Samsung PS50C6900 £1300
25th Oct 2010 | 10:40
Fantastic value 3D TV with Freeview HD tuner and web access
Samsung PS50C6900: Overview
Samsung insists it will continue to sell plasma TVs for as long as anyone wants to buy them, but the brand's heart seems to lie elsewhere.
The South Korean firm has been busy trumpeting and showing off its undeniably impressive edge LED TVs whenever and wherever it gets the chance, but has had precious little to say about its plasmas, even those equipped with 3D playback.
So it is that Samsung's new 50in, 3D capable PS50C6900 plasma TV has arrived almost unnoticed. In fact, it even seems to have crept up on its manufacturer; it couldn't even be found on its UK website at time of writing.
With its £1,300 price tag and an extensive secondary feature count that includes access to Samsung's impressive Internet@TV platform, it has the potential to become the first bona fide 3D bargain.
Samsung does have a more highly specified 3D plasma range: the C7000 series. Available in 63in and 50in sizes, the C7000 models add to the C6900's spec a Real Black Filter, designed to improve contrast and reduce reflectivity from your room.
There is also an expansive range of LCD 3D TVs, headed up by the extraordinarily thin, metallic-finished and edge-lit C9000 series. Down from those are the slightly chunkier C8000 models and beneath these you'll find the C7000 sets, which ditch the fancy design and use a less sophisticated picture processing engine.
Samsung's cheapest 3D option prior to today was its only CCFL LCD model, the 46in LE46C750. There's a problem with all Samsung's LCD 3D options though: crosstalk noise, where you see double ghosting around some objects in a 3D picture. Hopefully, this is an issue the PS50C6900 will avoid.
Samsung PS50C6900: Features
The PS50C6900's surprisingly svelte design is given added panache by a high-gloss finish, an appealing deep grey colour and attractive transparent edging.
Inevitably, the screen lacks the extreme glamour of Samsung's extraordinarily thin edge LED 3D TVs, but does make Panasonic's 3D plasmas look like they've gone a few rounds with the ugly stick.
The PS50C6900's slightly greater thickness makes the screen's connectivity more straightforward than it is on Samsung's edge LED models, but only in the sense that there's less need to use 'shrinking' adaptors. There are still plenty of connections on hand to satisfy even the most sophisticated home cinema setup.
These include four HDMI inputs, a couple of USB ports, a LAN interface and a D-Sub PC input. What's more, perhaps surprisingly for the PS50C6900's price point, both the USB and LAN ports have multiple functions.
The USBs triple up as players of a wide variety of photo, music and video multimedia file formats, as a means of making the TV Wi-Fi ready via an optional extra dongle, or most surprising of all, as a way to timeshift programmes to USB hard-disk drives from the built-in Freeview HD tuner.
The presence of such a tuner immediately explains the Ethernet port. But again that's not it's only use: it also functions both as a wired means of accessing Samsung's Internet@TV platform and files stored on a networked PC.
Samsung's Internet@TV platform is one of the finest online TV engines around. The stars of its show, so far as we're concerned, are the BBC iPlayer (Samsung was the first brand to offer this on a TV) and LoveFilm, whereby you can sync your account to the TV and downstream rented films.
The system also includes the inevitable YouTube, plus rovi TV listings, a simple History Channel app, both Twitter and Facebook access to keep social networkers happy, Googlemaps, and Getty Images.
Turning to the PS50C6900's picture technology, the screen delivers a full HD resolution, a so-called 'Mega' contrast ratio, and the increasingly common '600Hz' sub-field drive technology, which pulses the plasma cells faster to reduce motion blur and increase the image's general stability.
Setting up the TV uncovers a number of interesting features amid the PS50C6900's attractive onscreen menus.
For a start, you can adjust the Cell Light level – a different approach from the normal brightness adjustment (which is also present) that could be considered the plasma equivalent of the backlight adjustments common on LCD TVs.
The set also carries a couple of potential contrast aids: a Dynamic Contrast system that adjusts the image's brightness and contrast settings based on an analysis of the incoming video source, and a black level booster with three different darkness settings.
