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For many years, Samsung was the answer to the question, "Which LCD should I get?" While the company also manufactured plasmas, they seemingly weren't a priority for Samsung or the public. But beginning in 2011 with the superb D8000 and D7000, for example, the company demonstrated that it was serious about the technology's picture-quality potential. That newfound determination continues into 2012.
The Samsung PNE6500 is an excellent television, with all of the features you need and few you don't. In picture quality it's every bit the equal of the phenomenal Panasonic ST50 series. The PNE6500's picture quality is also basically identical to that of its significantly more expensive Samsung stablemate, the flagship PNE8000, with the same performance in key areas such as black levels and color accuracy -- making the E6500 an excellent value.
If you were looking to spend between $1,000 and $1,500 on a videophile-grade TV, the Panasonic TC-P50ST50 and the Samsung PN51E6500 are the two you should be looking at (no LCD comes close -- you'd need to spend a big chunk more on something like the Sony KDL-HX850 to get near this level of picture quality). With online prices only $50 apart for the 50/51-inch versions, which should you choose? Brand loyalty plays a part here, but each TV has its own unique strengths. If you're looking for something a little bigger, the 60-inch models of each will obviously cost you more, but they're still worth consideration at under $2,000.
If I were buying a TV now, I would seriously consider the PNE6500 for its more mature styling and better bright-room performance, but some may prefer the overall contrast boost that the Panasonic ST50's brighter screen is able to bring, or want a 55- or 65-inch option. Regardless, both series offer the best picture quality for the buck on the market today.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 60-inch Samsung PN60E6500, but this review also applies to the other screen size in the series. The two sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
|Samsung PN51E6500||51 inches|
|Samsung PN60E6500 (reviewed)||60 inches|
While Samsung's LEDs have gone the skinny, skinny bezel route, technology dictates that its plasmas still have about an inch between the edge and the screen. While competitor Panasonic is still experimenting with its plasma designs, Samsung is sticking with its template of the last few years. The 6-, 7-, and 8-series plasmas all look the same, and as such the 6500 features a brushed black-plastic bezel and a black "octopus" stand (the other two have silver stands). The effect is understated, and while it's unlikely to win design awards the lack of flashy, reflective surrounds means you can concentrate on the picture.
The TV features a standard remote with a cheerful Smart Hub button in the center. Compared with the minimalism found in some modern remotes, there are plenty of buttons here, but we'd give up simplicity for more functionality in this case.
|Display technology||Plasma||LED backlight||N/A|
|Smart TV||Yes||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||Two pairs|
|Refresh rate(s)||96Hz, 60Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||No|
When it comes down to it, the E6500, E7000, and E8000 share nearly identical styling and picture-quality features. All three offer the same Real Black Pro panel, which involves both a change to the panel structure over the previous year and some software improvements.
Unlike the flagship E8000, the 6500 and 7000 are missing Smart Interaction. If you don't need a TV you can talk to or wave at, save yourself a bit of cash and get the E6500 instead. The E7000 and E6500 are almost impossible to tell apart judging from Samsung's Web site; the only noncosmetic differences I can discern are that the E7000 has a dual-core processor and a slightly thinner cabinet: 1.9 inches deep versus 2.2 inches.
Like all 2012 Samsung TVs, the PNE6500 comes with two pairs of active 3D glasses. It's also compatible with the Full HD 3D standard, so it works with other companies' compatible glasses. Check out this comparison for more.
Smart TV: Samsung's Smart Hub looks largely the same as last year. The main difference is that Samsung's home-grown apps are front and center -- Family Story, Fitness -- while the ones most people actually care about, such as Netflix, now appear smaller up at the top.
The interface is as easy to use as any of the others, but I prefer the simplicity of the uncluttered Panasonic or Sony interface to this. For me, it's about how easily I can start up Netflix -- and based on some tests among this and other TVs, it works out to about the same amount of time whether you boot into the Smart Hub interface and choose it or use a dedicated Netflix button as on the Sony TVs.
