Smarter and cheaper 3D plasma

If your finances won’t run to Panasonic’s VT30 series, John Archer reckons Samsung’s 51-incher is an affordable way to go Smart

Samsung doesn’t seem to like plasma very much. Every year, the brand’s marketing focuses almost exclusively on its latest LED TVs, while its plasma models sneak into stores with little or no fanfare.

But the appeal of Samsung’s plasmas has grown with the advent of 3D, where they’ve provided three-dimensional pictures far less troubled by crosstalk than any of its LCD displays.

All these qualities and more are present and correct in the good value PS51D6900. In fact, it’s comfortably my favourite Samsung plasma yet.

It certainly helps that, despite its size and active 3D capability, the PS51D6900 costs just £1,000 on the high street. That’s around £900 cheaper than Panasonic’s P50VT30, roughly £600 cheaper than LG’s P50PZ950T and about £240 less than the latest prices on Panasonic’s P50GT30 3D model. What’s more, the PS51D6900 ships with a single pair of free 3D glasses, while the P50GT30 doesn’t, so really you need to add an extra £100 to the Panasonic’s price before you’ve got a true comparison. This Samsung, then, is a bit of a bargain.

Design-wise, it looks good, too, with a slender, grey and glass-finish bezel. Not quite as desirable as Samsung’s D8000 LED sets, but close.

Connections are par for the course, include four v1.4 HDMIs offering compatibility with full HD 3D sources and two USB ports that can play video, photo or music files from USB devices. The latter can also be used to record TV shows onto USB HDDs from the integrated Freeview HD tuner. A LAN port is on hand for both accessing content on DLNA computers and getting into Samsung’s new Smart TV service. Perhaps best of all, though, is the PS51D6900’s built-in wi-fi.

Samsung’s Smart TV platform is a considerable advance on the brand’s previous Internet@TV system. Most welcome is the new ‘Smart Hub’ interface screen that gives you easy access to not only dozens of apps and video streaming services, but also to all your potential sources, including the TV tuners.

Mighty meaty

The amount of content on the brand’s Smart TV platform is becoming truly substantial, too. Established favourites such as LOVEFiLM, the BBC iPlayer, YouTube, the AceTrax movie rental/purchase ‘cloud’ and Samsung’s own 3D ‘channel’ are all here. The latter service now carries more and the streaming quality has more stability than it did a month or two ago.

As well as the streaming content, Samsung offers around 60 or so ‘second-tier’ apps, many of which are a bit pointless.

Please note, though, that unlike Samsung’s D7000 and D8000 LED sets, the PS51D6900 doesn’t provide either an open internet browser or Skype. In Samsung’s plasma range, these two features are reserved for the D8000 series.

Calibrating the PS51D6900’s images is made straightforward by a combination of a long list of themed presets and an extensive toolset, both of which include colour management and gamma controls. Samsung doesn’t seek endorsements from THX or the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF), but the PS51D6900 would probably have secured the backing of both.

Setup is aided, moreover, by the inspired use of an interactive instructions system that explains what each feature in the menus does when you highlight it.

With the single pair of Bluetooth active shutter 3D glasses perched reasonably comfortably on my nose, I settled down to watch a selection of 3D content, including the Tangled Blu-ray and Sky’s recent broadcast of Elbow’s pre-tour rehearsals. I was mostly impressed with what I saw. Particularly heartwarming is how little crosstalk there is. In fact, during bright scenes, there’s practically no telltale ghosting at all.

In this respect, the PS51D6900 improves on the company’s 3D LEDs models. Having said that, the screen’s pictures can’t be considered crosstalk-free, for the ghosting issue is occasionally apparent during dark scenes, which have bright elements in them, such as the lantern sequence in Tangled. Such scenes can even trouble Panasonic’s 3D plasmas a little, but not as much as they do the PS51D6900.

Plasma reigns

The Samsung set’s crosstalk issues remain less bothersome than they are with practically every LCD 3D TV, though. And the PS51D6900 also does a good job of reproducing 3D images with decent colour saturations and accuracy. Indeed, I’d say they’re slightly brighter and more dynamic looking than those of Panasonic’s VT30 series.

Stereoscopic motion is handled surprisingly well, too, considering there doesn’t seem to be much going on in the motion processing department.

Turning to 2D material, the PS51D6900 continues to impress. The highlight remains the clarity of HD footage, which sparkles with detail and texture, yet never takes the sharpness so far that things start to look gritty.

Colours are vivid but mostly natural too, aside from marginally yellow skin tones, while the set’s black level response is deep and natural. To put this latter point into perspective, Panasonic’s GT30 and VT30 series both serve up deeper black levels still.

But the PS51D6900 does well enough in this key department in order to still look cinematic when required, so the compromise versus the Panasonic models doesn’t seem unreasonable given the PS51D6900’s affordability.

Another string to the PS51D6900’s bow is its standard-definition upscaling. Good quality SD sources look almost HD by the time the PS51D6900 has finished with them, and even quite poor sources look sharper without noise levels being exaggerated.

Console gamers, meanwhile, will be pleased to hear that I measured just 35ms of input lag on the PS51D6900 using its Game preset, which is low enough to cause few, if any, unfair deaths or missed platform jumps.

Unlike many previous Samsung TVs, the PS51D6900’s slender design doesn’t prevent it from producing some solid sound quality to keep its pictures company. There’s a reasonably open mid range, bright trebles that seldom, if ever, sound harsh and even a smidgeon of bass around. Blimey.

Awesome contender

The PS51D6900 doesn’t usurp Panasonic’s GT30 and VT30 models from their position as the best performing 3D TVs around. But it’s still a very enjoyable watch, and with some excellent Smart TV features and aggressive pricing it makes it one of the 3D world’s biggest bargains to date.

HCC VERDICT

Highs: Lovely looks; exemplary Smart TV functions; good 2D and 3D pictures; good operating system Lows: Some crosstalk during dark 3D scenes; black levels could be deeper Performance: 4/5 Design: 5/5 Features: 5/5 Overall: 4/5

Specifications

3D: yes plus 2D-3D conversion Full HD: yes 1080p24
Tuner: yes Freeview HD
Component video: yes one input
HDMI/DVI: yes four, v1.4 PC input: yes one D-Sub
Resolution: 1,920 x 1,080
Sound: 2 x 10W Contrast ratio: ‘High’
Dimensions (off stand): 1,196(w) x 783(h) x 305(d)mm
Weight: 27kg
Also featuring: ‘600Hz’; Smart TV online service; USB media playback (MP3, JPEG, HD video support included); DLNA support (with Samsung’s AllShare system); integrated wi-fi; colour and gamma management; noise reduction processing; active 3D playback with one pair of glasses included