What with all the hoo-ha Samsung creates around its LED TVs, its plasma offerings often go unnoticed. Every now and again, though, the company cooks up a cracking plasma telly at a bargain price, such as last year's PS50C6900. This year's follow-up model, the PS51D6900, looks just as good on paper, but how does it perform in reality?
This 51-inch, 1080p, 3D-capable plasma TV will set you back around £1,000.
The 51-inch screen size may be a break from the norm, but Samsung has once again come up with an attractive TV. The brushed-metal effect on the narrow bezel looks sexy and the transparent lip that runs around the outer edge of the TV is thoroughly charming. It's not quite as impressive as some of Samsung's super-slim LED offerings, but it's still one of the better-looking sets around at the moment.
With four HDMI ports, as well as a wealth of other connection options, including Scart, component and composite, you should have no problems connecting up set-top boxes, games consoles and other bits of kit to this TV. But it's worth noting that, like many of today's slimline models, the Scart and component connections are made using small adaptor cables.
The TV also has two USB ports and integrated Wi-Fi, so you don't have to use the Ethernet port on the rear to hook it up to your broadband router.
You'll certainly want to make use of this set's Internet features, as they're among the best in the business. The TV includes Samsung's new Smart Hub system, which brings the Internet features, electronic programme guide and settings menu together in a single location. The menus are beautifully presented and the range of Internet services is top-notch.
Along with the all-important iPlayer support, you can also access on-demand movie-rental services like LoveFilm and Acetrax. The TV supports social-networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Picasa too, and there's an app store from which you can download plenty more content.
Along with its Internet features, the PS51D6900 can also play a range of different digital media files, either across a network or via USB drives. We tried it with some DivX, Xvid and hi-def MKV files and all played back without any problems.
If you plug a hard drive into one of the TV's USB ports, you can use it to record live TV or schedule recordings using the EPG. As there's only one tuner, you can't watch one channel while recording another, but it's still a useful feature to have.
Some of Samsung's previous slim sets have sounded very weedy in the audio department, but, thankfully, the PS51D6900 doesn't fall into this trap. The TV isn't the loudest around, but it's still got enough grunt to fill a decently sized room and it produces a pleasingly wide sound stage, with clear and precise dialogue. It's not bad at recreating lower-end bass rumble either, which really helps to give more oomph to movie soundtracks.
Most important of all is picture quality and, thankfully, the PS51D6900 doesn't disappoint. Black levels and contrast performance seem to have been improved over last year's model, giving darker scenes much more subtlety and depth. The TV's still not quite as impressive as Panasonic's Viera GT30 tellies in this department, but it's not all that far off either.
Colours are impressively deep and warm, ensuring that Blu-ray movies look very lush and rich. HD pictures are very sharp too, with the set managing to eke out every bit of fine detail in both 1080p Blu-rays and 1080i Freeview HD images. The TV is no slouch at upscaling standard-definition material either, working its magic on standard-definition Freeview channels to clean them up, without making them look smudgy.
Many people will be interested in the PS51D6900 for its 3D performance, which is also good. The set comes with one pair of active-shutter 3D glasses, and further pairs will set you back around £60 each. The glasses are comfortable to wear and, as they sync via Bluetooth rather than infrared, they don't cease syncing when you turn your head away from the screen for long periods.
As with all 3D plasma tellies, images are slightly darker than on searingly bright LED TVs. On the plus side, though, the PS51D6900's 3D pictures suffer far less from ghosting around objects than any of Samsung's LED screens. In fact, this issue raises its head so rarely that you really have to look for it. Still, if we were being extremely picky, we'd say that ghosting is more evident than it is on Panasonic's plasma TVs.
We loved last year's PS50C6900 because it produced great 3D pictures at an affordable price, but Samsung has gone one better with the PS51D6900 -- and we're not just talking about that extra inch of screen space. This set has a top-notch line-up of Internet features, and produces great 2D and 3D images. Its picture quality isn't quite as good as that of the TVs in Panasonic's GT30 range, but, as this set is considerably cheaper than the equivalent Panny model, we still think it's a great buy.
Edited by Charles Kloet