The Samsung HP-S5053's look can definitely turn heads when turned off, and its comprehensive collection of inputs will appeal to folks with lots of gear, but its image quality, despite delivering excellent black levels, isn't quite up to the state of the plasma art. That said, if you tend to watch your movies with the lights on or you sit far enough back to overlook a few artifacts, you'll probably have few complaints. The Samsung HP-S5053 looks exactly like the 42-inch HP-S4253, just bigger, and in person, it has a sleek, high-tech appeal that ranks up with the snazziest panels out there. Its large 50-inch screen is surrounded on all sides by glossy black cabinetry that measures 2.25 inches from the edge of the glass to the edge of the panel along the top and sides. The clean look extends a few more inches below the screen until it hits an angled strip of burnished silver. In a move sure to be imitated by other flat-panel TV makers, Samsung's designers hid the speakers above the angled section of the cabinet, rendering them completely invisible.
A glossy finish also coats the included, nonswiveling black stand. All told, the Samsung HP-S5053 measures 48.4 by 33.6 by 13.5 inches (HWD) atop the stand and weighs 96 pounds. Should you opt to wall-mount the panel, you'll want to know that its depth of 3.75 inches sans stand is about average, but since its inputs face straight back, it can't mount flush against the wall, unlike panels whose inputs face downward.
Samsung's remote is the same as those of other 2006 HDTVs, and it's an improvement over last year's controller. It offers a smarter button layout, better differentiation between the keys, and a longer, easier to hold shape. Although it still lacks backlighting, we appreciate its ability to control four other devices. The internal menu system looks the same on its other flat-panels. Although not as slick as the menu system from the company's 2006 DLPs, it's intuitive enough to navigate. We appreciated the ability to choose and rename inputs from the menu, as well as the helpful information explaining various menu items. Like most other 50-inch plasmas available today, the Samsung HP-S5043 has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels. That's enough to display every detail of incoming 720p HDTV programs. All signals, whether HDTV, standard-definition TV, DVD, or computer, are scaled to fit the native resolution.
Samsung equipped its baseline 50-inch plasma with just about every feature you're likely to want, starting with picture-in-picture. Unlike some televisions, however, the HP-S5053's PIP only lets you watch the AV1 input when you have a PC as the main source, and it doesn't let you watch two HDMI sources simultaneously. The company did include an ATSC tuner for grabbing over-the-air high-def and digital TV stations, although like many TV manufacturers, this year it didn't include CableCard--we don't consider that a big loss.
Aspect-ratio selections range from just two choices with HDTV to four with standard-def--nothing spectacular, although we like that both extra standard-def ratios are zooms that let you adjust their vertical position on the screen, to make subtitles visible for example. There's also a function that freezes the whole screen.
The Samsung HP-S5043's array of picture controls is fine for a big-screen plasma, although we would have preferred it to have true independent input memories. However, there are four adjustable picture modes: Dynamic, Movie, Standard, and Custom. Since the set reverts to the last selected picture mode when you switch inputs, it's possible to set up four of the TV's inputs separately for different sources. Samsung includes a separate game mode, which increases color saturation, edge enhancement, and overall brightness for a more vibrant, less realistic look that some gamers might prefer. Fortunately, Samsung's DNIe processing, which introduces more edge enhancement, is defeatable (in Movie mode, you can't even turn it on). The company also includes noise-reduction and 2:3 pull-down circuits (see Performance for more).
Although burn-in is generally not a problem with plasmas used in the home, we like the fact that Samsung provides three methods of protection: pixel shift, which moves the image slightly over time around the screen; a scrolling white-to-black ramp; and a full white field. There are also two energy-saving modes: one that adjusts the brightness according to room lighting and another that limits peak brightness.
The Samsung HP-S5053 packs enough connectivity to satisfy just about anybody, starting with a pair of HDMI inputs and two component-video inputs. It also boasts a dedicated VGA-style PC input (1,360x768 is the recommended resolution); one A/V input with S-Video on the back and a second on the right side, along with a headphone jack; two RF antenna inputs; and both coaxial and optical digital audio outputs for use with the ATSC tuner. All told, we liked many aspects of the Samsung HP-S5053's image quality, including its excellent black levels and accurate color decoding, but its tendency to introduce too much noise and false contouring into many scenes was difficult to overlook.