The content selection is very good in terms of major apps, with the exception of Amazon Instant. The extensive app store offers more than the usual amount of trash and treasure.
Samsung offers a Web browser, but using the standard remote control to navigate it isn't the most enjoyable experience. Thankfully, the TV supports the optional $100 Bluetooth keyboard, but as most people now have phones or tablets nearby, there isn't much need for a TV browser anyway.
Picture settings: Samsung offers three modes -- Vivid (yuck), Standard (dim), and Movie (a bit blue but workable) -- and each is adjustable. A number of advanced settings are available, namely a 10-point grayscale, which I found problematic this time around, and a great color-management system. The CinemaSmooth setting is designed to take advantage of 1080p/24 content, but there isn't a dedicated 100Hz antijudder circuit.
Connectivity: The PNE6500's three HDMI inputs are ample, if one fewer than some competitors offer. If you're wall-mounting the set, it's worth noting that the TV has rear-facing ports rather than downward ones (found on the thinner 8 and 7 series), which could restrict the analog and one HDMI port from being used.
The TV also offers two USB ports and a combined composite/component port, which is RCA and not the proprietary kind; no more lost adapters! Wireless and Ethernet connectivity are also included.
Picture quality (How we test TVs)
Just when you think plasmas can't get any better, that they've hit the point of diminishing returns, they surprise us with better picture quality each and every year. The E6500's picture is among the best of this or any other year, and better than anything ever offered for the same amount of money previously.
Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV’s picture controls worked during calibration.
Black levels are top-notch, with excellent shadow detail, and none of the dimming of the picture in dark scenes that you'll see with the Sony HX850. The one caveat to this is that the Samsung is limited by the amount of light it can put out in the only good picture mode, Movie, so contrast and pop aren't quite as good as on the Panasonic plasmas we've tested. Color fidelity and saturation are excellent, and from children's animation to nature documentaries, images are lively and -- in the right cases -- lifelike. Skin tones are natural and there are none of the color-stepping gradients that plasma used to suffer from in years past.
|Sony KDL-55HX850||55-inch full-array LED|
|Panasonic TC-P55ST50||55-inch plasma|
|Samsung PN60E8000||60-inch plasma|
|Panasonic TC-P65VT50||65-inch plasma|
|Pioneer Elite Kuro PRO-111FD (reference)||50-inch plasma|
Black level: For the price, the Samsung offers excellent levels of black and is every bit the equal of the excellent ST50 in this regard, albeit worse than the VT50. Compared with the Sony HX850, the Samsung's blacks are more consistent than that locally dimming TV can muster. Shadow detail is not forgotten with low-level details, giving depth to human figures and architecture.
Side by side with the E8000 it was apparent that the two TVs were almost identical aside from the E6500's superior shadow detail. The E6500's edge in shadow detail could be explained by differences in calibration -- when we experimented by using the +1 gamma setting on the E8000, its shadow detail improved. That said, the E8000 also supposedly offers a "Local Contrast Enhancer" that might be affecting its shadow detail adversely.
In previous years, so-called brightness pops -- a sudden brightening of blacks -- were a problem with some Samsung plasmas, but only on a very limited number of movies, and it wasn't a very big issue as far as I was concerned. If you're worried about it, don't be; based on my tests with similar content on the pop-prone PND7000, the E6500 doesn't suffer from this issue.
Color accuracy: Whether playing the grim, murky "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" or the effervescent children's movie "Rio," the Samsung exhibited excellent color reproduction. Some TVs can show an unnatural preponderance of blue or cyan but the Samsung stayed neutral. Compared with the Panasonic ST50 and VT50, the Samsung did seem a little desaturated on primary colors, but this was only slight. Skin tones from the movie "Star Trek" were quite natural, with neither undue "blushing" effects nor overt pastiness of any of the actors.
