Samsung PS51E490 3D Plasma TV Review

Benchmark Test Results

Dead pixels None
Screen uniformity Perfect
Overscanning on HDMI 0% with [Picture Size] set to “Screen Fit”
Blacker than black Passed
Calibrated black level (black screen) 0.032 cd/m2 (60hz), 0.047 (50hz)
Calibrated black level (ANSI checkerboard) 0.065 cd/m2 (all modes)
Black level retention Well disguised fluctuations, very subtle
Primary chromaticity Good
Scaling Excellent
Video mode deinterlacing Very effective jaggies reduction
Film mode deinterlacing Passed 2-2 PAL and 3-2 NTSC tests
Viewing angle Perfect
Motion resolution Excellent
Digital noise reduction Forced noise reduction except in Game Mode
Sharpness Defeatable edge enhancement
Luma/Chroma bandwidth (2D Blu-ray) Chroma resolution higher in Game Mode
Image retention Very little
Posterization Very little
Phosphor trails Very mild
1080p/24 capability 24p video shows judder, 60hz output
Input lag 16ms compared to lag-free CRT
Full 4:4:4 reproduction (PC) N/A, native panel res has non-square pixels

Power Consumption

Default [Standard] mode (2D) 156 watts
Default [Standard] mode (3D) 186 watts
Calibrated [Movie] mode (2D) 151 watts
Calibrated [Movie] mode (3D) 196 watts
Standby 1 watt

Black Level

The Samsung PS51E490′s black level, and indeed, its overall contrast performance, is probably one of its strongest points. With the 60hz panel output mode, which is used for 24p input from Blu-ray, and naturally, for 60hz input from US sources and console games, blacks measure at 0.03 cd/m2 on a dark screen, which is very good going. Like most of Samsung’s flat-panel TVs, the screen turns itself off completely with a black screen, so measuring this value needed us to trick it into turning on by placing a few white pixels on screen (safely away from the area being measured, we add).

The 100hz output mode, which is used to present European 50hz sources without flicker, is slightly worse at 0.047 cd/m2. That’s still miles ahead of IPS LCD televisions, which make up a good proportion of budget HDTVs, though. The centremost black patch on an ANSI contrast checkerboard measured at 0.065 cd/m2 at both refresh rates, indicating that the PS51E490 lets go of some contrast performance during mixed scenes with brighter areas. Thanks to the way our brains interpret images, this isn’t really obvious with real usage, although if you watch the letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the screen with scope ratio films, you’ll maybe notice some well disguised fluctuation.

Motion Resolution

The PS51E490′s motion performance is good on the whole, but just keep in mind that as a 1024×768 resolution display, dithering noise will be more visible than on a 1920×1080 screen, owed to the larger pixels. Not only this, but the driving mode is somewhat different to the 1080p Samsung plasmas: on the horizontally scrolling motion resolution test from the FPD Benchmark BD test disc, for example, all of the black lines and numbers were surrounded by a good 1cm (on the 51″ panel) or so of dither during the scroll, which is more than we’ve seen on 1080p plasma displays. Plasma and LCD both have their own ways of artefacting during fast motion, and we think most people will prefer the slight noise on a plasma to the more severe motion blur of a non-100hz/200hz LCD.

Standard Definition

The Samsung PS51E490 handled SD content well, presenting crisp, clean scaling when a 576i SMPTE RP-133 test pattern was input. Diagonal interpolation was also very good indeed, with almost no jaggies making their way to the screen (most manufacturers have this sorted out by this stage). And, fortunately, the 51E490′s film mode detection for PAL video signals is rock solid, meaning that film material transferred to the PAL format (European TV) played back with full vertical resolution and no jaggedness.

With all this in mind, we really couldn’t ask for anything more, at least not at this price point. The E490 showed some of the most sympathetic renditions of overcompressed UK digital TV channels that we’ve seen in a while.

High Definition

With its 1024×768 resolution, the PS51E490 is some way off being able to display all the details present in a 1080p HD source, although it can resolve almost all of a 720p image. If you plan mainly on watching 1080p content from Blu-ray, stepping up to a 1080p television is advisable. We often hear people claim that there is no point in buying a 1080p display if you’ll only be watching 1080i content from broadcast HDTV sources, which is half-true.

In fact, 1080i content has the same static resolution as 1080p, with the quality of moving areas depending on the quality of the in-TV deinterlacing. However, 1080i content on broadcast TV is typically pre-filtered to remove fine details (allowing for lower bit rates, and more channels to be squashed into a smaller space), meaning that the loss imposed by a display with less than 1920×1080 resolution is not as bad as it is with full-bandwidth 1080-line video (which can be found on nearly all Blu-ray Discs).

