Samsung's FP-T5084 represents the company's opening foray into the jungle of 1080p-resolution plasma, and it's a solid first effort. Compared with the company's earlier, less expensive HP-T5064, a lower-resolution 50-inch plasma, the FP-T5084 looks cooler and performs a bit better, although not cooler and better enough to earn a higher overall rating. You might expect the 1080p resolution to mean a sharper picture, but as with all 50-inch HDTVs we've tested, its benefits on the FP-T5084 are difficult to discern. That doesn't prevent this plasma from competing well against the heavy-hitters in the category, including Panasonic and, to a lesser extent, Pioneer.
Compared with the HP-T5064 we reviewed earlier, the 84 model looks just a bit sleeker. Samsung mounted this model's hidden speakers to the sides of the screen, as opposed to the bottom, which makes the panel a bit shorter and wider--a more pleasing aesthetic to our eyes. In addition, the sides of the frame consist of vertical strips of chrome, which curve outward and conceal the speakers nicely, peeking out a bit from when the TV is seen from the front. The top and bottom of the frame is relatively thin for a 50-inch plasma, and the bottom bears the Samsung logo and blue light, which can thankfully can be disabled.
Samsung includes the same kind of swivel stand found on the 5064, which allows the panel to move up to 20 degrees in either direction. Including stand, the FP-T5084 measures 50.8 inches wide by 31.6 inches tall by 12.6 inches deep and weighs 107 pounds; without the stand, the panel comes in at about 50.8 inches wide by 28.8 inches wide by 4.5 inches deep.
Samsung's remote is almost the same as last year, and we generally found the slender wand easy to operate. Only the keys for volume, channel, and device control (the universal clicker can command four other pieces of gear) are illuminated, but that's better than most TV remotes, which skip backlighting altogether. All of the buttons are nicely separated and differentiated, with the exception of the secondary controls clustered at the clicker's base, which kind of blend together. We'd like to see dedicated buttons for each input, although because the set automatically senses and skips inactive inputs, cycling between sources is less arduous than usual. The menu system is easy to navigate, and we appreciated the text explanations that accompanied the selections.
A native resolution of 1920x1080 pixels, aka 1080p, separates the Samsung FP-T5084 from the majority of 50-inch plasmas on the market. Those extra pixels allow the TV to display every detail of 1080i and 1080p resolution sources. All other sources, whether from 720p HDTV, DVD, standard-def TV or computers, are scaled to fit the available pixels.
The FP-T5084 has plenty of picture-adjusting features. It starts with three picture modes that are independent for each input, allowing you to customize each source with three different groups of picture settings. Only Movie mode allows full adjustment, however, so we recommend using it for the most demanding viewing conditions.
In addition to the five presets for color temperature, there's a full set of detailed color temperature controls. Labeled "white balance," they offer both gain and offset adjustments for red, green, and blue, which allows more advanced users to really zero in the set's grayscale. The My Color control, on the other hand, doesn't seem to do much of anything, so we left it in the default positions. The selection of secondary picture controls includes items labeled "black level," which affects shadow detail; dynamic contrast, which adjusts black level on the fly; gamma, which affects the rate of progression from dark to light; and a selection for color gamut, which controls the range of colors the display can reproduce.
We appreciated the solid collection of aspect ratio controls, which include four choices for HD sources. Just Scan is our favorite because it introduces no overscan and does not scale 1080i or 1080p sources, preserving the dot-by-dot match to the TV's native pixels. Standard-def sources allow four choices as well, including two zoom modes you can adjust vertically to see subtitles or obscure tickers, for example. The Samsung also has a picture-in-picture function that allows it to display two programs at once.
The setup menu also contains a section candidly labeled "Screen Burn Protection" that provides more options to remedy burn-in than just about any other plasma TV. The "white" option filled the screen with a white field while the "scrolling" option created a black-to-white ramp that scrolled slowly across the screen; both are designed to remove burned-in sections of the screen if they appear. There's also an adjustable "pixel shift" function that slowly moves the entire image across the screen to help prevent stationary screen elements, such as letterbox bars and tickers, from burning in to begin with. Finally, there are two settings, dark and light, for the side bars around 4:3 programs. As much as we consider burn-in a greatly exaggerated issue with plasma, we still like the fact that Samsung includes all of these reassuring options.
Like more and more 2007 HDTVs, the Samsung FP-T5084 offers three HDMI inputs, as opposed to just two. Two are on the back, while a third can be found in a recessed bay along the panel's left side. The Samsung's commendable connectivity continues by including a pair of component-video inputs; an AV input with S-Video and composite video; two RF inputs for cable and antenna; and a VGA-style RGB input for computers. That recessed bay offers an additional AV input with S-Video and composite video, a headphone jack, and a USB port that can interface with thumb drives to display photos (JPEG only) and play music (MP3 only).