Samsung HP-S5053 50-inch Plasma HDTV

Samsung has its hands in so many different TV categories - front- and rear-projection DLP TVs, flat-panel plasma and LCD sets, even old-school cathode-ray tube models - that it's hard to keep track of all the stuff they sell. Here at Sound & Vision, we've been so busy chasing down their recent DLP and LCD TVs that we've neglected to check out the plasma models - a situation we'll correct right now by giving the new Samsung HP-S5053 50-inch plasma HDTV a comprehensive look.

What We Think
A nice-priced bigscreen plasma that delivers a crisp high-def picture and, for the most part, good overall video performance.
Spotted online for as low as $2,800, the HP-S5053 appears to be a ridiculously good deal for a 50-inch flat-panel HDTV. Even so, with a built-in HDTV tuner, flexible picture-in-picture options, and a pixel-shift feature to prevent screen burn-in, there's little evidence that Samsung cut corners on this set. With a slim, black gloss bezel, bottom-mounted speakers, and cool blue light encircling the front-panel power button (something that can be switched off in the setup menu), the TV's styling is also first-rate. The only indication that it's a budget model is the somewhat flimsy plastic table stand.

With the HD DVD and Blu-ray formats now available, you'll want two HDMI connectors on your TV - one for a high-definition disc player and another for your HDTV cable box or satellite receiver. Samsung's got you covered there with two HDMI jacks, along with dual component-video connections and a VGA port for hooking up a computer.

0607_samsung_remoteThe slim remote control echoes the TV's sleek, black design. Although it's not backlit, the buttons are cleanly arranged and vary enough in shape and size that you can easily locate the one you want in a dim room. As with many other TV remotes, you have to repeatedly press the Source button to toggle through the set's video inputs. Fortunately, only inputs with video sources currently connected show up on the list. You select display modes with the Picture Size button. The choices for standard 480i and 480p signals include 4:3, widescreen 16:9, and two picture-zoom settings. For HDTV programs, you can select between widescreen 16:9 and 4:3.

SETUP After I plugged an antenna into one of the Samsung's RF inputs (the second connector is for analog cable hookups), the TV's channel scan feature easily grabbed the digital broadcasts in the area, displaying channel IDs for all stations in an onscreen grid. The Samsung lacks any sort of electronic program guide (not a big loss, really), but pressing the Info button on the remote will let you see the basic data embedded in the broadcast, including channel ID, title, and program description.

To adjust the Samsung's image, you press the Picture Mode button on the remote and switch between its four picture presets (Dynamic, Standard, Movie, and Custom). Settings for each preset can be adjusted in the Picture menu and the set will remember your changes, but only one preset, Custom, can be independently tweaked for each of the video inputs. When customizing presets, you can also select from five Color Tone (color temperature) modes: Cool 1 and 2, Normal, and Warm 1 and 2. During testing, the Warm 2 setting measured closest to the 6,500-K TV grayscale standard and consequently delivered the most natural-looking color.

Other features in the HP-S5053's setup menu include video noise reduction and a suite of image-enhancement features Samsung calls DNIe (Digital Natural Image engine). Enabling noise reduction barely helped at all when I watched poor-quality cable or satellite TV programs, such as a Green Acres rerun on TV Land. DNIe, in contrast, helped improve picture quality somewhat, although I preferred to turn it off entirely when viewing DVDs and HDTV, which this Samsung set allows you to do (some previous models did not).