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Samsung PNF8500 review:

Samsung PNF8500

The good: The Samsung PNF8500 series exhibits outstanding picture quality with a class-leading bright-room image, exceedingly deep black levels, very good shadow detail, highly accurate colors and superb off-angle and uniformity characteristics; mind-boggling feature list with touch-pad remote, IR blaster with cable box control, four pairs of 3D glasses, motion and voice command, and the industry’s most capable Smart TV platform; unique styling with full-width ribbon stand and slim-bezel metallic finish.

The bad: Extremely expensive; correct film cadence requires sacrificing some black level; remote lacks numerous direct commands; imperfect cable box control; consumes more power than LCD TVs.

The bottom line: Samsung’s best-performing TV ever, the PNF8500 series pushes the plasma picture quality envelope, especially in bright rooms.

 

Amid the hubub about Panasonic’s financial trouble and questions about how it will affect the future of plasma TV, it’s easy to forget about Samsung. The world’s No. 1 TV maker has invested substantially in plasma research and production, and has managed to compete strongly against Panasonic for the hearts of the video-quality-obsessed.

The Samsung F8500 series continues the tradition beautifully, delivering the best picture quality we’ve ever tested in a Samsung TV. It’s not quite as good overall as Panasonic’s best 2013 efforts, such as the like-priced VT60, but it does offer one major advantage: light. The F8500 can produce a brighter image than competing plasmas, which combined with an excellent antireflective screen, leads to superb picture quality in high-ambient-light situations. If you have the kind of room that required an LED-based light cannon in the past, the F8500 might be bright enough to open your door to plasma.

Since this is a high-end Samsung TV, you can also expect oodles of features, including an all-new Smart TV suite that plays nice (sort of) with your cable box, as well as a built-in camera and mic for voice and gesture control.

The main downside is price. Unlike previous years with models like the awesome PNE6500 — our third-favorite TV of 2012 considering value — Samsung decided not to produce a relatively inexpensive yet permium-performing plasma TV in 2013. The F8500 costs a mint, meaning Samsung effectively forfeits the “videophile value” ballgame to the Panasonic ST60.

On the other hand, for plasma fans with the cash to burn who crave LED-like punch, the F8500 is the only game in town.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 60-inch Samsung PN60F8500, 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.

 

Models in series (details)
Samsung PN51F850051 inches
Samsung PN60F8500 (reviewed)60 inches
Samsung PN64F850064 inches

 

Design
It’s too bad many buyers well-off enough to afford an F8500 will likely elect to wall-mount it, because it has the most unique stand I’ve ever seen on a plasma TV. Set atop a table the big panel is kept upright by a smoothly curving base that flares out in the middle and recedes gently back to either side. Seen from the front it almost looks like it’s smiling, and the stand makes a beautiful compliment to the TV’s thin, dark gray metallic frame. Samsung calls it “Titan Black,” but it looks dark gray in person.

 

Since the base spans the entire width of the TV, you might need a wider table or TV stand than normal. The 60-inch Panasonic VT60, for example, has a standard pedestal base measuring 21.8 inches wide, while the 60-inch F8500 requires at least 54.8 inches of width. Despite its floaty appearance the F8500 seemed stable enough when I tried to rock it back and forth. As always with a large flat-panel TV, however, you should use wall anchors, especially in households with kids.

 

The remote is even more remarkable than the stand. Samsung’s recent flagship TVs included daring if disappointing clickers, from the chunky QWERTY flipper of the D8000 to the unresponsive touch pad of the E8000. The company totally redesigned the touch pad this year, and it’s a massive improvement. Despite a few flaws and the need for a learning curve, in many ways it’s the best remote control included with any TV I’ve ever used.

 

It’s small, with just a few buttons above and below a spacious touch pad, but it fit perfectly in my hand. The remote is Bluetooth, so it works without needing to be aimed at the TV. Responsiveness was superb, so I found myself merrily swiping along large menus and rarely missing my selection. Convenient slider bars above and on either side of the pad worked perfectly to scroll past pages at a time. The whole pad depressed with a satisfying click when I made a selection, although (nitpick alert) a laptop touch-pad-style tap-to-click would be even better. In total navigation was faster, almost as accurate and, I gotta admit, much more fun than with a standard remote.

