Samsung PN51D6500 Plasma HDTV Review: Cool Features, Great Sound and Image Quality
At a Glance
Samsung PN51D6500 51" 3D Plasma TV (1920x1080, 600Hz, HDTV, 3D)
This expensive plasma set looks very good, sounds great, and puts all of its features on one convenient and attractive screen. But it's not as easy to use as it should be, and it draws too much...
The $1400 (as of September 4, 2011) Samsung PN51D6500 sports some very cool features. One attractive and easy-to-use screen gives you access to all of your local and Internet sources. It provides a single interface for searching for movies and TV shows across all of the set's video-on-demand services. For the most part, its images--both 3D and 2D--look very good, and its audio is as good as you could reasonably expect from an unaided television. But pieces of its user interface--especially text entry-- feel half-baked. And even by plasma standards, the PN51D6500 is a power hog.
The PN51D6500's image quality is very good, but not exceptional, earning Very Good marks for Brightness and Contrast, and Good for Detail and Motion. But the set had its problems, too. More than one judge complained about yellowish colors and too much contrast, and some test scenes looked oversaturated. It received universally low scores in a test that the PCWorld Lab designed to isolate and exaggerate diagonal motion problems. We noted less extreme but similar problems in a clip from Mission Impossible III.
Though PCWorld hasn't yet added 3D image quality tests to its HDTV test process, several scenes from the 3D Avatar Blu-ray disc looked very impressive. Simulated 3D from a 2D image occasionally looked great, but not reliably so.
The PN51D6500 uses active-shutter glasses. The TV doesn't come with glasses, but a current promotion sells the PN51D6500 bundled with the Megamind 3D Starter Kit, which includes two pairs of glasses. Samsung assured me that it has no plans to discontinue the promotion.
The PN51D6500 gets as close to true surround sound as any television set I've heard. The sound is quite rich, too, with a full dynamic range. I noticed considerable strain with the volume turned all the way up, but since that's too loud for comfortable listening, it shouldn't be a problem. At 70 percent, I heard no strain and felt no need for extra volume.
Press the remote control's Smart button, and you'll find the Smart Hub, one of the most attractive and practical user interface screens I've seen on an HDTV. Here you can point and click to different sources, run Samsung apps, and access various Internet-based services--while whatever you were watching remains visible in a window. Current services include BBC News, Hulu Plus, MLB.TV, Netflix, Pandora, and a collection of radio stations. The Social TV app gives you access to Facebook and Twitter, though you must create an account with Samsung to get to them. You can download additional apps for Accuweather, Google Maps, YouTube, and other services.
One Smart Hub feature, Your Video, lets you search for movies and TV shows across all of the video-on-demand services. When I selected a movie, Your Video found it on both CinemaNow and Vudu, allowing me to choose the option with HD or the one with the cheaper price. As I write this, Your Video supports Hulu Plus only partially and Netflix not at all. Samsung assures me that this will be fixed.
A bigger problem with Your Video was Samsung's text entry interface, which made searches (as opposed to browsing) a nightmare. Behaving like an extremely dumb phone, it offers only the option to select numbers for letters, but it does so in an illogical way that makes the worst cell phone you ever texted on feel like a full-size keyboard. I tried to search for 30 Rock, but gave up before I got to 3.
Fortunately, you won't encounter the dreadful text-entry system everywhere. Entering a Wi-Fi password is comparatively easy, and non-Samsung services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus have their own text-entry interfaces.
Another option, if you have an iPhone or other iOS device, or an Android phone or tablet, is to download the free Samsung Remote app, which removes all of the frustrations of entering text via a remote control.
Aside from text entry, the app offers no advantages over the physical remote that accompanies the PN51D6500. That remote fits well in the hand, with large, well-placed buttons. Because the remote isn't programmable, you can't teach it to control your Blu-ray player or old VCR. But it does have a handy backlight.
The PN51D6500 is a real energy hog, gobbling an average of 199 watts per hour in PCWorld Labs tests when the set was on. (Recent high-scoring alternative plasma sets include the LG Infinia 50PZ950 and the Panasonic Viera TC-P50ST30.) Fortunately, like most modern HDTVs, it burns so little when "off" that it the level of consumption didn't register on our instruments. The set has Energy Star certification.
If there's nothing else worth watching, you can enjoy your own photos, music, or video through the PN51D6500--by plugging in a USB storage device such as a flash drive, or by connecting to your home network via a computer or phone running DLNA server software such as Windows Media Player. The built-in media-playing software can't play .wma audio files, however.
Overall, Samsung did a very good job putting together the PN51D6500. I just wish that the company had spent a little more time smoothing out its rough edges.