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Samsung PNC590 review: Samsung PNC590

Samsung PNC590

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
9 min read

In 2009 Samsung made significant improvements to the picture quality of its higher-end plasma TVs, bringing videophile cred to bear against category king Panasonic. This year Samsung has announced an even larger lineup of plasmas, and one of the most intriguing from a potential bang-for-the-buck proposition is the PNC590 series. It lacks the features--namely Internet connectivity and services--of its like-priced competition from Panasonic and LG but makes up for it with promising specs. All told, however, C590 can't quite match either the 2010 Panasonic G series or the 2009 Samsungs we reviewed, despite delivering decent picture quality overall. Videophiles seeking a 2010 Samsung plasma might be better served higher in the company's lineup, but less discerning fans of the brand will have few complaints with the C590 series.


Samsung PNC590

The Good

Decent black-level performance and shadow detail; very good color saturation; effective antireflective screen; understated, handsome styling.

The Bad

Less accurate color with bluer grayscale; lacks streaming and Internet apps of competing models; uses more power than LCDs and Panasonic's 2010 plasmas.

The Bottom Line

Samsung's mainstream PNC590 series offers solid performance but won't wow sticklers looking for plasma nirvana.

Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 50-inch Samsung PN50C50, 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.

Editors' note, September 29, 2010: This review has been updated to reflect testing of a firmware update that enables correct 1080p/24 processing.

Models in series (details)
Samsung PN50C590 (reviewed) 50 inches
Samsung PN58C590 58 inches
Samsung PN63C590 63 inches


Minimal styling cues keep the C590 classy.

Design highlights
Panel depth 2.8 inches Bezel width 2 inches
Single-plane face No Swivel stand Yes
Other: Transparent edge and stand stalk

The Samsung PNC590 series is formally dressed in glossy black with just a couple of classy, subtle styling cues--namely the transparent plastic edging of the frame and composing the stand stalk--to set it apart from the pack. The black-backed glass of the stand base matches perfectly, and we didn't mind one bit that the panel is thicker than the ones found on step-up Samsung plasmas. This is one handsome TV that should blend well into any room.

Samsung kept the slick transparent stand stalk from its 2009 models.

Remote control and menus
Remote size (LxW) 8.4 x 2 inches Remote screen N/A
Total keys 49 Backlit keys 44
Other IR devices controlled "="">No RF control of TV No
Shortcut menu "="">Yes On-screen explanations Yes

The remote included with the PNC590, while similar in size, shape and button count to the one offered on step-up sets like the UNC8000, has one huge advantage. Instead of catering to slick looks with impossible-to-use, flush semikeys, the C590's clicker has standard, raised buttons. We don't like the new grid layout as much as the better-differentiated cursor keys on last year's remotes, but at least that fingerprint-magnet finish is gone.

Samsung didn't change its basic TV control menus from last year, and that's a good thing. The transparent, blue-highlighted graphics are easy to read and navigate, and response is snappier than last year. Text explanations are present for just about every function.

We're still fans of Samsung's transparent, explanation-equipped menu system.


Key TV features
Display technology plasma LED backlight N/A
3D compatible No 3D glasses included N/A
Screen finish Glass Refresh rate(s) 60Hz, 96Hz
Dejudder (smooth) processing No 1080p/24 compatible Yes
Internet connection No Wireless HDMI/AV connection No
Other: DLNA and USB streaming of photos, video and music

The midrange C590 series lacks the Samsung Apps and streaming media options found on step-up models. It does have an Ethernet port on the back, however, and when connected to your home network it can stream photos, music and video from a networked PC and download firmware updates. The USB ports also allow such streaming. Check out the user manual, page 34 for details.

Samsung's Cinema Smooth mode is designed for 1080p/24 sources, but it didn't work well in our tests.

Picture settings
Adjustable picture modes 3 Independent memories per input Yes
Dejudder presets 0 Fine dejudder control N/A
Aspect ratio modes -- HD 4 Aspect ratio modes -- SD 4
Color temperature presets 4 Fine color temperature control 2 points
Gamma presets 7 Color management system No

The picture-affecting control selection is on par with the C590's non-LG competitors. Samsung omits a few of the user-menu options found on step-up models, including the color management and 10-point white balance systems, but there's still plenty for tweakers to adjust.

