Samsung PN51F8500 Review (PN51F8500AF)
51 Inch 1080p Plasma TV, 3D, Metallic Magnum Design, Smart TV
By Robert Wiley
Samsung may have unwittingly created an OLED, 4K TV killer in the PN51F8500. If a plasma TV like this can produce such deep blacks (400% improvement over the prior E8000 series) then why do we need to spend $15,000 on a 55 or 56 inch OLED TV? Good question because not only does the 51F8500 have 4X better blacks it also has 2.5X more brightness equaling the contrast ratio of Samsungs excellent top end LED TVs. The optical illusion created by the seemingly seemless metal stand is super. The voice recognition feature works well enough to use everyday. This is the only TV in Samsung's lineup with the Super Contrast Panel. 3D looks spectacular on it.
Deep blacks are the first thing noticed in this shot. It also shows off detail in both bright and dark areas. Some screen reflection is seen in this shot as well due to the bright room environment
Picture Quality Rating - The Best Samsung Around: 9.4/10
The PN51F8500 plasma TV has the best picture quality on the market aside from the VT60 Panasonic for this year. In fact, I'd say it is one of the most engaging pictures we've seen in a long time. Picture quality highlights from this TV are the incredible black levels presented which enlivens the colors so much that you might think you were looking at an OLED TV. Samsung deems the panel for this TV the Super Contrast Panel and this is the only plasma in Samsung's lineup for 2013 to contain this panel. I was extremely impressed with the contrast and how color popped off the screen. There are many similarities between the picture quality on this plasma and a new OLED TV – rich saturated colors, inky blacks, perfect side angle viewing, and incredible contrast.
In addition to the 4X improvement in blacks, the PN51F8500 has 2.5 times greater whites (brightness) for tons of range in gray scaling.
It even beats the VT60 when it comes to brightness and light-flow saturation through the picture. I also prefer the color rendition of the F8500 to the VT60. It's a little warmer and smoother with less background motion artifacts once calibrated (With the Standard or Dynamic picture settings there are lots of foreground and background artifacts). Another plus is bright room performance. I know that is strange for a plasma, but true. Samsung hit a home run, by making this plasma accessible to rooms where ambient light can't be eliminated. Screen reflections are minimal thanks to the light absorbing louvred filter that traps room light instead of bouncing it back.
The F8500 has very little judder, even with the Motion Judder Canceller feature off. Shadow detail is incredible and isn't washed out even next to bright areas on the screen. A natural sense of depth is seen that causes 2D images to come to life. Plasmas always perform better than LED TVs when it comes to this.
Light Output – On Par with some LED TVs
This is one of the most impressive things about this Samsung plasma. On top of the top tier picture quality, the 51F8500 puts out enough light that it compares to the brightness of the LED TVs on the market. Plasmas are typically known for their lack of bright pictures, so this is a refreshing change that makes it possible to place this TV in brighter rooms. Compared to some of the top end Panasonic plasmas like the VT60 and ZT60, this one has the leg up on brightness.
Eco Sensor – Unexpected Dimming May Occur
Yes, this is one of those room light sensors that control the brightness. What the Eco Sensor does is control the Cell Light levels depending on the ambient light in the room. It is on by default in the some of the picture setting, but disabled in the Movie setting. If the TV ever starts to dim unexpectedly, this is the first place to look for a solution. From the main menu, this is where it can be found: System > Eco Solutions > Eco Sensor.
This shot from the Mama Mia! Blu-ray really shows off the light output of this plasma TV. Dark area detail is highlighted as well
Standard – A close cousin to the usual Dynamic mode. Full blown Cell Light and Contrast, Motion Judder Canceler and Color Tone set to Standard. This mode is overblown with too many artifacts. Eco Sensor is enabled.
Dynamic – Cell light and contrast are maxed, and the color is bumped up with a Cool color tone. Not as bad as some of the dynamic modes we have seen before.
Relax – Cell light is set to half with contrast maxed. Thanks to the Warm1 color tone, this preset is getting close to what a calibrated picture should look like. No Advance Picture with this preset.
Movie – This one brightens things up again with a maxed Cell Light and high Contrast. The Warm2 setting brings a lot of green coloration into the picture.
Motion Judder Canceler – Use Sparingly
This is called the Auto Motion Plus feature on Samsung's LED TVs. There are only 3 settings on the F8500: Standard, Smooth, Off. No Custom settings this time. By default, the Motion Judder Canceler is set to Standard in all preset picture modes. This feature is best turned off for film based content, because it creates unnatural movement and lessens natural background blur (The Soap Opera Effect). But it brings live sports programming and 3D content to life, by doing its job and getting rid of judder without the negative effects.
