Samsung PS64D8000 Plasma 3D TV Review

Black Level

Other calibrators worldwide have reported that Samsung’s larger Plasma televisions have produced superior black levels when compared to smaller models, and up until now, we have been unable to confirm their findings (this is the first Samsung PDP we’ve reviewed that is above 51 inches in size). As we expected, the Samsung PS64D8000 measured a full 0.02 cd/m2 darker than the 51″ version we reviewed previously (in the 24p Cinema Smooth mode). At just 0.04 cd/m2 (for 24p), or 0.025 cd/m2 (if the 24p material is viewed with motion judder in 60hz output mode), the PS64D8000’s black levels are the best we’ve ever measured from a Samsung plasma, and are absolutely encroaching into Panasonic territory. In fact, during the day, we viewed the PS64D8000FUXXU alongside a Panasonic Plasma featuring the “Infinite Black” screen coating, and in this daylight scenario, the Samsung panel had superior blacks, demonstrating that Samsung’s high-end screen filter is better at rejecting ambient light than Panasonic’s mid-range one. (From memory, Panasonic’s high-end filter tops both).

With the lights out, the Samsung’s weaker black levels were visible, but not distractingly so. When the screen is filled (or nearly filled, in the case of letterboxed movies) with images, we weren’t left wanting.

Surprisingly, unlike the rest of the Samsung lineup, black levels with 50hz footage were no worse than in 24p mode. 60hz mode still has the best black level, which is great news for video gamers, or those who can tolerate watching 24p Blu-ray movies output in 60hz.

Motion Resolution

As usual, we gauged motion resolution somewhere between 900 and 1080 lines. Since this is a Plasma TV, this feat is accomplished without any motion-interpolated trickery; in fact, the Samsung PS64D8000 doesn’t feature any motion interpolation picture modes (which is absolutely fine by us). Samsung’s panel driving method also results in images which are remarkably free of motion artefacts, although you’ll spot some dithering noise in the image if you manoeuvre around the highly opaque icons in the Xbox 360 main menus, for example. However, we absolutely prefer this to the motion blur you’d see on a standard LCD television, or the motion interpolation artefacts visible on almost any 100hz/200hz LCD.

All in all, the Samsung PS64D8000FUXXU has some of the best motion performance we’ve ever seen on a flat-screen HDTV.

3D Material

3D material is largely excellent on the Samsung PS64D8000. As usual for the company’s current Plasma 3DTVs, it came out of our barrage of extra-dimensional motion tests smelling of roses (actually smelling of plastic and glass, but give us some creative license). Regardless of what the viewer throws at it, be it 24p frame-packed 3D Blu-ray content, 50hz side-by-side material from Sky 3D (or similar 3DTV services across continental Europe and Australasia), or 60hz material from a PC or US-based 3D source, there is never any unwanted motion judder or motion interpolation going on with the Samsung PS64D8000FUXXU.

The 3D resolution test passed, confirming that, like the rest of the Samsung Plasma 3DTV lineup, the PS64D8000 delivers all 1080 lines of the 3D image, and not a drop less. Panasonic Plasmas deliver slightly less than 1080 lines when they’re in 3D mode, which can sometimes result in some jaggedness and moiré appearing in highly textured areas.

The PS64D8000FUXXU also scaled side-by-side tri-dimensional content perfectly, not repeating the “eroded” fine details that affected Samsung’s 2010 3D televisions.

We’ve already mentioned that before calibration, 3D images had a fairly visible blue tint to them, even when the 3DTV is in the “Warm2” colour temperature mode. This seems to be largely the fault of the 3D glasses. After calibration, unwanted tints were all but eradicated, and the resulting picture was a sight to behold. It’s such a shame that 3D calibration is still out of reach to nearly all users, and most will have to make do with the default settings (or perhaps eye-ball some slightly better results themselves). It’s still extremely satisfying, after calibration, to pop in a 3D Blu-ray Disc, and switch in and out of 3D mode and witness almost no change to the on-screen colour temperature.

Our favourite 3D animation test disc, Sony’s Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs looked fantastic, as did 3D gaming content and the usual test sequences. Unfortunately, the remaining stumbling block (other than the slightly lessened gradation that 3D Plasma TVs exhibit compared to 2D mode) is the loss of brightness. In the outdoor scenes from Cloudy, for example, it was obvious that bright whites in the image were only appearing murky when viewed through the glasses. On the flip-side, the darkening effect of the active-shutter glasses also meant that blacks looked truly inky.