The main flaw of Samsung’s clever clicker comes with its lack of buttons. The few that are included have raised, uniquely tactile shapes and useful backlighting, but to improve the remote’s size, design and perceived simplicity, plenty of common keys go missing. To enter numbers, for example, you have to hit the “More” button, which calls up a numeric keypad (below) that requires tedious swiping around to select each digit. You can also “rotate” the keypad — it’s fastest to use the top slider bar — to access additional controls, such as transport functions (play, pause, stop, and so on), Picture-in-picture, an Info screen, various set-top-box controls, and, well, more.

 

 

Most traditional remotes have dedicated keys for these functions, and how much you’ll miss them depends on how you typically use your TV remote. For example, I rarely need to dial in channels directly, but I do use the fast-forward, skip, and play/pause keys all the time when watching TV (e.g. controlling my DVR). That’s basically impossible with Samsung’s remote (see below).

 

Like most Smart TVs Samsung has two distinct menu systems, one for the TV’s settings and one for the Smart functionality. The former are exactly the same as last year: opaque blue layers logically arranged and featuring helpful explanations, a nifty preview pane, and very quick navigation, thanks in no small part to the remote

 

 

Key TV features
Display technologyPlasmaLED backlightN/A
Screen finishGlossyRemoteTouch pad
Smart TVYesInternet connectionBuilt-in Wi-Fi
3D technologyActive3D glasses included4 pair
Refresh rate(s)96Hz, 60HzDejudder (smooth) processingYes
DLNA-compliantPhoto/Music/VideoUSBPhoto/Music/Video
Other: Additional 3D glasses (model SSG-5100GB, $19); optional Smart Evolution kit (price/model TBD)

Features
“Featuritis” is one way to describe Samsung’s “kitchen sink” approach to its high-end devices, from its phones to tablets, to TVs, to refrigerators, to — yes — actual kitchen sinks. But there’s no avoiding the fact that products like the F8500 have more options than just about any other competitor. I’ll try to cover them here, including whether they’re useful or not, and I expect to augment this section as I spend more time with it.

But first, let’s look at what I actually consider important: features that affect picture quality. The main reason the F8500 costs so much more than the step-down F5500 is its superior plasma panel. Samsung calls it “Real Black Pro” or “Super Contrast Panel” depending on where you click at the company’s Web site, but the main differences between it and the F5500’s are better light output, deeper black levels, and a better antireflective screen. I haven’t compared the two directly yet, but based on what I saw from the E550 and E8000 from last year, I expect the F8500 to be substantially better.

The two Samsungs share much of the same feature set, otherwise, however, including the full Smart TV suite described below, the same remote, and even voice control. The F5500 has fewer inputs, no built-in pop-up camera (pictured below), and a dual-core processor compared to the F8500’s quad-core.

The F8500 continues Samsung’s tradition of including four pairs of active 3D glasses in the box. The new SSG-5100GB specs are slight retreads of the SSG-4100GBs from last year with no real improvement made to their flimsy design, but at least additional pairs are cheap. Panasonic and Sony’s throw-ins, for what it’s worth, are better. Since the F8500 adheres to the universal standard, you can always purchase other glasses.

 

The set will also be compatible with future Smart Evolution kits. Acting as a sort of brain transplant, the kits debuted this year to upgrade the company’s flagship 2012 TVs. Samsung promises a semblance of future-proofing for its most expensive TVs by offering a similar kit for the F8500 in early 2014, as well as “years down the road.”

Smart TV
Samsung’s Smart Hub offers the usual array of apps, social media hooks and access to local content, but that stuff is presented as secondary to an ambitious “On TV” section. Available from no other TV maker I’ve tested yet (although LG has something similar this year), it basically attempts to replace your cable or satellite box with the TV’s own interface — and when it can’t do that, at least control the box via Samsung’s own remote.

