Plasma technology has been around for long enough that it's able to deliver a high-quality display for very little money, and there are two companies at the forefront: Samsung and Panasonic. This year, the Panasonic ST60 received our first five-star television review, and the Samsung F5500 is the Korean giant's closest thing to a response.
The F5500 is a little bit cheaper than the ST60 but it isn't anywhere near as good. From color response to black levels to shadow detail the Panasonic ST60 is superior in every way. But that's not to say the Samsung F5500 is a poor television as it's not, and it will tan the hide of any LCD under $1,000. If it wasn't for the strong competition from Panasonic we'd be praising the F5500's deep blacks and its relatively good color.
Featureswise, you get a full complement of doodads, with smart TV, voice interaction, a touch screen, and decent 3D replay for the money. But where the TV disappoints is in bright-room playback. I don't know anyone who dutifully turns off all the lights and closes the curtains every time he or she watches TV; the Samsung is worse than any TV I've seen in years if you have even a single light on. Blacks are brown and the screen is very reflective.
While the value proposition is quite good and the TV offers excellent black levels for the money, this is a TV that should only be watched in complete darkness. If this sounds too difficult, then spend a tiny bit more and get the amazing Panasonic ST60 instead.
Panasonic and Samsung have been neck-and-neck for several years when it comes to the picture quality of the companies' respective plasmas, and with the F5500 this trend is set to continue. While it's better than the Panasonic S60 in some ways -- color, especially -- it's also worse in others: black level, shadow detail, and bright-room performance. A few years ago all plasmas performed poorly in bright rooms; that was to be expected. But while most got better, Samsung's F5500 performs worse in the light. Even though the F5500's black levels improved on last year's E550, you won't get to enjoy them in anything but a pitch-black room, with high reflectivity and poor contrast in most lighting conditions.
If you're able to control the amount of light in your room, the Samsung is capable of a very good picture with excellent contrast, rich colors, and plenty of detail. I'd still recommend paying more for the superior, and much more versatile, Panasonic ST60, though.