Samsung PN50A550 Plasma HDTV
Video experts and video reviewers can be a cantankerous bunch. We’re always engaged in a tug of war with manufacturers about what we’d like to see in new HDTVs. We aren’t often successful, not necessarily because the manufacturers are stubborn (OK, sometimes they are), but because they’re more concerned than we are about the realities of the wider marketplace. We couldn’t care less about floodlight-worthy light output, a remote that will also start your car, or a little jig the TV plays when you turn it on or off. But we’re sticklers for good blacks, natural-looking detail, and accurate color.
Sometimes we’re pleasantly surprised. When Samsung designed its new sets, it included some of the most flexible adjustments we’ve seen for dialing in an accurate color space. It also included many more features, like a more calibrator-friendly service menu. And as further icing on the cake, the PN50A550 reviewed here lists for just $2,299. Yes, you can buy cheaper 50-inch, 1,920-by-1,080 flat-panel displays—and you can also buy more expensive ones. But this price falls right into the sweet spot of the quality HDTV market.
Walkabout and Setup
In its appearance and physical configuration, the PN50A550 doesn’t look that different from any other modern flat-panel HDTV. It sports the same black frame with nearly invisible on-set controls. The inputs and outputs on the back and side panels include three HDMI and two component connections, a USB jack for viewing JPEG photos or listening to audio files, and a headphone jack. The latter is one way to bypass the set’s underachieving sound, which is typical for a flat-panel design.
The included stand allows you to manually rotate the set over a limited but useful range. Samsung also makes an optional motorized wall bracket that can reposition the panel using the set’s EX-Link system and remote control.
You can adjust most of the video controls separately for each of the three available picture modes—Dynamic, Standard, and Movie. You can also set them individually for each input. I performed all of my tests (except as noted) in the Movie mode.
One new and unique feature is the Cell Light control. It brightens the image by increasing the drive on the pixel array. I used a setting of 6 for most of my tests. The increases I made above this level (to a maximum of 10) were measurable but surprisingly subtle on most program material.
In the Detailed Settings menu, neither the Black Adjust nor the Dynamic Contrast controls did anything positive for the picture, so I left them off. But the Gamma control was useful. I reduced the setting, and that proved to be effective in my tests. Depending on the program material, a setting of –2 or –3 (over a range of –3 to +3) produced a richer image with more depth.
It’s the PN50A550’s Color Space control that really sets this display apart. It offers three settings: Auto, Native, and Custom. The Auto setting responds to the needs of the program material. The color-space standard is slightly different for high-def and standard-def content. The Native color space is wider than the standard, and Custom lets you dial in the set’s color points as tightly as your patience and test gear will allow. These include the yellow, cyan, and magenta secondaries as well as the red, green, and blue primaries. We’ve seen other displays that offer a way to shift the color points, but none of them has been as slick to use or as effective as this one.
The Detailed Settings menu also includes White Balance controls that offer both high (Gain) and low (Offset) red, green, and blue adjustments. You can also set the white balance separately for each input.