A few weeks ago in New York, a bunch of professional TV sales and technical staff conducted their annual big screen TV review and for the first time a 4K TV was included in the review process. Among the TVs put under the microscope was the new Samsung 64″ 8500 plasma TV. The final result surprised a lot of people, especially as the screen was compared with a new Sony 4K TV.
This month, that very same model arrived at our office for review and at the end of the review process, our prior conviction that plasma was the best TV display technology in the world has stood the test of time, even with the emergence of 4K and OLED technology.
In the past, we couldn’t help but think that Samsung only did plasma TVs because it had to, and that it’s heart was very much with LCD technology.
The Samsung 8500, though, makes a total mockery of these previous thoughts. This 64-inch behemoth is not only the best plasma TV Samsung has ever made, it’s also one of the best plasma TVs we’ve seen from anyone.
This TV has so much going for it from the evolution kit that is bolted onto the back, to the built-in Skype camera that makes family Skype calls so much more enjoyable. The evolution kit allows a user to upgrade the TV to the next generation without having to go out and buy a new TV. Currently, the Samsung evolution kit is sub $499.
Samsung 8500 – Design
Externally, the Samsung 8500 hints at its inner specialness via its bold elliptical frame-style table top stand and distinctive deep grey colour scheme. However, there’s no denying that the frame around the huge 64-inch screen looks large and bulky versus the unfeasible slenderness of the frames around Samsung’s latest top-end LCD TVs. This is not a bad thing, as it’s slim enough to not appear bulky or out of place when compared to the slim bezel of its LED competitors.
Samsung 8500 – Connections
The Samsung 8500 doesn’t lose out to its glamorous LCD siblings when it comes to connections, though. Four HDMIs, three USBs, and built-in Wi-Fi is every bit as extensive and handy a selection as those of Samsung’s top-end LCD TVs. There’s even a special set top box slot where a Foxtel box can be plugged in.
As on the LCD sets, the HDMIs can handle 3D, the USBs can record from the TV’s HD tuners and play back a wide range of multimedia from USB storage devices, while the built-in Wi-Fi (or LAN, if you prefer) is there for streaming multimedia from networked PCs, or going online with Samsung’s latest Smart TV platform.
Like its Panasonic rival, the Samsung 8500 provides two of each tuner, so you can record one programme, while watching another, regardless of whether you’re using the satellite or terrestrial tuners.
Samsung 8500 – Smart Features
We’ve already written at length about Samsung’s latest online platform and smart interface in a dedicated review which can be found on this site. So we’ll try and keep things as brief as we can – a hard task, considering how much Samsung’s Smart TV system has got going on this year.
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In terms of online content, Samsung is currently out in front, chiefly because it’s the only platform we’ve seen to date that supports all the key subscription/Pay-Per-View video services (including the ABC, Foxtel, SABS and QuickFlix, plus loads more niche, but in many cases still worthy, small subscription or PPV platforms).
We also liked the way that it instantly recognised a connected hard drive, with users given the choice of going to a choice of pictures, video or music on screen.
Samsung’s latest interface is fascinating, too. It’s built on five different ‘smart hub’ pages devoted to different types of content, with its really clever touch being that it can analyse your viewing habits, then populate the TV and streamed video home pages with stuff it thinks you’ll want to watch, based on your past viewing habits.
For sheer cleverness, Samsung is once again at the top of the Smart TV pile.
The 8500 ships with both a standard remote and Samsung’s latest, genuinely helpful touchpad remote control option.
Samsung 8500 – Voice Control
In our previous article about Samsung’s Smart interface we weren’t particularly complementary about Samsung’s gesture and voice controls, or its confusing and poorly explained iOS/Android smart apps. Our feelings on these broadly remain the same, except when it comes to the voice recognition system. Following some recent improvements in the systems’ cognitive abilities, and having had longer to familiarise ourselves with the systems’ possibilities, we’re slowly but surely starting to warm to voice recognition as a genuine content-finding shortcut.
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As with pretty much all aspects of Samsung’s latest Smart interface, though, it would have been hugely helpful if Samsung had provided users with a bit more assistance on how to use the voice recognition system, rather than just expecting consumers to be bothered to figure it out for themselves.
Samsung 8500 – Picture Quality
Samsung 8500 – Groundbreaking Contrast
Impressive and innovative though many aspects of Samsung’s Smart TV platform might be, the Samsung 8500’s main event has to be its unexpectedly sensational picture quality – in particular its ground-breaking contrast. At the weekend, a bunch of serious Wallaby supporters watched the Australia vs. Lions game in Melbourne on this new Samsung TV. All of a sudden every one of those watching wanted to go out and buy a new TV.
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The audience unanimously agreed that the detail thrown up to the screen – such as the sweat of players – was “the best they had ever seen in a TV”.
They agreed that the huge panel at the TVs heart is able to pump out the brightest, most dynamic images any had seen from a plasma TV or any other form of TV, while simultaneously producing black colours with a richness and depth that’s streets ahead of anything Samsung has managed before.
In fact, let’s be quite clear about this: the Samsung 8500’s black level response is so good it finally puts Samsung in the same league in this key picture quality respect as Panasonic, which acquired the Pioneers Kurro technology. And you can’t say fairer than that. We’d even go so far as to say, in terms of sheer dynamism, that the 8500’s pictures go beyond those found on several other TV’s.
Samsung 8500 – Sharpness
The Samsung 85000’s pictures also excel with their sharpness and detailing. In fact, using the (generally rather over-cooked) factory picture presets HD material tends to look a bit too sharp, to the point where the image can start to be plagued by dot crawl and over-stressy edges. It’s only a few seconds work, though, to sort this initial harshness out – simply nudging down the sharpness setting should do it. And once you’ve reached the point where the fizzing sensation stops, you’ve still got a gorgeously textured and crisp image.
