Samsung PN60F8500 HDTV Review
The PN60F8500 represents a huge advance in plasma technology. Surprising us at the 2013 Consumer Electronics show, Samsung introduced significantly improved plasma panels. We were struck immediately by the 8500’s high brightness and ability of its new panel to reject ambient room light.
How did the Samsung plasma hold up to our testing and evaluation? Read on
Limited to the panels within the 8500 series (which also includes a 51-inch and 64-inch models), the individual sub-pixels have thinner walls and deeper cells than any previous Samsung plasma. The result: the brightest image we’ve ever measured on a plasma of this size. Coupled with a new anti-reflective (AR) bonded filter the F8500 is extremely effective in sucking up ambient room light, resulting in deep blacks and bright whites.
Styling and Design
Samsung has been the industry leader in TV design for a number of years, thanks in no small part to its huge styling center in downtown Seoul. The 60-inch diagonal PN60F8500 ($2999 UPP) boasts a 1-inch thin dark gray side and top bezel. The panel depth is 1.9-inches. Samsung has eliminated the traditional pedestal stand and replaced it with a low slung arc design. While breaking new design ground, the stand also creates a number of issues. First it’s is as wide as the TV at 54.8-inches. If your table isn’t this wide the stand, it will hang over the edge and possibly limit overall stability.
The other issue is the placement of a soundbar or center channel. The 3.3-inches from the bottom of the arc stand to the screen eliminates many models. Further complicating placement is the soundbar would have to be in front of the stand, which itself sticks out five inches from the screen. If Samsung plans to expand this design we hope they will develop a soundbar that will fit and blend with this layout.
The entire remote control and graphic user interface is all-new for 2013 Samsung Smart TVs. The remote is a track pad affair with a few hard buttons for volume, channel up/down, and a few other functions. The remote communicates with the F8500 via Bluetooth and must be paired to the TV. Samsung placed the pairing button inside the remote; not the most convenient location but they probably did it to make it more child proof.
The screen has five home page panels for content as well as on-screen numerical keyboard. Maybe it’s an age thing, but I would have preferred more hot keys on the remote. To speed up our testing we resorted to a legacy Samsung infrared remote that worked just fine.
The F8500 has every HDTV feature on Samsung’s exceptionally long list. The menu is so extensive we are planning a separate article on Smart TV features. In addition to the usual streaming services ¬- Netflix, Amazon Instant, et. al. – Samsung has a growing list of its own apps now (according to Samsung rep over 600). Moving on to control, it has personalization for up to 20 people, voice control, gesture control, plus Skype video calling and more. Here is a brief synopsis as supplied by Samsung:
• On TV: Live TV page that offers featured programming that is now on and coming up.
• Movies & TV Shows: On-demand services and over-the-top content.
• Apps: Downloaded Samsung Apps and recommendations, including new apps Univision, Fox and Spotify.
• Social: Offers popular videos from social media networks and video call services.
• Photos, Videos & Music: Personal content and files access.
The Smart Evolution Port allows you to update your Smart TV in the future. The kit plugs into the back of your TV and updates it with new software and technology that will improve your TV performance –faster speed for easier multitasking, more content, more features.
Samsung’s new S-Recommendation technology offers customized content suggestions based on user preferences and enables quick and easy content searches across TV programs and premium video on-demand.
Discover what you want to watch without surfing channels just by asking your TV. It will respond to your voice and find a selection of customized content options based on your preferences. Ask the TV for recommendations while you’re watching TV, for example, “What football games are on?” Or visit the “On TV” or “Movies & TV Shows” content panels to find new recommendations to watch.
Samsung AllShare Play lets you seamlessly share content across your DLNA-connected Samsung devices, without the need for a network, cables or a connecting device. With Samsung Smart View, stream content playing on your TV straight to your Samsung android mobile device (they are not compatible with Apple IOs or other brand Android products) so you never miss a second of your favorite show. Dual View allows consumers to watch different content from another input source. Speaking into the built-in microphone on the Smart Touch Remote Control along with hand gestures all control your TV in new and unexpected ways. Use S-Recommendation with Voice Interaction to ask your TV to find things to watch and get program suggestions.
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A big new feature is cable box control, which goes hand and hand with “S-Recommendation.” The F8500 can control many different cable boxes as well as Dish and DirecTV. This is accomplished with an infrared flasher that connects to the TV using a miniature plug. The emitter end of the cable is placed by the IR eye on the set top box. Unfortunately, we tried it on a TiVo Premier box with Verizon FIOS but to date Samsung has not provided the necessary TiVo codes so we couldn’t try this feature. A Samsung representative tells us they’re working on the issue and planning a firmware update to fix this, however no activation date was supplied.
The Samsung also creates its own program guide customized to your cable or satellite provider.
There are four picture modes: Dynamic, Standard, Relax and Movie. All our adjustments were performed in the Movie mode.
