Samsung PS64E8000 Plasma Smart TV Review

Image Retention

When we reviewed the PS60E6500 midrange 60-inch Samsung plasma, we made a big deal out of its unique ability to avoid showing image retention. The smaller PS51E8000 was still very good in this area, although on that HDTV, we did occasionally see a ghost image of a channel logo stuck on screen. The 64″ E8000 model shares the same performance as the 60″ E6500 – during the review process, we didn’t see any image retention at all, suggesting that reports of Samsung’s larger plasma TVs using different panel materials are accurate. The performance here is really surprising, and will be very reassuring for users of video games or TV channels with permanent on-screen logos.

Black Level & Contrast Performance

The contrast performance of Samsung’s largest plasma televisions is, on the whole, probably comparable to Panasonic’s highest-end European plasmas, but slightly lower than it’s midrange models. Sound confusing? It is, because with the current batch of PDPs from both leading manufacturers, there are trade-offs when it comes to contrast performance and overall accuracy.

Let’s start with the Samsung PS64E8000. We measured full-screen black (with a few pixels of white on screen to avoid the “panel shutting off” trick) at 0.017 cd/m2, with a 100 IRE (full video white) window measuring at 109 cd/m2 in the same configuration. That’s very good performance. More importantly for real world usage, the E8000 held onto its dark blacks even during an ANSI checkerboard test (when the screen is divided into white and black squares equally), returning 0.020 cd/m2 in this case. The difference of 0.003 cd/m2 is too small to be noticeable.

Panasonic’s GT50 and VT50 are more confusing, with their minimum luminance level now being reported as 0.017 – 0.020 cd/m2 in the [Professional] modes, and peak light output being capped at a disappointingly low 90 cd/m2 and 80 cd/m2 respectively. That’s not the case in their other picture modes (such as the THX-branded preset), but those modes do not have access to the full range of video calibration controls. In Europe, Panasonic’s mid-range ST50 plasmas have the best contrast performance, with 0.009 cd/m2 blacks, and whites topping out at around 120 cd/m2. Yes, the cheaper model has better contrast performance than the two higher-end ones – although there’s only basic calibration controls on the ST50. In any case, the apparent bug with Panasonic’s GT50 and VT50 in the [Professional] modes mean that, for videophile users having the display calibrated, for the first time, a Samsung plasma TV has superior contrast performance when minimum luminance level (black level) and peak white are considered.

Unlike older Samsung plasmas, there are no differences in contrast performance worth reporting when it comes to differences in video input refresh rate (24hz/50hz/60hz). All are output by the screen with basically the same deep blacks and bright whites.

Motion Resolution

Like most plasma displays, and indeed, now most MCFI-assisted LCDs, the PS64E8000 has no problem cleanly drawing 900-1080 lines in a scrolling test chart. Real life usage reveals crisp motion with a well disguised amount of dither noise in fast motion areas. As with all plasma TVs we’ve reviewed, 50hz (European TV) signals are output at 100hz (to sidestep flicker). This can cause more double-imaging effects with very fast camera pans in some content. Overall, motion performance is excellent.

High Definition

Samsung’s technical spec sheet for the PS64E8000 has a bullet point which reads “Digital Noise Filter available”. That’s actually a little misleading; seeing as “available” suggests that it’s optional. The Digital Noise Filter on the 64E8000 is more than just “available”, it takes fairly drastic measures in order to turn it off. There is a label that reads “Off” in the main menu, but this is misleading at best, because it doesn’t actually turn the filter off. We’ve been reporting this issue with Samsung flat-screen televisions for the last few years, and while the company did fix it with firmware updates late last year, it’s returned for 2012. That’s frustrating, because it turns out to be the only major blip on the performance of an outstanding HDTV. (More frustratingly still, the American equivalent model, the PN64E8000, does have a working Off switch).

We’ve discussed the issues relating to undefeatable noise reduction in length in other reviews, so we’ll summarise: fine motion details, like fast rainfall or small flies buzzing around in a misty scene, often get blurred out by the TV as a result of the temporal filtering. Films also look less like films and appear a little more like video productions, with optical film grain sometimes stretching and smearing as actors or objects move around on screen, drawing attention to under-the-surface tinkering. Sometimes, grain of a certain density gets through unscathed, at other times, the image appears obviously processed to the trained eye. Scenes with smoke, fog or other movement with closely spaced pixels of very similar luminance are particularly challenging for filters using temporal averaging, and sure enough, there are some artefacts to be seen as a result.

Removing high frequency film grain textures causes the picture to appear less detailed. Remember, the processing is temporal, and works by detecting differences across groups of frames; it does not operate at the single-frame level. For that reason, its effects will not be seen with static frequency response test patterns. We created our own film grain test pattern to assist with detecting issues like this, but the trained eye can easily spot it with high quality Blu-ray film material.

