Samsung PS60E6500 Plasma 3D TV Review

Image Retention

Just a couple of years ago, Samsung’s plasma TVs would easily retain images, sometimes after only a couple of seconds. In fact, even the “SAMSUNG” branded screen saver would leave faint marks on screen. None of this temporary image sticking was ever permanent in our experience, but it could be annoying. How times change – the Korean manufacturer has now reached the top spot in this category. While the Panasonic plasmas aren’t what we’d class as bad from this standpoint, we do encounter faint after-images of channel logos and video game score counters on those displays, which usually clear up after an hour or so.

We simply couldn’t get the PS60E6500 to show any obvious retention. Even after hours of displaying the BBC News channel – which features a permanent logo featuring a frankly irresponsible mix of white on solid red – the E6500 didn’t show a trace of retention, not even after we displayed low-brightness flat test screens and scrutinised every inch of the panel in a darkened room. We did find that grey test screens sometimes revealed slightly uneven greyscale mixing in different parts of the screen – for example, a slightly reddish tint in areas that had been covered with side-bars after watching old 4:3 format TV shows – but this wasn’t visible with actual content, and is much better than image retention in the form of channel logos or score counters.

The performance here is remarkable, and for that reason the Samsung PS60E6500 is likely to find favour with gamers, or with families with children who enjoy watching satellite/cable channels featuring thoughtlessly designed permanent on-screen graffiti. It’s only natural that owners of an expensive HDTV will want to err on the side of caution, though. (Here’s an idea – what if broadcasters actually start respecting their viewers’ equipment if they want to stop losing them to other non-graffitied content sources, such as Netflix?)

The American branch of Cnet came to similar conclusions about the Samsung’s ability to avoid retention during their (accidental) tests, which you can read about over on Cnet.com. While that article uses the terms “burn in” and “image retention” somewhat interchangeably, we tend to refer to “image retention” as temporary image persistence, and “burn in” to mean permanent damage – something that we’ve thankfully never come face to face with on a Plasma TV. (In fact, the only actually burned plasmas we’ve seen are some older models in airports which have shown “ARRIVALS” and “DEPARTURES” all day, every day for many years without a break).

We deliberately put this at the top of the Picture Performance section, because we think the Samsung PS60E6500′s performance in this area is a big deal. Image retention is often cited as the main reason to avoid buying a Plasma television. While we think the issue is often blown out of proportion and confused with permanent screen burn, there’s no denying that it’s an annoyance we’d rather be without. The fact that Samsung has produced a plasma display which is, for most reasonable purposes, free of this issue, is an outstanding achievement.

Black Level

Minimum luminance level – the darkest black the panel is capable of putting out – has traditionally been an in-depth subject on Samsung plasma televisions. Measurements have proven that the larger screen sizes have deeper blacks, and traditionally, the black levels have also been poorer depending on the specifics of what you’re watching. The Samsung E6500 dispenses with those issues and provides a very deep, but not class-leading black level.

Like a lot of LCD displays, the PS60E6500 plasma “cheats” by shutting the panel off completely when a black screen is input. We defeated this trick by keeping our Blu-ray player’s Pause icon on-screen during measurements. First, we checked the “Cinema Smooth” output mode, which will be the go-to mode for film lovers, since it provides judder-free, cinema-like motion with 24p Blu-ray movies. By default, Samsung plasmas output 24hz films at 60hz, which causes motion judder. The fact that the option has to be selected at all has its roots in the fact that previous Samsung PDPs had poorer black level performance in the “Cinema Smooth” mode, but the performance discrepancy is no more with the E6500.

In all modes, the Samsung PS60E6500 managed a suitably and consistently deep black level of about 0.020 cd/m2 (with 60hz signals, it actually rose marginally to 0.023 cd/m2, but this is invisible to the eye). This isn’t quite as good as this year’s Panasonic plasma displays (at 0.009 cd/m2), but it’s still excellent. These are the deepest black levels we’ve seen on a Samsung plasma, and are considerably better to the eye than the 0.04 cd/m2 we measured with on last year’s high-end Samsung PS64D8000.