Another Samsung unique control is called “Black Optimizer.” We set it to the “dark room” mode for all out tests and observations.
This year Samsung returns to four HDMI inputs, a welcome addition, up from three last year. One HDMI has Audio Return Channel with full capability, meaning it can handle up to Dolby 5.1. This is another improvement over last year. Other inputs include three USB, and component and composite video inputs that require the use of supplied dongles. There’s also an optical digital output and RS-232 connection (with an optional adapter) for external control by Crestron and other touch screen home automation systems.
The PN60F8500 uses small downward firing speakers located at the bottom edge of the panel. The sound quality is very mediocre. A soundbar (if you can fit it in front of the stand), vertical side speakers, or a full 5.1 system should be considered with every purchase of the F8500.
This is where the PN60F8500 really shines (pun intended). The combination of its new panel and AR filter along with excellent signal processing and accurate color reproduction produced spectacular images.
One of the most important aspects of picture quality are image brightness and minimum panel luminance. The PN60F8500 measured a maximum brightness, using our 100 IRE window pattern, of an incredible 80.8 foot lamberts. The black level came in at .0020 ftl. This equates to a maximum native contrast ratio of 40,100 to 1. After calibration, the panel measured 49.5 ft lamberts, a level that still looks bright in rooms with high ambient light, for a still-incredible contrast ratio of 24,750 to 1. The bonded anti-reflective filter does a great job sucking up ambient room light like a black hole; stray light goes in but doesn’t come out. To date, the filter is the second most effective we’ve encountered, only exceeded by the one in the Panasonic ZT60 we recently reviewed.
We ran the F8500 through our usual battery of tests, including the HQV SD and HD tests, and it passed all. However we needed to place the unit into Auto Film 1 mode to pass the 3:2 pulldown test. There have been reports of a black level increase when switching Film mode Off to Cinema Smooth for 96 Hz playback. Samsung claims its latest firmware update eliminated the problem and we did not observed an increase in black level when Cinema Smooth was engaged, post firmware update.
Motion resolution is at 1080 line PPH, as we’ve seen on other recent high end plasma TV tests.
We found the gamma -2 position provided a measurement of 2.4, our preferred setting for Blu-ray movies and HD content.
The 8500s “Cell Light” picture setting limits the average brightness level (ABL) of the panel. The higher the setting the harder the brighter the panel can be driven. Therefore, the “20” setting yields maximum peak brightness. We chose this level for all our viewing evaluations and testing. We saw no reason anyone would want it set lower, other than saving a few pennies on power consumption. One minor consequence is occasional image retention (IR). This is not burn-in, just a residual charge within the panel that disappears in a minute or so and can only be observed occasionally.
In the Warm 2 picture factory default setting, we measured a color temperature of 6660K (x=0.311, y=0.323) at a 20 IRE window and 6475K (x=0.313, y=0.333) at 80 IRE. This is near ideal, though using the F8500 white balance controls we got it even closer to the D6500K standard. Out of the box, it’s worth noting, the staircase test pattern looked very neutral.
Color points were close but not exactly to the Rec. 709 standard with the factory defaults: Red was x-=0.628 y=0.334 (Rec. 709 red x=0.64 y=0.33), green was x=0.302 y=0.561 (x=0.30 y=0.60), and blue was x=0.153 y=0.064 (x=0.15 y=0.06). The color management system permits adjusting the F8500 to get the TV closer to this HDTV standard.
White and color uniformity is excellent. The panel does emit a slight buzz on bright scenes, however we could only hear it from 5-6 feet when our central air conditioning and refrigerator’s compressor are off and the soundtrack was dialog with no music or background music.
Power consumption using the IEC test disc came in at 309 watts after calibration.
The F8500 3D performance was very good with just the slightest amount of crosstalk on our reference disc. The brightness was outstanding with the most intense picture we’ve ever encountered on any active 3D full HD plasma.
Using FIOS cable and Blu-ray discs produced excellent images under a wide variety of ambient room lighting levels. The combination of deep detailed neutral blacks and very bright whites is quite compelling. The Blu-ray disc of Open Road has many outdoor night scenes. On the F8500, all were very well detailed with excellent uniformity and a complete lack of the muddiness often observed on edge lit LED LCDs. At 1:18:27, the headlights on David’s Jeep were brilliant against the outdoor campsite. This combination of high light output and deep dark detailed blacks is very compelling and addictive.
The Samsung PN60F8500 is the best Samsung HDTV we’ve ever reviewed. Its spectacular performance places it in the stratosphere of the finest 2013 HDTVs, and therefore, by extension, one of the best-looking TVs ever. Due to the aforementioned combination of deep inky blacks coupled with its very high brightness level and excellent AR filter; the Samsung F8500 achieves our top rating. HD Guru awards the Samsung PN60F8500.
Disclosure: The Samsung PN60F8500 reviewed is a manufacturer supplied production sample.
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