Most users who don’t have their displays set up according to industry standards will probably not want to see any noise or grain (because even a light film texture can look harsh and noise-like on a TV that’s still running in the default picture settings), so we understand why companies ship TVs with these filters turned on. We don’t understand why Samsung don’t let you turn the filter off (depending on which country you bought the HDTV in), especially on a big-screen, flagship plasma television that will end up in video enthusiasts’ home cinema setups.

You can avoid this and see full motion detail and an untampered-with look by using (and calibrating!) the “Game Mode”, although this means video enthusiasts (again, the type of people who will want to see an untampered-with image on a large-screen plasma in the first place!) will have to kiss goodbye to the 10-point White Balance calibration option. The panel driving process used in the “Game Mode” also seems to add a little extra panel noise (that’s dithering introduced by the plasma itself, not noise or grain in the source), although it’s not hugely visible. The Game Mode can also put out a brighter image than the others – although the standard “Movie” mode, at around 110 cd/m2 video white, is not exactly lacking in light output.

For calibrators, the lack of 10p White Balance isn’t as big a loss as it might sound. We found that, in practice, the 10p White Balance controls could introduce coloured contouring artefacts into real video material, and avoiding this is obviously more of an issue than impressive-looking calibration charts. We did calibrate both ways, and didn’t find that the Game Mode (with its 2-point precision) to be visibly problematic. The processing done by the undefeatable noise reduction filtering was more of a visible problem to our grizzled eyes than some slightly inaccurate Greyscale tracking.

We’ve been met with disbelief in the past when we’ve said that the Game Mode can be calibrated for accuracy. This is probably because by default, it produces a blue-tinted, sharpened, ulra-vivid image that’s more akin to a “Dynamic” picture mode. It’s easily corrected by setting the “Warm2″ greyscale preset and setting [Sharpness] to the neutral state of 0, among other things.

You can’t practically have it both ways and switch back and forth, though, because there is only one Colour Management memory for both the Game Mode and the non-Game Mode, and they both need separate corrections dialled in, especially to correct the luminance of red. The ideal option would be to use the Game Mode with an external video processor like the Lumagen Radiance Mini-3D, although that’ll set you back an extra £1350. The better value option would be to go for the mid-range PS60E6500 (which doesn’t suffer from undefeatable noise reduction anyway), and pair that with an off-board video processor if supreme accuracy and freedom from artefacts are your top priorities.

Moving on, the images put out by the Samsung PS64E8000 are a real joy to watch, all things considered. We preferred the Game Mode with its full motion potrayal for Blu-ray material originating from 35mm film; in this setup the E8000 presented a gorgeous amount of filmic detail. For all-digital productions, we were happy with either mode.

Interestingly for a plasma display, the perceived contrast performance of the PS64E8000 is actually at its best in a moderately lit, rather than pitch-black room (although it looks excellent in both scenarios). This is testament to the quality of the anti-reflective screen filter. During daytime viewing, blacks appear supremely deep, and white is sufficiently bright to create the perception of a rich, subtly glossy, brilliant image. In a darkened environment, things are nearly as impressive, with the 0.02 cd/m2 blacks making themselves visible during dark scenes – but only just (we’ve been spoiled by the Panasonic ST50′s 0.009 cd/m2).

Gladiator screenshot

We had a look at one of our favourite BDs, Gladiator, on the Samsung E8000. (Usual disclaimer: that’s the remastered version of Gladiator, not the original embarrassment which featured no fine detail worth mentioning). Everything checked out, with full detail coming through in the calibrated “Game Mode”. The NR-afflicted calibrated Movie mode still looked excellent, although the image was more subdued as a result of the temporal filtering. We would happily enjoy either, but at this price point, we shouldn’t have any video processing compromises to report. We did occasionally notice an occasional motion hiccup after a scene cut in the Movie mode, but these were very rare, fairly subtle… and also, as far as we could ascertain due to their random nature, not present in the Game Mode. We mention them for completeness.

Side-by-side with a display which features reference-level colour accuracy, there were almost no differences to be seen. Occasionally, we’d see what should be a purpley-blue hue be reproduced with more of an aquamarine tint, but that was really all. Could that trigger a different emotional effect in the viewer? Possibly, but, again, the difference will only be apparent in a side-by-side comparison.

Standard Definition

Samsung’s current generation of flat-screen HDTVs get nearly everything right with standard-def content. As usual, the main talking point is their scaling algorithm, which resizes SD (and 720p) content to fit the 1080p panel in a way that is nearly entirely free of ringing, while still looking smooth and sharp. This feat means that even badly compressed standard-def TV channels can actually looks strangely decent.

Sky News

Video mode deinterlacing is good, with very little in the way of jaggedness. Unfortunately, Samsung dropped the ball on film mode detection, with the 2-2 PAL cadence test failing (on both the “Auto1″ and “Auto2″ film mode settings). All of the American-centric NTSC cadences work properly, unsurprisingly. However, this isn’t the end of the world, because most standard-definition television channels are so aggressively lowpass filtered (basically, blurred) that the resulting jaggies are hard to see, even at this screen size. What’s more, it’s possible to buy a cheap Blu-ray player these days that plays PAL DVDs properly, so users with large collections of DVDs don’t have to rely on the TV’s own processing.

