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Samsung PNB650 review: Samsung PNB650

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Samsung's "screen burn" menu offers a couple of ways to combat burn-in, aka image retention, and address it should it occur. By default the pixel shift function automatically moves the image slightly around the screen. You can set the bars to either side of 4:3 programs to gray or black (light gray, the default, is the best to help prevent burn-in). And if you do see image retention, a few hours of the scrolling ramp pattern should clear it up. It's worth noting that on our review sample, we did notice more image retention than we saw on the Panasonic and Pioneer plasmas, although as usual it was quite temporary and disappeared quickly during normal viewing. We only noticed it after the screen faded to black after displaying still images, like our PS3 menu. We'd expect the issue to go away after a couple hundred hours of use.

The PNB650 series offers very good connectivity, although it does follow the recent trend of spurning S-Video inputs--not one is to be found on this TV. The back panel sprouts three HDMI ports, two component-video inputs (one of which can be sacrificed for composite-video, if you need it), one VGA-style PC input, one RF input for cable and satellite, the Ethernet port, and one stereo analog and one optical digital audio output. The TV's side panel offers a fourth HDMI, two USB, and one AV input with composite-video.

The PNB650 offers plenty of connectivity, starting on the back panel with three HDMI, two component-video and a PC input.

The side panel adds an HDMI input, an AV input with composite video and a pair of USB ports. There's no S-Video input, however.

The Samsung PNB650 series delivers excellent overall picture quality, surpassing the color accuracy of the superb Panasonic V10 series and also delivering an arguably better picture in a bright room. The Panasonic delivers deeper black levels, however, and a video processing glitch we encountered with the Samsung's 1080p/24 mode also gave us pause.

TV settings: Samsung PNB650 series
As we expect from Samsung the PNB650's Movie mode was quite accurate out of the box, if a bit dim (29ftl) for our standard calibration. We increased the set's light output to our nominal 40ftl and tweaked the grayscale controls a bit to remove the slight bluish cast we measured. Linearity from light to dark wasn't perfect but was still acceptable, and as usual the company's primary and secondary colors were nearly perfect. After calibration we measured a gamma of 2.16, which is quite good compared with the 2.2 target.

For our comparison, we lined the Samsung PN50B650 up next to a couple of competing plasmas: the Panasonic TC-P50V10 and TC-P46G10, as well as our reference Pioneer PRO-111FD. We also included a couple of high-end LCDs, namely Samsung's own LN52B750 and the Sony KDL-52XBR9. The large part of our image quality tests were conducted using the "Notorious" Blu-ray Disc.

Black level: Although not quite as deep as the blacks on the Panasonic and especially the Pioneer plasmas, the shade of black produced by the Samsung PNB650 was extremely dark, and beat the level of black on the two LCDs. It's also significantly better than anything we saw on the company's plasmas last year.

During "Notorious," for example, the shadows, leather jacket and black clothing in Biggie's apartment all appeared a deep, rich shade of black, which looked quite realistic in our dark room, if not quite as dim as on the Panasonics. In the intro, the black background behind the text was again just slightly lighter on the Samsung plasma, but the difference was subtle. Details in the shadows, like the folds of clothing in the dim light or the shaded side of Biggie's face, seemed a bit more obscured and less natural, although again it would be tough to spot the difference without having the displays side-by-side.

We did encounter one significant black level snafu, however. When we engaged the "Cinema Smooth" mode in the Film Mode menu, which is designed to help preserve the correct frame rate of film with 1080p/24 sources, black levels rose significantly. It was as if the TV had switched to another, uncalibrated picture mode. Switching Film Mode back to Off didn't return the black levels to their correct, calibrated state; to do so we had to stop playback entirely, which sent a normal 1080p/60 source to the TV and disengaged Cinema Smooth. Needless to say this is unusual behavior, and we'll update this review when Samsung has an explanation (and hopefully a fix). In the meantime, we recommend not using Cinema Smooth with our picture settings.