This shot from The 5th Element Blu-ray demonstrates bright colors as well as an exquisitely sharp image
Active 3D Playback
This is where the Motion Judder Canceler really comes in handy. Distracting amounts of judder are present without it. You won't see it completely eliminated, but it's closer to the level of watching a blu-ray with the feature off. 3D images are deep and clear with little to no crosstalk. The PN51F8500 does not show any dimming with 3D content either. The picture remains bright and sharp. Side angle viewing for 3D content is perfect as expected. We watched a documentary called India: The Royal Experience from the Explore 3D App. The short documentary was an excellent example of depth the F8500 is capable of, but colors were muted. Scene changes led to some eye fatigue.
This year's Active 3D glasses are very light and have a more streamlined design
The design of the 3D glasses is pretty similar to last year, but you'll see they are a little more streamlined. They have clean lines and are super light. They do produce slight flicker if you are viewing in a room with incoming light from the front. The glasses do feel flimsy and the arms cannot be folded for storage. 4 pairs are included with the PN51F8500. If more are needed they are very affordable. The Samsung SSG-5100GB glasses sell for around $20.
2D to 3D Conversion
With a press of the 3D button on the remote, the PN51F8500 takes 2D images and adds a strong sense of depth. The Blu-ray of Troy provides good results and the picture was only dimmed slightly. Switch the Motion Judder Canceler to Standard gets rid of the judder that 3D conversion creates. It's not the best on the market, but it has the potential to make familiar content fresh.
Gaming – Input Lag is a Problem
Okami HD really brought out the strong colors and contrast of the 51F8500. Game mode is helps out a little bit with the input lag for an action game like this one
It's hard to get away from input lag on this plasma TV. That's the biggest problem. The picture is great, but precise and responsive button inputs are not what a gamer is going to find here. It's a little better with the Game Mode enabled, but still about 2.5 times worse than some of the Samsung LEDs we tested. It's located here: System > General > Game Mode. Going in and out of this menu every time you turn on a game may get tiresome after a while. Game Mode really hurts the picture quality at first because the Sharpness is set to 50. Lower it to 5 for a huge difference. First person shooter Crysis isn't unplayable with the input lag, but the game certainly has a sense of clunkiness about the controls. An action game like Okami HD may do a little better with the lag, but we still notice it. 2D to 3D conversion on Okami HD provided a deep and engrossing image, but judder hurt the experience. Enabling 3D playback on Crysis provides the same results. Turning on the Motion Judder Canceler didn't help either as the input lag gets worse and movement is unnatural. The Samsung PN51F8500 does not test as well for games as some of the other LED TVs that we have looked at this year, like the F6400 and the F8000. This should not be primarily a gaming TV.
Here you see our results of input lag testing. The first test had 120ms of input lag with the Game Mode off. The second shot has the Game Mode enabled with 80ms of lag. The smaller numbers are from the testing laptop connected through HDMI 1
Features Rating: 9.1/10
Smart TV Functionality
The PN51F8500 features the updated for 2013 Samsung Smart Hub. It's a very intuitively designed interface with a sleek appearance. All of our interactions with it have been pleasant and enjoyable. Samsung's Smart Hub features the biggest selection of apps available as well. This is one of the biggest draws for the platform. Apps are fast to load and operate thanks to the quad core processor under the hood of the F8500.
This is the area of the Samsung Smart Hub where you will find on demand movies and TV shows from various sources. The Smart Hub tells you how much it costs to download or rent content if it is from a paid source like Amazon Instant Video
See the full Samsung Smart Hub Review here for more.
Controlling the TV – Too Many Ways
One thing the PN51F8500 doesn't shy away from is ways to control the TV. There is the Touch Pad remote, voice recognition, gesture controls, and a tiny joystick controller on the back of the set instead of buttons. Choice is nice, but most will probably default to the remote as it happens to be the fastest. Gesture and voice control can be fumbly, and the joystick on the back is best as a last resort.
The included remote with the 51F8500 features a touch pad. A simple swiping motion will change the page the Smart Hub is displaying. The mic button also makes it easy to use the voice control features
Remote – Navigating and Web Browsing
This is the same remote that comes with the upper tier Samsung LED TVs. Just know it's the only one in the box, so there isn't going to be a standard remote. That's not a bad thing, because we like the functionality the Touch Pad remote provides. We find that sliding the thumb on the pad is much faster than clicking arrows on a 5-war controller. Clicking the touch pad while watching streaming content or physical media pauses and plays content. This is nice since those are used a lot. Note that the remote doesn't have some useful things like number buttons. Samsung has implemented a series of soft menus accessed by the More button on the remote. This is where you'll find numbers, pause/play, fast forward, and other buttons typically found on standard remotes. Keep this in mind if you find yourself using those buttons a lot. It's a nice inclusion with the 51F8500 and not overly complicated. 8 out of 10
This feature has the potential to really speed up Smart Hub navigation once one learns the ropes. Simple commands like “Netflix” immediately open the Netflix app. Saying “Movies with Tom Cruise” causes the Smart Hub to bring up a list of recommendations with Tom Cruise. Pretty useful stuff. In the web browser you can say a search term, but the keyboard for the search field has to be on screen for it to work. The learning takes place when it comes to knowing the exact commands the Smart Hub wants to hear. For example, to open the Web Browser you have to say, “Web Browser.” Saying “Internet Browser” confuses the Smart Hub and nothing happens. In the end it's not as good as LG's voice recognition, but better than Panasonic's.6 out of 10.
