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Samsung PNC8000 review: Samsung PNC8000

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 30.7 watts.

Like all Samsung Internet-connected TVs, the PNC8000 can receive online firmware updates.

HDMI inputs 4 Component video inputs 1
Composite video input(s) 1 S-Video input(s) 0
VGA-style PC input(s) 1 RF input(s) 1
AV output(s) 1 audio Digital audio output 1 optical
USB port 2 Ethernet (LAN) port Yes

Since it's limited by cabinet depth, the jack pack of the PNC8000 is oriented much like that of Samsung's LED-based LCD models. A horizontal and a vertical row of jacks are arranged so the cables run parallel to the panel, instead of plugging in perpendicularly. The selection of analog inputs is sparse almost to a fault, with just one composite and one component port, which share a single audio input. Plenty of HDMI inputs are available, though, and the second USB port is nice if you use the optional Wi-Fi dongle for one.

Digital connectivity is ample, but there's only one AV input for analog sources.

With both 2D and 3D sources, the Samsung PNC8000 is the second-best-performing TV overall that we've reviewed this year, although it does fall short of the Panasonic TC-PVT25 series. The Samsung's color accuracy and video processing--as long as you disable the dejudder function--are top-notch, its antiglare filter is a real asset in bright rooms, and naturally it shows all of the uniformity and off-angle advantages typical of plasma. Its depth of black was very good, although it qualifies as a weakness at this level since blacks were still lighter than other flagship contenders. The PNC8000's 3D picture quality was as impressive as any TV we've seen, again with the exception of the Panasonic VT25.

Update October 19, 2010: Further testing, spurred by reader request, has resulted in some additional observations. On our 50-inch review sample running firmware "2010/08/20_001026," engaging the CinemaSmooth video processing option resulted in an undesirable loss in black level, causing the minimum luminance level (MLL) to brighten from 0.019 to 0.032 (note that other sizes might have different MLL readings; we've heard reports of the 58-inch model achieving darker black levels, for example). Accordingly, we recommend against using the CinemaSmooth setting. Our original calibration and the picture quality observations below, with the exception of the "video processing" section, were originally made with CinemaSmooth turned off. We've informed Samsung of these observations and will update this section if they get back to us.

In addition, we made an unrelated update to the bright lighting section to include a comparison to the Samsung PNC7000. It's also worth noting that, unlike some readers, we didn't experience any unusual buzzing sound on our PN50C8000 review sample. It was quieter, all things being equal, than the Panasonic TC-P50G20, for example.

TV settings: Samsung PN50C8000

Prior to our calibration we determined that the best picture setting for critical viewing was, as usual for Samsung, Movie. It maxed out at a reasonable 32 ftl and delivered relatively linear, accurate grayscale and gamma, aside from a minor spike toward blue in the middle of the scale. The two "CAL" presets were both exceedingly dim by default (13 and 7.9 ftl for DAY and NIGHT, respectively), for what it's worth, although of course both are fully adjustable.

We used Movie for our and the results were excellent, smoothing out the grayscale and gamma (which ended up at 2.18 overall) almost completely. The default Auto color space setting was quite good to begin with, but we further honed color balance and the slightly errant cyan and magenta color points using Samsung's excellent CMS.

Our main were performed using the venerable "Avatar" Blu-ray and the following side-by-side lineup.

Comparison models (details)
Panasonic TC-P50VT25 50-inch plasma
LG 50PX950 50-inch plasma
Samsung PN50C7000 50-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-P50GT25 50-inch plasma
LG 47LX9500 47 inch full-array local dimming LED
Sony XBR-52HX909 52 inch full-array local dimming LED
Samsung UN55C8000 55-inch edge-lit local dimming LED
Pioneer PRO-111FD (reference) 50-inch plasma

Black level: The Samsung PNC8000 performed well in this category, delivering a shade of black that exceeded the LG X950 and the Samsung UNC8000. Between the two Samsung plasmas the PNC7000 had a very light edge in depth of black over the 8000, but it would only be visible in a side-by-side comparison. The other displays got deeper, to a greater or lesser extent, although the GT25 was very close, and in many cases involving mixed scenes was surpassed in depth of black by the PNC8000.

Dark scenes, like Chapter 1's shots of Sully's brother in his box, or the void of space behind the transport ship, appeared a bit less impactful on the PNC8000 than on most of the others. As usual the difference became less obvious in brighter scenes. Compared with the LED-based sets the PNC8000's black-level performance wasn't affected by blooming and it better maintained the brightness of small bright areas against dark backgrounds, such as the stars in space.

Shadow detail was superb on the PNC8000, outdoing both of its Samsung brethren, matching the LG LH8500, the Panasonic VT25, and the Pioneer, and beating the other sets. In shadowy areas like the underbrush in Chapter 10, for example, the dark leaves and plants appeared in full detail without seeming too bright.

Color accuracy: The linear color we measured was in full evidence with the C8000's presentation of Avatar, showing up as the natural-looking skin tones on the faces of Dr. Augistine and Selfridge as they argue in Chapter 4, for example. They lacked the slightly bluer cast of the PNC7000 as well as the more yellowish look of the Panasonics, coming as close to our reference as any TV in our lineup. Saturation, for example in the Na'vi's blue skin or the green foliage, was punch and well-balanced, if lacking some of the richness seen on the TVs with deeper blacks.

Speaking of black and near-black areas, they remained more neutral than on any of the other TVs, although the difference between the VT25, the C7000, and the C8000 was minimal.

