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Sammy PS50Q97HDX Picture Quality

by Vincent Teoh
24 May 2007

Standard Definition

I've often been caught spewing the all-too-easily-ignored advice of putting enough distance between yourself and your HDTV depending on your screen size and source material to avoid excessive pixelation and video artifacts, but even I'm surprised at how competently the Samsung PS50Q97HDXBuy this for £617.47 at Dixons
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handled standard definition content. You may remember from my Sharp LC46XD1E review that I had to adopt a sitting distance of 12 feet before I was happy with SD viewing, but with the larger PS50Q97 I could stay put at 8 feet and not complain, mostly thanks to its lower native resolution of 1366 x 768.

Freeview Digital TV

I'm normally much less critical when watching Freeview, simply because there's so much variation in broadcast quality, not to mention unavoidable video compression over a limited bandwidth which introduces a host of artifacts. Even then the digital TV channels on the Samsung PS50Q97HDXBuy this for £617.47 at Dixons
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exceeded my expectations. I was half expecting to be greeted by more pixelation, mosquito noise, jaggies and the likes due to larger screen size, but the non-1080 native resolution seemed to "soften up" these artifacts without too much sacrifice in detail, resulting in a more than acceptable picture from my normal sitting distance of 8 feet away.

Surfing through the channels, I quickly observed the relative lack of posterisation (a.k.a. false contouring) compared to Panasonic panels. The combination of overcompressed MPEG signals and low bit-rate transmission usually meant "banding galore" on Panasonic plasmas, but the Samsung PS50Q97HDXBuy this for £617.47 at Dixons
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handled this with aplomb, painting tonal gradations in largely seamless continuity rather than discrete chunks of colour banding.

In addition to the quoted 16-bit colour depth, the PS50Q97HDX seemed to employ a fair amount of low-level dithering to minimise posterisation. Up close this may be interpreted as digital noise, but sit back far enough and you won't even notice it. It's a case of trade-off between more dithering noise and more colour banding... if you asked me I'd probably prefer to put up with the former.

Freeview StripteaseStriptease Demi Moore thumbnailDemi Moore

Hardly the type of film I would put on to wow a film critic, but as Striptease was showing on Channel 4 and then looped on E4 it became my test material. The mediocrity of the movie transfer and broadcast bit-rate was perhaps surpassed only by the painfully ridiculous plot and Demi Moore's dire acting (gorgeous physique though), but the Samsung PS50Q97HDXBuy this for £617.47 at Dixons
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did a respectable job of making it an entirely watchable affair.

As the film changed direction from drama to comedy to action to thriller (the director seemed intent on scooping up the "worst film" awards in each of these genre), the Samsung PS50Q97HDXBuy this for £617.47 at Dixons
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never missed a beat in delivering a balanced picture with no noticeable colour push. Copious amounts of blacks was on offer as well, adding a dash of oomph to the whole image.

"Dark greys disappearing into a black hole" is an unsavoury reputation that has lingered over Samsung plasmas of the past, but this is fast becoming history if a calibrated Samsung PS50Q97HDXBuy this for £617.47 at Dixons
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is anything to go by. Shadow-detail-wise, the sequence where Erin's (Demi Moore) ex-husband swerved in and out of the highway lanes by driving absolutely stoned and drunk at night was as revealing as Demi Moore's surgically-perfected body in the movie.

High Definition

Satellite HD

After seven years of exile, the FA Cup final finally returned to its spiritual home at the new Wembley stadium on 19 May 2007. It's just a shame that the match that was subsequently played out between Manchester United and Chelsea was utterly uninspiring and unbefitting of this momentous occasion. Ah well, at least it meant that I could pay more attention to assessing the performance of Samsung PS50Q97HDXBuy this for £617.47 at Dixons
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.

Mourinho thumbnailMourinho FA Cup thumbnailFA Cup

Let's start with colour temperature. Some readers may wonder why we have always tried to calibrate to 6500k (or D65 to be more exact). Put simply, it is the colour temperature to which studio broadcast monitors have been calibrated, and is generally taken to be average noon sunlight where colours can be evaluated most accurately. It is on these D65 monitors that directors and film producers make any image correction before releasing the film, so calibrating our own HDTVs to D65 will allow us to see a picture that is as close to possible to what the film makers intended us to see.

And footage of a football game held in the afternoon provided as good a template as any for judging the colour temperature compliance on the Samsung PS50Q97HDXBuy this for £617.47 at Dixons
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. The post- calibration D65 greyscale shone through here: the intervals when the sun broke through the clouds to shower its rays on the field and the players' faces were portrayed with a harmonious sense of authenticity that would not have been possible had a greyscale deviation been present.