The standard two-point white balance menu should be familiar.

Other features
Power saver mode Yes Ambient light sensor Yes
Picture-in-picture Yes Onscreen user manual No
Other: Basic on-screen HD connection guide; on-screen troubleshooting; sound-only option; three modes to prevent/remove burn-in

Not much goes missing here. If you're worried about burn-in (we aren't), Samsung includes a pixel orbiter that slowly moved the image around the screen, as well as a scrolling bar to erase signs of image retention should it occur. Unfortunately the screen saver, labeled "auto protection," didn't seem to work at all when we left an image paused for extended periods, so you shouldn't depend on it.

We'd like to see a real onscreen manual as opposed to the simplistic "connection guide." The troubleshooting section is nice, but is mostly geared toward easing the job of customer service reps tasked with diagnosing owner problems over the phone. We like the option to turn off the screen manually, leaving just the sound, which cuts power use down to 26 watts.

The C590 covers anti-burn-in well, but the screen saver didn't activate in our test.

HDMI inputs 3 back, 1 side Component video inputs 2 back
Composite video input(s) 1 back, 1 side S-Video input(s) 0
VGA-style PC input(s) 1 RF input(s) 1
AV output(s) 1 audio only Digital audio output 1 optical
USB port 1 back, 1 side Ethernet (LAN) port Yes

The jack pack is normal, aside from the fact that using the back composite video takes up one of the component video slots, and that the analog audio output is a single minijack as opposed to the standard red and white RCA jacks.

Back panel connectivity is ample; that Ethernet jack is for firmware and file streaming only.

A fourth HDMI is located on the side.

Although its picture quality surpassed that of the like-priced LG PK750, the Samsung C590 series fell short of the Panasonic G20/25 series, as well as the Samsung plasmas we reviewed last year, in a couple of areas: its black levels were only average and its color tended slightly but visibly toward blue. Like all plasmas, it trounces the uniformity and off-angle performance of just about every LCD, and while its screen reduces in-room reflections better than other Samsung plasmas we've tested, it doesn't maintain contrast as well under bright lights. Finally, after a firmware update, the C590 did properly handle 1080p/24 content.

TV settings: Samsung PN50C590

As usual for Samsung the Movie preset delivered the most accurate picture out of the box. It showed a solid 2.27 gamma (the target is 2.2) but a relatively uneven, bluish grayscale, especially at the lower end. For our calibration we were able to tweak matters for the better, hitting a 2.21 gamma at our target 40ftl light output, but we couldn't do as much as we'd like to improve the grayscale. It's also notable that the C590 is missing a color management system, since this is the first Samsung TV we've tested in awhile that evinced less accurate primary colors (namely green).

Our image quality tests entailed checking out "Righteous Kill" on Blu-ray and comparing the Samsung PNC590 series to the lineup below.

Comparison models (details)
LG 50PK750 50-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-P50G20 50-inch plasma
Samsung PN50B650 50-inch plasma
LG 47LE8500 47-inch full array local dimming LED
"="" flat-panel-tvs="" samsung-un55c8000="" 4505-6482_7-34001684.html"="">Samsung UN55C8000 55-inch edge-lit local dimming LED
Pioneer PRO-111FD (reference) 50-inch plasma

Black level: While its black levels were decent, especially compared to many LCDs and a few plasmas we've tested, Samsung C590 delivered a lighter shade of black than any of the other displays in our lineup aside from the LG PK750. The difference was immediately apparent in the black background of the credits and the letterbox bars, as well as in darker scenes like the nighttime chess match and the shooting gallery in Chapter 1, and the dark background behind Pacino's face outside the crime scene in Chapter 2. The difference between the C590 and the other two Samsungs was relatively subtle yet visible in side-by-side comparisons, and became more obvious on the Panasonic, Pioneer and LG 8500.

