Earlier this year we called Samsung's most expensive plasma TV, the PND8000 series, the "Best overall TV of 2011 (so far)." Now that we've tested its less expensive brother, the PND7000 series reviewed here, that designation isn't as certain. Sure the PND8000 has a few extra features, chiefly a QWERTY keyboard remote and Web browser, but the two have basically the same picture quality: outstanding, second among this year's TVs only to Panasonic's much more expensive TC-PVT30 series, and better overall than the Panasonic GT30 and ST30 models. If you're in the market for a high-performance plasma TV and want the best blend of picture quality and value, the Samsung PND7000 is our new go-to recommendation.
Editors' note: The Samsung PND7000 series was originally reviewed in August 2011. In October it received the Editors' Choice Award as our most-recommended TV overall. Click here for more details.
Updated September 1, 2011: This review has been updated to correct a mistake regarding the Samsung PN59D8000 used in comparison; see Performance for details. This TV is also undergoing long-term testing, the results of which don't affect this review as yet.
Updated November 7, 2011: Further testing was performed on this TV to evaluate reports of "brightness pops," and we've also addressed reports of screen peeling. Click here for details.
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 59-inch Samsung PN59D7000, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality. That said, we've heard reports that the smaller 51-inch model may have worse black-level performance than the size we tested, although we won't know for sure until we can evaluate one ourselves.
|Samsung PN51D7000||51 inches|
|Samsung PN59D7000 (reviewed)||59 inches|
|Samsung PN64D7000||64 inches|
|Panel depth||1.5 inches||Bezel width||1.18 inches|
|Single-plane face||No||Swivel stand||Yes|
Thinner than its Panasonic and LG counterparts and sporting a new, more compact frame around the screen, the D7000/D8000 series gets our vote for the best-looking plasma TV available. That bezel is narrower than any plasma's we've tested, slimmer even than the Panasonic GT30's by 0.19 inch. The bottom edge of the frame is a bit thicker at 2.13 inches, but that does nothing to spoil the PND7000's LED TV-like dimensions.
The Samsung PND8000 and PND7000 plasmas look basically the same from the neck up. Samsung's Web site says the metallic frames are colored "titanium" and "brushed black," respectively, but in person we couldn't see any difference. The two TVs have very different stands, however, and we like the D7000's better. Where the D8000 sports Samsung's four-legged "spider" base, the D7000 has a more traditional rectangular base with a sleek transparent stalk.
|Remote size (LxW)||8.4x2 inches||QWERTY keyboard||No|
|Illuminated keys||42||IR device control||No|
|Menu item explanations||Yes||Onscreen manual||Yes|
Samsung's 2011 TV menus have been refreshed and feel a bit snappier than before. The main column of adjustments, formerly transparent, is now bright opaque blue with rounded edges and good-sized text. Each major menu item gets a text explanation, although, unlike the D8000, there are no little illustrations or snazzy animations (and the D7000 is a tad more responsive).
We also like the remote included with the D7000, although it lacks the QWERTY keyboard found on the D8000's clicker. Dedicated keys launch an indexed onscreen manual, search, and the Smart TV/Hub/Apps home, and there's even a key marked Social TV that brings up Facebook, Twitter, and Google Talk interfaces. We still like the layout and the extensive illumination, although we'd still prefer some differentiation in button shape to augment the grid of rectangles.
|Display technology||Plasma||LED backlight||N/A|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||No|
|Screen finish||Glass||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|Refresh rate(s)||60Hz, 96Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||No|
The D7000 lacks the QWERTY remote, Skype option, Web browser, and Local Contrast Enhancer found on the D8000, but otherwise the two have identical feature sets. Even without those extras the D7000 is very well-equipped.
One item it doesn't include anymore is 3D glasses. Retailers may offer promotions at their discretion, but since Samsung doesn't pack the glasses in with the TV, you'll have to check with the retailer first. The PND7000 series is also incompatible with Samsung's 2010 3D glasses models. Bluetooth does make the new glasses easier to use, and they keep sync much better than the old infrared versions.