The Hub’s new design is reminiscent of an Android smartphone, with five different home pages you can flip through by swiping the remote touch pad’s scroll bar. Navigation and the slick animations were superquick on the quad-core F8500, although I wouldn’t be surprised if step-down Samsungs moved a bit more sluggishly. Overall the design is refreshing, colorful, and relatively simple, a welcome change from the cluttered feel of the company’s previous Smart TV suite. It’s also a big step up in design from Panasonic’s multipage suite, although it doesn’t provide the quite same level of customization.

Setup: Like many new TVs, Samsung greets new users with a step-by-step guided setup, which I usually don’t describe. In this case, however, it’s unusual enough to merit mention. First, it’s accompanied by strange Muzak. Second, it’s quite involved, including setup not only for Wi-Fi but also for cable box control, and requires you to choose your provider from a list. I wasn’t sure which channel lineup to choose between the two different options for Verizon Fios, so I just picked one.

It also asks you to sign your life away. In addition to the Smart Hub terms and conditions policy and privacy policy, you’ll have to consent to supplemental privacy notices, one each for Samsung’s Recommendations engine, Voice Recognition, Nuance (the company that powers the voice recognition software), Synch Plus, Yahoo, and the Online Remote management. Upon completion of setup, the message reads: “Your Smart TV is ready to use. The more you use your TV, the smarter it will get!”

Once you get it set up, you’re taken to the default home page for the Smart Hub. Unfortunately, as with Panasonic’s 2013 TVs, you’ll be greeted with this page every time you turn on the TV. A tweak from the default (Menu>Smart Features>On TV Settings>Auto Start>Off) is enough to fix it, but it’s still annoying. At least there are no pop-up ads.

 

On TV and Recommendation engine: The default Smart Hub home page, On TV, consists of a grid of TV show thumbnails along with a large window showing live TV. Below each thumbnail is a progress bar showing time remaining. You can also switch to a “timeline view,” which displays a list of five shows for every hour.

On TV basically acts as a very select electronic program guide (EPG), replacing the staid grid of hundreds of channels with a few cozy images of your favorite TV stars. As you use the system to select shows, Samsung’s “recommendation engine” kicks in to surface more shows it thinks you’ll want to watch. I didn’t spend much time trying to make those reccs make sense for me, but as someone who doesn’t watch much TV beyond sports and the occasional series like “Mad Men” and “Game of Thrones,” I probably wouldn’t be a good subject. I usually know what I want to watch, and I don’t need suggestions from the likes of TiVo (one service that has incorporated “suggestions” for years) or Samsung.

I also wouldn’t normally use On TV to select my shows, because most of the TV I watch is stored on my DVR’s hard drive. That list of recordings isn’t incorporated into On TV at all, so On TV has no idea which of them I watch and can’t make suggestions based upon them. For people like me, who almost never watch live TV, Samsung’s attempt to replace the cable box simply doesn’t work.

Even someone who watches a lot of live TV and doesn’t know what they want to see will experience some hiccups with the system. One issue is that choosing a show, for example “The Price Is Right,” took me to the standard-definition channel on my system, not the HD one. Another is that the On TV page shows just six shows each under Now Playing and Coming Up; If you want to browse more than that, you have to turn to your cable box’s trusty EPG.

 

Cable box control: The system uses a single, old-school wired IR blaster (above) to send commands from the TV to the cable box. Like most such systems it’s disappointing, and further hobbled by the Samsung remote’s paucity of controls.

I set up the system to control my Motorola DVR from Verizon Fios. Samsung’s remote navigated my DVR’s menus and EPG nicely, entered channel numbers as expected (complete with a handy channel history list) and items like a swipe-to-fast-forward were nice. On the other hand, mainstay buttons like “Guide” and “DVR” on the Samsung remote, and the transport keys on the virtual remote, didn’t work at all. So, absurdly, I couldn’t stop fast-forwarding once I’d swiped to start.

Confusingly, there’s a separate universal remote control setup routine that goes unmentioned in the initial setup, but even after playing around with it, I was unable to get full functionality. The system failed to properly control my Denon receiver, for example, and even when it worked, the Volume keys on the remote controlled the TV’s volume, not the receiver’s. There’s no way to reprogram Samsung’s remote to perform these functions, so in the end I had to use other remotes in addition to Samsung’s, defeating much of the purpose.

