Samsung PNB850 review:

Samsung PNB850

We appreciated the three power-saver modes (not to be confused with the Eco picture mode) that further reduce energy use. Samsung also throws in picture-in-picture, an "E-manual" on a USB thumbdrive, and even a customer care screen that includes the firmware version for when you need to call the company. We're also big fans of the new-for-2009 capability, unique among HDTVs, to get firmware updates via an online download, rather than making you go to the Web site, as was the case before.

Samsung's "screen burn" menu offers a couple of ways to combat burn-in, aka image retention, and address it should it occur. By default, the pixel shift function automatically moves the image slightly around the screen. You can set the bars to either side of 4:3 aspect ratio programs to gray or black (light gray, the default, is the best to help prevent burn-in). And if you do see image retention, a few hours of the scrolling ramp pattern should clear it up.

Samsung PNB850/860 series
Options for dealing with potential burn-in abound.

It's worth noting that on our review sample, we did notice more image retention than we saw on the Panasonic and Pioneer plasmas, although as usual it was quite temporary and disappeared quickly during normal viewing. We only noticed it after the screen faded to black after displaying still images, like our PS3 menu. We'd expect the issue to go away after a couple hundred hours of use.

The shallow depth of the PNB850/860 series necessitates some connectivity sacrifices, at least in the analog video input arena. An ample four digital HDMI inputs, however, are arranged vertically along the shallow connection bay on the back of the TV (note that fat cables might not fit the nearly flush sockets very well). You also get two USB inputs, a VGA-style PC input, and a single component-video input that can be converted to accept composite video instead. An RF input for antenna or cable, an optical digital audio jack, and the Ethernet port complete the picture. There are no S-Video or dedicated composite-video connections, so if you need to connect more than one analog device, you'll need to use a switcher or an AV receiver. There's also no separate side-panel input bay.

Samsung PNB850/860 series
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.

Samsung PNB850/860 series
Four HDMI ports are arranged vertically along the PNB850/860's shallow input bay.

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.

TV settings: Samsung PN50B850

Prior to evaluation, we subjected the B850/860 to our standard calibration, which began with placing the set in Movie mode. We bumped light output up to our standard 40ftl, chose the -1 gamma setting to come closest to the 2.2 standard (it ended up at a respectable 2.25, albeit darker on the bottom end), and tweaked the color temperature controls a good deal more than we had to with the B650, with slightly worse results. As usual, for Samsung we felt no need to mess with the color management system since primaries and secondaries, along with color decoding, were extremely accurate.

Our lineup for comparison this time around included Samsung's less-expensive PN50B650, along with the Panasonic TC-P50V10 and the reference Pioneer PRO-111FD from the plasma camp. We also included a couple of good-performing LCDs, namely the Samsung LN52B750, the Sony KDL-55XBR8, and the LG 47LH90. Many of our image quality tests were conducted using the "Donnie Darko" Director's Cut on Blu-ray Disc.

Black level: The Samsung B850/860 delivered a nice, deep shade of black that lent realism to dark and bright scenes alike, but in the film's many dimmer moments it came in behind most of the other displays at approaching true black. During the black screen showing a date, such as "October 2, 1998," in Chapter 3, the difference was most apparent, and even the B650 plasma got a bit darker. However, as brighter elements appeared onscreen, the differences narrowed; during the succeeding shot showing the Darko house at night, or a bit later when Donnie sees the scary bunny on the golf course, the two Samsung plasmas and the two LCDs were difficult to differentiate black levelwise, although the other two plasmas along with the Sony XBR8 were clearly closer to true black.

Details in shadows, such as the toys and shelves in Donnie's room or the siding of the house behind the leaves, appeared a bit more distinct on the other plasmas and the XBR8 as well, although it was about the same compared with the two LCDs and the B650 plasma..