We applaud the inclusion of built-in Wi-Fi with this Samsung (as well as the D8000 and D6500 plasmas), saving the cost and hassle of the $80 USB dongle.
|Amazon Instant||No||Hulu Plus||Yes|
Like the UND6400, the PND7000 lacks the Yahoo widget engine found on the D8000 models, but otherwise its selection of applications and streaming content is as good as any TV's on the market. The only major missing link so far is Amazon Instant, available on Sony, Panasonic, and LG TVs (more info).
Smart Hub is basically the same as we described on the UND6400 and on Samsung's Blu-ray players, so check out those write-ups for details. We found its interface somewhat crowded and the Search and Your Video functions, while ambitious, disappointing since neither incorporated apps like Netflix and Hulu Plus, just Vudu and CinemaNow (both PPV with similar pricing). On the plus side we liked the ability to customize our favorites area with folders--especially the ability to dump unwanted but unremovable shortcuts, like AllShare and Channel, into a folder.
Samsung's remote app on our Android phone worked quite well, with excellent response times and most of the functionality we wanted. We liked the easy access to apps and being able to input text searches using the Swype keyboard, but its best feature is changing context according to what you're doing--hitting the Smart tab, for example, brought up a simplified interface that we actually preferred to Smart Hub on the TV. Sure, you have to look at the touch screen, as opposed to feeling your way with the remote buttons, but all told we liked using it better than the QWERTY remote included with the D8000.
New apps launched since we reviewed the PND8000 in June include BBC News, SEC Digital Network, XOS College Sports, Geo-photo, and a few games. The Samsung App Store is more active and useful than Panasonic's or LG's on any TV, but don't expect the same breadth you'd get from a phone-based app store.
|Adjustable picture modes||4||Fine dejudder control||N/A|
|Color temperature presets||4||Fine color temperature control||10 points|
|Gamma presets||7||Color management system||Yes|
As usual Samsung provides one of the best picture adjustment suites for both 2D and 3D sources, delivering extras like a 10-point grayscale and superb color management that many TVs lack. There's also a CinemaSmooth setting in the Film Mode menu that engages a 96Hz refresh rate to properly handle 1080p/24 sources at the expense of some black-level performance (see below).
Calling up the Tools menu and then pressing the main menu button brings up picture adjustments in Netflix. Vudu's picture can also be adjusted, although we didn't try other services.
3D settings are the same as last year, and provide plenty of control as well. You can use the 2D-to-3D conversion system with streaming services and other sources if you want.
|HDMI inputs||4||Component video inputs||1|
|Composite video input(s)||1||VGA-style PC input(s)||1|
|USB port||3||Ethernet (LAN) port||Yes|
Like other thin TVs, the D7000 is light on analog connections and those it does have require breakout cables (included). We'd like to see a headphone jack, but the third USB port might make up for the lack if you're using the Wi-Fi dongle and you like to stream media via USB.
Overall, the initial picture quality of the Samsung PND7000 was basically the same as that of the PND8000, and both received a 9 in this category. The two are tied for third-best TV of all time after the Pioneer Kuro and the Panasonic VT30. The PND7000 can produce extremely deep blacks, although it failed to resolve full shadow detail--and properly reproduce 1080p/24--when calibrated for those deep blacks. Color after calibration was superb, bright-room and 3D picture quality were excellent, and of course it trounced any LCD in terms of uniformity and off-angle viewing.
The 59-inch version we tested was even a hair quieter (with less audible buzzing) than last year's 50-inch PN50C8000, which itself was quiet enough that we doubt any viewer would find it irksome.