 

Cross-platform streaming video browse: The second page, called “Movies & TV Shows,” is a portal to Internet-based streaming video services — despite the name, it doesn’t surface any cable-based TV shows. The recommendation engine works here, too, to suggest new content based on past selections. Choose a TV show and you’re taken to a page listing related shows, cast information, a description, and a “Watch Now” button. Clicking it will show you results from Netflix, Vudu, CinemaNow, and Samsung’s Media Hub, along with per-episode pricing. Unfortunately, Amazon (including Prime), Hulu Plus, and HBO Go aren’t included in the results; you’ll have to go into the individual apps to search those.

Even more unfortunate is that there’s no way to search without using voice commands. The system lacks last year’s “Search” box, and instead seems designed primarily for browsing. Even the promising “Recomm. Search” button at the bottom of the remote brings up only more thumbnails, with no search field. I understand that Samsung wants to push voice command as simpler than typing keywords onto virtual keyboards, but I’d at least like the option for the latter to find my shows, especially if the voice commands fail.

 

Media and Social: The fourth page accesses music, photo and video content, whether from an attached USB thumb or hard drive, DLNA device (NAS drive or PC) or smartphone, or the cloud. Naturally the TV is compatible with Samsung’s AllShare system, and it can also access cloud storage from DropBox, SkyDrive, and SugarSynch, as well as work with MHL and Miracast to screen mirror-compatible smartphones. I didn’t test this functionality, nor did I test Samsung’s remote control apps for tablets and smartphones.

The fifth page is called “Social,” and it’s filled by default with YouTube clips. You can link it to Faceboox, Twitter, and Skype accounts, which seems mildly interesting. When I did so, however, the only things that surfaced were “Friends’ Pick” on Facebook, and there was no easy access to tweet or post status updates. As it stands, except for easy Skype access, this page is even more useless than I’d expect from “social” on a Smart TV.

 

Apps and Web browser: Samsung’s selection, available on the fifth page, is second to none, and it’s still the only TV maker with HBO Go. Other notable apps among the hundreds available include Spotify, Fios TV, Amazon Cloud Player, a Camera app, and Samsung’s “Explore 3D” app. There’s a cool “Fitness VOD” app that you can use in conjunction with the camera to put yourself alongside a workout coach on screen, and many, many more.

The page design, which is basically a bunch of small icons again reminiscent of a smartphone, is much cleaner than before. “Recommended” apps appear above a large editable grid of “My Apps” in the bottom area. Most of the important apps come pre-installed, and the chaff is all happily hidden inside the Samsung Apps section one layer down.

The Web browser is the best I’ve used on any TV, thanks in large part to the touch pad remote. The scrollbars work as they should, the “Return” key is a handy shortcut for “Back,” and the virtual keyboard makes entering URLs and search terms as easy as possible with its smart suggestions for letters, terms and sites. CNET.com loaded quickly enough, including comments, and the browser passed this Flash support test.

 

Of course, you’ll experience even less frustration if you connect an external wireless keyboard. The TV can pair with a Bluetooth keyboard or mouse; I used two versions of the Samsung Wireless Keyboard (VG-KDB1000 and VG-KDB1500) that worked great, and the set should also work with newer KDB2000 models too. I was also able to use a cheaper wireless USB keyboard, the Logitech K400, whose trackpad worked just as well as the Samsungs’. It’s true when they say that all functions might not work within all apps, however; I was unable to type search terms into Amazon Instant or Netflix using either keyboard (although arrow-key navigation and Enter worked fine, for example).

Voice and Gesture control: If you got this far expecting a thorough evaluation of what Samsung claims is new and improved control via voice and gestures, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I didn’t test those features at all for this review, so I can’t say one way or the other whether the F8500 improves on last year’s effort. Stay tuned for that.

 

Picture settings: In true Samsung tradition, there’s plenty on tap here, including 2-point and 10-point grayscale control, an excellent color management system, and four picture presets. The company also includes a “Black Optimizer” setting that has a real effect on black levels, a Film Mode option that does as well, and, yes, a dejudder control to turn the Soap Opera Effect on or off. I can’t really ask for anything more.

