The Samsung PNE8000 is easily the most full-featured plasma TV on the market; no other can touch its sheer doodad-ification. It's the opposite of a "dumb monitor," building in not only the most app-happy Smart TV suite available, but also voice and gesture control, account sign-in via facial recognition, a camera, a microphone, an upgradable dual-core processor, and a beefed-up Web browser. Its box is also accessory-packed, from the second touch-pad remote to the Bluetooth IR blaster to the two pairs of active 3D glasses. It's as if Samsung took every feature that could possibly appeal to anyone and added a few more.
Samsung didn't neglect the picture quality of its flagship plasma, either -- in short, it's spectacular. That brings up an interesting question, one I suspect most buyers who fell asleep during the paragraph above might be wondering (when they wake up). "Can I get that same picture quality, minus a boatload of doodads, in one of Samsung's less expensive plasmas, namely the PNE7000 or PNE6500 series?" Last year the answer was yes. This year the answer is also yes; the less-expensive PNE6500 series has basically identical picture quality. Both it and the Panasonic ST50, which also earned a 9 in picture quality, offer better bang for the buck. But if you have money to burn and want as "loaded" a plasma TV as you can get, the PNE8000 series is your boy.
Editors' Note June 11, 2012: The rating on this review has been modified from 7.6 to 7.9, and its Value sub-rating changed from 5 to 6, to reflect a price drop since initial publication. The introduction was also modified to reflect publication of the PNE6500 series review.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 60-inch Samsung PN60E8000, 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.
|Models in series (details)|
|Samsung PN51E8000||51 inches|
|Samsung PN60E8000 (reviewed)||60 inches|
|Samsung PN64E8000||64 inches|
If not for the funky splay-legged, chrome-plated stand, the PNE8000 would have the best styling of any plasma TV I can remember. Samsung finally ditched the gray frame color for actual black and thinned the frame a hair or two compared with the "D" models from last year. The transparent edge is even narrower and sleeker, and next to the ST50, the whole package is more refined and classier by a solid notch. Like most modern panels it's thin, too; our 60-inch review sample measured just 1.9 inches deep.
Samsung's 2012 TV menus look the same as last year and remain among the easiest to use. They're bright opaque blue with rounded edges and good-sized text. Each major menu item gets a text explanation, and I noticed really snappy response time despite constant animations.
Aside from Smart Interaction (see below), the other major step-up difference between the PNE8000 and the significantly less expensive PNE7000 is the remote control. In addition to a standard clicker, there's another that omits numerous buttons in favor of a touch pad that's supposed to ease navigation of the menus and Smart TV functions, especially the Web browser. It's a great idea in theory, and I loved that its Bluetooth connectivity meant I didn't need a line of sight to the TV.
In practice the touch pad is frustrating to use, alternating between too twitchy and unresponsive. The clicker is denuded of most buttons, relegating the number pad to a kludgy onscreen version and eliminating the Menu key altogether. The lack of buttons also made it necessary to select from annoying onscreen mini menus for functions as basic as Pause, Menu, and Chapter Skip. In short, I'm not a fan, and defaulted to using the standard clicker when I could. For using the browser, the pad is better than gesture control, but not by much.
I ended up using the normal remote whenever possible, although it's still not very good. The grid of buttons lacks sufficient differentiation, there are too many promotional keys (such as "Family Story" and Camera), and the central Smart Hub button is annoyingly just a logo. At least there's full backlighting, a feature absent from the Touch remote.
I also tested Samsung's optional wireless keyboard with touch pad ($99). Its touch pad is much more responsive than the one on the remote, and the full-sized QWERTY keyboard makes data input a cinch (but not in the dark; again, there's no backlight). Unless you're intending to use the browser extensively, however, it's not worth getting. Check out this video for more on Samsung's remote and keyboard.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||Plasma||LED backlight||N/A|
|Screen finish||Glossy||Remote||Touch pad|
|Smart TV||Yes||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||2 pairs|
|Refresh rate(s)||60Hz, 96Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
|Other: Smart Interaction suite includes voice and gesture control, facial recognition via built-in camera and microphone; dual-core processor; Smart Evolution kit; Bluetooth IR blaster for external device control; Bluetooth Touchpad Remote and standard multibutton IR remote; AllShare Play; optional wireless keyboard with touch pad (VG-KBD1000, $99)|
The Kitchen Sink award for 2012 goes to Samsung PNE8000 plasma and UNES8000 LED TVs. I doubt any TVs that are more feature-festooned will appear this year, so this plasma deserves its 10 in this category.
