Samsung PN51F8500 Review: A 51-Inch Plasma HDTV With SmartHub

Only two companies still make plasma TVs, so we’re excited to check out Samsung’s latest, the PN51F8500. It boasts 3D, SmartHub 2.0, and superb image quality. In the vast ocean of LCD televisions, it’s a compelling choice. Our lab results show you why.

I remember seeing my first flat-screen TV in a Circuit City many years ago. It was a 32-inch plasma panel, and it was selling for $5000. Back then, LCDs were just starting to appear on desktops, but the technology wasn't yet available in large enough screen sizes for the living room. If you wanted a television you could mount on the wall, plasma was it.

As you already know, the tables turned completely. LCDs can be found in sizes up to 80 inches, while prices have dropped tremendously. Where every manufacturer once offered multiple plasma models, now only LG and Samsung continue to market them.

Our latest HDTV review subject is the PN51F8500. Samsung sent us the 51-inch model to look at, but you can also get it in 60- and 64-inch formats. They all have the same features and differ only in price: $1800, $2400, and $3100, respectively.

MSRP
$1800
Panel Type
Plasma
Screen Size
50.7-inch
Max Resolution
1920x1080
Max Refresh Rate
96 Hz
Aspect Ratio
16:9
Speakers
2 x 10 W
HDMI 1.4a
4
Component Video
1
RF/Antenna
1
Audio Out
1 optical
Control
IR in, RS-232
USB
3
Ethernet (RJ-45)
1
Panel Dimensions
WxHxD w/base
46.9 x 29.4 x 10.6 in
1182 x 741 x 267 mm
Panel Thickness
2 in / 50 mm
Bezel Width
1-1.5 in / 25-38 mm
Weight
51.6 lbs / 23.4 kg
Warranty
One year

If you visit any A/V forum, you will undoubtedly find threads devoted to debating LCD versus plasma technology. Obviously, LCD won decisively in the marketplace. If plasma penetrated the living room first, how did this turn of fate occur?

For those who have not previously considered a plasma HDTV, let me offer a little primer about how it differs from LCD. Firstly, the only thing the two technologies share in common is that they’re flat panels. After that, the similarity ends.

LCD is a light valve display, which means that light is filtered and polarized by the pixel structure to produce the red, green, and blue primary colors. Plasma, on the other hand, uses pixels that are self-illuminating. The red, green, and blue sub-pixels are like tiny light bulbs. They’re filled with a gas, which, when stimulated by current, cause a phosphor deposit on the inside of the cell to glow. The cell’s brightness is then controlled by varying the voltage.

The principal advantage of this approach is greater contrast. You can’t turn a plasma pixel off completely like a CRT phosphor. But at the minimum voltage, it’s much darker than an LCD pixel. Superior black levels translate to a greater dynamic range. If you agree with us that contrast is the most important component in image quality, then you might consider plasma for your next HDTV purchase.

The main disadvantage is power consumption. A large LCD panel with an LED backlight might draw 100 watts at peak load. Plasmas can draw as much as 500 watts displaying bright content. And an LCD will give you more light output at a given current level. If you have a room with incoming sunlight, a plasma might not muster enough brightness for your application.

Before we move on, I should explain a spec you may have seen in Samsung’s (and other manufacturers') marketing: 600 Hz sub-field drive. Since plasma, like CRT, is not a sample-and-hold technology, there is a dark period between each frame as it is flashed on the screen. This is the reason for plasma’s superior motion processing and lack of blur. The actual amount of time each frame appears is only one or two milliseconds. So, to maintain brightness and prevent flicker, the image is refreshed multiple times per frame. If the sub-field rate is 600 Hz, it means that each frame is refreshed 10 times. Ten refreshes x 60 Hz = 600 Hz.

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27 comments
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  • Nuckles_56
    People still buy plasma screened TV's? I thought they went out like the floppy disk...
    -11
  • Merry_Blind
    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
  • n3cw4rr10r
    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).
    0
  • n3cw4rr10r
    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
  • colson79
    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
  • jkhoward
    I love the quality of Plasma TV's.. I truly hope they keep developing this technology.
    4
  • DisplayJunkie
    @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.
    4
  • nthreem
    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
  • Nintendo Maniac 64
    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
  • photonboy
    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?).
    1
  • AnUnusedUsername
    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
  • gear999
    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
  • 10tacle
    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
  • MagusALL
    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
  • mforce2
    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
  • mforce2
    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
  • bigj1985
    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.
    -1
  • robertisha
    I never had a burn in issue. Maybe because I still have the king of plasma pioneer kuro. Just imagine pioneer kuro 4k wow
    1
  • Oxford Guy
    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
  • Oxford Guy
    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