We didn’t notice any flicker using the active-shutter 3D glasses – at least not on the screen. If you have a fluorescent light or a very bright viewing environment, your mileage may vary. We certainly found the experience superior to viewing passive LCD-based 3DTVs, which count total freedom from flicker as one of their strengths, but these passive 3D displays have the crucial weakness of thick black lines overlaid on the image. Regardless of your chosen system, the truth is that right now, there’s no system that presents 3D images nearly as well as 2D.

As a 3D Plasma television, it’s also possible to watch the Samsung PS64D8000 in 3D with your head titled to the side, and still see a 3-dimensional image. The only question left is, why would anyone want to watch realistic, involving 3D with their head tilted to the side?

Crosstalk was barely visible, and without a standardised test method for describing this (something we’ll need to look into), we can only say that it appears to be either on par with, or nearly on par with Panasonic’s PDP lineup. It’s a far cry from the crosstalk-affected images of last year’s Samsung Plasmas and LCDs.

Standard Definition

Unlike the two cheaper Samsung PDPs we reviewed this year, which use a processing chip from MStar, the PS64D8000 uses Samsung’s own chip, which, amongst other things, brings high quality nonlinear scaling and advanced temporal noise reduction to the table. These two features are useful for cleaning up video noise from analogue-based SD video sources (old TV shows shot on video, for example). The latter feature is activated by selecting the [Digital Noise Filter] setting – if you’ve read our reviews before, you’ll know we recommend turning this off for film content, but it works wonders for cleaning up transmission noise from analogue TV broadcasts (if you’re in an area still using those) or from older TV shows that were produced on analogue videotape.

Standard definition screenshot

Ironically, the televisions using Samsung’s own chip, such as this one, fail to detect PAL film material correctly (in our tests, they drift in and out of film mode, displaying jaggies intermittently when content transferred from film to PAL video is played). On a big-screen HDTV, this begins to matter more, and means that film content transferred to PAL SD video will display with some jaggies and vertical resolution loss. If you have a large DVD collection, we recommend a high quality upscaling DVD/BD player to sidestep the PS64D8000FUXXU’s own shortcoming in this area. In the mean time, it means that if you connect a source like a non-upscaling DVD player or a standard-def satellite or cable box to the TV, then you won’t see every last drop of quality from films. Hopefully, Samsung can correct this flaw with firmware updates.

Samsung’s most unique feature though is their scaling algorithm, which fortunately does work as always. The D8000’s non-linear scaler works wonders with synthetic material like 2D cartoons, creating smooth, rounded edges where most other scalers would display aliasing. This conceals the resolution limitation of standard definition very effectively with simplistic (that is, opaque and texture-free) television animation, which could almost pass for low-grade HD – a serious accomplishment. This does mean that highly textured material and live action footage can look a little softer than on some other scalers, but we love the natural look their scaling produces.

All in all, standard-def content looks nearly as good as we could hope for, thanks largely to the high quality scaling. Hopefully Samsung can correct the lack of a working PAL film mode with a firmware update.

High Definition

For many months now, we’ve mentioned that Samsung HDTVs have had non-defeatable noise reduction smoothing enabled, unless the user engaged “Game Mode” to side-step it (this brought other compromises, which were less serious than the smoothing, in our opinion). Samsung have apparently listened to this feedback, because their excellent noise reduction filtering (the best we’ve seen in a consumer-grade flat-panel television) is now entirely optional, meaning that users can reap the benefits of it where appropriate (for example, noisy analogue-sourced video material, low-light consumer camcorder footage, and so on).

Yes, the [Digital Noise Filter] finally has a working “Off” switch. We ran a stack of our favourite film-sourced Blu-rays through the PS64D8000, and it didn’t blur or smudge a single pixel. Assuming the same firmware change has affected the rest of the company’s displays, it means that they now offer the best of both worlds: complete texture and detail reproduced from high-quality film sources, and the best in-TV noise reduction for other situations where it could be of benefit. We also did some tests to make sure that the change persisted – previous Samsung TVs have had problems where the noise filter would reset itself after you changed inputs. We turned the PS64D8000FUXXU off and on a few times, and also hopped inputs – all of the aforementioned problems are gone.