The Movie picture preset was again the PND7000's most accurate, although it measured relatively red with a too-dark gamma and crushed shadow detail. As with the PND8000, with Samsung's excellent user-menu controls we were able to achieve an extremely accurate calibration, although for whatever reason color wasn't quite as accurate as we saw on the D8000 (green and cyan color points were off a bit and the CMS seemed to behave with less precision and range than on the D8000; grayscale was a tad less linear albeit still superb). On the other hand, we measured a slightly better overall black level on the D7000. Perhaps these differences were due to the respective ages of the panels at the time of calibration (about 150 hours for the D8000 and 380 for the D7000), normal variation among different samples (both were purchased at retail, not supplied by Samsung), or nuances during the different calibrations, but regardless, they were minor.
Our image quality tests were conducted with the help of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" on Blu-ray and the lineup of comparable TVs below.
Updated September 1, 2011: At the time of this review, the Samsung PN59D7000 had about 380 hours on it. Since then it has been aged as part of CNET's long-term testing. The aging process has caused changes in black level and color, but none of them is major enough to affect our initial review, and all can be fixed in calibration. Three other plasmas used in the comparison below were also aged significantly; the hour counts below have not been updated since the original review. The comparisons that follow are also the same as in the original review, with one exception: we have removed a paragraph that described the PN59D8000 as having significantly lighter (worse) black levels after aging. For a full explanation, check out CNET's long-term plasma TV tests.
|Samsung PN59D8000||59-inch plasma (940 hours)|
|Panasonic TC-P55VT30||55-inch plasma (992 hours)|
|LG 50PZ950||50-inch plasma (24 hours)|
|Panasonic TC-P50GT30||50-inch plasma (1391 hours)|
|Sony XBR-55HX929||55-inch LED with full-array local dimming|
|Pioneer PRO-111FD (reference)||50-inch plasma|
Black level: The Samsung PND7000 was superb at producing a deep shade of black, falling short only of the VT30 (0.0052 Fl), the Kuro, and the Sony among the models in our lineup. Close comparisons of dark areas, like the letterbox bars and blackest shadows from the meeting of the evildoers in chapter 2, revealed that the D7000 looked basically the same as the GT30 (0.0057). The LG was the lightest of the bunch by far.
Like the D8000, the D7000 crushed shadow detail worse than the others. As Snape ascends the stairs, for example (4:29), the folds of his black robe, the door in the foreground, and the drapes behind appeared less defined than on the other TV sets. In comparison, the VT30 again appeared a bit too bright, but we still preferred the look of its shadows to those of the Samsungs. The two Samsungs looked very similar in this regard (although the D7000 appeared just the slightest bit more realistic in shadows, due to its darker blacks) so we can rule out the D8000's "LCE" as a possible culprit; perhaps a different calibration could solve the problem, albeit at the expense of some black level, gamma, or grayscale accuracy.
We also kept an eye out for "floating blacks"--an artifact in which the level of black changes abruptly enough to notice along with the brightness of the rest of the picture--but we didn't see it. (Update November 7, 2011: Further testing revealed fluctuations in black level on other select material; click here for details). The D7000 does "turn off" and display a completely black image when the picture content goes dark for long enough, but this never happened during normal-length fade-outs in Movie mode in our experience.
These observations were made (and our calibration was performed) with Film Mode on the PND7000 set to Off, not CinemaSmooth. That's because CS caused a loss in black level, from 0.0061 to 0.0098 by our measure. The picture also dimmed slightly, although of course a tweak to calibration (perhaps at the further expense of black level) could remedy that. See the video processing section for more details.
Color accuracy: Again the two Samsungs were extremely similar in this department, although judging from our measurements the D8000 is slightly superior. When we compared them during program material, however, they were nearly impossible to tell apart--and again better than any of the other sets.
Skin tones looked superb in the living-room gathering in chapter 3, for example, where the faces of Harry's friends looked a bit more natural than on the very slightly greener VT30 and the bluer Sony XBR. The green of the grass and the blue of the sky in the field (1:13:10) also looked quite accurate and better than on either Panasonic, although the D8000 did show slightly lusher greens and a paler sky that we assume are more accurate given its better color points.
Near-black on the D7000 was the most accurate in the lineup according to our measurements, although in practice it was difficult to distinguish between the Samsungs and the VT30.
