- Review Date: 12/12/2012
- Bottom line: Samsung's PNE6500EF series of plasma HDTVs combine top-notch picture quality, loads of features, and reasonable prices into a very tempting package.
- Pros: Bright panel. Solid black levels. Built-in Wi-Fi. Out-of-the-box 3D with glasses.
- Cons: Only three HDMI ports. Flesh tones appear slightly off without color calibration.
Contrary to popular belief, plasma HDTVs aren't dead. They're less energy efficient than their LED-backlit counterparts, but Samsung, Panasonic, and LG continue to make solid plasma screens. Our most recent budget Editors' Choice HDTV was Samsung's entry-level, 3D-ready PN51E490B4F, and now the midrange PNE6500EF series has stepped up to join it. The 51-inch PN51E6500EF ($1,319.99 list) we tested offers plenty of online services and apps, out-of-the-box 3D, and most importantly, a great picture. Its black levels aren't quite as low as they could be, but otherwise, this set offers a lot for the money, so it's our latest Editors' Choice for midrange plasma HDTVs.
Large and attractive, the PN51E6500EF sports a flat, matte black bezel framed by a clear plastic edge that gives it a bit of flair. It comes with a sturdy, four-legged, black plastic base that can pivot left and right and holds the HDTV securely. The bezel has a single red indicator light in the lower left corner near the infrared sensor, and no visible controls on the front or sides of the screen. A small joystick-like control knob sits just under the infrared sensor, behind the bezel. The knob serves as a Power button and a way to navigate menus; it's a bit awkward, but I eventually got used to it.
Around back, there are two HDMI ports and two USB ports facing left toward the edge of the screen for easy access. An additional HDMI port, component and composite video inputs, optical audio output, Ethernet port, and the cable connection face back. Three HDMI ports is disappointing; competing midrange screens of the same size typically offer four. It's still enough to connect a cable box, a Blu-ray player, and a game system, though.
The 9-inch remote is flat, backlit, and simple. Most of the buttons, including the navigation arrows, are rectangular and feel similar under your thumb, so it's easy to hit the wrong button when not looking directly at the remote. The easiest buttons to distinguish are the curved volume and channel switches, and the raised SmartHub button, which lets you access the HDTV's many online features.
The Wi-Fi-enabled PN51E6500EF offers a host of online services and apps through the Samsung SmartHub menu. You can access the typical apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and YouTube, along with Samsung Apps including Facebook, Skype, Twitter, and various niche features and services like ESPN NextLevel and AccuWeather. Skype lets you video chat, but you'll have to get the optional $99.99 VG-STC20000 Skype camera kit. There's also a Web browser, but navigating with the bundled remote is cumbersome.
The PN51E6500EF can display 3D content out of the box; you get two pairs of active shutter 3D glasses in the box, and there's 3D content available on the SmartHub. If you want more 3D glasses, Samsung offers additional pairs for as little as $19.99 each.
We test HDTVs with DisplayMate test patterns, Spectracal's CalMAN software, and a Konica-Minolta CS 200 Chroma Meter. After basic brightness and contrast calibration, the PN51E6500 performed very well, despite a slightly high black level. We measured a peak brightness of 169.17 cd/m2 (candelas per square meter) and a black level of 0.04 cd/m2 for a contrast ratio of 4,229:1. This bests the 101.81 cd/m2 peak brightness, 0.06 cd/m2 black level, and 1,696:1 contrast ratio of Samsung's LED-equivalent line, the ES6500F series.
At the warmest color temperature preset, the PN51E6500EF was generally very accurate, with spot-on whites and blues. Reds were slightly oversaturated and greens were slightly cool, as seen in the CIE color chart below. (Circles represent the measured values, squares represent ideal values.) Like most Samsung HDTVs, the PN51E6500EF has plenty of color settings for calibration, including individual color settings and white balance.
I loaded Black Swan and Avatar on Blu-ray on the PN51E6500EF and both films looked excellent. In Black Swan, the bright whites and textured darks of the stage and lighting showed great detail on both ends with neither the bright nor dark parts of the picture compromising for the other. In Avatar, the bright colors of Pandora's jungles popped out, and the fine textures and movements of the Na'vi were crisp. Human characters, like the dancers in Black Swan, showed an occasional slight green tint in their flesh tones, but it wasn't obvious, and could be corrected with proper color calibration.
3D, Power Consumption, Conclusions
3D content looks impressive on the screen; I loaded Sharks 3D on Blu-ray and the picture showed surprising depth without exaggeration. The 3D was consistent at multiple viewing angles, and I saw little to no crosstalk even when watching the film from the sides.
Since it's a plasma HDTV, the PN51E6500EF is a bit of a power hog. Under normal viewing conditions with no power-saving features enabled, the screen consumes 262 watts. With the energy saving mode set to Low, which slightly darkens the screen but keeps it very watchable, it consumes 230 watts. Higher energy saving modes bring that number well below 200 watts, but they make the screen too dark to watch. Generally, LED TVs offer much more favorable energy-consumption stats. The larger 55-inch LG 55LM6700, for example, consumes just 67 watts with no power saving features turned on.
The Samsung PNE6500EF series of plasma HDTVs offer a great picture, out-of-the-box 3D, and plenty of online features at a very reasonable price—about $1,300 for the 51-inch version. It's superior to its LED equivalent, and is our new favorite midrange plasma HDTV. If you want to save even more cash and don't mind compromising resolution or online features, the 720p, 3D Samsung PN51E490B4F is our Editors' Choice budget plasma HDTV for about half the price. On the other hand, if you want to splurge on a more energy efficient LED, the fully loaded Sharp Elite Pro-X5FD series offers top performance in a high-end HDTV.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.