Samsung PN50A550 Plasma TV Real-World Performance
Every reviewer has his or her own pet peeve when it comes to flat-panel picture quality—mine is green reproduction. Many LCD and plasma TVs tend to oversaturate green, some to the point where plant life takes on an almost fluorescent glow that simply doesn't exist in nature.
Good news here—on the PN50A550, greens were only a tiny bit exaggerated, but not enough to spoil things. For example, an HD Theater broadcast of Sunrise Earth was beautifully rendered by the Samsung. The fantastic variety of plant and animal life in a Peruvian rainforest sparkled with natural colors and razor-sharp detail. Greens of every hue from pale to nearly black were appropriately vibrant and realistic without being overblown. This material looked just like the stuff manufacturers use to show off new models at trade shows—slow moving, extremely colorful, and literally alive with detail.
Detail reproduction in fast-moving objects is one area where plasma TVs remain clearly superior to LCD models. Basketball is an especially good test for fast-motion performance, thanks to the white lines on the court and the details on the ball itself.
The Samsung's ability in this regard was highlighted when I watched the Lakers cave to the Celtics in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on ABC HD. I could almost always make out the logos and read the name Spaulding on the ball, even as it simultaneously spun while arcing its way to the basket in a free throw or three-point shot. The curved and diagonal lines of the key make a great test pattern for revealing jaggies as the camera moves with the action, and the Samsung never broke a sweat, showing only a tiny amount of jaggies in the most difficult areas. Speaking of sweat, the Samsung crisply resolved Lamar Odem's bald head in all its sweat-dripping glory.
One area in which many plasmas run into trouble is their ability to reproduce smooth gradations in color and brightness. On some plasmas I've reviewed, the underwater shots in the "Shallow Seas" episode of The Blue Planet on Blu-ray are heavily solarized—you see obvious bands of color instead of a smooth gradation as the water lightens and brightens toward the surface. This solarization effect is also obvious in shots of an open blue sky or any time a bright object is shown against a dark background—a rising moon is a perfect example.
I can't really say if Samsung's 18-bit Natural True Color processing gets the credit here, but I can say that the PN50A550 handled all these scenes and more with almost no visible solarization. It's the best performer in this regard I've seen so far.
No review of mine would be complete without a look at the difficult opening sequence of Star Trek: Insurrection on DVD, which consists of a long, sinuous pan that sweeps over the fields and buildings of a bucolic village. The Samsung handled this scene very well, with only negligible artifacts visible on the haystacks and essentially no jaggies on the diagonal rooftops. The panning motion was not quite the smoothest I've ever seen, but it wasn't all that far off, either.
As for the critically important areas of black level and shadow detail, the Samsung turned in a very respectable performance. The below-deck walk at the beginning of the Master and Commander DVD follows a watchman on his rounds through the claustrophobic blackness of the ship's gun deck, revealing details with the wan light of his lantern as he goes. The trick here is to show just enough detail in the areas illuminated by the lantern without allowing the darkest areas to "clog up" and turn into black blobs. The PN50A550 did a fine job with this difficult task, revealing details and textures on the swaying hammocks, black shoes placed on the floor, the names written on each cannon, and many other atmospheric details that really help set the scene.
Sound from the TV's 10Wpc audio system emanates from perforated grilles tucked away on the bottom of the cabinet, recessed about an inch above the bottom of the bezel. The down-firing speakers are pretty much par for the flat-panel course. They deliver acceptable sound when listening to an undemanding sitcom or the evening news, but that's about all any self-respecting home-theater aficionado would want to use them for. When asked to reproduce a movie soundtrack or stereo music at any reasonable level, the result is muffled, dynamically constrained sound. As long as those planning to use the built-in audio system in this—or any flat-panel TV—don't expect too much, they won't be disappointed here.