Samsung PS51D6900 £1300
23rd May 2011 | 11:15
Top value active 3D TV with impressive Smart TV multimedia capability
Samsung PS51D6900: Overview
The Samsung PS51D6900 sells for a paltry £1,300, despite its active 3D technology and 51-inch screen.
Its unusual screen size doesn't seem to have made its body bigger than Samsung's 50-inch sets, thanks to a narrow bezel that is finished in attractive deep grey and tastefully offset by some transparent trim.
Samsung's new Smart TV platform improves on the previous Internet@TV service by dramatically increasing the amount of content available to browsers and by revamping the user interface.
The PS51D6900, like most mid-range to high-end sets, employs 600Hz sub-field driving to improve motion fluency and general image stability and also benefits from one of Samsung's new Clear Image Panels with anti-reflection filtering.
Joining the PS51D6900 in the D6900 series is the 59-inch PS59D6900, but there are other 3D models above and below, too. Samsung's entry-level 3D model is the PS43D490 (note that this has an inch more than the usual 42-inch TVs too), which costs barely half as much but doesn't have a full HD resolution, a Freeview HD tuner, or any Smart TV online capability. There are also two D550 models, the 51-inch PS51D550 and 59-inch PS59D550, which up the size and adds a Freeview HD tuner.
Above the PS51D6900, meanwhile, can be found the D7000 and D8000 series. The D7000s come in 51-inch and 59-inch sizes, and introduce an ultra-slim design as well as the potential picture-boosting Real Black Filter.
The D8000s feature a metallic design and ultra-slim profile, and come in two sizes: the 64-inch PS64D8000 and 51-inch PS51D8000. The D8000 models add open Internet browsing and Skype to the feature list, as well as shipping with a so-called TwinView touch-control remote.
Samsung PS51D6900: Features
The PS51D6900 employs active 3D technology and comes with just one pair of glasses, although extra pairs of the most basic sort can now be found for as little as £50. Anyone after more sophisticated eyewear, meanwhile, can buy the (rechargeable, lightweight) SSG3300 versions for just £70, while the premium SSG3700 specs sell for about £90.
This is great news, as it substantially reduces the full price a normal family might have to pay to get into Active 3D viewing.
The PS51D6900 also boasts Samsung's impressive 2D to 3D conversion circuitry, which works with five different depth 'cues' versus the two or three usually exploited by 2D to 3D technology.
The 3D sync transmission platform is Bluetooth, rather than infra-red, which, according to Samsung, delivers a more stable connection, especially if there are many people watching at once.
The PS51D6900 benefits greatly from Smart TV. The new 'Hub' main menu screen uses a lovely collection of icons to provide instant access to an amazing range of sources, including everything from the built-in Freeview HD tuner through to your AV inputs, all the multimedia stuff stored on your PC or USB devices, plus Samsung's online content and apps, which now include BBC iPlayer and a 3D portal. The latter currently features trailers of 3D films, a trio of documentaries including one exploring William Hearst's 'castle', some obscure music videos and a bunch of kid's programmes, many of which appear to hail from Korea.
Other highlights of the PS50D6900's online apps and services are LoveFilm, AceTrax, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and the vTuner Internet Radio server. There are also games galore and loads of specialist information apps, adding up to a very impressive overall app count.
The PS51D6900 might not bear endorsements from either the Imaging Science Foundation or THX, but it is certainly not short of set-up aids.
The colourful and clear onscreen menus include a small selection of picture presets (Movie, Standard, Relax and Dynamic), an unusual 'Cell Bright' option that enables you to adjust the pixel brightness (in addition to a normal, general brightness option), and all manner of options in an Advanced menu including black tone boosters, a dynamic contrast tool, gamma adjustments, white balance fine tuning (via offset and gain tweaks for the RGB colour elements), a 10-point white balance adjustment, a skin tone booster, an edge enhancer, and a Motion Lighting feature that adjusts the brightness levels of the picture automatically based on the amount of motion being shown, in a bid to reduce power consumption.
Some of these features – specifically those that involve processing - have to be treated with kid gloves or often turned off completely because they can sometimes do as much harm as good. So long as you bear this in mind, it's always good to find TVs offering as many picture personalisation tools as possible.
The PS51D6900 is well set up for multimedia, with built-in Wi-Fi that enables you to go online or access stuff on your PC without a physical connection, as well as two USBs for playing back most photo, video and music file formats or for recording from the HD tuners to hard-disk drives.
Other useful connections include four v1.4 HDMI inputs and a D-Sub PC port.
Samsung PS51D6900: Picture
The first thing that hits you when watching a full HD 3D Blu-ray is how amazingly detailed pictures look. Every last tiny pixel of full HD detail - such as the minute shiny 'panels' in the aliens' clothes in Monsters Vs Aliens - is shown with extreme accuracy and not a trace of noise. In fact, they're arguably the sharpest 3D pictures seen on any TV to date and help the set deliver a really impressive sense of depth to 3D shots.
Provided you set the PS51D6900 to its Dynamic picture preset when watching 3D, it also delivers impressively rich, dynamic and believable colours, and retains a decent amount of brightness too. Certainly, there's no sign of the hollow look that affected dark areas on Samsung previous generation of plasmas.
The only minor problem with the PS51D6900's 3D performance is that it suffers a little more from crosstalk ghosting noise than Panasonic's plasmas.