On to motion. Now you would expect a plasma to render fast action sport fluidly, and for the most part the Samsung PS50Q97HDXBuy this for £617.47 at Dixons
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did so outstandingly. But once in a while during the FA Cup final the ball would suddenly undergo tearing and develop jaggies, distorting the shape of the ball. Also, amid these instances judder would be introduced... as if the whole screen shook for just a second.

At first I thought this was classic combing, but on reflection the Samsung PS50Q97HDXBuy this for £617.47 at Dixons
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did not perform so badly in the video deinterlacing tests to explain such an erroneous real-world artifact (on a high definition source no less). Further analysis revealed that not the whole trajectory of the ball was affected (this would have been the case if it was indeed combing): the tearing and judder only occurred when the ball went past the crowd. I have attempted to capture this on video here.

Before you blame it on the source, I have seen and confirmed this very same artifact on other material, including the Champions League final on ITV and golf programmes. In the latter, as the camera tracked golf balls travelling through the air during tee shots, a ball would maintain perfect shape across the blue sky, but break up and stutter once it went past the woods on the way down. Enabling and disabling all the picture processing in the user menu of PS50Q97HDX including DNIe, DNR and Movie Plus made no difference. Of course, all these may only be specific to my review unit.

To me this looks like a processing issue: the Samsung PS50Q97HDXBuy this for £617.47 at Dixons
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seemed to have difficulty differentiating between the ball and the crowd/ the trees, leading to flawed motion rendering. After reading Samsung's specification sheet, the most likely culprit could be "Real Motion Studio", "Movie Mode" (is this the same as Movie Plus?), "Silhouette Editor", or a combination of any of these. I am in contact with Samsung about this problem... hopefully all that is needed is a simple service menu adjustment or a firmware upgrade.

HD DVD

Luthor thumbnailLex Luthor Superman thumbnailSuperman

Man, I'm a sucker for superhero movies. For all the criticism Superman Returns received, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the HD DVD on Samsung PS50Q97HDXBuy this for £617.47 at Dixons
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. The opening score – masterfully composed by John Williams, and perhaps one of the greatest soundtracks of all time – was enough to flood me with emotional nostalgia. And for those of you who are eager to point out the loopholes in the script, this is originally a comic FFS... anything is possible within the realm of fantasy. Here are my outrageous explanations for a couple of the more outlandish moments in the movie:

  • How was Superman able to lift a whole landmass of Kryptonite into space? Shouldn't it render him powerless? Well, he first boosted his superpowers by absorbing ample amount of energy from the sun. In case you didn't realise, Kryptonians only gain superpowers when exposed to our sun and Earth's lower gravity; that is why they were powerless on their own planet Krypton, and most died when it exploded.

    Superman then plunged himself deep into the landmass and lifted a layer of normal Earth beneath the Kryptonite landmass so that there was still a barrier between the dangerous material and himself. Also, when Lex Luthor stabbed him with a Kryptonite shard, its presence in his bloodstream quickly induced production and release of Super-antibodies which granted him relative immunity later on.

  • Most people wonder how Lois Lane was able to pass off the child she conceived with Superman as Richard's (her current fiancé). Have things happened at a lightning pace since Superman slept with her in the Fortress of Solitude? i.e. Superman disappearing in a hurry to search for the remnants of his home planet Krypton; and Lois finding (and having sex with) a new man in no time?

    A more plausible reasoning would be that Superman's Super-sperms were capable of surviving inside Lois' womb for much longer than human sperms would. It remained dormant until Richard's arrived, co-impregnating Lois. In a sense the child is the progeny of Superman, Richard and Lois (ugh)... that's why his superpowers are fleeting.
Kryptonite Lois Lane

But I digress, let's get back to Samsung PS50Q97HDXBuy this for £617.47 at Dixons
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. To be honest I don't think the HD DVD transfer of Superman Returns is up to the standard of most other recent releases. It (the disc, not the TV) somehow lacks the detailed clarity that I've come to associate with high definition content, and exhibits noticeable grain (in darkness) and even posterisation in underwater scenes. Just to reiterate, these quirks on the HD DVD have been confirmed by enthusiasts on other forums... I don't believe the TV is at fault here.

Still, the Samsung PS50Q97HDXBuy this for £617.47 at Dixons
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made the best of what was fed to it, with the sheer size of this 50-inch plasma screen contributing to an immersive visual experience. Motion handling was first-rate: the exhilarating plane rescue sequence was delivered with free-flowing fluidity, although there remained a hint of blurring that I understand has been introduced intentionally by the director to inject a feeling of fast-looming catastrophe. I specifically looked out for the tearing and stutter I encountered when watching football, and fortunately could not see any on this film material.

The few moments where Superman hovered ruminatively above Earth – with his burgundy cape flapping slowly and stylishly against a backdrop of galactic stars – showed off the plasma's deep blacks and enlightening shadow detail. And even though it's not spot on, flesh tone never veered too far away from realism.


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