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Samsung PN51F8500: We Still Love Plasma

Samsung PN51F8500 Review: A 51-Inch Plasma HDTV With SmartHub
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Although I’ve only reviewed a handful of HDTVs for Tom’s Hardware, I’ve spent many years testing, calibrating, and comparing hundreds of displays of every conceivable type. For pure image quality, nothing surpasses plasma in my opinion. I am aware of what OLED screens promise as they begin permeating the marketplace, and I'm anxiously awaiting the opportunity to test one. But for now, plasma rules my living room.

Samsung is one of only two manufacturers still making them, and the company didn't cut a single corner with its PN51F8500. An $1800 price tag represents a terrific value not only for its impeccable performance, but for the best smart TV interface we’ve seen. With so many ways to bring in content, SmartHub 2.0 represents a compelling reason to cut the cord.

Now that so many shows and movies are available online and through our own home servers, there are fewer and fewer reasons to keep paying those astronomical cable or satellite broadcast bills. Samsung’s latest effort is a truly polished and full-featured product that makes finding content in the cloud as easy as pulling up your local provider’s channel guide. And a complete connectivity package makes it a breeze to link up with any source, either in your A/V rack or on the other side of the globe. Thanks to built-in Wi-Fi and WiDi support, you don’t even need wires to access a vast array of digital media.

Performance-wise, the F8500 will be hard to beat. We put it up against the iconic Pioneer Kuro Elite TV and it came close enough in every metric to make the comparison pretty much even. Color, grayscale, and gamma accuracy are reference-quality. It even boasts almost double the light output of other plasmas. Add to that an excellent 3D implementation, and the sub-$2000 price appears quite reasonable.

The choice between LCD and plasma technology is a fairly simple one. If you subscribe to our opinions on what constitutes great image quality, plasma is the clear choice. All that remains is to assess your room conditions. If you like to watch television in either total darkness or in low light, plasma remains your best bet. If you have a bright sunny window or a lot of light coming in from another room, you should probably go with LCD.

The final consideration has to be resolution. It seems unlikely that anyone will develop an Ultra HD plasma TV. While there is no rush to buy into 4K, it will become the standard eventually, just as FHD did. Moving forward, then, our best hope is OLED technology. It offers the contrast performance of plasma and the low power consumption of LCD/LED.It currently commands a mighty premium, though. As a result, if my Pioneer were to die today, I would happily stick Samsung's F8500 in its place.

For its polished feature set, high-end performance, and excellent value, we’re giving the Samsung PN51F8500 plasma HDTV the Tom’s Hardware Smart Buy award.

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  • -1 Hide
    Merry_Blind , August 20, 2014 7:21 AM
    Damn Samsung TVs have so much lag... They have amazing picture quality, but aren't fast enough for proper gaming... sigh... bring on the OLED!!!
  • 1 Hide
    n3cw4rr10r , August 20, 2014 7:26 AM
    Am I the only one who thinks this is overpriced? especially with 4k TVs getting close to this range (Vizio P series will be out soon for $1000).
  • -3 Hide
    n3cw4rr10r , August 20, 2014 7:27 AM
    Am I the only one who thinks this is overpriced? especially with 4k TVs getting close to this range (Vizio P series will be out soon for $1000).
  • 3 Hide
    colson79 , August 20, 2014 8:11 AM
    It is such a shame everyone bailed on Plasma TV's, I still have one and the picture quality blows away LCD in the home theater. Hopefully my Plasma will last until OLED is reasonable. It would suck having to go to LCD.
  • 4 Hide
    jkhoward , August 20, 2014 8:44 AM
    I love the quality of Plasma TV's.. I truly hope they keep developing this technology.
  • 4 Hide
    DisplayJunkie , August 20, 2014 9:23 AM
    @Nuckles_56 your level of ignorance is astronomical yet not uncommon; you are making a fool of yourself.

