thicker (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 their metallic frames are colored "titanium" and "brushed black," respectively, but in person we couldn't tell the 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.
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.
The new Smart Hub is the home page for all apps and provides shortcuts to local streaming sources (music, photos, and videos via DLNA and USB), inputs, and even a schedule manager. It delivers a wealth of options, albeit on a crowded screen that's intimidating at first. There's some ability to customize the Hub, and we liked that we could move AllShare, Channel, and other apps we didn't want into a folder (although they couldn't be removed completely).
Note that the Yahoo and Web browser options shown here are only available on the PND8000 models, not the PND7000.
Samsung's Smart Hub seems to offer more apps than the competition. The only major missing link so far is Amazon Instant, available on Sony, Panasonic, and LG TVs. On the other hand, the Samsung App Store for TVs is more active and useful than Panasonic's or LG's, but don't expect the same breadth you'll get from a phone-based app store.
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-size text. Each major menu item gets a text explanation.
Overall the initial picture quality of the Samsung PND7000 was basically the same as that of the PND8000, and both received a 9 in this category. The two are tied for third-best TV of all time after the Kuro and the Panasonic VT30. The PND7000 can 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 superb, bright-room and 3D picture quality were excellent, and of course it trounced any LCD in terms of uniformity and off-angle viewing. There could be problems in the area of long-term black-level performance, but until we can test more we won't know for sure.