For the last couple of years it has seemed that our job as TV reviewers comes down to determining which TV is better: the best Panasonic plasma or the best Samsung plasma. In 2011 the vessel bearing the Samsung flag is the PND8000, and while Panasonic's VT30 still deserves the nod for overall picture quality in our book, the Samsung is good enough to match the Panasonic's numeric Performance score of 9. The PND8000's picture quality is superb, and we don't expect any other TV aside from the VT30 to surpass it this year--although the less expensive PND7000 series, which we have yet to review, might equal it. The kicker, and it's a big one, is that the 59-inch Samsung PND8000 we reviewed actually costs less than the 55-inch Panasonic, while delivering a better design and even more features. Unless you're the pickiest of videophiles with the most unlimited of budgets, it's tough to justify the cost of the VT30 over the PND8000.
Editors' note, July 27, 2011: Samsung ran a promotion earlier this year that guaranteed a free pair of 3D glasses with this TV. In July the company canceled that promotion, so we have modified this review to remove references to the free glasses. Individual retailers may offer similar promotions, however. Click here for more details.
Updated September 1, 2011: The reviewed size of this TV is undergoing long-term testing, the results of which don't affect this review but may be interesting nonetheless. Click here for details.
Updated November 7, 2011: Further testing was performed on this TV to evaluate reports of "brightness pops," and we've also addressed reports of screen peeling. Click here for details.Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 59-inch Samsung PN59D8000, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality. That said, we've heard reports that the smaller 51-inch model may have worse black-level performance than the size we tested, although we won't know for sure until we can evaluate one ourselves.
|Models in series (details)|
|Samsung PN51D8000||51 inches|
|Samsung PN59D8000 (reviewed)||59 inches|
|Samsung PN64D8000||64 inches|
|Panel depth||1.5 inches||Bezel width||1.18 inches|
|Single-plane face||No||Swivel stand||Yes|
Thinner than its Panasonic and LG counterparts and sporting a new, more compact frame around the screen, the D8000 series gets our vote for the best-looking plasma TV available. That bezel is narrower than any plasma's we've tested, outdoing the Panasonic GT30's by 0.19 inch. The bottom edge of the frame is a bit thicker (2.13 inches), but that does nothing to spoil the PND8000's LED TV-like dimensions.
The panels of the D8000 and D7000 plasmas look basically identical. Samsung's web site says their metallic frames are colored "titanium" and "brushed black," respectively, but in person we couldn't tell any difference. We do like the D7000's stand better however, with its rectangular base and transparent stalk. The D8000's chrome-colored spider stand is a great reason to get this TV wall-mounted.
|Remote control and menus|
|Remote size (LxW)||6 x 2.4 inches||QWERTY keyboard||Yes|
|Illuminated keys||48||IR device control||No|
|Menu item explanations||Yes||Onscreen manual||Yes|
|Other: Back side of Bluetooth remote has screen and QWERTY keypad|
The remote included with Samsung's PND8000 and UND8000 is a flipper. The top side of the wedge-shaped rectangle offers standard TV controls that shoot infrared commands to the TV, while the bottom gets a full QWERTY keypad along with a screen, and works via Bluetooth (which doesn't need line-of-sight).
Unlike our experience with the UND8000, we had no trouble this time around pairing the clicker with the PND8000 (a necessary step to enable Bluetooth). According to Samsung, the pairing issue on the UN was due to a previous pairing performed before the review sample was sent to us; since we purchased our PN review sample directly from a merchant, rather than it being a sample sent by Samsung, its remote was never previously paired. We expect most users won't have any problems pairing.
We liked the clicker more than the QWERTY remotes included with Vizio's current models or Sony's Google TVs, but that's not saying much. The screen is its best feature, allowing you to see what you're typing without having to look up at the TV. Spacing and key action were improvements on the other two. Unlike the flipper found on Boxee, Samsung's can sense what side is "up" and automatically deactivate the "down" side to prevent accidental button presses.
While we appreciated the little thumb touch-cursor control better than Sony's when using the browser, it was still quite difficult to control. The lack of backlighting on the QWERTY side was a major flaw--using the remote in dim to no light ranged from annoying to impossible--and all told we actually liked using our Android phone as a remote best of all (see "Streaming and apps" below).