Color accuracy: As with the Samsung B650, accurate color proved a major strength of the B850/B860 plasmas. Its primary and secondary colors were nearly perfect, including the green of the golf course and the light blur of Donnie's shirt at the beginning of Chapter 4. Both looked more realistic and closer to our reference than on the Panasonic that had more neon greens were fairly obvious in this scene. The somewhat pasty skin of Gyllenhaal and the bronzed face of Swayze in the morning sun also looked just a tad more realistic on the Samsung than on the Panasonic, although the difference was much more subtle. Colors did appear just a bit more rich and saturated on the Panasonic; however, it's a difference we attribute to the Samsung's lighter black levels--but compared with the LCDs, the Samsungs saturation was punchier and more realistic. Like the Panasonic, the B850/860 reproduced dark and black areas with very little color tinge, lacking the comparatively bluish cast of the B750, for example.

Video processing: The B850 we tested lacks a manual option for 1080p/24 sources, dubbed Cinema Smooth in Samsung's menu, but it still handled 1080p/24 sources perfectly as far as we could tell. When we fed the set a 1080p/24 signal, it displayed the proper cadence of film during our favorite test clip, the pan over the Intrepid from "I Am Legend," as well as during "Darko" when the camera follows Donnie in through the back door to the refrigerator in Chapter 1. In these scenes and others, the proper judder of film was evident, as opposed to the somewhat stuttering, hitching motion of 2:3 pull-down. We couldn't see any difference between the B850's handling of these scenes and that of the other 1080p/24 capable displays in our lineup, including the 96Hz Panasonic V10. (It's worth mentioning that since we didn't test the B860, we can't speak to whether it has the same issues with Cinema Smooth as the B650 we tested, but we do prefer the automatic implementation found on the B850 overall).

According to Samsung, its plasmas use 600Hz subfield motion technology, which sounds like the 600Hz subfield drive employed by Panasonic on its plasmas, but the two didn't deliver the same results. The Samsung B850/860 didn't quite match the motion resolution of the Panasonic plasmas, the Pioneer, or the 240Hz Samsung B750 in our comparisons, it delivered between 800 and 900 lines, according to our test. However, that's still very good and as usual, we suspect that even the most blur-sensitive viewers won't notice a difference with regular program material.

As expected, the B850/860 delivered every line of still resolution when we selected the "Screen Fit" aspect ratio mode, and it deinterlaced both film- and video-based source properly. To pass our film deinterlacing test, the TV had to be in the "Auto1" Film Mode setting; Auto2 is the default when the TV detects 1080i sources.

Bright lighting: Under bright lights, the Samsung performed as well as any plasma we've tested aside from the Pioneer, which was roughly its equal. Its main strength was its capability to preserve a darker shade of black--despite ambient lighting--than the Panasonic that has blacks that washed out and became grayer faster than they did on the Samsung. On the flip side, the Samsung did not attenuate reflections, such as bright lights in the room or reflections such as a viewer's clothing. The Panasonic's reflections were dimmer and thus less distracting than those of the Samsung, but we still liked the Samsung's bright-room image better overall. It's worth noting that the matte-screened Sony LCD provided the overall best bright-room performance in our lineup.

Standard-definition: The PNB850/860 evinced generally solid standard-definition picture quality. According to our tests, the display handled every line of a DVD source and the shots of grass and steps from the detail test looked good. The set eliminated jaggies from video-based sources well, and its noise reduction cleaned up the lowest-quality shots of skies and sunset with aplomb. Finally the set passed 2:3 pull-down test by eliminating moire from the stands behind the racecar.

PC: Samsung's PNB850/860 series delivered excellent performance with HDMI sources from computers, resolving every line of a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution image with no overscan or edge enhancement. The image did appear very slightly softer via VGA but the set still resolved every line, according to our DisplayMate test.

Before color temp (20/80) 6705/6723 Good
After color temp 6390/6504 Good
Before grayscale variation 242 Good
After grayscale variation 167 Average
Color of red (x/y) 0.646/0.329 Good
Color of green 0.3/0.602 Good
Color of blue 0.149/0.062 Good
Overscan 0.0% Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Y Good
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps Pass Good
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Pass Good

Power consumption: We did not test the power consumption of this size in the Samsung's PNB850/860 series, but we did test the 50-inch model. For more information, refer to the review of the 50-inch model.

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