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Samsung PNE550 review:

Samsung PNE550

Picture settings: Still with me? OK, this will be brief. Samsung offers a good selection of picture settings but the E550 is bereft of more-advanced options found on the PNE6500, namely a color management system and 10-point grayscale. You do get a 2-point system as well as gamma presets, though. Just three picture modes are on hand, but that's plenty in my opinion and they're all adjustable.

Connectivity: The E550's backside is par for the course. It includes three HDMI ports, a single component/composite-video input, and a pair of USB ports. There's no VGA-style PC input, however.

Picture quality
Although very good overall, especially compared with just about every 2012 LED TV, the images produced by the PNE550 can't quite beat those of its closest plasma competition, Panasonic's UT50 and U50 televisions. Its black levels are solid but not in the same league as the Panasonics. Color is its strongest suit while bright-room picture is weakest, and its mediocre 3D picture won't distinguish it much in this category.

Update September 5, 2012: The original version of this review indicated that the PNE550 didn't pass our test for 1080p/24 playback. In fact it can, so the relevant sections have been updated.

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.

Comparison models (details)
Panasonic TC-P50UT50 50-inch plasma
Samsung PN60E6500 60-inch plasma
LG 50PM9700 50-inch plasma
Toshiba 50L5200U 50-inch LED
Vizio M3D550KD 55-inch LED

Black level: While lower-end Panasonic plasmas like the U50 and UT50 deliver black levels as deep as the company's flagships, that's not the case with the E550. I set it up directly next to the PNE6500 and the difference in depth of black was obvious. The spacescapes from chapter 4 of Tree of Life provided one of many examples, where the void between the stars and nebulas didn't look nearly as deep. Compared with the other TVs in our lineup the E550 split the difference: darker than the Toshiba and the LG, but lighter still than the Vizio and the Panasonic UT50. That's not a bad performance by any means, just not on the same level as the tough competition.

Details in shadows looked good on the PNE550, although the UT50 held a slight advantage in this area. The face of Mrs. O'Brien kissing young Jack in bed (48:23) looked a bit less realistic than on the UT50 for example, although equal to the very good PNE6500. The LEDs obscured these areas somewhat while they appeared too bright on the LG.

Color accuracy: Here's where the PNE550 held a slight advantage over the Panasonic UT50, although it couldn't quite reach the accuracy of the PNE6500. The skin tone of Mrs. O'brien (3:11) looked appropriately pale and natural, without the slight flush of the LG and Toshiba or the slightly pale cast of the UT50. The Samsung E550 also looked a bit more saturated and rich than the Panasonic, for example in the red of her lips or the green of the ubiquitous grass. Saturation wasn't quite as impressive as the PNE6500, but the two Samsungs were the best in the lineup still, followed by the Vizio and then the UT50.

As I've come to expect from plasma, the E550's near-black areas also looked accurate and neutral without the greenish or reddish cast seen on some other sets, namely the LG and the LEDs in this lineup.

Video processing: I have no complaints in this area. The biggest improvement from last year is the fact that engaging CinemaSmooth, which worked well to impart correct film cadence with 1080p/24 sources in our tests, didn't cause any appreciable loss in black-level performance.

As with previous Samsungs, the default Auto2 Film Mode setting for 1080i sources didn't result in proper deinterlacing; I had to switch to Auto 1 to get the PNE550 to pass that test.

Bright lighting: Like the U50 I reviewed previously, the PNE550's Achilles heel is its relatively poor handling of bright room lighting. Both TVs were about equal in their failure to maintain deep black levels and hence good contrast with the lights turned up, although I'd give the E550 a slight advantage because its image was slightly brighter. Both screens looked gray under moderate lighting, and as a result the image washes out to an even larger extent than on the UT50. It doesn't help that the U50 and E550 can't be "turned up" bright enough to really compensate, nor that both created bright reflections of in-room objects.

Every other TV in our lineup, including the PNE6500, was clearly superior to the PNE550 at maintaining black levels and contrast in a bright room.

3D: The E550 is an average 3D performer at best. Once I substituted the Samsung UN55ES8000, my reference active 3D TV, into the lineup for the 2D-only Toshiba, the Samsung E550 rated second-worst overall at delivering 3D images, besting only the LG.

Its biggest issue was crosstalk, which I consider the most annoying artifact associated with 3D. During "Hugo," my favorite crosstalk torture test with Hugo's hand reaching toward the mouse (5:01) showed the ghostly outline of crosstalk more prominently on the E550 than on any set save the LG. The next-best were the UT50 and PNE6500, which both showed less crosstalk in this and other scenes, like those showing the tuning pegs on the guitar (7:49), the struts, railings, and the pendulum inside the shaft (11:47) and the word "Films" from the GK Films logo before the movie starts. The passive Vizio and the Samsung UNES8000 showed the least crosstalk in the lineup.

Note that I engaged CinemaSmooth on the Samsungs and 48Hz mode on the Panasonic, both of which helped reduce crosstalk compared with Off and 60Hz, respectively. Otherwise I tested all of the TVs in their default Movie/Cinema/THX 3D modes since I didn't calibrate the sets for 3D.

In that mode the E550's main strength was shadow detail, which looked better than on the UT50, the LG, and the Vizio in areas like the darkened doorway under the station (9:53). On the other hand its black levels were lighter than the UT50's and the 6500's, although still plenty deep. In terms of color the E550 looked good, with saturation among the flowers (25:43) that surpassed that of the UT50. It did have a too-warm, reddish cast overall, however, which was visible for example in the face of Lisette (25:51).

As we mentioned in the review of the SSG-4100BG glasses, which are basically identical to the SSG-3050GBs included with this TV, Samsung's fit is pretty bad. The glasses didn't grip my head firmly when used with my prescription lenses, and even when I removed my regular glasses I found they admitted more ambient light than any of the others. Yes, they are among the lightest active glasses I've tried, but that's about all I can say that's positive. At least they're free. Check out my comparison of active 3D glasses for alternatives.

Power consumption: Note: The following information, as well as the juice box and annual power cost comparison, only apply to the 51-inch version of the Samsung PNE550 series, not the 60- or 64-inch versions.

No surprises here: the PN51E550 is a power hog and uses about as much juice as comparable 50-inch plasmas, which far outstrips the energy consumption of any similar LED TV. As usual its Standard picture mode is vanishingly dim, which accounts for the relatively low default power usage. That low default power use is also the reason this TV qualifies for Energy Star 5.3, while larger plasmas do not.

Geek box: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.0085 Good
Avg. gamma 2.233 Good
Near-black x/y (5%) 0.2903/0.2934 Average
Dark gray x/y (20%) 0.3134/0.3292 Good
Bright gray x/y (70%) 0.3122/0.3291 Good
Before avg. color temp. 6438 Good
After avg. color temp. 6350 Average
Red lum. error (de94_L) 2.4384 Average
Green lum. error (de94_L) 0.1095 Good
Blue lum. error (de94_L) 2.6617 Average
Cyan hue x/y 0.2251/0.3283 Good
Magenta hue x/y 0.3218/0.1504 Good
Yellow hue x/y 0.4224/0.5088 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i Deinterlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 750 Average
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 750 Average

Juice box
Samsung PN51E550 Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power save
Picture on (watts) 106.76 220.46 96.417
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.1 0.2 0.09
Standby (watts) 0.09 0.09 0.09
Cost per year $23.47 $48.40 $21.21
Score (considering size) Poor
Score (overall) Poor

Annual energy cost after calibration

Samsung PN51E550 CNET review calibration results

What you'll pay

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