Video processing: The TV was very good at replaying 24p content with Cinema Smooth mode enabled, with no jerkiness and none of the loss of black-level fidelity exhibited by some previous Samsung plasmas. Similarly, the TV was able to handle 1080i film-based material without any moire or other judder effects.
But elsewhere with lower-quality material, the processing wasn't up to the level of the E8000. At 26:50 in "I Am Legend," the protagonist walks into a vampire burrow, and the Samsung displayed quite a bit more noise than any other of the TVs in the lineup. Turning on Noise Reduction wasn't able to get rid of the problem -- it just created some intense blurring.
Using a low-quality cable source the difference between the E8000 and the E6500 is clear, with higher levels of compression noise evident on the budget model. If you watch a lot of SD cable or DVDs then the E8000 might be the best choice between the two.
Bright lighting: In the past, I have always recommended that people with bright, sunny rooms buy an LCD, but TVs such as the Samsung E6500 have made me rethink this. Thanks to innovations such as Panasonic's louver filter and Samsung's Real Black Pro, the bright-room performance of many 2012 plasmas rivals that of LCDs. LCDs can still get brighter, especially in larger screen sizes, but modern plasma screens handle ambient light better than ever, and aside from the VT50, I haven't seen any TV do it better than the PNE6500.
With the curtains open and the summer sun streaming through the windows, the Samsung performed very well with contrast rivaling the Sony HX850. Surprisingly, the PNE6500 also outperformed the E8000 at maintaining a deeper level of black -- a mystery to us since the two TVs supposedly have the same screen filter.
The ST50 showed slightly gray blacks compared with the E6500 under full sunlight, with the screens facing an open window during daytime. If you had a toss-up between the two plasma TVs and daytime usage in a very bright room was one of the main considerations, this difference would tip us in favor of the Samsung. In more common, moderate bright-room situations, however, the two were almost impossible to tell apart and did an equally good job of handling reflections and preserving black levels.
3D: One other area where the 6500 falls down in comparison to the 8000 is 3D quality. There was significant cross-talk on the 6500 during our grueling "Hugo" test scene, which resulted in ghosting and "doubling up" of stereo images. If you watch a lot of 3D material, this TV isn't the one I'd go for.
Power consumption: (Note that this test and all of the chart numbers below only apply to the 60-inch PN60E6500, not the other size.) As expected from a large plasma screen, Standard mode was incredibly dim. When calibrated, the TV was still a little dimmer than usual, but the picture was much more usable.
This year, due to the hard cap of 108 watts for any size TV imposed by Energy Star's 5.3 specification, nearly all 60-inch and larger Samsung plasmas fail to earn the blue sticker, as do the 51-inch members of the E8000 and E7000 series. The PN51E6500 is still Energy Star-compliant, however.
|Samsung PN60E6500||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||102.75||245.68||N/A|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.07||0.16||N/A|
|Cost per year||$22.60||$53.93||N/A|
|Score (considering size)||Average|
Editors' note: CNET has dropped TV power consumption testing for 60-inch or smaller LCD- and LED-based TVs because their power use, in terms of yearly cost, is negligible. We will continue to test the power use of larger LCD or LED models, as well as all plasma and OLED models.
|GEEK BOX: Test||Result||Score|
|Black luminance (0%)||0.0044||Good|
|Near-black x/y (5%)||0.2849/0.307||Average|
|Dark gray x/y (20%)||0.313/0.332||Good|
|Bright gray x/y (70%)||0.314/0.3298||Good|
|Before avg. color temp.||6937.2593||Poor|
|After avg. color temp.||6531.7668||Good|
|Red lum. error (de94_L)||0.7906||Good|
|Green lum. error (de94_L)||0.3321||Good|
|Blue lum. error (de94_L)||0.1466||Good|
|Cyan hue x/y||0.2249/0.3402||Good|
|Magenta hue x/y||0.3187/0.1554||Good|
|Yellow hue x/y||0.418/0.5068||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|