We measured the same 0.02 cd/m2 from the middle of the ANSI checkerboard test chart, too, which is excellent. It’s worth stating for readers used to LCD TVs, that plasma displays reproduce deep, inky blacks with all picture content and on a pixel-by-pixel basis, without resorting to screen dimming tricks to try and give the illusion of better contrast performance.

Bright Room Performance

The panel is coated with Samsung’s “Real Black Pro” anti-reflective coating, which is very effective at preserving contrast performance even in bright environments. The anti-reflective filter slightly betters Panasonic’s “Infinite Black Pro”, which is found on the ST50 and GT50 plasma TVs from the Japanese manufacturer: Samsung’s “Real Black Pro” holds onto blacks better, and the screen actually remains black in the presence of ambient light, rather than the slight greeny-blue tinge that appears on the Panasonic. We’d have to see one side by side, but we imagine Panasonic’s flagship VT50, with its “Infinite Black Ultra” filter, will be a match for the E6500.

The PS60E6500′s performance here is outstanding, and means that this HDTV will appeal to some users with brighter rooms who have been unable to accommodate plasmas in the past. However, if the display is in an environment without darkness (in this climate, not likely), LED LCD is still a better choice, since the latter can produce an even brighter image with smaller power requirements.

Floating Blacks and Brightness Pops

Some users have complained about “brightness pops” on Samsung plasma televisions, and we can confirm that this mild annoyance is present on the PS60E6500. The phrase describes a quirk where the screen will appear to shift brightness levels during some brighter scenes, and as far as we can tell, it’s caused by Samsung’s implementation of automatic brightness limiting, a feature inherent to plasma display technology.

We put it to scientific testing. First, we created our own simple test sequence to reproduce the issue: a fully white screen which slowly dims into full black, then back to full white again. Then we played the clip in the 96hz “Cinema Smooth” mode, the 60hz mode, and also on a Panasonic TX-P50ST50 plasma, which outputs 24p signals at 96hz, and used our Klein K-10 meter to measure the luminance output from the screen approximately five times per second.

ABL behaviour on Samsung and Panasonic plasma TVs

By eye, we observed that when played back on a Panasonic plasma, the fade to black was smooth, whereas on the Samsung PS60E6500, during the first few seconds of the fade, the brightness would skip back and forth near the beginning of the fade. This is clearly visible in the chart (circled area), and as we saw by eye, the same transition in reverse (dark to bright) did not produce visible “pops”. By comparison, Panasonic’s ABL behaviour was much better disguised, and caused the brightness to slope off smoothly. As you can see from the green line, Panasonic’s 50″ ST50 was also brighter than the E6500.

The good news is that we didn’t actually see this issue with real film content during testing, but of course, if it’s there in a test sequence, it’s possible that it will show up. We’re sure that users will report it eventually.

As for floating blacks, those are here too, but they’re well disguised to the extent that they shouldn’t prove distracting. During a letterboxed film, if we paid attention to the black bars, we could see that they would sometimes rise to a brigther level during overall brighter scenes. However, surprisingly for us, they also sometimes lowered, too: during some scenes in Se7en they could reach 0.015 cd/m2, before returning to the baseline level of 0.02 cd/m2.

During content with a good mix of dark and light scenes intercut, we saw that in the most extreme cases, the blacks rose to 0.045 cd/m2 – which is the same baseline black level we measured from a 64″ Samsung plasma display last year (coincidence, we think not).

We feel the effect is minimal, for two reasons: first of all, the brightness very smoothly fades to a brighter or darker level, rather than instantly shifting in a single movement as it has done on some other plasma displays. Secondly, seeing as it only happens during brighter scenes, the “surround effect” property of the human visual system, coupled with the fading, will make the effect less perceptible. It will be more visible in a pitch black room, though, for this same reason. This is nowhere near as visible or as annoying as dynamic backlighting/ “auto dimming” on LCD-based TVs, though, because the blacks only become minutely higher, the whole screen does not get brighter or darker as it would with an affected LED LCD TV.

