Many people wrote off plasma several years ago when companies such as Sony announced they were halting production to. But, despite their affiliation with Sony in the production of these same LCD panels, Samsung remains resolute in their support of plasma. And it's a good thing, because their latest -- the PS-50Q91HD -- is a capable set indeed.
There have been few companies who have had as many makeovers of their TV ranges as Samsung in the last couple of years. The Korean giant was keen on the "pyramid" look up until six months ago, but has decided to go back to the classic piano-black rectangle. Honestly, we prefer this look as it's less distracting. Viewed up against our studio TV, the 50-inch , the bezel is noticeably thicker at the bottom which makes it look bigger overall. Build quality is very good, and as an added bonus the sturdy base swivels, which can be helpful if you have a wide lounge room.
The bundled remote is also quite good, and although some of the transport (Play, Pause etc) buttons are small the handset is sensibly laid out. It will also control other Samsung components, and if you have compatible Samsung HDMI devices it will allow one-button control through the Anynet system. The remote also features a handy light button which illuminates the Channel and Volume buttons.
Contrast ratios have recently become the oughties equivalent of the much-maligned PMPO (Peak Music Power Output) rating -- get 1000 Watts from your bedside stereo system! Wow!
"Dynamic" contrast is more-or-less the same thing -- not a true measure of real-world performance -- and so we approached the Samsung's claim of 15,000:1 contrast with some scepticism. However, this isn't some "peak" rating, but appears to be a useful approximation of the actual contrast in this set. Black is black here. And it'll be a long time till an LCD can match this.
Plasma has taken a lot longer to reach the definitions that LCD has enjoyed for several years, but the Samsung is a high definition panel at 1365 x 768. It will replay resolutions up to 1080i with ease.
Being a plasma, this TV is still susceptible to burn-in problems, but Samsung appear to have this beat, with an exhaustive array of Screen Burn Protection options. In practice, they also appear to work very well, we never noticed any burn-in during our testing.
For Home Theatre PC (HTPC) aficionados you'll be happy to note that the Samsung not only features a VGA input, but also has a dedicated HTPC mode which enables you to push and pull the image around so that it fits the screen.
The Samsung PS-50Q91HD is one of the first TVs we've seen to sport three HDMI ports, including a handy side-mounted port for connecting games consoles like the PlayStation 3.
Lastly, the TV features a hybrid analog/digital tuner, which means no more pass-through cables to connect the tuners together.
Even before we turned the TV on we were struck by how dark the display was, which boded well for its ability to reproduce blacks. The screen has a high-gloss coating for added depth to images -- but the drawback is that you can see your reflection in a well-lit room.
The set came with its "Movie Plus" mode turned on, and we were initially disappointed with the images presented to us. Plasmas of bygone days -- and even the cheaper sets still on the market -- were notorious for smearing problems and colour "blocking" over smooth colour gradations. We were very surprised to see those problems here. It was especially evident on contrasting edges -- black against white. For example, when we tested with a Blu-ray disk, the Samsung made Tom Cruise's nose seem even bigger than usual in the rooftop scene from Mission Impossible III, where it caused a ghastly amount of nasal noise. Also, the climactic scene from King Kong also showed significant blurring as the biplanes closed in on the monster for their final assault. Only by navigating the menus and turning the offending mode off were we greeted by the image quality we expected. Moral: don't use Movie Plus.
We were especially impressed by the Samsung's capabilities with HD images -- Casino Royale on Blu-ray in particular was conveyed with precision and excitement. There was no visible blurring or ghosting during the opening chase scene and the colours were vivid and larger than life.
One thing we were impressed by -- and this is quite rare for a television -- was that the quality of sound was quite good. Dialogue was translated clearly, and there was also a decent amount of bass in there. Its performance was almost as impressive as thesound -- which had detachable speakers. These are inbuilt.
Using theto upscale the King Kong DVD, we witnessed the most naturalistic performance of the Brontosaurus Stampede sequence we've yet seen. The opening shots of this scene tend to be overbright, and almost synthetic, and the plasma reined this in perfectly. (However, even the mighty Samsung couldn't make this overblown action sequence any less preposterous...)
Using the same DVD, we did notice a tendency for fine gradations of colour -- such as clouds and sunsets -- to show a slight amount of grain and "shimmer". However, this is something that the-- at a similar price point -- also displays, but at a normal viewing distance, it's barely noticeable. Equally, fast motion is sometimes accompanied by a shimmering rainbow effect -- though not to the same extent as a DLP projector. Only the much more expensive Pioneer trumps these models with its minimisation of these two effects.
Hooking up an external HD tuner gave us an equally impressive picture, which was as confident with animation as it was with midday talking heads. It was only when we connected the onboard tuner that the Samsung gave a less-than-exemplary picture. For some reason only analog would work, but Samsung assures us that the TV comes with an onboard HD tuner.
Though we're great proponents of the potential of LCD technology, plasma screens such as the PS-50Q91HD continue to surprise us with their capabilities in this high definition age. For the money, this is an excellent television.