More useful to serious calibrators are the gamma presets, the facility to adjust the offset and gain levels of the red, green and blue components of the TV's white balance, and –even better – user-friendly white balance adjustment where you can tweak the red, green and blue levels of the white balance at any of 10 different intervals.
Also worth a little careful experimentation is a flesh tone adjustment, while potentially interesting to some people with different image tastes are noise reduction and edge enhancement systems.
Finally, tucked away within a Picture Options sub-menu are a selection of tools to aid that old plasma issue of image retention and four different settings for the TV's motion processing, including, sceptics of such systems will be pleased to note, the option to deactivate it entirely.
The most notable feature of the PS50C6900 is, of course, its 3D capability. Naturally, it goes for the full HD, alternate frame approach, with the necessary transmitter built into the TV.
What's really pleasing, though, is that you also get one pair of 3D glasses free with the PS50C6900. And this is now Samsung's official policy with all of its 3D TVs, apparently, replacing the clumsy old system where you only got sent a single pair if you first registered your set with Samsung.
The PS50C6900 handles Sky's side by side 3D images as well as Blu-ray's alternate frame ones and carries a 2D to 3D conversion system.
Samsung PS50C6900: Picture
The PS50C6900 suffers far less from crosstalk noise than any of Samsung's LCD/LED 3D sets.
The Golden Gate Bridge sequence on the Monsters Vs Aliens 3D Blu-ray seems tailor-made to highlight this problem but the usually distracting degree of double ghosting around problematic objects like the bridge support cables is hugely reduced.
So much so, in fact, that on the rare occasions where it's visible at all, it comes as quite a shock, despite the fact that even when it appears, it's generally on a much more subtle level than with the LCD TVs.
Three-dimensional pictures are so much more believable, engaging and crisp where there's precious little crosstalk to worry about and, despite one or two perhaps inevitable flaws, the PS50C6900's 3D pictures are the most watchable ones Samsung has yet achieved. Which is mildly ironic, given the brand's emphasis on its far more expensive LED 3D models.
The sharpness of 3D images is another pleasant surprise, despite levels of brightness and colour vividness reducing markedly more in 3D mode than you get with the ultra-bright LED 3D screens.
In fact, the PS50C6900's 3D pictures are slightly punchier than those of Panasonic's 3D plasmas, as well as retaining slightly more shadow detail during dark scenes.
Panasonic's 3D dark scenes are a little, well, darker, though and its screens still have the edge when it comes to crosstalk, suffering even less from it than the PS50C6900 (result, perhaps, of Panasonic's 3D-focussed 'fast decay' plasma cell technology).
While this extra immunity to crosstalk keeps Panasonic at the top of the 3D performance pile, however, it's worth stressing just how watchable the PS50C6900's 3D pictures are and the fact that the Samsung model is many hundreds of pounds cheaper than Panasonic's P50VT20 50in 3D plasma model.
What this all adds up to is that in many respects the PS50C6900 is already precisely that 3D bargain it always promised to be.
The PS50C6900 saves most of its compromises for 2D playback. For instance, it's immediately clear that the screen can't deliver blacks nearly as profound as Panasonic's VT20 models. It gets closer in this respect to the Japanese brand's new smaller and more affordable GT20 sets, but still doesn't quite match up.
There's a little less vibrancy and naturalism to the Samsung's portrayal of rich reds and deep greens than you get with Panasonic's latest NeoPDP TVs too and a slightly patchier, stripier appearance to colour blends.
There is a little more short-term image retention than is ideal, but this doesn't last long, is only seen for the most part over very dark shots and is considerably reduced if you're sensible with the Cell light level and brightness settings. Plus – in theory at least – it should disappear over time.
Finally in the negative column, the PS50C6900 can suffer from a little judder and softness when watching standard-def, 50Hz sources. The motion processing reduces the judder problem, of course, but can cause artefacts if set any higher than its lowest operating level.
As is often the case with plasma TVs, the PS50C6900 is much more at home with HD material. The picture suddenly kicks up a whole bunch of sharpness and clarity gears, and colours look both subtler and more natural. Motion looks better too, and even the set's contrast range looks slightly better.
