Samsung PN60E8000 HDTV Plasma Review
“Hi TV. Power On.” Like some sort of Potterian magic, this vocal spell causes the TV to actually turn on. Yes, I know, that’s what it’s supposed to do. But to be able to use your voice to control a TV is solid proof we live in the future.
As cool as it is, though, this is merely a feature, and features don’t make TVs. Performance makes TVs.
So how well does the E8000 stack up? I’m glad you asked.
At the top of Samsung’s plasma offers, the E8000 has all the bells, whistles, and thingamabobs that you’d expect from a high-end TV in 2012. Where Samsung differentiates is with its voice and gesture Smart Interaction features (LG has somewhat similar offerings).
The voice control feature is enabled through the use of Nuance technology, the same company that lets Siri do what it does. After a quick setup (little more than the TV making sure the room wasn’t too loud), the TV responds to “Hi TV. [command].” Performance is quick, taking only a moment or two to recognize what you said. Smartly, icons pop up on the bottom of the screen to lead you though different commands. It works better than you’d expect, presuming you’re not expecting HAL, K.I.T.T. or J.A.R.V.I.S..
Gary and I are of two different minds on this. He thinks it’s neat, but mostly a gimmick. I think it could be the future of technology interaction.
Well, eventually. Like any new technology, it’s not perfect, and not particularly in depth. By far its most useful aspect is being able to walk into the room and turn on the TV without looking for the remote. Other features it can do, like changing the volume or input, I did with my digits. Still, that voice works at all is pretty cool. I’m not sure it’s worth paying extra for, but as the technology improves, and gets into more products, I hope its use becomes more widespread.
Gesture control, on the other hand, I didn’t bother with. Why? Well if I’m going to exert the energy to wave my hands I’m going to wave it right over to a remote.
And on that front the E8000 has you doubly covered, with two physical remotes. The first is a fairly standard Samsung remote, featuring all the buttons you want (and then some) and is backlit in a sort of sodium-vapor orange. The other features a few physical buttons, like channel and volume, but is dominated by a thumbpad. This works reasonably well for navigating webpages and the like.
Three of the PN60E8000 control options
I think Samsung’s Smart TV interface is best looking streaming content suite of all the TV manufacturers. It’s well laid out, uncluttered, and has a underwater aesthetic that I of course am predisposed to love (there are 4 other wallpapers in case you’re aquaphobic). It also features the big four: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon and VUDU. With these four services, you have access to just about all the content available for streaming. iTunes might have one or two titles not available on these services, but the opposite is also true. There’s also HBO Go and a bunch of other apps.
Two USB inputs let you jack in a thumb drive to check out pictures, movies, or music, and unlike some TVs, the E8000 accesses files quickly. There’s even an optional wireless keyboard available from Samsung to let you surf the web easier from the built-in browser.
All these features are cool, but as I said earlier, I don’t think most people are buying on features. They want to buy performance.
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Let’s start with color. I can’t remember the last Samsung TV I reviewed that didn’t have accurate colors, and the E8000 is no exception. Both the primary (red, green, and blue) and secondary (cyan, magenta, yellow) colors are all pretty much spot-on to their REC 709 values. An easy-to-use color management system lets you dial them in even closer.
As a result, the shades in a movie like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy are delicate and subtle, while the something like The Avengers is suitably bombastic without looking cartoony.
Contrast ratio, however, is the key. By far the single most important factor in picture quality, and is where plasmas still hold a distinct advantage over LCDs (well, except for the handful of local dimming LED LCDs). The current crown for flat panel contrast ratio is with Panasonic’s VT50 series, where I measured a maximum contrast of 13,900:1. Only Pioneer’s KURO, may they rest in peace, was better. The E8000 falls somewhere in between the VT50 and the better LCDs. I achieved the best contrast ratio with the Cell Light set to 20. This produced 40.5 footLamberts on a 100 IRE window and 0.007 ftL on a full-screen 0 IRE black for a contrast ratio of 5786:1. Good, but not great. The 0.007 in particular isn’t very low, the VT50 was able to do a near-black 0.003 with still producing the same amount of peak light output.