 

Connectivity: Nothing major goes missing here. Four HDMI ports, three USB, and an optical digital output do the digital heavy lifting, while analog video is served by a single component-video port that’s shared with composite video. There’s no VGA-style PC input, but there is an RS-232 port for custom AV control systems, as well as port for the included wired IR blaster.

Picture quality

The F8500 deserves a spot in the upper echelon of TVs you can buy, and in a bright room it’s the best plasma I’ve ever seen. In moderate rooms, it doesn’t quite match up to the picture quality of the like-priced Panasonic TC-PVT60 series, and while I’d say it’s a superior performer to the ST60 by a nose, they both earn the same “9” rating in this section.

This plasma manages to combine exceedingly deep black levels with the potential for whites brighter than any other high-performance plasma available. Color accuracy is superb, if not quite reference level, and of course it exhibits the perfect off-angle and picture uniformity characteristics of the breed. Its video processing unfortunately requires you to make a choice between correct 1080p/24 film cadence and the deepest black levels, however, something you won’t have to do with other TVs. One tertiary weakness is sound quality, while its 3D picture quality, aided again by superior light output, was outstanding.

 

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV’s picture controls worked during calibration.

 

Comparison models (details)
Panasonic TC-P60VT6060-inch plasma
Samsung PN60E800060-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-P65VT5065-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-P55ST6055-inch plasma
Sharp Elite PRO-60X5FD series60-inch LED
Pioneer Elite Kuro PRO-111FD50-inch plasma

Black level: The F8500 can produce some of the deepest levels of black of any display I’ve seen, beating the depth of all but the very best plasmas and local dimming LEDs. In our lineup, which includes the best flat-panel TVs we have available (and, I’d argue, most of the best ever made), it looked just a shade lighter than only the VT60, the Kuro, and the Elite in most dark and mixed scenes. In the very dark “Drive” Blu-ray, for example, the depth of the F8500’s letterbox bars and black areas like Driver’s car stereo and leather gloves (4:12) was superb. Even sitting right between the Kuro and the VT60, the F8500 looked almost as deep — and made the VT50, ST60, and especially the E8000 seem slightly grayish as opposed to inky black.

Unfortunately, you do have to trade away true film cadence if you want the absolute deepest black levels the F8500 can deliver. When I switched the Film Mode setting from Off to Cinema Smooth, those inky blacks got slightly brighter, reaching about the level of the ST60 and the VT50 (from 0.002 fL to 0.004, if you’re counting). That’s not much of a jump, so film cadence purists might not mind making it. On the other hand, of course, all of the other sets delivered correct cadence without sacrificing black levels.

Shadow detail was another strong suit for the F8500. As Irene grasps Driver’s hand under the vacillating light (30:29), all of the folds in his pants and jacket, along with the shadows along the steering column and door, looked correct, neither too bright nor too dim, and every detail was preserved. That said, I’d still give a slight advantage in most scenes to the Panasonics, particularly the VT60, where certain shadow details appeared just a bit more distinct, especially in areas very close to black. The walls during the slow pan over Driver’s room (37:20) or, even better, the very deep shadows and gasses in the Creation sequence from “Tree of Life” (23:48), again showed the Panasonics’ slight advantage. In any case the difference was very subtle, and it was tough to pick a clear winner between the F8500 and the three Panasonics, even with the benefit of side-by-side comparison. It was easier to see the F8500’s superiority to the E8000 in this area.

I watched a lot of Drive as well dark parts of other films, and I didn’t notice any instances of abrupt changes in overall black level — aka “brightness pops.” I also checked out the two pops tests that created the artifact in 2011 Samsung plasmas, in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” but the F8500 didn’t show the issue there either.

A strange image retention artifact did occur on the F8500 that I’ve never seen before. When I paused the image or the shot lingered for long enough on a dark stationary element, purplish noise would begin to gradually accumulate in shadowy areas. It happened in the upper-right of the screen on the beige car interior (between 4:14 and 4:19), for example, and became quite obvious if I paused. It wasn’t overly distracting, and disappeared nearly immediately when the image changed, but it’s still unusual and potentially distracting in certain stationary shots with near-black material. I also saw it during calibration (see the picture settings above for details), but in any case this issue doesn’t spoil my recommendation.