Since there is no 768-line video distribution format, this means that every single signal input to the Samsung PS51E490 (properly configured PC games notwithstanding) is going to end up being scaled in one way or another.

We started with 1080p input from Blu-ray Disc. Sending 720p would incur a needless penalty of 48 lines, probably not enough to make a visible difference, but worth avoiding all the same. By default, this resulted in an incredibly harsh image, which owed to the PS51E490′s default [Sharpness] setting. Once again, make sure it’s set low (no higher than single digits) unless you want to see aliasing on detailed, high-frequency areas (think chain-link fences, textured shirts, pin-stripe clothes, and so on).

There used to be a lot of debate online about whether or not 1080p resolution panels would show any improvement over the “HD Ready” variety, such as the PS51E490. The answer is yes, they absolutely do. Resolution isn’t everything, but the fact is that lower resolution panels show a less detailed image, with a higher risk of aliasing artefacts. Additionally, people often forget that dither noise will be more visible with a lower-resolution panel. These effects are more visible at larger screen sizes, and will obviously be more apparent the closer you sit to the screen. None of this is to say that the Samsung PS-51E490 is a bad performer, in fact, given what’s on offer for the price, less-than-1080p resolution is not too bad a compromise – but nobody should pretend that it isn’t a compromise.

One thing to note about the E490 is that it does not have a 24p output mode. While the TV can accept a 24p input from Blu-ray without any difficulty, the panel output refresh rate is 60hz, which results in judder. This didn’t bother us too much, because the judder is fairly light and also rhythmical (rather than irregular). Samsung plasma TVs usually have a “Cinema Smooth” mode tucked away under the [Film Mode] menu, but on the PS51E490, this option is absent, and the [Film Mode] menu only contains controls with relate to film mode deinterlacing of interlaced video formats.

24p signals are usually output by plasma televisions at 96hz (24p x 4 = 96hz) to show a flicker-free image with smooth motion. The strangest thing is that the Samsung PS51E490 does support 100hz output of 50hz PAL format video (European broadcast TV). Do those 4hz really make all the difference? To us, that seems unlikely – we’re guessing that Samsung have left a 24p mode out of the PS51E490 for cost reasons.

Like most Samsung HDTVs, the PS51E490 applies noise reduction to images at all times, which can change the film grain texture of high quality film scans. We’ve written about this at length in our other Samsung reviews, so won’t repeat the lecture. We could really do without this, seeing as fine textures from 1080p sources will be less visible due to the lower panel resolution. Fortunately, enabling the “Game Mode” and making corrections to the default blue-tinted, over-saturated preset picture settings turned off this unwanted feature. Although entering the Game Mode usually disables some of the more advanced calibration features, the entry-level PS51E490 doesn’t have those anyway, so there’s nothing to lose.

On the whole, we were happy with the Samsung E490′s picture quality, although the lack of smooth 24p output seems strange. Images were suitably natural after calibration, although as we mentioned previously, they appeared slightly too red before we did this, which is a shame given that few people will pay to have a budget display calibrated. When run alongside a reference display, the PS51E490′s colour inaccuracies were visible, although not blatantly detrimental. The most obvious examples were grass and trees, which appeared slightly rich and tropical due to the oversaturated green primary. Night-time scenes that have been stylised with a purple tint by the filmmakers appeared slightly more teal on the 51E490.

Console Gaming

We tend to find that entry-level TVs feature excellent, lag-free gaming performance, with more expensive models being bogged down by additional video processing, which appears to negatively affect lag even when disabled. The Samsung PS51E490 didn’t surprise us here with only 16ms more input lag compared to a CRT display, in the Game Mode (although we didn’t measure it, the standard mode didn’t feel any laggier).

Conclusion

Although its lower-than-usual resolution (and yes, we can say that now that nearly every HDTV on the market is 1920×1080!) doesn’t allow it to reproduce the same detail as a 1920×1080 panel, and although it lacks a 96hz output mode for judder-free Blu-ray playback, the Samsung PS51E490 is priced lowly enough, and gets enough else right, to warrant a recommendation. Samsung’s PS51E550 can be had for roughly over £100 more, which may be a worthwhile up-sell for users who predominantly watch movie material (hopefully we’ll get the chance to have a good look at one soon). However, for users on tighter budgets, especially those who want an affordable, fast display for console video gaming, then the PS51E490 is a good choice.

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