Need to buy a gift for somebody who loves technology but you can’t afford the big ticket items?
Samsung Series 8 (PS59D8000) 3D plasma TV
Samsung's best plasma has 3D, Smart TV and a thin design
- Excellent picture quality
- Great design
- Impressive sound quality from a thin TV
- The Series 6 might be slightly better value
- EPG is slow to load and navigate
The 2011 edition of Samsung's Series 8 plasma is, as we'd expected, an impressive piece of technology. Its sound and visuals are great, and the inclusion of various 'Smart TV' features makes the Series 8 a useful multimedia device as well as a traditional TV. The built-in Web browser isn't perfect and we'd definitely prefer a notebook if one was close to hand, and some of the features are a little imperfect, but the Series is is nonetheless a big step forward from the featureless TVs of a couple of years ago.
Price$ 3,499.00 (AUD)
The Samsung Series 8 (PS59D8000) is a 59in 3D plasma TV that builds on the high quality and impressive performance of last year's Series 7 plasma. It's got an excellent plasma panel and can display a great deal of detail from Full HD video, with almost no loss of detail in dark and bright scenes. We're still not sold on the 3D, but it's better than last year's attempt. Similarly, the Smart TV features aren't perfect but they provide a distraction to mundane digital TV.
Samsung Series 8 (PS59D8000): Design
Samsung was onto a good thing when it debuted its new TV designs last year — twelve months on, they don't look outdated. The Series 8 has an all-metal bezel and the same four-legged stand that last year's Samsungs impressed us with (though we did sense some inspiration from Loewe, whose Individual TVs have a similar cross-style stand).
The Series 8's bezel is only around an inch thick around the entire TV display, and if you're viewing from more than a couple of metres away it doesn't stand out at all. Samsung says that the thin bezel has allowed an increase in screen size of an inch without increasing the overall size of the TV — thus the 59in display size instead of the more common 58in.
Worth mentioning early is Samsung's nifty new remote control. Combining regular TV remote controls on one side with a QWERTY keyboard and five-way directional pad on the other, it's available to purchase individually but should come bundled with Series 8 and Series 7 sets. It's a god-send when you're typing addresses into the Web browser and is simple to use with good tactile feedback. It's also unexpectedly dense once batteries are in — useful for clobbering an unruly house-guest in a pinch.
Samsung Series 8 (PS59D8000): Connectivity
As you'd expect, the Samsung Series 8 doesn't leave out anything on the connectivity front. Four HDMI 1.4-compliant ports are arranged across the TV’s rear and side, as are composite, component and VGA. Wi-Fi is built in on the Samsung Series 8 and Series 7 LED and plasma TVs.
Ideally, we'd want at least one more USB port on the Series 8 — this means you could plug in the Skype webcam as well as a couple of USB flash drives. Otherwise, the Samsung Series 8 has everything we see as important in a high-end TV.
Samsung Series 8 (PS59D8000): Setup and interface
We ran through a short setup procedure involving a digital TV channel scan and wireless network setup, both of which were completed in less than five minutes. The menu is generally easy to browse and can be clearly seen from several metres away.
Our chief criticism of the Samsung Series 8's menu is the electronic program guide. It takes almost thirty seconds to start up for the first time, and switching between channels is a slightly tedious process thanks to the live channel preview. It's still acceptable to use, but it's slower than competitors' offerings.
Samsung Series 8 (PS59D8000): Smart TV
Samsung's Smart Hub is the go-to menu for accessing all the Series 8's Web features. Using a similar grid layout to last year's TVs, the on-screen menu is vaguely reminiscent of a smartphone — we were getting hints of iOS and Android as we downloaded and installed apps. The apps range from quite fun but slightly useless (finding yourself on Google Earth on a big screen feels very CSI) to useful but of questionable value — watching Twitter update while you're watching #masterchef might be fun, but we feel like it would be easier on a notebook.
What makes Smart TV great is the range of video on demand services. BigPond Movies on Demand offers plenty of movies at high quality levels. The use of adaptive bit-rate streaming is a coup for Samsung, as it lets downloaded movies start near-instantaneously and ramp up quality based on the bandwidth available. Other apps like ABC iView also extend the content available beyond digital TV or Blu-ray.
The Search All feature also left a positive impression. We connected the Samsung Series 8 to our test centre's 802.11n wireless network, which also has at least a dozen notebooks or PCs connected at any time. Search All was able to quickly find the content we looked for, as well as polling YouTube for any relevant online clips — typing in 'trailer' found all the Apple movie trailers shared on a nearby Apple MacBook Pro, as well as a somewhat eclectic variety of YouTube videos.
The integrated Web browser works almost like a PC’s — it displays Web pages with no drama, and HTML5 and Flash elements are displayed perfectly. We did miss the convenience of navigating with a mouse or a trackpad, but you can enable a pointer and control it using the remote’s directional pad as a stopgap measure.
Samsung Series 8 (PS59D8000):2D and 3D picture quality
Everything we said about the picture quality of the Series 7 plasma from 2010 rings true here. Its off-axis viewing angles are excellent, with no colour wash-out or loss of clarity if you’re watching from off centre. Like last year’s Samsung plasmas we prefer the image on the Series 8 once judder and motion compensation are disabled — these sometimes lend an artificially smooth look to video. Motion is very well handled by the Samsung Series 8, and as a plasma there’s no messing around with 100Hz or 200Hz frame rate simulation.
Black levels on the Series 8 are a little better than last year’s Samsung plasmas could manage. The Series 8’s screen still isn’t able to hit an entirely black level though. If you’re in a completely dark room you’ll be able to see a small amount of light in dark areas, but blacks are otherwise deep and won’t be an issue during movie watching. We found the colour of the Series 8 to be excellent even in the default Movie mode, with no over-saturation and vibrant and warm colour tones.
The Samsung Series 8’s 3D picture quality is a small improvement on last year’s offering. We ran through Coraline and Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs in 3D and noticed a small amount of blurry cross-talk, especially during fast motion scenes. Unless you’re searching for it, it’s not an intrusive issue. The 2D to 3D conversion mode means you can watch any video in faux-3D, but we found its appeal limited — some things just don’t look good in 3D, and the effect often looks unrealistic when applied to low-resolution content like DVDs.
Samsung Series 8 (PS59D8000): Conclusion
Samsung's Series 8 3D plasma TV is an excellent all-round TV. Its picture quality is impressive and there are no major problems we could find with 2D playback apart from the black level. It is able to display content clearly and with good levels of colour and detail. 3D isn’t perfect but it’s slightly better than last year’s offering.
The new Smart Hub features are a nice inclusion, even if a lot of the apps will see only occasional use. The Web browser's fully-fledged Flash abilities make it seem like a PC-based browsing environment rather than a cut-down mobile one. We also found the Search All feature to be an excellent feature.
The Series 8’s accessible price also deserves recognition. A television of this size and specification would have easily cost over $5000 less than two years ago, whereas we think it won't be long until this Series 8 is sitting on store shelves for less than $3000. However, if Web features aren’t important the Series 6 will be better value. The Samsung Series 8 plasma comes highly recommended.
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