Color accuracy: The colors on the F8500 are superb. The rich saturation imparted by its deep black levels combined with very low measured error levels to create a palate that stands against the lineup extremely well. The only flaw was a spike in blue in the middle of the grayscale that adjustment couldn’t tame, an issue that perhaps manifested in slightly cooler skin tones in areas like the face of Irene in the restaurant (46:54).

On the other hand, the F8500 came closer than the others to the E8000 which, according to our measurements, has the best overall color in the lineup. It’s difficult to say which was “better” — the warmer Panasonic VTs or the slightly cooler Samsungs — but to my eye the Panasonics did appear a bit more pleasing and saturated. Regardless, the F8500 looked slightly more accurate than the ST60, and significantly more accurate than the Kuro and the Sharp Elite.

The measurement of the F8500’s near-black (5%) was also among the best I’ve ever seen, leading to pleasingly neutral dark areas and shadows. Of course, most of the others were also extremely good in this area, but the F8500 was just a bit better.

Video processing: As I mentioned above, this area is the F8500’s only major stumbling block. The only way to achieve the correct film cadence of 1080p/24 sources, like most Blu-ray movies, is to engage the Cinema Smooth setting under Film Mode — which lightens black levels somewhat. When I did so, I saw the nice, smooth-but-not-too-smooth movement in areas like the swinging camera in the grocery store in “Drive” (15:30) and of course even more clearly in my traditional such test, the pan over the aircraft carrier from “I Am Legend” (24:58).

Switching back to Off, which delivers the deepest black levels, caused the cadence to assume the characteristic, slightly hitching motion of 2:3 pulldown. It’s a subtle difference, but videophiles will have to choose between correct cadence and the deepest blacks. I chose the latter, for what it’s worth.

The F8500 offers two levels of dejudder that introduce the characteristic Soap Opera Effect. Even the weakest, Standard, produced an exceedingly smooth image that won’t appeal to those who dislike that effect. Unlike Panasonic’s plasmas, however, engaging dejudder did not affect my motion resolution measurements.

As with previous Samsungs, the default Auto2 Film Mode setting for 1080i sources didn’t result in proper deinterlacing; I had to switch to Auto 1 to get the PNF8500 to pass that test.

Bright lighting: The performance of the F8500 in high ambient light is better than any other plasma I’ve tested, and in this lineup is second only to the Sharp Elite LED. Its largest advantage over the other plasmas came in the form of prodigious light output.

Compared directly to the also-60-inch VT60, the F8500 almost doubled its maximum light output; I measured a peak of 83 fL (footlambert) in Dynamic mode on the Samsung, compared to 49 in Vivid mode on the Panasonic using window patterns.

The F8500 also maintains higher light output with full-screen patterns, measuring 19.1 fL compared to just 9.8 on the Panasonic. Hockey or skiing, where much of the screen is occupied by white or very bright material, appears markedly brighter on the F8500 than on other plasmas this size, and other content is proportionately brighter too, depending on how much of the screen is occupied by white. Most content is more mixed between light and dark, however, making this F8500 advantage less important. It’s also worth noting that most LEDs can maintain an even brighter image than the F8500 with near- or full-white content.

Speaking of importance, here’s the part where I remind readers that 40 fL, the amount to which I calibrate, is plenty for a moderately lit room. But if you have an extremely bright room or just prefer watching an extremely bright picture (like Vivid or Dynamic on your current TV), the F8500 comes closer to the light output of an LED TV than any plasma I’ve tested. Of course an LED can get even brighter; the 60-inch Elite, for example, can achieve a scorching 300 (window) and 133 (full-screen) fL in certain settings.

The F8500 has an excellent screen filter to go along with its light output potential. It preserved black levels under bright overhead lighting better than any TV in my lineup aside from the Sharp, keeping the image punchy instead of washed out. All of the plasmas aside from the Kuro were quite close in this regard; the VT50 was actually second-best at preserving black, followed by the VT60 and then the ST60 and E8000.