Unknown screenshot

Thanks to the above change, the suitably deep blacks, the lack of any sort of motion judder (in the “Cinema Smooth” mode), the excellent Greyscale tracking, the perfect colour reproduction, and the ultra-high motion resolution (more than sufficient to render 24fps film material without smearing), the Samsung PS64D8000’s pictures were absolutely beautiful. The effective anti-glare screen coating also helped immensely for daytime viewing. We popped in the recent UK Blu-ray (BD) release of Unknown, and sometimes found ourselves wondering if this highly detailed, bluish-green thriller could possibly look any better. Viewing very dark portions in a darkened room, we were sometimes reminded of Panasonic’s superior black reproduction, but Samsung are not far behind.

Console Gaming

We had few complaints when it came to gaming on the Samsung PS64D8000. On the lower-end models (D550 and D6900), we discovered that connecting a games console to the HDMI1 input and labelling it as “PC” in the input menu resulted in an ultra-responsive input lag time of just 16ms, but this trick didn’t work on the PS64D8000FUXXU. The input lag with the “PC” input label, or the “Game Mode” enabled, was 31ms in both cases (outside of these configurations, it was considerably higher). This is a little disappointing given the performance of the cheaper displays, but 31ms is still a good measurement that doesn’t make games annoying to play. We can only assume the slightly higher input lag is due to the use of Samsung’s own video processor chip, rather than the Mstar solution used in the cheaper models.

Conclusion (and Comparison)

During summer, our review of the 51-inch version of the D8000 PDP marked the first time that we had given a Samsung Plasma TV a “Highly Recommended” rating. At the rate they’re going at, there will be plenty more of these to come. The larger-sized Samsung PS64D8000 represents outstanding value for money, and the newly upgraded firmware which removes our lingering complaint about undefeatable noise reduction makes our recommendation even more enthusiastic than it would have been had we had to side-step it (as we did during our earlier review of the 51″ model).

Other than some slightly aggressive plasma brightness limiting – which isn’t really visible with real world content – and the inevitable image darkening caused by 3D active shutter glasses – we really have no complaints at all with the PS64D8000FUXXU. Post-calibration Greyscale tracking is measurably perfect thanks to the 10-point White Balance adjustment, the same goes for colour reproduction; there are no problems with motion judder (even in 3D), and the black level quality, and input lag responsiveness, while not class-leading, are both very good. Well-mastered 2D Blu-ray Disc material really looks mesmerising on this HDTV.

If you’re in the market for a 65(ish) inch Plasma television of this size, sadly, here in Europe, your choice is limited compared to what our friends in the US and Canada have: it’s between this and the Panasonic TX-P65VT30, which certainly warrants a comparison. In the past, Samsung Plasmas suffered from undefeatable noise reduction (which could smear fine details in Blu-ray sources), whereas Panasonic’s suffered from fluctuating brightness during dark scenes. Both manufacturers fixed their respective issues with firmware updates (which is heartening to say the least), meaning that the choice of Samsung vs Panasonic (we haven’t had the chance to see any of LG’s big-screen Plasmas this year) comes largely down to price, black level, and other more subtle image quality differences. Panasonic wins on black level, whereas Samsung’s video processing is slightly better in terms of deinterlacing and especially scaling, resulting in subtly better SD performance. Samsung excel with a full resolution 3D experience, whereas Panasonic’s slight loss of resolution is perhaps made up for by their far superior out-of-the-box 3D greyscale tracking, which results in a less tinted 3D image. Calibration mitigates the difference, but we need to remember just how niche 3D calibration is. Panasonic’s is slightly more responsive with video games, but not by far, while Samsung’s plasmas have demonstrated better screen uniformity (some Panasonic units exhibit greenish tints on the screen, something we confirmed during our first reviews of them).

Last, but by no means least, the Samsung PS64D8000’s best online price appears to be in the region of £2400, with the market pricing the Panasonic VT30 at £3600. It’s not a small amount of money, but the fact that Samsung are offering a display of this quality at this price is remarkable. Thanks to its value for money – and the fact that its image quality is excellent in its own right – Samsung’s PS64D8000 gets awarded with our “Highly Recommended” badge.

Highly Recommended

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