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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 itself or the public. But beginning in 2011 with the superb D8000 and D7000 for example, the company demonstrated 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. Its picture quality is every bit the equal of the phenomenal Panasonic ST50 series. The PNE6500's picture quality is also basically identical to 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 50-inch Panasonic ST50 and the 51-inch Samsung E6500 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, which should you choose? Brand loyalty plays a part here, but each has its own unique strengths. 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.

Read the full review of the PN60E6500

Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
The Samsung features a brushed black plastic bezel and a black "spider" stand.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CBS Interactive
Apart from cheating and looking at the model number on the back, the easiest way to tell this TV from the E8000 is the black stand.
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The E6500 features the same panel as the E8000, according to Samsung, but it is noticeably thicker than the flagship model. In addition it features backward-facing ports instead of down-facing, which could be an issue if you're wall-mounting this TV.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
Three HDMI ports, two USB, and a composite/component input.
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The remote control isn't as easy to use as previous years' remotes, as the single indentation underneath rests your hand at the volume/channel buttons, which makes tasks such as using the Smart Hub less pleasant.
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Arguably less cluttered than last year's Smart Hub interface, Samsung's new Fitness and Family Story apps nevertheless take center court.
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The Samsung Apps store is a trash or treasure assortment.
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There are a number of frivolous apps on the TV, but Broken TV is at least good for a laugh. Oh noes, I broked the TV!
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Broken TV in action.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET

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. The E6500's pictures are among the best of this or any other year's, and better than anything ever offered for the same amount of money previously.

Black levels are top-notch, with excellent shadow detail, and none of the dimming of the picture in dark scenes as 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.

Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
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