The ability to reduce reflections is also very important, and while none of these displays can match a matte-screened LED/LCD in that area, the F8500 was one of the best. Again, its least wasn’t much, but reflections were a bit brighter on the VT60.

Sound quality The F8500 was the worst-sounding TV in the lineup. Its audio was thin, bass was distorted, and the instruments of Nick Cave’s band from our test track were less distinct. Dialogue during “Mission Impossible 3” was also relatively muddy, and Ving Rhames’ deep voice sounded like it was coming from another room. The ensuing explosions had little visceral feel, and details like breaking glass were nigh inaudible. The great-sounding VT60, in particular, trounced it, but the VT50 and ST60 also sounded better, as did last year’s E8000.

3D: The F8500 is probably the best 3D performer of any plasma TV I’ve tested. Its image quality in the default settings for Cinema mode was better than what I saw on the VT60, mainly due to superior light output and better shadow detail. The latter difference can be equalized in calibration, perhaps (we don’t calibrate for 3D), but the former is a distinct advantage.

In terms of crosstalk, the F8500 performed as well or better than any of the other plasmas, but not at the same level as my 3D reference, the LED-based UN55ES8000 — which I subbed into the lineup in place of the 2D-only Kuro. Crosstalk is a bugaboo of 3D TVs that use active 3D technology, and appears as a ghostly double-image around many onscreen objects. During my favorite crosstalk tests from “Hugo,” including Hugo’s hand as it reached for the mouse (5:01), the tuning pegs on the guitar (7:49), and the face of the dog as it watches the inspector slide by (9:24), the F8500’s crosstalk was quite dim and unobjectionable — about the same level as the ST60 and VT60, and better than the E8000.

The image of the Samsung F8500 had more punch and impact, however, because it got substantially brighter. No, it didn’t reach the same level as the LED ES8000, but it was still visibly superior to any of the plasmas, particularly in brighter scenes. Details in shadows, like the bulkhead at the beginning of Chapter 2, were also more distinct on the F8500, although black levels were a bit deeper on the VT60. Color also seemed a bit better on the F8500, with more neutral shadows compared to the bluer Panasonics.

 

Panasonic’s throw-in 3D glasses fit much better than Samsung’s. The flimsy temples of the Samsung 5100GB’s barely kept them secure on my head, especially when I wore my prescription glasses, and the design let in a substantial amount of light from the side. At least they were very light.

Power consumption: Light output is a major factor in how much juice a TV uses, so it stands to reason that the F8500 is more of a power hog in its brightest picture mode. Unlike other plasmas, its default picture mode, Standard, is quite bright (with the ambient light sensor disabled), clocking 82 fL and a correspondingly massive power drain. After calibration to a standard light level, however, it’s right in line with what I’d expect from a 60-inch plasma.

The current Energy Star specification is still version 5.3, which still imposes a hard cap of 108 watts for any size of TV. According to Energy Star’s April 2013 list of qualified TVs, no 1080p 2013 Samsung plasma earns the blue sticker, although its 43-inch 720p sets series do.

Editors’ note: CNET has dropped TV power consumption testing for 60-inch or smaller LCD- and LED-based TVs because their power use, in terms of yearly cost, is negligible. We will continue to test the power use of larger LCD or LED models, as well as all plasma models.

 

Juice box
Samsung PN60F8500Picture settings
DefaultCalibratedPower save
Picture on (watts)455.92275.95188.35
Picture on (watts/sq. inch)0.30.180.12
Standby (watts)0.070.070.07
Cost per year$100.00$60.5541.35
Score (considering size)Average
Score (overall)Poor
GEEK BOX: TestResultScore
Black luminance (0%)0.002Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%)2.29Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)1.690Good
Near-black error (5%)0.231Good
Dark gray error (20%)0.345Good
Bright gray error (70%)0.631Good
Avg. color error1.891Good
Red error1.085Good
Green error1.129Good
Blue error4.22Average
Cyan error2.966Good
Magenta error0.973Good
Yellow error0.97Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)PassGood
1080i De-interlacing (film)PassGood
Motion resolution (max)700Average
Motion resolution (dejudder off)700Average

 

[source:cnet]

Samsung