Video processing: While the PND7000 can handle 1080p/24 sources with proper cadence thanks to its CinemaSmooth mode (hence the "Pass" we give it below), we didn't take advantage of that feature. That's because engaging CinemaSmooth caused black levels to worsen as noted above. We asked a Samsung rep about this black-level rise and he mentioned that it was due to the need to cycle the phosphors more quickly to achieve the 96Hz refresh rate required.
In our test clip of the flyover of the Intrepid from "I Am Legend," the difference between CinemaSmooth and Off was subtle but obvious. In the former mode the movement of objects in the frame has a regular cadence, smooth but not too smooth, that we associate with film. In the latter the cadence stuttered slightly with a sort of hitching motion characteristic of 2:3 pull-down. Such differences won't be as apparent in most scenes, but sticklers who want to see the true motion of film at all times will engage CS to the detriment of black levels on this TV. The Panasonic plasmas handle film cadence without black-level loss, although each also necessitates a minor trade-off to achieve it.
As with previous Samsungs, the default Auto2 Film Mode setting for 1080i sources didn't result in proper deinterlacing; we had to switch to Auto 1 to get the PND7000 to pass that test.
Bright lighting: The D7000 performed well under the lights for a plasma TV. It was a bit less reflective than the VT30, doing a better job of dimming ambient highlights when we turned on the lights. While it wasn't quite as good at preserving black levels under bright lights, it was still very good in that area (and better than any of the other plasmas in the room). We ended up slightly preferring the bright-room picture of the Samsung, but the two were very close.
Meanwhile the LG plasma showed brighter reflections yet preserved black levels worse than any of the TVs in our lineup, while the Sony XBR LCD showed slightly brighter reflections than the Samsung (yet not as bright as the VT30) and kept black levels deepest of all.
PC: The PND7000 handled a full-resolution PC signal at 1,920x1,080 pixels, but we noticed some softness and interference in high-frequency test patterns and text. Still, its VGA performance was among the best we've seen from a plasma TV.
3D: We did not test the 3D performance of the Samsung PN59D7000 for this review because we expect it to be identical to that of the PN59D8000 we tested earlier. Please see the 3D performance section of that review for details.
Power consumption: Like its D8000 brother, and all plasmas for that matter, the D7000 is a power hog. Its post-calibration watts per square inch match the 55-inch Panasonic VT30, although by that measure the D7000 does improve upon the 2010 Samsung PN50C8000. The relatively miserly Panasonic ST30 is the best of the plasma bunch, and as usual you'll get significantly better power savings from LED.
The default Standard mode of the D7000 isn't nearly as dim as that of the VT30, which is why the VT30's default (133 watts) uses so much less power. Both TVs qualify for the current iteration of Energy Star, for what it's worth, but we doubt the D7000 will qualify for Energy Star 5.3 when it goes into effect this September.
|Black luminance (0%)||0.0061||Good|
|Near-black x/y (5%)||0.317/0.3292||Good|
|Dark gray x/y (20%)||0.3144/0.3308||Good|
|Bright gray x/y (70%)||0.3128/0.3296||Good|
|Before avg. color temp.||6261||Poor|
|After avg. color temp.||6503||Good|
|Red lum. error (de94_L)||0.1489||Good|
|Green lum. error (de94_L)||0.4783||Good|
|Blue lum. error (de94_L)||0.227||Good|
|Cyan hue x/y||0.2106/0.3267||Average|
|Magenta hue x/y||0.3185/0.1463||Good|
|Yellow hue x/y||0.421/0.5098||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|1080i Deinterlacing (film)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||800||Average|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||800||Average|
|PC input resolution (VGA)||1,920x1,080||Good|
|Samsung PN59D7000||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||218.14||345.48||122.31|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.15||0.23||0.08|
|Cost per year||$47.92||$75.84||$26.92|
|Score (considering size)||Good|
Samsung PN59D7000 CNET review calibration results