Motion Resolution

Samsung have had the upper hand when it comes to motion quality in their plasma TVs in recent years, keeping posterization artefacts to an absolute minimum, and also avoiding the “fuzzy double image” artefacts we saw on some Panasonic plasmas (where dithering noise could build up around high contrast edges and leave noisy shapes). Panasonic addressed these issues this year when they introduced the 2000hz and 2500hz “Focused Field Drive” systems. Where does that leave Samsung plasma displays?

We ran several of the gruelling 60-fields-per-second (the fastest 2D rate possible with current display systems) tests from the FPD Benchmark BD on the PS60E6500, as well as with a Panasonic ST50 plasma, and came to the conclusion that both are about equal. Panasonic’s shows slightly more posterization but has a cleaner overall image, whereas the Samsung E6500 has more dither noise, which by its very nature, conceals posterisation. Samsung’s also has the benefit of avoiding the rare instances of coloured streaks during motion, with any posterization “streaks” that show up at least approximating the tone of the surrounding area. The phosphor afterglow performance of both screens was nearly identical, with both having only subtle green and purple edges trailing very fast moving objects.

The FPD Benchmark Disc runs at 60hz, which is the lowest output refresh rate current plasma displays produce (but confusingly, the highest input rate they can accept). 24hz and 50hz input signals are output by the panel at 96hz and 100hz respectively. The upside (and the entire point) of outputting these signals at multiplied refresh rates is to avoid flicker. The downside is that, with a PDP (plasma display panel), the number of gradation steps the display can draw is reduced as the refresh rate gets higher. We’ve also noticed in the past that Panasonic plasmas can sometimes draw coloured motion artefacts in the higher output modes (although the effects of this are typically only visible with 50hz video camera material, due to the calmer motion of 24fps film content). We made some standards conversions of the 60hz clips from the FPD Benchmark Software disc for this purpose. Standards conversions introduce artefacts of their own (that could be an article in itself), but the converted clips worked as the next best thing to native 50hz versions.

Sure enough, there was a more obvious amount of contouring visible on both the Panasonic and Samsung plasma TVs with the 50hz versions, as well as more double imaging. In the converted “Hammock” sequence, for example, there were more distinct bands visible on the girl’s arms as she moved back and forth, giving her face an “oily” appearance, which was not a problem with the 60hz mode. This was the same on both displays, although the Samsung’s mildly noisier image again helped conceal the artefact. As we understand it, the double imaging is owed to the fact that one 50hz video frame is actually output twice in one 100hz plasma screen update. None of the degradation seen with 50hz content was as bad as the inherent motion blur that affects all video modes on an LCD TV, though – at least not to our eyes. We once again wish Europe had transitioned over to 60hz during the introduction of HDTV here, when it was at least somewhat practical…

Screen Uniformity

2011 Panasonic plasma televisions had the tendency to discolour the centre of the screen during content with a high amount of white in the picture. We saw this on contrast test patterns during their reviews, and users mentioned examples of snowy scenes being tainted with unwanted “green splodges”. For that reason, we’ve been monitoring uniformity carefully on all PDPs, in addition to LCDs, that pass through here.

Now we have the chance to compare Samsung’s 2012 plasma efforts with Panasonic’s new models. Panasonic’s are mostly good now, but when we displayed a full 20% stimulus test screen, we could clearly see that our own Panasonic ST50 plasma had obvious vertical streaks visible on the right 1/3rd of the screen, which looked like strange image retention. By contrast, the Samsung PS60E6500 was almost entirely uniform with only a very mild “dirty screen effect” (most obvious on scrolling test sequences or old side-scrolling video games). Also, a 70% white screen revealed some slight greyscale deviation, with the bottom left of the screen appearing more reddish than the middle. Neither was perfect, although Samsung is still on top in terms of uniformity. The good news is that neither were anything like as bad as some LED LCD TVs.

3D Material

The Samsung PS60E6500 presents a good extra-dimensional experience, with full resolution at all steps across the dynamic range, unlike Panasonic’s 3D Plasmas, which have lessened vertical resolution in the 3D display mode. Greyscale and colour are less accurate, though, meaning that the output image is not as accurate.

