Samsung PN51F8500: We Still Love Plasma
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.