For many years, Samsung was the answer to the question, "Which LCD should I get?" While the company also manufactured plasmas, they seemingly weren't a priority for Samsung or the public. But beginning in 2011 with the superb D8000 and D7000, for example, the company demonstrated that it was serious about the technology's picture-quality potential. That newfound determination continues into 2012.
The Samsung PNE6500 is an excellent television, with all of the features you need and few you don't. In picture quality it's every bit the equal of the phenomenal Panasonic ST50 series. The PNE6500's picture quality is also basically identical to that of its significantly more expensive Samsung stablemate, the flagship PNE8000, with the same performance in key areas such as black levels and color accuracy -- making the E6500 an excellent value.
If you were looking to spend between $1,000 and $1,500 on a videophile-grade TV, the Panasonic TC-P50ST50 and the Samsung PN51E6500 are the two you should be looking at (no LCD comes close -- you'd need to spend a big chunk more on something like the Sony KDL-HX850 to get near this level of picture quality). With online prices only $50 apart for the 50/51-inch versions, which should you choose? Brand loyalty plays a part here, but each TV has its own unique strengths. If you're looking for something a little bigger, the 60-inch models of each will obviously cost you more, but they're still worth consideration at under $2,000.
If I were buying a TV now, I would seriously consider the PNE6500 for its more mature styling and better bright-room performance, but some may prefer the overall contrast boost that the Panasonic ST50's brighter screen is able to bring, or want a 55- or 65-inch option. Regardless, both series offer the best picture quality for the buck on the market today.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 60-inch Samsung PN60E6500, but this review also applies to the other screen size in the series. The two sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
While Samsung's LEDs have gone the skinny, skinny bezel route, technology dictates that its plasmas still have about an inch between the edge and the screen. While competitor Panasonic is still experimenting with its plasma designs, Samsung is sticking with its template of the last few years. The 6-, 7-, and 8-series plasmas all look the same, and as such the 6500 features a brushed black-plastic bezel and a black "octopus" stand (the other two have silver stands). The effect is understated, and while it's unlikely to win design awards the lack of flashy, reflective surrounds means you can concentrate on the picture.
The TV features a standard remote with a cheerful Smart Hub button in the center. Compared with the minimalism found in some modern remotes, there are plenty of buttons here, but we'd give up simplicity for more functionality in this case.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||Plasma||LED backlight||N/A|
|Smart TV||Yes||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||Two pairs|
|Refresh rate(s)||96Hz, 60Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||No|
|Other: AllShare Play; optional wireless keyboard with touch pad (VG-KBD1000, $99)|
When it comes down to it, the E6500, E7000, and E8000 share nearly identical styling and picture-quality features. All three offer the same Real Black Pro panel, which involves both a change to the panel structure over the previous year and some software improvements.
Unlike the flagship E8000, the 6500 and 7000 are missing Smart Interaction. If you don't need a TV you can talk to or wave at, save yourself a bit of cash and get the E6500 instead. The E7000 and E6500 are almost impossible to tell apart judging from Samsung's Web site; the only noncosmetic differences I can discern are that the E7000 has a dual-core processor and a slightly thinner cabinet: 1.9 inches deep versus 2.2 inches.
Like all 2012 Samsung TVs, the PNE6500 comes with two pairs of active 3D glasses. It's also compatible with the Full HD 3D standard, so it works with other companies' compatible glasses. Check out this comparison for more.
Smart TV: Samsung's Smart Hub looks largely the same as last year. The main difference is that Samsung's home-grown apps are front and center -- Family Story, Fitness -- while the ones most people actually care about, such as Netflix, now appear smaller up at the top.
The interface is as easy to use as any of the others, but I prefer the simplicity of the uncluttered Panasonic or Sony interface to this. For me, it's about how easily I can start up Netflix -- and based on some tests among this and other TVs, it works out to about the same amount of time whether you boot into the Smart Hub interface and choose it or use a dedicated Netflix button as on the Sony TVs.
The content selection is very good in terms of major apps, with the exception of Amazon Instant. The extensive app store offers more than the usual amount of trash and treasure.
Samsung offers a Web browser, but using the standard remote control to navigate it isn't the most enjoyable experience. Thankfully, the TV supports the optional $100 Bluetooth keyboard, but as most people now have phones or tablets nearby, there isn't much need for a TV browser anyway.
Picture settings: Samsung offers three modes -- Vivid (yuck), Standard (dim), and Movie (a bit blue but workable) -- and each is adjustable. A number of advanced settings are available, namely a 10-point grayscale, which I found problematic this time around, and a great color-management system. The CinemaSmooth setting is designed to take advantage of 1080p/24 content, but there isn't a dedicated 100Hz antijudder circuit.
Connectivity: The PNE6500's three HDMI inputs are ample, if one fewer than some competitors offer. If you're wall-mounting the set, it's worth noting that the TV has rear-facing ports rather than downward ones (found on the thinner 8 and 7 series), which could restrict the analog and one HDMI port from being used.