Motion Interaction – Getting to the Point of Usefulness
The PN51F8500 is equipped with a built in pop-up camera that allows motion control with your hand. It is easy to engage once the camera is out of its hide-a-way behind the screen. All you have to do is hold an open hand in front of the screen. The camera is pretty responsive at recognizing a hand. Once it sees it a cursor appears. Move your open hand around to move the on screen cursor. Item selection gets a little tricky. You have to make a fist then open it again, all while staying in the same spot. A lot of our selections went awry because of this. Talk about an arm workout. After some practice I'm sure it gets better. If you move the cursor to the left side of the screen, a volume control appears. Same on the right with selecting channels. Move the cursor to the top right hand corner and a menu appears that lets you back up, switch inputs, open the recommendation menu, or power off the TV. The back command is one that will be used a lot and having to open a second hand menu to do it is very tedious. 5 out of 10.
The motion controls may come in handy for the onscreen keyboard once you get the hang of it. We found that if you use one hand to move the cursor and the other to hit the enter button on the remote, typing can be much faster. It's kind of like juggling, but it works well after some practice. We aren't sure if that was intended or not.
Web Browser – Not Bad for Big Screen Surfing
This is how you enter text in the web browser. It's a little slow with the touch pad remote, but better than an arrow controller. This is where you can press the mic button to say what you want to search as well
Initially opening the Browser and loading pages is fast. That is the biggest improvement over previous years. The Touch Pad remotre comes in handy for controlling the cursor as well. Hint: To scroll up and down pages faster, slide your thumb on the extreme right or left side of the touch pad. LG's Magic Remote is by far the best way to browse the web on a smart TV to date, but Samsung is taking steps in the right direction. The web browser on the F8500 is not a bad option if you want to see online content on the big screen.
Sound Quality – A Dissapointment
First of all, volume isn't an issue on the 51F8500. Even at about 50%, there is enough volume to fill a room. But isn't going to remedy the lackluster sound quality. We find way too much emphasis on background sound effects and music on the Standard mode. Voices are drowned out and muddled as a result. Different sound modes like Clear Voice, Movie, and Music don't provide enough difference to fix the issue. The Sound Effects menu provides Dialog Clarity and Virtual Surround options. Virtual Surround gives everything a tunnelesque and hollow sound, so it's not recommended. Dialog Clarity moves in the right direction to bring voices to the front of the sound, but only slightly. Even a musical like Mama Mia! has a flat sound that leaves us wanting more. This one is much better off with a sound bar or home theater set up.
Design and Appearance
This shot shows of the Magnum Design as well as the fantastic deep blacks the 51F8500 is capable of. You also get a good idea of how big the camera is compared to the TV here
This is a big difference between the E8000 from last year and the 51F8500. The design has been totally revamped to come up with something dynamic. The overall depth of the display is 2 inches. Rather than go for the frameless window design look, the PN51F8500 strives for an industrial design with a brushed gun metal frame of 1 inch on all the sides and 1.5 inches across the bottom of the screen. Samsung calls this the Metallic Magnum Design. The outward sloping "Flow" stand has the same color as the frame and is something we've never seen before. It's attached in such a way that it looks like it's all one piece with no separation between the stand and the TV. It's worth noting that the stand is as wide as the TV itself, so that may limit where the TV can be placed if it is not wall mounted. The TV didn't feel as solid as we would have liked after installing the stand either. There is some play, but that might be the intended design.
The 1 inch wide brushed gun metal bezels are very attractive. It's not the nearly framless look, but we like it
Value Rating: 8.1/10
The 51 inch model of the F8500 series, even though still expensive, is decent in the value category at $1,900. The VT60 and F8000 LED by Samsung are not made in 50 inches, so that puts the F8500 as the best TV in the market in this size. The Panasonic TC-P50ST60 is the nearest competitor but without all the “fresh” features. Panasonic's slightly larger TC-P55VT60 sells for $500 more and has marginally better picture quality but lacks the bright room performance of the F8500.
Overall Rating: 8.9/10
- 1080p Full HD
- 3D Active Compatibility
- Smart Hub/Smart TV with voice recognition
- Full Web Browser and built in Wifi
- Touch Pad Remote
- 600Hz sub-field drive