Samsung's new 2011 TV menus have been refreshed and also feel a bit snappier than before. The main column of adjustments, formerly transparent, is now bright opaque blue with rounded edges and good-size text. Each major menu item gets a text explanation and many are accompanied by helpful little illustrations.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||Plasma||LED backlight||N/A|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||No|
|Screen finish||Glass||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|Refresh rate(s)||60Hz, 96Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||No|
|Other: Optional 3D glasses include SSG-3100GB (nonrechargeable, $50), SSG-3300CR (compact, rechargeable, $130), SSG-3300GR (rechargeable, $130), SSG-3700CR (rechargeable, ultralight, $150); optional Skype camera/speakerphone (STC1100, $170); supports USB hard drives|
As Samsung's highest-end plasma TV for 2011, the PND8000 comes equipped with the kitchen sink. The main step-up features compared with the less-expensive PND7000 are the remote described above, the ability to interface with the optional Skype camera, a Web browser, and a performance-related feature called Local Contrast Enhancer (LCE).
A Samsung representative described LCE to us as an enhancement to the dynamic contrast control that automatically optimizes contrast separately for different areas of the picture. We generally leave dynamic contrast disabled to avoid such on-the-fly fluctuations as much as possible, so we don't consider LCE an improvement to picture quality.
Unlike some previous Samsung plasmas, the D8000 is missing dejudder--and we couldn't care less. If you're a fan of its smoothing effect and still want a plasma, however, Panasonic has added the option to its 2011 models.
As we mentioned above Samsung no longer offers free 3D glasses with this TV. Panasonic, on the other hand, does include one pair of glasses with its flagship TC-PVT30 series plasma. Retailers may offer promotions at their discretion, but since Samsung doesn't pack the glasses in with the TV, you'll have to check with the retailer first.
The PND8000 is incompatible with Samsung's 2010 3D glasses. Bluetooth does make the new glasses easier to use, though, since they keep sync much better than the old infrared versions did.
We applaud the inclusion of built-in Wi-Fi on this Samsung (as well as the D7000 and D6500 plasmas), saving the cost and hassle of the $80 USB dongle.
|Streaming and apps|
|Amazon Instant||No||Hulu Plus||Yes|
|Other: Blockbuster, CinemaNow, Vimeo, MLB TV, ESPN Score Center, Napster, Picasa, Google Maps, Google Talk, numerous games, children's story books, exercise guides, etc.; Yahoo Widgets with 43 widgets|
Unlike the UND6400, the PND8000 does include two separate app and widget Interfaces: the main Samsung Apps Smart Hub and, yes, Yahoo Widgets. The latter offers 43 total choices as of press time, ranging from local TV station apps to Twitter to Revision3 to eBay to NASA Live TV. We really wish a single interface could deliver all of the content to one place, but since most of the important apps can now be found in Smart Hub, we doubt most users will even access Yahoo.
Even without Yahoo, Samsung's Smart Hub seems to offer more apps than the competition. The only major missing link so far is Amazon Instant, available on Sony, Panasonic, and LG TVs.
Smart Hub is basically the same as we described on the UND6400 and on Samsung's Blu-ray players, so check out those write-ups for details. We found its interface somewhat crowded and the Search and Your Video functions, while ambitious, disappointing since neither incorporated apps like Netflix and Hulu Plus. On the plus side we liked the ability to customize our favorites area with folders--especially the ability to dump unwanted but unremovable shortcuts, like AllShare and Channel, into a folder.
Samsung's Web browser is superior to the browser in Sony's EX720 or the PS3, but not as good as Google TV's. It's fine for light use and viewing most Web pages, although complex ones (Gmail) and videos caused it to slow down, crash, or lose functionality. We tried loading Hulu.com, for example, and it simply didn't work, but reading a review on CNET was easy enough...although the video played only sound. The little pointer on the remote was a pain to use but better than tabbing around, while response times and load times were slow in general.
Samsung's remote app on our Android phone worked quite well, with excellent response times and most of the functionality we wanted. We liked the easy access to apps and the ability to input text searches using the Swype keyboard, but its best feature is changing context according to what you're doing--hitting the Smart tab, for example, brought up a simplified interface that we actually preferred to Smart Hub on the TV. Sure you have to look at the touch screen, as opposed to feeling your way with the remote buttons, but all told we liked using it better than the QWERTY remote included with the TV.
New apps launched since we reviewed the UND8000 in April include Fandango (unfortunately it lacked features found in the Vizio version, such as local theater showtimes and the ability to purchase tickets directly), Gymbox (workout videos, albeit only 3-minute previews are free), and games including Pac-Man ($4.99), Extreme Hangman, and Speed Racer ($2.99 each).