Shadow detail also turned out relatively well, although near-black areas like Pacino's leather jacket and DeNiro's black suit in the shadowy living room in Chapter 1, or their faces in the dark church in Chapter 2, appeared just a bit more-obscured than on some of the better displays in the lineup, and about the same as we saw on the B650. On the other hand these areas looked somewhat more natural than the lighter shadows we saw on the Panasonic.

Color accuracy: As we mentioned above, the grayscale on the C590 tended toward blue in midbright areas, which manifested most in somewhat paler skin tones, like the face of Karen Corelli as she enters the apartment in Chapter 3 and her legs thereafter, as well as in slightly bluish-white areas, like DeNiro's black-and-white confessional scenes. Skin tones did lack that slight greenish/yellowish tint of the Panasonic, but its warmer look still came closer to our reference than did the Samsung. Saturation on the C590 was robust, thanks to solid color decoding, albeit not quite as strong as some of the other sets in our lineup.

While most of the primary and secondary colors measured close to the reference on the C590, green was the exception. That said, we didn't notice a major difference in green areas, like the trees and grass of the ball field in Chapter 6, compared to our reference.

Like the LG PK750, the C590 also tended toward blue in darker areas, so black and near-black shadows evinced a slight bluish tint absent from the Panasonic and Pioneer, for example. It wasn't nearly as bad as we saw on the Samsung C8000 LCD, however.

Video processing: (Updated September 29, 2010) When we first reviewed the PNC590 in May, the Cinema Smooth option, which is designed to enable proper reproduction of 1080p/24 content, didn't function correctly. When watching our favorite test for proper 1080p/24 cadence, the flyover of the deck of the Intrepid from "I Am Legend," we reported seeing "an unusual jerking of the entire frame about every half-second."

Samsung at first attempted to send us updated firmware but for some reason our original review sample couldn't be updated. Now, after testing an entirely new review sample (which displays firmware version "2010/07/09_001014"), we can report that 1080p/24 processing in Cinema Smooth works properly. Our test showed the proper cadence of film with no skipping and no evidence of the more-subtle hitching motion of 2:3 pulldown. Samsung assures us that PNC590 owners who update their firmware using the TV's internal, online system--in the menu, choose Support>Software Upgrade>By Online with LAN connected--will have access to the updated firmware and thus 1080p/24 capability.

"600Hz Subfields" is listed as a selling point on Samsung's Web site, which sounds like the "600Hz Sub-field Drive" touted by Panasonic, but the two didn't deliver the same results. The Samsung C590 didn't quite match the motion resolution of the Panasonic, the Pioneer, or the 240Hz LCDs in our comparisons, delivering between 800 and 900 lines, according to our test. However, that's still very good and as usual, we suspect that even the most blur-sensitive viewers won't notice a difference with regular program material.

Bright lighting: In our brightly lit room, the Samsung PNC590 series performed well--about on par with the Panasonic--reducing reflections better than either of the other Samsungs (including the B650 plasma, which obviously has a much different antireflective screen) but not preserving black levels nearly as well. It beat both of the LGs in these areas, but fell short of the Pioneer.

Standard-definition: The Samsung PNC590 didn't handle standard-def sources as well as the other Samsungs we tested, although it still outdid the Panasonic. It delivered every line of the DVD format, although details in the grass and stone bridge did appear a bit soft. Its biggest failure, however, took the form of significant jaggies in moving diagonal lines and a waving American flag. Noise reduction was solid, however, and even the company's Auto setting kicked in well to remove most of the noise from lower-quality sources. The set also correctly implemented 2:3 pull-down detection.

PC: Via both analog and HDMI, the Samsung plasma performed as well as we expect of any 1080p display. It perfectly resolved every line of a 1,020x1,080 source with no overscan or edge enhancement, and text looked sharp.

Geek box
Before color temp (20/80) 6721/6701 Good
After color temp 6561/6507 Good
Before grayscale variation 198 Good
After grayscale variation 133 Average
Color of red (x/y) 0.653/0.33 Good
Color of green 0.275/0.642 Average
Color of blue 0.149/0.056 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 did not test the power consumption of this size in the Samsung PNC590 series, but we did test the 50-inch model. For more information, refer to the review of the Samsung PNC590 series. How we test TVs.


Samsung PNC590

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 6Performance 7