Happily, though, this is usually restricted to what you might call 'internal' crosstalk, where you can only see the ghosting within relatively dark objects. For instance, during the Golden Gate Bridge sequence of Monsters Vs Aliens, while the struts and cables appear more or less crosstalk-free against the blue sky, internal reflections on the widest of the struts do ghost a little.
Motion occasionally looks a touch uncomfortable in 3D mode too, with slight judder affecting backgrounds during camera pans or tracking shots. It is a minor niggle, though, rather than a significant distraction.
One last, minor, grumble is that there is no dedicated picture preset that kicks in automatically as soon as the TV detects a 3D signal.
With 2D material, without the darkening effects of the active shutter glasses the PS51D6900 immediately suffers in comparison with Panasonic's GT30 and, especially, VT30 series by virtue of not delivering nearly the same degree of black level response. There's a slightly greyer look to dark scenes, which inevitably reduces their impact. It also marginally affects the tone of very dark colours, and there's slightly less shadow detail to be seen in very dark areas versus the latest Panasonics.
However, not being as good as Panasonic's remarkable screens when it comes to black levels does not mean that the PS51D6900 can't still deliver a very engaging performance indeed. In fact, by any other, non-Panasonic measure, black levels are very good. They certainly look deeper than those of last year's equivalent Samsung plasma model and outgun those of practically every LED/LCD TV - especially once you've taken the immaculate black level uniformity into account.
The impeccable sense of sharpness and detailing noted with 3D continues into 2D mode, too, and colours are rendered with an engaging mixture of vibrancy and naturalism. There's no doubt that Panasonic's latest G and V plasma models deliver a punchier and even more dynamic colour palette, but the PS51D6900's pictures are never less than credible.
The set's plasma technology also means you can watch the screen from a much wider viewing angle than Samsung's LCD TVs and there's no motion blur whatsoever, again thanks to the innately fast response time of plasma technology.
Also impressive is how well the set upscales standard-definition material. Samsung TVs generally perform unusually ably in this key regard, but converting a relatively grubby standard-def digital broadcast up to HD without losing significant colour accuracy and colour striping is particularly difficult on a plasma set. Yet the PS51D6900 suffers hardly at all with either issue.
Finally, the PS51D6900 appears to be a decent gaming proposition, thanks to a pleasingly low 34ms of input lag. This shouldn't be enough to contribute on any regular basis to unfair deaths in Call of Duty or missed notes on Guitar Hero.
Samsung PS51D6900: Sound, value and ease of use
Samsung has made considerable improvements to the audio quality of its 2011 TVs. The desperately underpowered, thin sound of previous generations has given way to a much more open and powerful mid-range, which immediately makes sound appear more well rounded and natural.
This is true even with relatively straightforward TV fare, with voices (especially male ones) sounding less nasal. Of course, where the extra power and range really scores is when watching action sequences, which now actually sound credible and involving rather than thin, harsh and distracting.
There's still room for improvement when it comes to both the portrayal of really fine treble detail and deep bass levels; in other words, a bit more dynamic range would be nice. But overall the PS51D6900's sound is powerful enough to produce a soundstage able to do the large pictures justice.
It's in the value department that the PS51D6900 makes its most persuasive case. Panasonic's brilliant rival, the P50GT30, costs more than £1,700 on the high street, whereas the PS51D6900's is more like £1,300 and (unlike its rival) comes with a free pair of glasses.
Extra pairs of Samsung's glasses are cheaper, too, which means that the PS51D6900 is able to entertain a family of four for at least £600 less than the Panasonic, which will make the Korean-made screen's marginally inferior 3D performance seem like a perfectly acceptable trade-off to many.
Ease of use
The PS51D6900 is phenomenally easy to use, considering how many features and content sources it supports.
The Smart Hub is clearly the most important element of this, thanks to the way it handles huge amounts of information remarkably easy thanks to its graphics and intuitive layout. But the separate set-up menu is also mostly great, thanks to its clean text, attractive layout and brief onscreen explanations of what each feature is for when you highlight it.
The remote control doesn't look particularly special, but it has an intuitive layout and fits comfortably in your hand.
The onscreen menus aren't perfect, though. For instance, there seems a totally unnecessary division of features between separate Advanced Settings and Picture Options sub-menus when one sub-menu would have been much more sensible. Also – bizarrely – the TV's Game preset is hidden away in a 'General' sub-menu of the main System menu option rather than being included with the rest of the picture presets.
Overall, though, many rival brands could learn a few things from Samsung's new operating system.
Samsung PS51D6900: Verdict
The PS51D6900 combines appealing looks and 51-inch images (versus the usual 50-inch) with a long feature list, inputs galore and – best of all – a really nice all-round picture performance, regardless of whether you're watching 2D or 3D.
The PS51D6900's sub-£1,300 price is very attractive for a set of this size and will be enough in itself to win many to its cause. It's also a good all-round performer with 2D and 3D, and offers an unprecedented amount of online capability, including plenty of video sources.
The onscreen menus are excellent, too, in the way they explain each feature when you select it.
There are one or two odd organisational issues with the PS51D6900's onscreen menus and there's a touch more crosstalk with 3D viewing than we've seen with the very best 3D performers. Also, although the PS51D6900's glasses are cheaper than most 3D active shutter glasses, they're still more expensive than those used with passive 3D TVs (though the passive options require you to take a hit on 3D resolution).
The PS51D6900 looks lovely in an understated way, its extra inch of picture is appreciated and, most importantly of all, its £1,300 price is very attractive for such a large active 3D TV. What really pleases the most, though, is that it backs its up-front appeal up with a very satisfying performance, be it in 2D or 3D mode.
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