Color accuracy: Here's where the Samsung outdid the Panasonics and nearly matched the Pioneer. Primary and secondary color accuracy was nearly perfect on the PNB650, and while the grayscale varied a bit more than we'd like to see, it was still solid. Accurate color decoding resulted in excellent saturation, for colors that looked a bit more lifelike overall than on the Panasonic V10.

During Biggie's affair with Lil Kim, for example, her skin tones looked natural and not too ruddy, although in the darker shadows under her neck, for example, there was a bit of extra redness compared with our reference Pioneer. The bright orange of the wall and the red of the painting were closer to our reference than the Panasonic, as was the green of the bushes outside Biggie's brownstone. The Samsung's color of black in very dark areas, such as the recording studio before Biggie walks in, appeared just a bit bluer and less true than that of the Panasonic, but the difference was subtle once again.

Video processing: Aside from the black level issues we described above, the PNB650 handled 1080p/24 sources properly when we engaged the Cinema Smooth setting in its Film menu. We tested this option by watching the flyover of the deck of the Intrepid from "I Am Legend," and the planes and indeed the entire frame preserved the correct cadence of film, without the hitching motion characteristic of 2:3 pull-down. When we switched the Cinema Smooth setting off, the hitching returned. We wish this mode automatically engaged the Samsung received a 1080p/24 source, especially since it seems to turn off every time the TV receives a normal 1080p/60 source.

According to Samsung, its plasmas use 600Hz subfield motion technology, which sounds like the 600Hz subfield drive employed by Panasonic on its plasmas, but the two didn't deliver the same results. The Samsung didn't quite match the motion resolution of the Panasonic plasmas or the 240Hz LCDs in our comparisons, delivering between 800 and 900 lines, according to our test. That's still very good, however, and as usual we suspect that even the most blur-sensitive viewers won't notice a difference with regular program material.

As expected, the B650 delivered every line of still resolution when we selected the "Screen Fit" aspect ratio mode, and it deinterlaced both film- and video-based source properly. To pass our film deinterlacing test, the TV had to be in the "Auto1" Film Mode setting; Auto2 is the default when the TV detects 1080i sources.

Bright lighting: Under bright lights the Samsung performed as well as any plasma we've tested aside from the Pioneer, which was roughly its equal. Its main strength was its capability to preserve a darker shade of black, despite ambient lighting, than the Panasonic, whose blacks washed out and became grayer faster than they did on the Samsung. On the flipside, the Samsung did not attenuate reflections, such as bright lights in the room or reflections such as this reviewer's white T-shirt. The Panasonic's reflections were dimmer and thus less distracting than those of the Samsung, but we still liked the Samsung's bright-room image better overall. It's worth noting that the overall best bright-room performance in our lineup was provided by the matte-screened Sony LCD.

Standard-definition: The PNB650 evinced generally solid standard-definition picture quality. According to our tests, the display handled every line of a DVD source and the shots of grass and steps from the detail test looked good. The set eliminated jaggies from video-based sources well, and its noise reduction cleaned up the lowest-quality shots of skies and sunset with aplomb. Finally the set passed 2:3 pull-down test by eliminating moire from the stands behind the racecar.

PC: Samsung's PNB650 series delivered excellent performance with HDMI sources from computers, resolving every line of a 1,920x1,080-pixel image with no overscan or edge enhancement. The image did appear very slightly softer via VGA but the set still resolved every line, according to DisplayMate tests.

Before color temp (20/80) 6664/6673 Good
After color temp 6442/6449 Good
Before grayscale variation 145 Good
After grayscale variation 101 Average
Color of red (x/y) 0.646/0.329 Good
Color of green 0.296/0.605 Good
Color of blue 0.149/0.06 Good
Overscan 0.0% Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Y Good
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps Pass Good
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Pass Good

Power consumption: We didn't test the power consumption of the Samsung PN58B650, although we did test the Samsung PN50B650. For more information, please refer to the review of the PN50B650. How we test TVs.

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