Ever since we tested the Panasonic TC-PVT25 series in June, we've been itching to compare it directly with Samsung's flagship 3D-compatible plasma HDTV for 2010. After finally getting the chance to review the Samsung PNC8000 series--the odds-on favorite, if there is one, to defeat the Panasonic--we can declare the verdict in this dogfight: Panasonic by a black nose.
The PNC8000 is an excellent performer, and deserves the silver medal among plasma TVs we've tested so far this year. In addition, we'd wager no other as-yet-announced TV will outperform either one in 2010. But the Samsung's crucial reproduction of black can't achieve the same inkiness as the Panasonic, so it falls short. It beats the VT25 to a greater or lesser extent in a few other areas, including overall color reproduction, bright-room performance, and video processing, but none of those margins of victory is convincing enough to close the gap. The Samsung costs less, however, and its style and feature set will certainly turn heads, although for this price we'd expect to get a pair of those 3D glasses thrown in, too. The VT25 might be the better performer, but the picture quality of the PNC8000 series will rightly claim its share of videophile devotees.
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 50-inch Samsung PN50C8000, but this review also applies to the two larger screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
Editors' note, October 19, 2010: This review has been modified to reflect additional testing and respond to reader questions, but the numeric ratings have not been altered.
|Models in series (details)|
|Samsung PN50C8000 (reviewed)||50 inches|
|Samsung PN58C8000||58 inches|
|Samsung PN63C8000||63 inches|
|Panel depth||1.4 inches||Bezel width||1.75 inches|
|Single-plane face||No||Swivel stand||Yes|
|Other: Textured matte bezel; transparent edge and stand stalk; brushed metal stand top|
Samsung's flagship PNC8000 looks almost exactly like the company's step-down PNC7000, and their understated, sophisticated looks are among our favorites. We especially like the matte finish of the gray bezel--which is quite a bit lighter than the gray of the PNC7000's bezel--and its subtle metal-like texture matches the actual brushed metal of the stand. Samsung's signature transparent stalk and frame edge heighten the appeal, and if you care, the panel is thin enough at 1.4 inches to cause guests to mistake it for an LED-based LCD.
|Remote control and menus|
|Remote size (LxW)||8.4 x 2.2 inches||Remote screen||N/A|
|Total keys||49||Backlit keys||49|
|Other IR devices controlled||No||RF control of TV||No|
|Shortcut menu||Yes||Onscreen explanations||Yes|
|Other: Optional touch-screen remote (RMC30C2, $350)|
When we reviewed Samsung's UNC8000 LCD in May we complained about the chrome-and-round-edge remote. The PNC8000 plasma includes the same clicker, which reminds us of an overgrown candy-bar-style phone. It looks sexy and feels solid. Too bad it's such a pain to use.
The buttons are just poorly differentiated divisions of the flat face, and it's impossible to tell them apart by feel. We constantly had to look down (away from the TV screen) when doing anything more basic than navigating via the cursor controls. We'd trade this remote for a universal model in a second. Select Samsung phones can apparently control the TV, as can the company's own optional touch-screen remote to better Tweet from your TV.
We're fans of Samsung's menu system. The transparent, blue-highlighted graphics are easy to read and navigate, and response is snappier than last year. Text explanations are present for just about every function.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||Plasma||LED backlight||N/A|
|3D compatible||Yes||3D glasses included||No|
|Screen finish||Glass||Refresh rate(s)||60Hz, 96Hz|
|Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes||1080p/24 compatible||Yes|
|Internet connection||Yes)||Wireless HDMI/AV connection||No|
|Other: Built-in 2D to 3D conversion system; optional 3D Starter kit (SSG-P2100T, $350); 3D glasses (SG-2100AB; $150/pair); Wi-Fi USB adapter (WIS09ABGN, $80)|
The main differences between the feature sets of Samsung's PNC8000 and PNC7000 plasmas is the former's inclusion of defeatable dejudder processing--the company calls it MJC for "Motion Judder Compensation," and the PNC8000 is the only current plasma we know of to include the feature, which is common to 120Hz and 240Hz LCDs--along with the ability to properly display 1080p/24 content and a darker screen filter, which improves black levels in brighter rooms. See Performance for the effects of these extras.
The otherwise loaded Samsung PN50C8000 lacks the 3D glasses included with the Panasonic TC-PVT20/25 series, but on the other hand offers a system that converts 2D content to 3D (Panasonic's VT25 does not). Samsung's starter kit, with two sets of specs and a 3D Blu-ray of "Monsters vs. Aliens," provides one option to get glasses, and numerous similar bundles are available. Finally, we'd like to see built-in Wi-Fi, but other plasmas require a dongle for wireless Internet access, too.
|Amazon Video on Demand||Yes||Rhapsody||No|
|Other: Hulu Plus, Dailymotion|
Samsung's Apps platform offers more streaming video than any other Internet-connected TV, and seems to add new content every few weeks. The last time we checked in, during the UNC6500 review, the company had added Hulu Plus. Now there's another (free) streaming video app called "Explore 3D" that promises 3D movie trailers, video clips, and "premium videos." At press time there were only three trailers available, and no content in other categories, but we expect it to fill up soon.