    @n3cw4rr10r It's not overpriced at all, but rather an outstanding value (though not as good a value as the sorely-missed Panasonic P50ST60). The image quality is tremendously better than any 4K TV, even with perfect 4K source content, even if they sold the 4K TVs for $1500 or less. The difference in contrast(dynamic range) is the most important, and it is huge. Side-by-side with the plasma, no one would pick any 4K LCD.
  • 1 Hide
    nthreem , August 20, 2014 10:53 AM
    It's worth noting that Samsung announced it will discontinue production of plasmas at the end of the year. Better pick one up soon!

    I got a Panasonic VT60 at the beginning of the year, just as stock was running dry. I'm still amazed by the picture quality.
  • 1 Hide
    Nintendo Maniac 64 , August 20, 2014 12:52 PM
    Quote:
    Hopefully my Plasma will last until OLED is reasonable.

    Actually OLED is arguably already there or getting there. Some people were able to pick up LG's 55" OLED TV for $2000 (not a typo) via in-store at Microcenter.

    For a more universal price-point, it's newest revision is now going for $3500.
  • 1 Hide
    photonboy , August 20, 2014 3:05 PM
    Quote:
    Damn Samsung TVs have so much lag... They have amazing picture quality, but aren't fast enough for proper gaming... sigh... bring on the OLED!!!


    Most HDTV's have a "GAMING MODE" option which disables video processing inside the HDTV for a particular HDMI input such as your game console might use.

    Having said that, burn-in issues have never been completely solved so I wouldn't game on a Plasma anyway (seems an important thing to mention doesn't it?).
  • 0 Hide
    AnUnusedUsername , August 20, 2014 3:12 PM
    Tom's, if you ever test another plasma panel, and for all tests on OLED panels, could you please include a test on image retention/burn in?

    It's a very important factor for plasma and OLED screens, particularly for anyone who wants to use them for gaming. Permanent burn-in is almost nonexistent with modern plasmas, but a bright spot from a network logo or HUD element that takes dozens of hours to clear up is a major deterrant to buying a plasma or OLED screen. And some plasmas handle this much, much better than others do.
  • 0 Hide
    gear999 , August 20, 2014 3:47 PM
    So many TV technologies.
    I'm still on a 2005 Sony flat screen I got for $15 last year. I don't know how to express this properly, but it's one of those TVs with a... big back? It's not one of those thin TVs.
  • 0 Hide
    10tacle , August 20, 2014 4:09 PM
    I still have my 8-year old Samsung 42" 720p plasma and still love it. While it's been demoted to bedroom duty for most of those years now along with the PS3 I bought with it, it still has not been surpassed in image quality compared to my other three LCD/LED HDTVs. I spent many hundreds of hours gaming on it with the PS3 (and continue gaming on it with) and never once had even the slightest hint of burn in. I never left game or PSN main menu screen up on it for hours on end either though.

    My only regret is being talked into paying $195 for an extended warranty at Circuit City which was never used...but this was still new tech back, then. My only complaint is that it sucks a lot of power and produces a lot of heat (short winters where I am)...hence the reason for only being used at night and for a limited duration in the bedroom anymore. I know the newer ones run cooler and are more efficient but I would never pay $1800+ for a 50"+ 1080p HDTV ever again unless it's OLED.

