Korean brand goes 'cheap and cheerful' with a 51in plasma that won't break the bank...
Samsung is famous for its high-end TVs (anyone for a curved OLED?) but, as the PS51F5500 shows, isn't afraid to get its hands dirty at the budget end of the market. For a good chunk less than £1,000, this plasma gives you a helluva lot – 51 inches of screen real estate, Full HD resolution, active 3D support, onboard media player and Samsung's 'Smart Hub' technology, easily accessed by built-in Wi-Fi or Ethernet.
The dual-core processor ensures that the set's slick user interface is very responsive, a far cry from early smart TVs. Icons peel off or fly into the screen accompanied by sound effects. You can use the standard remote with its arrow keys, or the snazzier touchpad/voice control handset. Motion control, as seen on the high-end Series 8 plasmas, isn't offered here, as there's no built-in camera.
The Samsung's audio transcended my expectations. It may lack truly deep bass, but this TV doesn't suffer from the hollowness that spoils many flatscreens and can go fairly loud without breaking up. It's hardly a substitute for a full AV rig, but it will certainly do justice to casual viewing.
More importantly, this affordable bigscreen delivers the goods visually. The default picture modes are fair, but after calibration the picture is transformed. Even with SD material (for example, an IT Crowd DVD), a surprising amount of fine detail is apparent.
Colours are balanced and realistic, while greyscales and dynamics are given a natural presentation. Switching to Blu-ray and HD TV broadcasts reveals similar characteristics, allied to the transformation in resolution that hi-def brings to the party. Even black levels are better than they should be at this price, with authentic, stable dark tones when required.
Superb though the picture may be in these respects, the Samsung's budget origins do shine through. Fast movement is accompanied by a slight but nevertheless perceptible judder; this was confirmed by a spin of the Spears & Munsil 'stock-ticker' test. Some might be inclined to believe that the result is endearingly filmic, though.
Finally, we have the 3D side of the equation – two pairs of RF-triggered active shutter glasses are supplied. A separate 3D processing mode is provided, and support for all key formats (frame-packing, top/bottom and side-by-side) is available. With a variety of 3D material ranging from test disc landscapes to Prometheus' 'star-chart' scene, the Samsung performs admirably, although not without some crosstalk errors.
Overall, the PS51F5500 represents great value for money – cracking pictures on a large scale, with Smart talents, too.
Price: £700 Approx
Highs: Superb picture quality for the price; sounds better than some more expensive sets; excellent Smart functionality
Lows: Motion judder (no Samsung 'canceller' at this level); AV connectivity could be better; USB disk recording format PC-incompatible
3D: Yes. Active
Ultra HD: No. 1,920 x 1,080
Tuner: Yes. Freeview HD
Connections: 3 x HDMI; 2 x USB; composite/component; Scart; optical audio output; Ethernet
Sound: 2 x 10W
Contrast ratio: 'Mega DCR'
Dimensions (off stand): 1,192(w) x 709(h) x 57(d)mm
Weight (off stand): 18.5kg
Features: Built-in Wi-Fi; Samsung Smart Hub; dual-core processor; web browser; apps including iPlayer, 4oD, Facebook, YouTube; USB/network multimedia playback (including MPEG2, DivX/XviD, MP4, MKV, WMV, JPEG, MP3, AAC, WAV, WMA and FLAC); 3D Hyper-Real Engine; 600Hz Subfield Motion; Black Optimiser; Cinema Smooth; film mode; Wide Colour Enhancer; two pairs of 3D glasses supplied; Samsung Smartview mirroring; Skype (with optional camera); voice-control
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