We had a look at Hugo in 3D on the E6500. The praise for this film in 3D is understandable; the environments absolutely lose depth when flattened into 2D (although that could just be because the film was explicitly designed for 3D display). In the opening sweep through Paris, the Samsung’s full HD 3D resolution was apparent, especially compared to the Panasonic 3DTV plasmas, which rendered the various sloping rooftops with jaggedness due to what appears to be their half-resolution subfield display technique. Crosstalk was obviously visible around text in the opening logos on the Samsung, however.

We saw a more serious problem on the Samsung PS60E6500, where the 3D TV would occasionally skip a frame or two, resulting in a jerk in the motion. We counted this roughly twice a minute throughout the opening scenes (which, as panning shots, clearly show the problem). It persisted if we flattened the image into 2D with the remote control button, indicating a problem in the TV’s video processing rather than in the plasma output stage. Flattening the image into 2D in the player and outputting a 2D signal to the TV was problem free. Hopefully Samsung can address this with firmware updates.

We also ran tests to see if motion was trouble free with side-by-side format signals. There were no issues with 50hz side by side (Sky 3D), 60hz side by side, or 24hz side by side.

Standard Definition

Samsung typically excel at SD performance, when they get everything right – some of their recent HDTVs have been failing PAL film mode deinterlacing recently, for example. Thankfully, the PS60E6500 isn’t one of them. Every film mode test we threw at the television passed when we had [Film Mode] set to “Auto2″. For standard-def content on such a large screen, it’s important that this feature works properly, and that no precious vertical resolution is wasted by unnecessary video mode deinterlacing.

For when video mode deinterlacing IS necessary (for material shot on video cameras where perfect recovery of full-resolution video is impossible), Samsung’s diagonal interpolation process works very effectively to avoid drawing jagged diagonal lines on screen.

Samsung’s scaling algorithm is also unique: the way in which small, SD-sized images are upsampled to fit the HD panel is done in a way which renders edges very smoothly (but not artificially so) without introducing spatial aliasing (jaggedness). For that reason, this scaling algorithm portrays poor quality standard-definition video (which is most of the SD video available to consumers, sadly) in quite a flattering light. It does mean that the rarer well-mastered SD DVDs might look perceptibly softer than with traditional scaling processes, but if you don’t like Samsung’s approach, all you need to do is use an upscaling DVD or Blu-ray player to sidestep it.

It appears that the Samsung PS60E6500 has MPEG noise reduction running at all times on the digital TV tuner inputs, which smooths over visible block edge “tiling” artefacts. Frankly, given the quality of Samsung’s processing and the over-compressed nature of digital TV (and the overworked MPEG-2 codec used for standard def), we think this is a good thing. This processing is done in a way which doesn’t cause “watercolour painting” artefacts like poorer spatial filtering processes do, it’s very well implemented. You shouldn’t expect SD digital TV broadcasts to look sharp – but they are at least strangely pleasing and as artefact free as they could possibly be, which isn’t bad going for a screen of this size.

With all of this noted, short of there being a breakthrough in the field of video processing, there is nothing we can think of that Samsung could improve here. The standard-definition video processing is as good as it could possibly be, with any faults in the image almost certainly being inherent to the source.

High Definition

To start testing HD performance, we checked out some black and white high-def material on Blu-ray: the new negative transfer of the 1950s film Rififi. First of all, we’re delighted to be able to mention that the Samsung PS60E6500 does absolutely no unwanted noise reduction on the image at all, when the [Digital Noise Filter] is turned off, unlike the Korean firm’s 2012 LED LCD TVs we’ve reviewed, which can blur out some fine motion details in HD movies. Perhaps Samsung thinks that plasma will appeal more to video enthusiasts who are more likely to want a “hands off” image?

With that happy point out the way, we had a look at greyscale tracking with this real-world content. We intentionally chose a black and white movie for this, since greyscale tracking errors are by nature easier to spot in monochromatic footage. Sure enough, neither plasma in our comparison drew a 100% uniform black and white image, with the Panasonic ST50 showing a subtle reddish-purple tinge in darker tones, and the Samsung occasionally giving near-white details a slight beige tint. The Samsung’s greyscale inconsistencies were slightly less visible, which makes sense given that it features a 10-point greyscale control, which we made gentle use of.