    With that said, it's great to see sites like Tom's still taking the time to review plasmas!
  • 0 Hide
    MagusALL , August 21, 2014 10:07 AM
    I thought the same thing, that the price should be a lot cheaper, considering how much you can get a 4K LCD for. However I own a 50" Panasonic with 720p resolution and its definitely the best looking screen in the house (compared to a Samsung 26" 1200p monitor, Visio 1080p 40" and 46".) After hearing that plasmas would no longer be made I have considered getting a 1080p >60" screen for the living room if it was impossible to get a 4K HDTV in plasma which I suppose will never be made. I think if a plasma was made 4K than I would undoubtedly purchase one, even if it cost 50% more than a comparable LCD model. That's how much better plasma looks to me.
  • 0 Hide
    mforce2 , August 21, 2014 4:45 PM
    I must say this TV does look incredibly expensive to me. Here in Romania I've been able to pick up a 50 inch LG plasma , FullHD ( no 3D though ) with some smartTV features for $700.
    It's got a nice, good quality image and it says it's assembled in Poland. To be quite honest I did find it provided the best bang for buck and since I wanted plasma anyway ( I think it's better than LCD for TVs ) I'm super happy.
    Didn't even know LG made plasma TVs but I wouldn't be surprised if the actual screen is made by Panasonic or something.
    Yes, I'd really like OLED but OLED would be great as a smaller PC monitor first and then for a large TV. For a TV I think plasma is fine but even though I got a good IPS LCD I'd just love an OLED 23-24 inch monitor.
  • 1 Hide
    mforce2 , August 21, 2014 4:47 PM
    I must say this TV does look incredibly expensive to me. Here in Romania I've been able to pick up a 50 inch LG plasma , FullHD ( no 3D though ) with some smartTV features for $700.
    It's got a nice, good quality image and it says it's assembled in Poland. To be quite honest I did find it provided the best bang for buck and since I wanted plasma anyway ( I think it's better than LCD for TVs ) I'm super happy.
    Didn't even know LG made plasma TVs but I wouldn't be surprised if the actual screen is made by Panasonic or something.
    Yes, I'd really like OLED but OLED would be great as a smaller PC monitor first and then for a large TV. For a TV I think plasma is fine but even though I got a good IPS LCD I'd just love an OLED 23-24 inch monitor.
  • 0 Hide
    bigj1985 , August 21, 2014 7:22 PM
    I LOVE PLASMA!! However, I will sya this to the poster who claimed 4k content on a 4k tv ( A descent 4k TV) euqipped with an LCD panel cannot look better than a plasma; You're wrong buddy and my new LG would totally disagree with that assumption. While understanding this claim is objective of course.


    I bopught my 50" Plasma last year. I just bought my LG 65" 4k TV this year because while 4k may not be prime right now i got a steal on it. My 4k is equipped with one of hte best IPS displays (after calibration) that I've encountered so far. The picture quality on this set easilty surpassed the other 4k TV's I was looking at in the electronics store probably because the display gets so dang bright.

    Side by side with my Sammy 1080p content in my basement is a hit or miss. Blu-rays look great on both so its hard to say which one is "better". The upscaler on the 4k does a hell of a job processing the image because even up close I can't detect pixels. However on the Plasma with 1080p content I can see obvious pixelation while standing right in front of the television. Dark space scenes look better on my plasma thought w/o a doubt but only when the room is dark. Any amount of light seems to bring the IPS 4k display back in range with the Plasma.

    Now on to 4k. Native 4k content on this TV is breathtaking; and takes the viewing experience beyond what my Plasma could ever offer. The clarity, sharpness, and amount of detail is simply stunning and I'm not wowed easily.

    So will a good 1080p Plasma offer better contrast levels In a dark room than a good 4k LCD? Yes, Yes it will. Does that benefit translate into a better picture than a good 4k display showing native 4k content? Not in my viewing experience. Not even close. It's debateable @ 1080p as it is with my 2 TV's.
  • 0 Hide
    robertisha , August 22, 2014 10:54 AM
    I never had a burn in issue. Maybe because I still have the king of plasma pioneer kuro. Just imagine pioneer kuro 4k wow
  • 0 Hide
    Oxford Guy , August 24, 2014 8:39 PM
    Macs use the 2.2 gamma now, as of 2009's Snow Leopard.

    Also, as far as I recall, 2.2 gamma and the sRGB gamma are not exactly the same.

    Image retention would have been useful to see as part of the testing. I have a 2008 Panasonic Plasma and although it has no problems at all with television and movies it has drastic IR with games. I don't know if it has something to do with me using a DVI to HDMI converter, but it is completely unusable with PC gaming because of IR and that is with the set even set to minimum brightness.
  • 0 Hide
    Oxford Guy , August 24, 2014 8:40 PM
    Macs use the 2.2 gamma now, as of 2009's Snow Leopard.

    Also, as far as I recall, 2.2 gamma and the sRGB gamma are not exactly the same.

    Image retention would have been useful to see as part of the testing. I have a 2008 Panasonic Plasma and although it has no problems at all with television and movies it has drastic IR with games. I don't know if it has something to do with me using a DVI to HDMI converter, but it is completely unusable with PC gaming because of IR and that is with the set even set to minimum brightness.
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