One little area in which the PS50C6900 noticeably improves on Panasonic's plasmas (the cheaper ones, at least) is in the eradication of dotting noise over skin tones during horizontal camera pans.
Black levels still look a little less profound with HD than you might prefer, which is something the extra Real Black Filter on the C7000 plasma models might fix. But black levels are pretty respectable overall, especially in the context of a 3D-capable 50in TV costing less than £1,300.
One final point is that, as with all plasma TVs, the PS50C6900 can be watched from a much wider angle than any LCD screen without losing contrast or colour.
Samsung PS50C6900: Sound, value and ease of use
Samsung's previous range of TVs were pretty legendary for falling short in the sound department while over-achieving in most other areas. So it is a pleasant surprise to find the PS50C6900's speakers doing a respectable job, with an open and powerful mid range that's strong enough to prevent the thin, feeble sensation that was Samsung's audio trademark last year.
As with so many flat TVs, a little more extension into both the treble and especially bass frequencies would be much appreciated. But at least the PS50C6900 sees Samsung raising its audio game to the point where it's at least on a par sonically with the majority of its flat TV rivals this year.
It's here that the PS50C6900 makes its biggest impact. Getting a 50in plasma TV with decent performance for £1,300 would be a compelling proposition, even if it was only a 2D set.
Add in Samsung's most engaging 3D performance yet, plus excellent multimedia support, and you've got a bargain of quite colossal proportions.
Ease of use
Although the PS50C6900's main onscreen menus are easy on the eye and look suitably slick, there are one or two oddities about the way they're structured.
The arrangement of the Advanced Settings and Picture Options submenus is particularly peculiar, with some pretty important adjustment features divided along apparently arbitrary grounds.
There's room for improvement with the Internet@TV interface, too. It looks rather clunky by Samsung's usual standards, doesn't structure content particularly helpfully or intuitively, and generally feels a bit like an interface that's been outgrown by the amount of content it needs to support.
On the upside, while the remote control isn't particularly pleasing on the eye and initially looks rather overwhelming with the number of buttons it carries, it doesn't take long to feel comfortable with the layout.
There is also, happily, a dedicated 3D button for quick access to 3D features: something conspicuously, frustratingly absent from the remotes of numerous other 3D TVs.
Samsung PS50C6900: Verdict
For anyone very keen on 3D but less so on the high price demanded by most suitably equipped TVs, the Samsung PS50C6900 could be a dream come true. It offers 50in of full HD 3D pictures for a mere £1,300 - or quite a bit less, if you look around online.
What's more, this budget 3D offering is no one-trick pony, for as well as that headline-grabbing 3D capability, it's also very easy on the eye, crammed with handy connections and multimedia features, and even enables you to go online with Samsung's impressive Internet@TV platform.
Yet more good news comes with the PS50C6900's 3D performance, which mercifully suffers far, far less from crosstalk noise than any of Samsung's LED/LCD 3D TVs.
The TV doesn't have the best black levels we've seen in the plasma world (we're hoping Samsung's step-up C7000 models might improve this) and nor is it a particularly good standard-definition performer, with evident colour and judder issues.
But with its sound performance proving rather better than expected, it still delivers an awful lot of bang for not very much buck.
Although not as stylish as some of Samsung's previous TVs, the PS50C6900's has a simple elegance.
Also impressive is how far the TV goes to jack into today's multimedia world and the fact that its 3D pictures aren't spoiled by oppressive amounts of crosstalk noise and even look punchier than you'd expect from a plasma.
It's also a good HD performer, though it's standout feature is its stunningly low price.
The PS50C6900 doesn't hit the sort of black level depths we would hope for from a plasma TV these days, and its standard-definition pictures are a little rough around the edges.
There's also a touch more crosstalk during 3D viewing than you get with Panasonic's 3D TVs, but its 3D pictures are eminently watchable and crisp.
While it's certainly possible to find fault with the PS50C6900, it's also got plenty going for it, including pretty looks, tons of connections, copious quantities of multimedia support and, of course, full HD 3D support, all built in with a free pair of glasses to boot.
All of which turns out to be merely an appetiser for that exceptionally affordable price, which makes it easily one of the biggest TV bargains of the year.
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