Compared to most TV manufacturers that have walked away from the plasma TV segment in favor of LED/LCD technology, Samsung certainly hasn’t given up on the category, and recently laid claim to top spot in larger size plasma TV sales (they only have two competitors in the plasma segment—LG and Panasonic). Their top line 8000-series plasma models, including the 59” size under review here, are as feature-packed as they come, and provide higher value on a cost per screen inch basis than their comparable top tier LED/LCD models (for comparison, note that Samsung’s top line 8000-series LED set maxes out at 55” and will set you back $600 more than you’d spend on the 59” plasma reviewed here).
Consider this HDTV if: you’re on the hunt for a 3DTV that’s stuffed to the gills with features and includes a wide range of Internet apps along with a built-in web browser.
Look elsewhere if: you’re on a budget, as Samsung’s lower tier plasma models provide great picture quality and strong feature sets at lower price points.
Ratings (relative to comparably-priced HDTVs):
Overall picture quality (HD): 10
User interface: 9
Compared to last year’s Samsung 3DTVs, this year’s range feature improved 3D glasses that communicate with the set via Bluetooth radio frequency instead of infrared. That upgrade provides for the widest possible viewing angle (everybody in the room gets a reliable 3D sync signal from the TV, regardless of where they sit). Samsung also knows that many potential 3DTV buyers last year were wary about the high price of active shutter 3D glasses, and they now provide three tiers of 3D specs, with prices starting at $50 a pair (battery operated), and two step-up 3D glasses choices (one paris is compact-sized and both are rechargeable). The midrange models goes for $130, while the spiffy-looking top line model is super lightweight (one ounce!). Originally carrying a $220 retail price tag, the lightweight specs are now offered for a more reasonable $150 SRP.
At posting time, Samsung was running a promotional program where purchasers of select 3D models receive two pairs of the entry-level 3D glasses for free, to be handed out by the selling retailer at the time of purchase. The scheduled end date for the free glasses promotion is mid-August according to Samsung's web site, but the firm has hinted that the program might be extended (or not--it was unclear at posting time).
The Samsung is equipped with a broad range of Internet apps, which include various subscription streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu and CinemaNow, as well as Internet radio via Pandora and vTuner, plus lots of other apps including the usual widgets such as YouTube. The best part about the Samsung’s Internet capability comes via the nifty remote control, which is a dual-sided affair. One side features the usual set of TV remote control buttons and communicates commands to the set via infrared, but if you flip the remote over you will find a QWERTY keypad and LCD text screen that lets you surf the net a lot more easily than with most other smart TVs.
When using the QWERTY keypad side, the remote switches to Bluetooth RF mode, which means that there’s no need to point the remote toward the TV. For smartphone users that are already used to finger and thumb control of their phone’s text keypad, getting used to the Samsung remote’s QWERTY keypad should be relatively quick and painless. However, the TV’s built-in web browser isn’t up to the task of streaming HD video from network TV content sites (e.g., the ABC site). While my six year old desktop PC is in no way a speed demon, it had no problem viewing HD episodes from the ABC site with no hiccups, but the Samsung TV’s web browser fell way short by comparison, constantly locking up and having to reload the episode from the beginning (and that was with a wired LAN connection to my cable modem). For static Internet surfing and light duty SD video watching (such as YouTube), the browser stumbled a lot less often, but it was still pokey slow. The set also comes with Skype video calling capability, but to use that feature will require shelling out extra dollars for the optional camera/microphone combo (it lists for $170).
The PN59D8000 is one of numerous 2011 Samsung plasma models that boasts a slightly thinner front bezel compared to their earlier offerings. Samsung calls the feature “+1”, meaning that for a given exterior dimension, there’s now an extra diagonal inch of picture area. The review sample came with an EnergyGuide label on the front bezel with information about the TV’s power consumption. Compared to other flat panel TVs in the 55”-59” size range, this Samsung scores in the lower third of the range (estimated at $40 per year, compared to the most efficient sets coming in at $25, with the thirstiest models coming in at $73).