The processing engine is good enough, meanwhile, to deliver standard definition sources with a greater sense of sharpness than you’d expect to see on a 64-inch TV. This extra sharpness isn’t accompanied by the sort of exaggeration of source noise we might have expected to see – especially on such a monumentally large screen.
Not that we’d be particularly worried if the Samsung 8500 was only an average standard def performer, to be honest. For with its access to multiple HD streaming platforms and the wide and affordable availability of Blu-rays, it’s hard to imagine anyone who buys this set using it for standard def viewing in anything but the rarest of circumstances.
Samsung 8500 – Motion Handling
Another major area of improvement in the 8500 versus previous Samsung plasma generations is its motion handling. In both 2D and 3D mode, we really enjoyed how little resolution loss and judder we spotted, even during fast camera pans. The only rider to this is you arguably need to use at least the lowest level of Samsung’s motion processing tools to get a really smooth 3D performance, but this processing can occasionally generate a few momentary side effects, such as shimmering around large moving objects, or the occasional panning twitch.
It’s worth stressing here, though, that possibly because this set sees Samsung shifting over to a quad-core processing system, the motion processing on show with this flagship plasma set is far more clean and watchable than any previous Samsung engine.
Samsung 8500 – Colours
The Samsung 8500 even excels with its colour response. Initially tones look a bit over-aggressive, thanks to Samsung’s typically over-bright, over-contrasty picture presets. But the set has more than enough picture adjustment tools – including full colour and gamma management suites – to let you to get colours looking exactly as your own tastes, or your preferred industry video standard, dictates.
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Samsung 8500 – 3D
While 2D pictures look spectacular on the Samsung 8500, it’s arguably 3D that benefits most from Samsung’s new-found plasma prowess. It’s far brighter than your average plasma screen and this works wonders when it comes to combating the inevitable brightness reduction you get when you don a pair of active 3D shutter glasses.
As well as helping 3D images look more vibrant, colourful and punchy than they ever have before on a plasma TV, the extra dynamic range of the Samsung 8500’s 3D picture really helps when it comes to the TV portraying a deep, consistent and convincing sense of space, as it becomes easier to see the subtle background ‘markers’ that images use to help delineate their 3D space.
Motion looks far better in 3D than it ever has before on a Samsung plasma TV, and detail levels are immense, reminding you in no uncertain terms of active 3D’s resolution advantage – especially when it comes to delivering 3D on a TV as big as 64-inch.
Samsung 8500 – Picture Technology
We couldn’t help but wonder after experiencing the Samsung 8500’s picture glories just how Samsung had managed to bring its plasma performance on so far from its 2012 range. So we pestered the brand into providing us with a little insight. Arguably the most significant innovation has seen Samsung make the panel’s discharge space bigger, which immediately improves the screen’s luminance output. This first step has then been bolstered by the use of a new, more efficient discharge gas and a shift to the efficiency of Magnesium Oxide for the panel’s key conduction materials.
As for improving the Samsung 8500 black level performance at the same time as drastically improving brightness, the main advances are a better Real Black Pro Filter (which soaks up more ambient light), speedier processing that enables the panel to hit its maximum brightness levels faster, and a new discharge waveform for boosting contrast.
Samsung 8500 – Picture Quality and Conclusions
Samsung 8500 – A Few Minor Flaws
Despite being a glorious home cinema TV we’d install in our own movie rooms in a heartbeat, the Samsung 8500 isn’t wholly flawless. The push for extra brightness, for starters, has caused a couple of minor distractions. The worst of these is some greenish dither noise when the image is both dark and full of subtle detail – though this noise reduces considerably if you’re sat a sensible distance from the screen, and are running the panel less aggressively (as in, with reduced contrast and brightness) than Samsung’s default picture settings seem to want you to.
The other issue we presume is associated with the 8500’s phenomenal brightness is a minor image retention issue, whereby some very bright, richly coloured elements of the picture can leave ghostly echoes of themselves behind for a few frames after they are supposed to have disappeared. Past plasma experience would suggest, though, that this issue should fade away once you’ve used the panel for 100 hours or more.
The next issue crops up during 3D viewing. Amid all the Samsung 8500’s irresistible 3D glories you can occasionally see a little crosstalk ghosting noise over contrasting objects in the mid to far distance.
The final niggle is that some dark scenes reveal some minor, sporadic brightness fluctuations, presumably caused by the TV varying its subfield driving slightly to eke out every last drop of contrast from the panel. While admirable in its intent and for most of the time laudable in its results, we’d still have liked to have at least the option to turn this gentle ‘dynamic contrast’ feature off.
While we’re duty bound to report these flaws, though, our overall experience of the 8500’s pictures really was overwhelmingly positive.
As, we’re pleased to report, was our experience of its audio. For while that hefty frame might not make the Samsung 8500 necessarily the most fashionable TV in town, it provides a brilliantly robust home for a set of speakers capable of delivering a sound stage potent and large enough to keep even 64-inch pictures company without sounding muddy, distorted or thin even under pretty severe duress.
There should be no doubt that Samsung’s revolutionary work in delivering a plasma TV that combines groundbreaking brightness with truly inky black levels deserves to win the heart of many serious AV fans – especially those whose rooms tend to have a bit of ambient light to contend with. The decision by a team of highly skilled AV professionals to choose this TV over both current plasma offerings and Sony’s new 4K TV is justified. This is the best TV being sold in Australia today and plasma is still the best TV display technology.
Scores In Detail
2D Picture Quality 5/5
3D Picture Quality 4.5/5
Sound Quality 4.5/5
Our Score 5/5