However, during the testing, we did notice some static gamma tracking issues on the Samsung PS60E6500, where highlights appeared crushed, giving the illusion of actors wearing excessively powdery makeup. We also noticed some mid-tones taking on oily-looking colour tints. Our first instinct was to check the 10-point white balance calibration feature, because some of these systems can introduce these problems. Fortunately, after we did a factory reset and did a less intensive calibration, we were rewarded with nearly banding-free images. There was still a small amount of static contouring visible, however, which seemed unique to the “Movie” mode – the “Standard” preset didn’t show them. It seems that the various greyscale, gamma and calibration features can create additional artefacts in the image, so calibrators should make sure that they go as easy on the adjustments as possible. (For higher-end setups, leaving the E6500 controls in a neutral-ish state and offloading calibration duties to an external video processor could also help).

The Fifth Element screenshot

We checked out the British Blu-ray Disc of The Fifth Element, and although this release features some highlight crushing, we feel it’s a much nicer version of the film than the American Sony releases, thanks to its superior resolution. The effects of correcting colour gamut errors with the [Colour Space] menu calibration were especially apparent with Milla Jovovich’s character: we could switch back and forth between the preset and calibrated [Colour Space] settings and see that, in the out of the box mode with its slightly green-tinged reds, her hair looked more “ginger”. After calibration, it appeared obviously “dyed red” instead, which is thematically appropriate for this visually loud, camp sci-fi action/comedy.

As video enthusiasts, we’ve talked a lot about calibration here, and on a large, home cinema display, we don’t feel that’s misplaced (it’s absolutely essential to get every drop of quality out of the TV). As with most HDTVs, the improvement made by calibration is very noticeable with the PS60E6500, but we did also have a look at the television running in the “Movie” mode with only basic adjustments made for the benefit of users who can’t afford calibration. For users who’ve never experienced completely accurate video, we can’t imagine there being too many complaints, although the image did have a slight beige tint. However, it still looked fairly natural, and we don’t feel the inaccuracies were unforgivable given the price-to-size ratio.

The Fifth Element screenshot 2

Overall, other than the subtle banding we discussed earlier, we found nothing to dislike about the Samsung E6500′s 2D high-definition images. Suitably accurate greyscale, gamma, colour, and essentially perfect motion with 24p film sources (using the “Cinema Smooth” mode), excellent (albeit not class-leading) contrast performance, an outstanding anti-reflective screen filter to keep images looking deep even in brighter rooms… the PS60E6500 certainly isn’t doing much wrong when it comes to picture quality.

Resolution and Frequency Response

On the Samsung PS60E6500, there is no unwanted edge sharpening, unless the user elects to enable it by turning up the [Sharpness] control. Fine pixel details and other test cards were drawn completely clearly by this display with only minor moire artefacts visible near the edges of the luma zone plate test pattern. This is in contrast to the 2012 Panasonic offerings, which feature very subtle edge enhancement processing which can’t be disabled (and accordingly, show distortion all over the luma zone plate).

We know from experience that when it comes to using a plasma TV with a computer (not something we recommend doing often, for various reasons), any sort of sharpening can cause very fine pixel details to appear slightly ragged. There is absolutely none of this on the E6500, with each pixel form the source image being drawn cleanly and without any distortion, provided the [Sharpness] control was set to 0, and of course, provided the 1:1 mapping “Just Scan” mode was selected from the [P.SIZE] remote button.

Console Gaming

Although the PS60E6500 has a dedicated “Game Mode” buried in the menu, ignore it. When a 60hz signal is input, there’s a semi-hidden “PC” mode which has even lower input lag, owed to the fact that it takes RGB video from the video game console, and sends it straight to the panel for display. Accordingly, nearly all of the video processing features are disabled. Because this mode works with RGB, [Colour] is locked out (because there’s no use for this control in RGB mode), as is [Colour Space]. You can still use 2-point Greyscale correction, though.

It’s accessed by pressing the SOURCE button, highlighting the HDMI input that your games console is connected to, pressing TOOLS, and changing the label to “PC”. In this setup, input lag was only 16ms compared to a CRT display, making the Samsung PS60E6500 one of the fastest TVs for gaming we’ve tested. Couple this with an uncanny ability to avoid image retention, coupled with the usual picture quality and motion clarity inherent to Plasma technology, and we’re left with a video gamer’s dream.