Setup was tedious (pairing the blaster with the TV via Bluetooth took forever; it took three tries to get the right channel lineup; the TV initially said "source not connected" even though my player was plugged in), many direct commands (like a link to my DVR's recorded programs) are unsupported, and, worst of all, I had to use the balky Touch remote for everything, which meant fiddling with onscreen menus instead of hitting buttons directly. There's also no way to control an external audio device yet (so Volume and Mute affect only the TV) and power is not switched automatically. When I went from using the Blu-ray player to watching TV, the player remained turned on and spinning, whereas any decent universal remote automatically switches off devices that aren't in use.
The PNE8000 is the only 2012 Samsung plasma to get the company's dual-core processor, and the only plasma that can be upgraded via the Smart Evolution feature. Samsung says the TV's processor and memory can be swapped out and upgraded at a later date (as early as 2013) and for an unspecified fee to allow improved functionality.
Otherwise the PNE8000, PNE7000, and PNE6500 share very similar feature sets, and according to Samsung there shouldn't be much picture quality difference between the three. All offer a 1080p/24-friendly CinemaSmooth mode, the same Real Black Pro screen filter, and the same plasma panels. An engineer told me that the dual-core processor on the E7000 and E8000 might improve color accuracy to a certain extent, but I doubt it's major.
Samsung goes one better on TVs that have built-in Wi-Fi, allowing its sets to act as wireless access points. I really liked this extra since, if you take the time to run Ethernet to your living room to connect to the TV, you can get an additional WAP there to provide your nearby wireless devices with a stronger signal.
Like all Samsung 3D models, and unlike other major-brand TVs that use active 3D technology, the PNE8000 actually comes with 3D glasses: two pairs are packed into every box. The specs that came in my review sample's box were actually the SSG-3050GBs from 2011, not the newer Samsung SSG-4100GBs from 2012. Both retail for a scant $20 and they look exactly the same -- the main difference is that the 2012 glasses support the universal standard, so they should actually work with universal-certified 3D TVs like 2012 Panasonics. I don't have access to a set of SSG-4100GBs, so I couldn't test interoperability by press time. I also wouldn't be surprised if Samsung began packaging the newer glasses with its 3D TVs later in the year -- but for now, I was told all 2012 TVs will come with the non-universal 2011 glasses.
Smart Interaction: Smart Interaction is Samsung's unique new feature that makes use of the built-in camera and microphone to attempt to recognize your gestures and voice so you can control and interact with the TV. It's found on this plasma as well as Samsung's UNES7500 and UNES8000 LED TVs. I've already written an extensive hands-on about the voice and gesture command system, so I'll just quote from there:
"My takeaway? Smart Interaction has promise but feels half-baked and more like a gimmick than a compelling upgrade. Once the novelty wears off, its usefulness is limited (at best) to those times you don't have a remote in-hand."
Smart TV: With the exception of Google TV, Samsung's Smart TV platform is the most content-rich and capable on the market. Its big Achilles' heel, aside from its cluttered interface, is lack of Amazon Instant, a service found on Panasonic, Sony, and Vizio TVs, but not LG this year.
Otherwise the available content is superb. The big standout is HBO Go, available on no other TV so far. It joins just about every other mainstream non-Amazon video service, as well as numerous niche video options and 3D-specific app. There's no traditional Internet radio app like vTuner or Shoutcast, but you do get Pandora and subscription music via Mog. Compare the major TV makers' app selections here.
The company's TV app store is the biggest outside Google's, with offerings like MTV Music Meter and ESPN ScoreCenter as well as umpteen less-impressive paid and free games, educational apps, screensavers, and so on. Skype takes advantage of the built-in camera and mic, as does a simple Camera app that you can use to, uh, save pictures of you sitting on your couch.
Samsung also has a few relatively rich proprietary apps, like Family Story, which is a way to "share photos, memos, and family events stored in the cloud," Fitness and Kids (both with custom VOD), and a Social TV app combining Facebook, Twitter, and Google Talk in a bar alongside live TV. There's also a new AllShare Play app coming soon to enable the TV to grab files from the cloud. Samsung boasts the best browser we've tested on any TV, although it's still slower and more frustrating to use than the browser on a laptop, tablet, or phone.
Our favorite proprietary app is Your Video, because it features a cross-app search that can now hit Netflix in addition to Vudu. HBO Go and Hulu Plus don't show up in its results, however, and neither do your own TV listings. It shows other information too, like biographical and production notes, acting as a sort of IMDB Lite. There's a separate "search all" option that hits local files (DLNA/AllShare), Your Video, YouTube, Facebook, Samsung Apps, history, and the Web browser -- and happily you can disable any of those search targets.