One of the most impressive characteristics of the HP-S5053's picture is the depth of black it can achieve. We saw evidence of this when watching The Bourne Supremacy HD-DVD from our Toshiba HA-A1. When Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) walks out onto his Goa rooftop at night, the shadows in the distance, the night sky, and the letterbox bars all looked as inky as we've seen on any plasma, and deeper than on any other kind of non-CRT-based television we've reviewed in a long time.
Unfortunately this difficult scene also brought out one of the set's least impressive aspects: relatively noisy shadows and false contouring. When the camera turns to the half-lit face of Bourne's female companion Marie (Franka Potente), for example, on the darker half, her eye and cheek are surrounded by moving dots of noise that drop abruptly to black in the darkest areas instead of fading naturally. A highlight appeared on her cheek at one point that stood out unnaturally against the shadow.
These artifacts are species of false contouring that also plagued Samsung's 42-inch model, and they were difficult to escape in scenes such as this. As with the 42-inch model, when we reduced the brightness control to lower the amount of noise, we started losing detail in shadows. Flat fields of near darkness, such as the wide shot of Bourne's house in the early dawn, also brought out crawling greenish motes of noise. As with all similar artifacts, the noise and false contouring became less visible when we moved farther back than our normal 8-foot seating distance; at 10 feet, for example, the motes were much more difficult to discern.
As we expected, bright scenes looked much better than dark ones, and false contouring was all but absent. As Marie shops in the marketplace, for example, the brilliant blues and purples of the women's saris stood out beautifully, and the thatched huts in the background as she crosses the beach were rendered with deep, rich beige tones in the warm sunset light. Saturation was excellent, thanks to the Samsung's accurate color decoding; her semitanned skin looked just right as she stood in the window's light, with no visible red push.
With test patterns, we noticed that gray areas fluctuated significantly from one step of brightness to another. We did calibrate the grayscale to bring it a bit closer overall to the standard, but that had little effect on the Samsung's comparatively poor grayscale tracking. This issue was much more difficult to detect in program material, although we did see it if we looked hard in some areas. One example from Bourne was visible in the room where the agents plant devices to blow the lights; the white wall, which was brighter on one side and moved to shadow on the other, appeared very subtly more greenish in parts and reddish in others.
Details were fine for a plasma of this resolution, and when Marie looks through Bourne's papers and maps, we could easily read the writing and see the tiny type. As usual we recommend you feed this plasma the high-def resolution that's closest to its 1,366x768 native resolution: 720p. 1080i sources looked slightly softer, although the difference was again quite subtle. By the same token, it likes HDMI better than component-video, which evinced high-frequency interference in the most-detailed areas of test patterns, although yet again, it was difficult to spot in normal program material. As a side note, like a few HDTVs out there, the HP-S5063 can't handle 480i sources via its HDMI input, but that's not a big issue since HDMI is usually reserved for higher resolutions anyway. We also noted in the review of the 42-inch HP-S4253 that it was impossible to completely eliminate edge enhancement, but its 50-inch brother didn't suffer the same issue.
Standard-def performance was a bit problematic according to our test patterns, and in particular, composite-video appeared way below average, with strange vibrations and instabilities in lines that should be stationary. We recommend you use a progressive-scan or upconverting DVD player with this set to avoid this kind of instability. Details via component, S-Video, and composite video appeared softer than they should have, although the set did do a very good job of smoothing jagged lines and engaging 2:3 pull-down detection quickly. We looked at some noisy standard-def video and found that the HP-S5053 did an average job of quelling the snowy-looking motes. Unfortunately, engaging its noise-reduction circuit had very little effect for reducing the noise from any source.
Finally, we tried to assess Samsung's claim that the HP-S5053's glass panel reflects less room light than other plasmas, but it was difficult to do so without other plasmas onhand. Anecdotally, Samsung's screen did seem to reduce glare a little, although in our testing room we still noticed overhead lighting, for example, reflecting off its surface. Of course, glare is an issue with all plasmas and direct-view CRTs but doesn't plague flat-panel LCDs or microdisplays.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6,609/6,645K||Good|
|After color temp||6,529/6,469K||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 172K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 190K||Average|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.654/0.329||Average|
|Color of green||0.248/0.678||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.152/0.064||Good|
|Black-level retention||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Yes||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Yes||Good|