The input labelling trick works with all of the HDMI inputs, not just HDMI1 as was the case with some older Samsung plasmas. If you run all of your devices through an AV receiver into a single TV input, for convenience’s sake, it’s best to connect the console directly to one of the TV’s three HDMI inputs, to avoid the “PC mode” becoming active with non-gaming 60hz signals such as US DVDs or Blu-ray material that isn’t 24p. (You should do this anyway, in case your receiver is adding input lag).

Conclusion

Previously some way behind Panasonic in the plasma stakes, Samsung is now scoring first in some categories, having produced an incredibly compelling PDP television. Keep in mind that last year, the smaller 51-inch Samsung plasmas had decent, but visibly lighter black levels than the 60″+ panels, meaning that Panasonic may still have a visible lead at the smaller end of the big TV scale.

Although some buyers will (quite justifiably) be seduced by Panasonic’s outstandingly deep black levels, the Samsung PS60E6500 is not far behind at all, and also has lots of other strengths of its own which we think ultimately leaves it on equal footing with the Japanese manufacturer’s efforts. Samsung’s plasma TVs outperform Panasonic’s in terms of 3D resolution, with the E6500 cleanly reproducing a full, jaggy-free 1080 line 3D image at all times. However, 3D fans will want to wait until Samsung resolves the frame-skipping issue we found during the review – although with that said, every plasma 3D TV we’ve seen has had fairly severe picture quality issues in the third dimension when compared to 2D. Our final score of “Highly Recommended” is, admittedly, awarded from the point of view of general 3D malaise. (What we’re saying is, there’s so little 3-dimensional content, and so little of it worth watching, that we’re not hugely upset by the problem; if you’re a 3D aficionado then you’ll certainly have a different view.)

Not only is the PS60E6500 a very good 2D Plasma TV in its own right, it actually rectifies two of the biggest quirks that sometimes turn people away and push them to generally poorer quality LED LCDs: bright room performance, and image retention. Its anti-reflective screen coating is perhaps the best on the market, with little in the way of contrast loss when viewed in a brighter environment (we’d have to do a side-by-side comparison with Panasonic’s top-end “Infinite Black Ultra” to say with certainty). Additionally, not once during the entire review process did we find a ghost image of a channel logo or video game score counter lingering over the picture, since the E6500 has an uncanny ability to avoid image retention. Users who have previously shunned plasma technology for these reasons should absolutely check the Samsung PS60E6500 out.

The only points that we can think of to watch out for are the aforementioned issue with 3D frame skipping, and also the mild banding that we sometimes saw in the “Movie” mode (the best picture preset). Contrast performance and colour accuracy are second to Panasonic, but they’re a close second, and we found the colour inaccuracies to be very subtle. We’re also very glad to see that the undefeatable noise reduction present on this year’s Samsung LED LCD TVs and some of last year’s Samsung plasmas has been done away with, allowing every motion detail from HD sources to be displayed on screen without unnecessary in-TV motion averaging. Out-of-the-box Greyscale tracking and colour weren’t perfect, but that’s no different to most other HDTVs, and the calibration controls allow a calibrator to take picture quality to a new level. Motion clarity and motion quality are excellent, as they have been on Samsung plasmas for the last few years. And with the right adjustments made, input lag is close to non existent, which, coupled with the lack of image retention, the naturally high motion clarity of the plasma panel (and the cherry on top: full 4:4:4 chroma reproduction) make the PS60E6500 the best HDTV on the market for video gaming, bar none. Samsung’s handling of standard-definition content is also the industry’s best.

Available online for around £1500, the PS60E6500 represents a very large, very high quality panel for a comparatively low price. We still miss Pioneer, and nobody has replaced their extravagant attention to detail and the quality control of their output, but with displays like the Samsung PS60E6500 complementing Panasonic’s excellent 2012 range as the best HDTVs on the market, we’re inclined to say that plasma fans are a lucky crowd, with imperfect but very high quality flat-screen televisions available for less money than ever before. That’s not bad going for a technology that’s been declared “dead” more times than a stray cat.

Highly Recommended

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