Reducing the Cell Light only marginally decreased the black level (0.006) but significantly reduced the overall light output, lowering the contrast ratio.
Like all big plasmas, the 60E8000 is noticeably dimmer on a full white screen. With normal video content (movies, TV shows), this isn’t very noticeable. However, you may notice it more if you plan to use the built-in web browser, as many websites (including this one, obviously) have a lot of white. In these cases, the E8000 with Cell Light at 20, produces 12.77 ftL with a full-white field. This produces a contrast ratio of 1824:1 (the black level remains the same). This is still a better than the native contrast ratio than many LCDs.
Watching actual video, the 60E8000 looks very high contrast, with punchy whites, and deep blacks. It may not “pop” with bright scenes like an LCD, but with the majority of content, it looks far richer, with better apparent depth. A movie like Moneyball, for instance, is a good test. There are some dark scenes with bright areas (like Pitt driving around at night, or the slow-mo scenes), that look awesome, but daytime scenes don’t blast you away like they can on an LCD. I’d argue this is a good thing, but some people like scorching brightness. I’ll take deep and contrasty over flat and bright any day.
Oh, right, depth. So the 60E8000 is 3D-capable, of course, because that’s still a thing. Samsung has the best offerings of any manufacturers when it comes to active shutter glasses. They have offerings at multiple price points with many different form factors. More than any of the other active 3D proponents, I think you’ll be able to find something that’s reasonably comfortable to wear, and that you can afford. Two pairs of the lightweight SSG-4100GB glasses are included, and on Amazon right now there are package deals that include a Blu-ray player and eight pairs of the same.
However, all the major TV manufacturers have stopped sending 3D glasses with their review TVs, and as I dutifully stupidly send back the glasses with each TV I return (apparently I’m the only one), I realized too late I had no Samsung glasses on hand. However, 2012 saw some cohesion on the part of TV manufacturers, so there is some cross-compatibility. I used a pair of Panasonic glasses, which aren’t great but got the job done.
Watching Avengers and Hugo, I found the 3D effect to be decent, the snow at the beginning of Hugo fell in front of the TV, while the distance was seemingly behind it. However, there was noticeable cross talk on certain scenes. On that front, the glasses can be a contributing factor. 3D performance doesn’t affect my ratings much either way, but I’ll update the review after Samsung sends me some of their glasses (which, I’m going to be perfectly honest here, I’m going to keep). EDIT: Performance was about the same with a pair of Samsung SSG-3050GB, which it should be noted, are extremely light weight and one of the more comfortable active shutter glasses I’ve tried.
As I’ve already mentioned it, and I happened to still have one at my house, I directly compared the PN60E8000 with a TC-P55VT50. The first thing I noticed is that the Panasonic was smaller. Bow before my epic powers of observation. Both TVs produced an excellent image, however the deeper black levels on the VT50 were quite noticeable, making the E8000 a little more washed out in comparison. Keep in mind this is like saying a Porsche is slow in comparison to a Veyron. The Samsung, though, was a little smoother, with a little less noise. From a normal viewing distance, this would be hard to distinguish, but depending on where you sit, you could see it.
And, lastly, the PN60E8000 is fantastically detailed, even when objects are in motion. Seeing every fine wrinkles and stand of hair are what HD is all about. Here is the link to the Samsung PN60E8000 measurements.
The PN60E8000 is a gorgeous TV, packed with features to back up its contrasty, colorful, exceptionally detailed and noise-free image. I wish the black level/contrast ratio was a little better, but even as it stands it’s still better looking than most LCD TVs. If pure picture quality is your thing, the extreme contrast ratio of the Panasonic VT50 can’t be beat. However, from a TV-as-entertainment-hub perspective, the streaming features and other gadgets in the E8000 are more varied and better implemented than the VT50. So for that reason, and the fact that it’s a better value than the VT50, mean we at HDGuru award the Samsung PN60E8000 4 out of 5 hearts.
The PN60E8000 is currently $2,298 on Amazon with free shipping and with 11 different available bundles (Blu-ray players, sound bars, etc) plus an extra 2% reward as an Amazon credit toward other purchases.
Geoff Morrison @TechWriterGeoff
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