Video processing: The Samsung PNC8000 was one of the few displays in our lineup capable of correctly delivering the film cadence of 1080p/24 content. Unfortunately, to get this feature to work you have to engage the CinemaSmooth option which, as noted above, causes a loss in black level performance. With the option engaged, the flyover of the deck of the Intrepid from "I Am Legend," the pan had the correct, smooth-but-not-video-like movement characteristic of film. Unlike the Panasonic VT25, we saw no false contouring in 1080p/24 mode.

The PNC8000's dejudder processing is a step-up feature whose effect we really don't like. In addition to making film-based images appear too much like video (the so-called soap opera effect) it also introduces artifacts. One example appears as a distortion around moving objects that looks a bit like a halo--we saw it prominently in the cliffs around the fast-flying banshee in Chapter 17, for example--and another is in periods of breakup, which we again saw on the banshee's head at the 11:32 mark, among other places. These artifacts became more visible when we switched MJC from Standard to Smooth. For what it's worth the other dejudder-equipped LCDs, with the exception of the LG, showed fewer artifacts in their Standard-equivalent modes.

Samsung's Web site lists as a selling point "600Hz Subfields," which sounds like the "600Hz Sub-field Drive" touted by Panasonic, but the two didn't deliver the same results. The Samsung PNC8000 didn't quite match the motion resolution of the Panasonics, the Pioneer, or most of the LCDs (aside from the Vizio) in our comparison, 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.

As with other Samsung TVs we've tested this year, with 1080i sources the Film Mode needs to be set to Auto 1, not the default Auto 2, for proper deinterlacing of film.

Bright lighting: The Samsung PNC8000 is among the best plasmas we've seen under bright lighting, maintaining black levels much better than the Samsung C7000 or any other plasma in our lineup, and reducing reflections better than the glossy-screened LCDs. The matte-screened Vizio LCD was still best overall under the lights, however.

Standard-definition: The Samsung PNC8000 handled standard-def sources very well. It delivered every line of the DVD format, and details in the grass and stone bridge were as good as we expected. Jaggies were minimal, unlike what we saw on the Panasonics, and noise reduction was solid, with 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-pixel source with no overscan or edge enhancement, and text looked sharp.

Before color temp (20/80) 6366/6665 Good
After color temp 6380/6537 Good
Before grayscale variation 153 Good
After grayscale variation 55 Good
Color of red (x/y) 0.635/0.33 Good
Color of green 0.289/0.604 Good
Color of blue 0.15/0.062 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: The Samsung PN50C8000 used a bit more power than the company's PN50C7000 plasma, but not as much as the Panasonic TC-P50VT25. None of those sets approached the energy savings improvement shown by the Panasonic G20, however, and as usual plasma uses a lot more juice than LCDs like the Vizio. Like Panasonic, Samsung employs a vanishingly dim Standard setting (7.7 ftl, measured with the ambient light sensor turned off) to achieve its low Default wattage.

We also measured significantly more power used in the Standard setting with 3D (287.34 watts) as opposed to 2D (143.57 watts). Check out this blog post for a closer look.

Juice box
Samsung PN50C8000 Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 168.66 260.53 129.73
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.16 0.24 0.12
Standby (watts) 0.08 0.08 0.08
Cost per year $37.04 $57.18 $28.50
Score (considering size) Poor
Score (overall) Poor

Annual energy consumption cost after calibration

3D picture quality: The 3D picture quality on the Samsung PNC8000 was excellent compared with other current models in our lineup, falling a bit short of only the Panasonic VT25. Comparisons were made while watching "Monsters vs. Aliens," using the default picture settings of the TVs' Movie (or equivalent) mode and switching between each TV maker's incompatible 3D eyewear as necessary.

The Panasonic's black levels were deeper and its bright areas brighter in default mode, leading to a punchier image than on the C8000. Color accuracy, however, went to the Samsung, which had a more natural cast compared with the Panasonic's bluer look in default Cinema mode. As we saw with the C7000, crosstalk was basically a wash between the two plasmas.

Comparing between the 3D images of the PNC8000 and PNC7000, the biggest difference was color-related. The default setting of both Movie and Standard seemed more accurate and closer to reference on our C8000 review sample, whereas the C7000 looked bluer (apparently a grayscale issue). Menu adjustments are available to modify these colors, of course, but doing so correctly would be more difficult than with 2D material since you have to take the glasses into account. In other picture quality areas, including crosstalk, we didn't see any significant differences between the two Samsung plasmas.

The Panasonic GT25 delivered a slightly deeper black level than the C8000 most scenes, but color appeared less accurate and it suffered from a few unusual artifacts. When the General faces Ginormica in Chapter 4, for example, the weave on her orange suit pockets showed moire and moving lines, and we saw that horizontal lines in the following scene--when Ginormica is slid through the complex--also showed movement.

The LG PX950 performed a bit worse than the C8000 overall, showing more obvious crosstalk in difficult scenes. When the lift ascends into the darkness in Chapter 5 (18:20), its ghostly double was a bit brighter against the dark background on the LG than on the PX950. Black levels were also brighter in default THX 3D mode on the LG, although we felt colors looked slightly more accurate. These differences would be difficult to discern outside of a side-by-side comparison, however.

The same can't be said for the LCDs from Samsung, Sony, and LG. They all showed significantly more crosstalk than the C8000, which also didn't suffer from anything like the Sony's off-angle drop-off or the LG's washed-out image.

We didn't test Samsung's 2D-to-3D conversion system on this model, but we assume it performs similarly to what we saw on the UN55C8000. See that review, or our writeup of that TV's simulated 3D and "Avatar" for more details. Earlier 3D TV reviews contain more notes on our testing methodology.

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