3D

The PS64E8000 draws judder-free, full resolution 3D video with all content types: 50hz, 60hz, and 24hz. It also manages to avoid the occasional frame repetition (motion sticking) issue that is still present on the step-down 60″ E6500 model. Its three-dimensional images, while dimmer than in 2D, are also still satisfyingly bright, provided you’re in a dimmer viewing environment.

This puts the 64E8000 in a favourable spot compared to the competition. Samsung’s biggest weakness in 3-D is with greyscale tracking. Casual visual observation (and of course, measurements) of grey test shades reveal various colour tints, which obviously impact real footage, although not to the point of being a constant annoyance. The 10-point white balance control is also not available in 3D mode, and the 2-point control is not enough to fully flatten greyscale tracking in 3D – again, that’s IF you have access to 3D calibration services or tools.

However, Samsung’s plasma-based 3DTVs draw a full resolution 1080p HD image (Panasonic’s don’t, despite being marketed as “Full HD 3D”). Gradation quality is also significantly decreased in the 3D mode, but overall we found the image pleasing thanks to the full resolution.

Where 3D on Plasma TVs is going to go from here is anyone’s guess. Given the apparent apathy consumers have shown to extra-dimensional video, at least in its current form, we wonder if manufacturers will pour any more R&D time and cash into improving performance here. It may take the introduction of OLED to yield any big improvement.

Console Gaming

Gaming is a real joy on the current-gen Samsung plasmas, thanks to their inclusion of a dedicated, but unpromoted, PC mode. Pressing TOOLS on the remote when you’re in the AV input menu allows input labels to be chosen, and choosing “PC” and then changing the picture mode from “Entertain” to “Standard” (and also correcting the [Colour Tone] to “Warm2″).

The PC mode will only trigger with a 60hz input signal, which is what games consoles and PCs send. You lose access to the Colour Management system, so colours are oversaturated relative to the HDTV Rec.709 spec, but input lag is cut to 31ms, and full 4:4:4 chroma bandwidth is preserved as an added bonus. We always argue that responsiveness is more important than colour accuracy for many types of game (competitive first person shooters in particular), although more subdued content that prioritises aesthetics over speed might be better served by the calibrated Movie mode – which isn’t hugely laggy, anyway.

Of course, there’s the normal “Game Mode” as well – it doesn’t give you full chroma resolution for tiny coloured details, but you do retain access to the colour management system, and input lag is the same as the “PC” mode.

Conclusion

The Samsung PS64E8000 is an excellent plasma TV, producing suitably bright whites, and excellent blacks which are just short of being the best in class. Crucially, it can be calibrated to put out very accurate images. For users who don’t have access to video calibration, the quality is good in the stock “Movie” picture mode, although behind Panasonic’s THX-certified GT50 and VT50. Samsung’s plasma HDTVs absolutely benefit from calibration work to bring them up to the same tint-free level. That costs money of course, but the Korean brand’s competitive pricing means that you’ll still be left with a good amount of spare change even after paying for the services of an ISF/THX calibrator.

Unfortunately, just as Panasonic have managed to do with their 2012 European plasma televisions, Samsung have managed to slip in a compromise which is not present on the midrange model – or on the US equivalent model. In Samsung’s case, that compromise is the non-working “Off” switch for the [Digital Noise Filter], the workaround for which involves sacrificing a little bit of picture accuracy. However, that’s a subtle problem, and many users will never notice. Both of these manufacturers’ limitations are only of interest to enthusiast users, but this doesn’t mean they’re not real issues.

At the 50″-51″ sizes, Samsung’s black level quality is still a little behind Panasonic’s. At the larger sizes, there is either no difference or almost no difference, depending on the model and the setup, making the Samsung 64E8000 outstanding value for money given the limited competition. That’s the case even before you factor in the fact that Samsung’s current-generation 60-inch and larger plasmas are, somehow, nearly image retention free, and have nearly perfect screen uniformity, an area in which Panasonic have had some problems in recent years.

The biggest competition for the PS64E8000 comes in the form of Samsung’s own PS60E6500. It’s not as slim as the E8000 series and lacks the voice and gesture controls, and does have an issue with 24p 3D playback which causes an occasional motion jump. However, it features the same outstanding contrast performance and AR screen filter as the E8000, and even on the European model, does not feature the problem of the non-working “Off” switch for the NR control. All of the calibration controls are in place.

There is also Panasonic’s TX-P65ST50, which suffers from poorer screen uniformity (we’ve seen units which have darker vertical stripes at the right edge of the screen) and less in-depth calibration controls, but slightly better black level performance (0.009 cd/m2), which can make a satisfying difference in a darkened viewing environment.

So, take your pick. The quality of the best plasma TVs on the market is so high that we can’t imagine many users will end up with buyer’s remorse. Factoring quality and value for money into the mix, they’re more or less equal. Samsung’s PS64E8000 is a high quality PDP which is not totally problem-free, but has plenty to shout about in this fiercely competitive market.

Highly Recommended

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