Continued from part one…
Although CCFL backlit LCDs cannot match plasma for black levels, the best LED LCDs have some tricks to compensate for the technology’s inherent weakness. Local dimming allows LEDs to adjust individual lights (which illuminate parts of the screen rather than the entirety of it) to different levels of brightness. Side-lit LEDs and CCFL bulbs cannot accomplish this and suffer poorer blacks and lower contrast as a result. Still, ignoring the numbers, I purport that the best plasma displays produce deeper and better blacks than the best LED LCDs.
Again, I apologize for the flash in some of the scans.
Sadly, I have to concede that although the PN50B530 has incredibly dark blacks and stunning contrast, the blacks are ever so faintly crushed. What this means is that very subtle shades of gray are not shown in as much detail as possible, and that the deepest grays tend to be overwhelmed by the lowest blacks. For most video sources, such as HDTV broadcasts, this is hardly perceptible, but the sharpest Blu-Ray titles expose the PN50B530’s tiny flaw. Setting the black level to “Darkest” provides the highest contrast but also the most glaringly crushed blacks. I find the “Darker” setting to be best, as “Dark” does not produce true enough blacks for my taste. Proper calibration (which I failed to do) should lessen some of the crushed blacks. I do not notice crushing with hues or whites, but obviously, the best plasma TVs out there are a tad more detailed in all areas.
Having seen a dozen hockey games and television shows in 720p/1080i on the PN50B530, I am ambivalent. For the price, the image quality is alright. Artifacts and pixelation from the broadcasts are handled gracefully, so that even less than stellar film looks pleasant. Images do not appear too filtered or artificial like on some cheaper LCDs that have their sharpness tuned up. Flesh tones seem natural, so long as the setting is “Normal” and not “Warm,” which can make skin too saturated to be realistic. Because plasma refreshes its pixels differently than LCDs, motion blur is virtually nonexistent and is not an issue. Progressive HDTV feeds (many sporting events) are smooth, and the PN50B530 has no problems keeping up with the action of fast hockey games.
This should be the main attraction for full HD displays. People who scarcely watch anything but broadcast television should not invest in any 1080p plasma or LCD, in my opinion, because good 720p models are significantly less expensive and, more crucially, do not need to scale incoming feeds. All HDTV shows - excluding a few premium movie channels - broadcast in 720p or 1080i. A 1080p HDTV is much higher resolution than 720p and two times smoother than 1080i, so it must “blow up” 720p pictures to fill the screen. Additional video processing is involved and usually degrades image quality. Handling of 1080i is a different matter, but I consider a good 720p HDTV just as competent at it as a 1080p unit; both are de-interlacing signals that barely look any better at 1080p as they do at 720p. Basically, both 720p and 1080i process about 60 million pixels per second, far lower than what 1080p is good for. Some TVs allow 1:1 pixel mapping, but how many consumers buy large HDTVs just to watch 720p programming as a smaller rectangle within their display?
1080p TVs are more versatile than lower resolution models though and really flex their muscles when playing back 1080p Blu-Ray.
District 9 is new release that looks fantastic on this TV. Details are so fine that the special effects do not quite hold up under scrutiny. Some of the CGI, particularly the smaller spaceship, are obvious. Some noise is present, but the PN50B530 deals with them well, so that they do not draw unnecessary attention to themselves.
The Dark Knight contains the finest picture quality of any Hollywood Blu-Ray disc. All of the iMax scenes are so amazing that they make the 35mm segments of the movie seem mediocre by contrast. Nevertheless, this is probably the best Blu-Ray title to showcase any HDTV, and the PN50B530 performs admirably here. The opening shot, the city chase sequence, and the Hong Kong high-rise parts (all shot in iMax) are astounding. The Samsung portrays everything with great detail and clarity, but again, the deepest grays are consumed by the blacks.
I had to test The Matrix on this TV, even though the Blu-Ray transfer is exactly the same as the HD-DVD version –meaning that it is only pretty good. Diehard Matrix fans like yours truly are holding our collective breaths for higher fidelity versions (perhaps when 1440p replaces 1080p), but for now, this ten-year-old classic remains good looking. Crushed blacks are most apparent with this source, but this is probably because I have seen this movie several dozen times on many different displays, so I know it all too intimately. The PN50B530 admirably shows the green monochromatic style in which the Wachowski brothers shot their magnum opus. On some displays, the image can be too green, but on the Samsung, it looks organic and not too imposing.
Some will criticize the PN50B530 colors for being over-saturated, but with the right settings, the TV can produce quite accurate and realistic colors. Hues do “pop” out, but they do so without seeming fake. In terms of brightness, the display is not blinding like some LCDs can be, but images are bright enough in all normal viewing conditions.
It’s a Winner!
Samsung is a newcomer to plasma TVs, but so far, its entrance has been eye-opening. Although I cannot comment on the quality of other Samsung models, the PN50B530 is winner in price and image quality. The scans that I have taken do not do justice to the TV and make the crushed blacks appear far worse than they are in reality. For example, in the picture with Neo wielding duo handguns, you cannot distinguish any lines in his trench-coat, but in real life, the PN50B530 shows most of these finer details. Aside from not having inputs on its side, a questionable base, and a smidgen of black crushing, this Samsung is nearly beyond reproach. It is difficult and unfair to fault the PN50B530 for not having the best grays either since all of the entry-level plasma TVs that I have encountered are about the same or even worse.
Panasonic and LG, beware.