In addition to Hulu Plus, which is exclusive to Samsung TVs for now (although Sony and Vizio, at least, will add the feature later in 2010), Dailymotion, Blockbuster, and CinemaNow, along with the audio subscription service Napster, are also not found on any other sets. No major video services go missing, although we'd like to see more nonsubscription audio support beyond Pandora (like Slacker radio or Last.fm). With the exception of Amazon VOD, which takes the form of a Yahoo Widget, all of the streaming services are integrated into Samsung's main Apps platform.
We didn't test Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, or YouTube this time around, mainly because the services worked well, as expected, on previous Samsungs, such as the UNC8000 and PNC7000. We did check out Hulu Plus, however, and came away with mostly positive impressions. Video quality was very good to excellent overall, depending on the source, navigation was snappy, and we liked the built-in search (aside from the tedium of entering terms using the TV's remote) and the App's general interface.
The one big problem we had with Hulu Plus, though, was lack of picture control. On other Apps, like Netflix, we were able to adjust basic picture parameters, choose from among picture modes, and disable the MJC dejudder processing. With Hulu Plus none of those options was available, and the picture looked stuck in the default Dynamic setting--otherwise known as Torch Mode, with overly bright highlights, oversaturated, inaccurate colors, and the telltale smoothing effect and artifacts of dejudder. Samsung might update the App to include some picture controls in the future, but as it stands we prefer to get Hulu Plus from an external source (like a Blu-ray player, Roku or TiVo), where picture controls remain an option.
Check out our hands-on impressions of Hulu Plus on the Samsung CD-C6900 Blu-ray player for more info.
|Other: Includes ESPN Next Level, Google Maps, Samsung TV support videos, Getty images, some paid Apps, 24 Yahoo Widgets|
Samsung wants you to think of its Apps platform much like a certain other Apps Store from Apple, complete with a call for developers. The TV version from Samsung is a far cry from the iPhone version today, but it does offer more options than similar services on other brands' TVs.
Since Samsung Apps debuted for TVs earlier this year, it has added Facebook, Google Maps, and videos with product support and info on Samsung products. Recent updates include sports info widget ESPN Next Level (exclusive for one year), a few paid Apps like the educational Math Series, Word Magic ($2.99 each), and Dibo's Storybook (99 cents each); personal trainer Push Up Master (99 cents); and image galleries from Multibits ($1.99 each). Check out the company's App Store for a full list.
In addition to Apps within the main interface, there's a separate Yahoo Widgets interface with 24 total add-ons available at press time. They include weather, news, sports, and the like, along with meatier widgets like Amazon Video On Demand, Drivecast, Flickr, Facebook, and, of course, "Experience Samsung." The widget experience is much, much better than in the past, owing to faster load and response times. Now the widget taskbar comes up almost immediately, and navigating between widgets and within a widget itself is a breeze.
On the other hand we'd prefer to see one integrated interface, such as the one Vizio offers, for all interactive functions. For both Facebook and Twitter, for example, the TV has both an App by Samsung and a Yahoo Widget. Both interfaces offer news, weather, and even photo services (Picasa for Apps, Flickr for widgets). With all that content, juggling two interface options can become confusing.
Both Apps and widgets have profiles and universal sign-in features, which make them easier to use. An option to input searches, passwords, and other text with something other than the unwieldy onscreen keyboard would help a lot, however.
|Adjustable picture modes||6||Independent memories per input||Yes|
|Dejudder presets||2||Fine dejudder control||No|
|Aspect ratio modes -- HD||4||Aspect ratio modes -- SD||4|
|Color temperature presets||4||Fine color temperature control||10 points|
|Gamma presets||7||Color management system||Yes|
|Other: Numerous 3D controls; new 10-point color temperature system; RGB filters and built-in test patterns|
Samsung has officially retaken the picture-settings crown from LG this year, at least on higher-end models like the PNC8000. Highlights for tweakers include a new 10-point system--it works better than what we saw on LG's PK950 plasma--in addition to internal test patterns and red, green, and blue color filters, all to help would-be calibrators. Samsung has also changed the name of one of its picture modes from Natural to Relax, and on the PNC8000 also includes two additional, fully adjustable modes similar to Movie, called CAL-NIGHT and CAL-DAY. They're intended for professional calibrators but happily, unless intentionally locked, they can be accessed by anyone without needing special codes.
The PNC8000's extra video-processing features noted above manifest in a pair of dejudder presets, titled Standard and Smooth, which join our favorite such setting (Off) in the Motion Judder Canceller menu. The Film Mode menu hides the Cinema Smooth setting reserved for 1080p/24 content, although in our testing this mode caused an undesirable loss in black level performance. We really appreciate that, after first selection, it engages automatically when it detects such content.
Samsung offers a smattering of settings for both native 3D content and 2D-to-3D conversion. With the former you can fool around with "3D viewpoint," said to adjust perspective, whereas the latter provides a "depth" setting that gives a similar adjustment option. On the other hand the C7000 lacks the 3D Optimize option found on the UNC8000 LCD. It's also worth noting that engaging 3D changes to a separate set of picture settings, and removes some of the options available in 2D mode (like Eco settings, aspect ratio adjustments, and more).