Samsung PS51D6900 3D Plasma TV Review

Standard Definition

The Samsung D6900 plasma TV shares the same strengths and weaknesses as the cheaper D550 when it comes to standard definition video processing, which unfortunately means that it suffers from unusually blurry Standard-Def processing. When we input our SMPTE RP133 resolution test chart, we spotted the same blurry image with visible ringing around edges. Outputting standard definition progressive video (for example, from a Nintendo Wii, or from a Progressive Scan DVD player) brought about a small improvement, but the clarity was still underwhelming. As usual, the effects of this poor scaling performance with real-world content were less visible, although we do recommend users with large SD DVD collections (and that’s probably a good number of us!) invest in a high quality upconverting DVD (or better yet, Blu-ray) player to sidestep the PS51D6900′s own SD processing.

The rest of the SD performance was good, with diagonal flickering being concealed effectively during deinterlacing, and film mode detection working properly for both 2-2 PAL films and the 3-2 NTSC format. In other words, watching films on standard definition TV (or imported DVDs on a non-upconverting DVD player) will be a satisfyingly jaggy-free experience.

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High Definition

For some time now, Samsung LCD, LED LCD and Plasma models have been performing video noise reduction on all sources, with limited control over this sometimes damaging video processing being given to the user (we prefer to see films looking like films, rather than smoothed-over video camera material, and we frequently tell Samsung that we think the choice should always be with the user). In the past, we’ve found this so intrusive that we often use their HDTVs’ “Game Mode” options (which cuts out as much processing as possible to make video gaming more responsive) to side-step the unwanted tinkering.

With the Samsung PS51D6900, there’s bad news and good news. The good news is that with this HDTV, it IS possible to watch HD content without forced noise reduction without resorting to using the “Game Mode”. This means that we could make use of the useful 10-point White Balance control, which becomes inaccessible inside Game Mode. The bad news is that when we reviewed it, the 51D6900 still suffered from a bug whereby the [Digital Noise Filter] setting sometimes turned itself on without the user’s consent, despite appearing as “Off” in the menu. We found that the Noise Filter would turn itself back on after changing inputs, and even frame rates. For example, if you’re watching a Blu-ray Disc which has 60hz trailers or menus at the beginning and set the noise filter Off, the D6900 will silently re-enable it when the 24hz film begins playing, requiring another trip into the menu. This meant that we got used to entering the menu, changing the option to “Low”, and then to “Off” again, to (temporarily) kill the unwanted processing.

We checked for a firmware update for this issue, but our Samsung PS51D6900 review sample reported that it was already running the latest software version, so we hope that the company will fix this issue. In the mean time, users who find this annoying can resort to “Game Mode” as before (although they should keep in mind that this mode does feature a tiny amount of non-optional sharpening being added to the picture).

Update: as it happens, Samsung has posted new firmware for the D6900 3D plasma, which appeared on their web site the same day we returned our review unit to them. As such, we haven’t had the chance to check what the firmware fixes, but we’d imagine that this issue has been solved, as it has been on all of the other Samsung HDTV sets we’ve investigated recently.

Wall-E

We were very happy indeed with the picture quality (especially after calibration) from the Samsung PS51D6900. As usual, watching 2D Blu-ray material on a large screen, high quality Plasma TV such as this is one of the best home cinema experiences we can imagine, outside of a considerably more expensive (and not always practical) projection set-up. Black and white material appeared completely monochromatic, without any unwanted colour tints, as a result of the perfect Greyscale tracking we achieved with the 10-point calibration option. Modern content also looked sublime, with very natural colours, almost no panel-generated “plasma noise” coating the image, and no motion artefacting worth mentioning. And of course, as a Plasma display, there are no obvious screen uniformity or viewing angle issues. We didn’t spot any phosphor trailing, either, although users who are new to Plasma sometimes see the occasional coloured flash when moving their eyes around whilst watching the television more than long-time users.

The only last point of contention to note is the “brightness pops” issue which has also been reported by some users. We spotted some subtle flickering in the picture at specific points during one of our test discs (as we did with the PS51D550) whilst using the “Cinema Smooth” mode. Turning this mode off solved the issue during our testing, but of course, resulted in motion judder due to the 60hz output frame rate. We hope Samsung will investigate this and solve it.

Wall-E screenshot 2

Console Gaming

We were delighted to see that the Samsung PS51D6900′s input lag was just as low as the D550 Plasma we reviewed previously. While reviewing that display, we discovered that the HDMI1 input actually results in faster performance than the others, since it’s possible to enable “PC” mode with this input (to do this, bring up the “Source” menu, select HDMI1/DVI > Tools > Edit Name > PC). In “PC” mode, the 51D6900 offered an ultra-slick, buttery-smooth gaming experience thanks to just 16ms of lag. Outside of “PC” mode, the lag was 31ms, which is just on the right side of acceptability, but does alter the feel of some games.

Image retention is still an issue with the D6900, although it’s definitely lessened when compared to Samsung Plasmas from just a few years ago. We spotted shadows of on-screen score counters lingering around after gaming sessions, and to be honest, we wish game developers would take more care and allow Plasma owners to make the on-screen displays transparent, to avoid this annoyance. As usual, none of the residual images were permanent, and disappeared over time with normal usage. Would we like to say that the PS51D6900 will be entirely free of burn in? No, because it’s still a phosphor-driven display, and we recommend that users do take some care, as usual. Samsung does include a scrolling bar image in the TV, which can be left running to accelerate the fading of any persistent images.

Conclusion

The PS51D6900 is another easily recommendable Plasma TV from Samsung. We’re delighted that the Korean manufacturer has been improving its Plasma televisions so much recently – last year we had the feeling that the company had forgotten about this display technology, and was concentrating solely on LED LCD TVs. The D6900 is a highly capable 51-inch plasma 3D television with calibration options galore, excellent picture quality by just about any measure, and Smart TV internet capability, all for around £850 online. A bargain? We think so.

Compared to the D550 model we tested last month, the PS51D6900 is a worthwhile upgrade, especially for owners who’ll make good use of its Smart TV functions. For those who won’t, its slightly superior black level and apparently improved screen coating are nothing to sniff at, either.

Highly Recommended

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