Samsung 64" F8500 Series 8 Smart 3D Full HD Plasma TV review: Feel the magic

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Samsung 64" F8500 Series 8 Smart 3D Full HD Plasma TV

For this review we tested the 64in model of the Samsung Series 8 F8500 Plasma TV (PS64F8500ST), but it's also available in a 51in screen size (PS51F8500ST). As both models have identical specifications, excluding dimensions and power usage, we're confident that image quality will be practically identical across the range. We're fans of plasma TVs as they provide deeper blacks and contrast than LCD TVs, but they're also more expensive and heavier. At 64 inches across, the mammoth F8500 is considerably thicker than the average LCD panel. It also has a slightly thicker bezel than Samsung's F8000 models, and it has a sturdier stand to support its weight. The stand extends outwards at the front, which will prevent you slotting a sound bar directly underneath or in front of the panel.

The F8500 has a wide array of ports, including four HDMI ports, component and composite inputs via adapters, a digital optical audio output, three USB ports, an Ethernet port and two TV tuners, one for terrestrial aerials and the other for Free sat. There's also a Common Interface slot for adding subscription TV channels as well as Samsung's own Evolution Kit, which will let you add next year's Smart TV system to your current set. The Smart Hub interface fills the screen when you switch on the TV. Samsung has made Smart TV a priority for its 2013 TVs and the F8500 reaps the benefits. It has five different home screens, and the large icon-based layout is more than a little reminiscent of the Windows 8 Start screen. It's easy to navigate using its bundled standard and "pebble" remote controls, with the pebble remote control having a touch-sensitive pad rather than physical buttons.

There's plenty to enjoy in the Smart Hub, including catch-up TV from BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5, making it the clear choice for online telly addicts. There's also on-demand films from Netflix, LoveFilm, KnowHow Movies and Blinkbox, along with Samsung's S Recommendation engine, which puts the films you're most likely to enjoy right on the Movies screen. It works well, quickly learning your habits and suggesting films accordingly. You can also play your own media files using DLNA if you have a PC or NAS device connected to the same network as the F8500. If you don't, you can always copy files to a USB drive and connect that to the TV. Either way, file format support is superb; we had no trouble playing MKV, DivX or H.264 files.

Switching from film trailers to Blu-ray discs, the F8500 creates fantastic-looking images thanks to the plasma panel. Colours are vibrant and everything looks pin-sharp, but the real talking point is the black levels; they're simply phenomenal. In darker scenes, the blacks are truly black, even when placed side-by-side with brighter objects, which look astonishingly white when the cell brightness is at its maximum setting. Unlike increasing backlight brightness on an LCD TV, turning up the cell brightness doesn't diminish black levels, so you can increase cell brightness for viewing in a brightly lit room without any side effects.

In motion, we noticed a small amount of dithering, but Samsung's Motion Resolution image processing still does an excellent job of avoiding stutter. You can also disable noise reduction completely, previously not an option on Samsung's plasma TVs, to get an untouched picture when watching Blu-ray video. Standard definition content is upscaled smoothly, although there's naturally only so much detail Samsung's image processor can generate based on the input signal.

Broadcast television looks soft and fairly muted, so you're better off sticking with HD video. Whereas Panasonic plasma TVs favour better colour gradation when displaying 3D content, Samsung's TVs are more focused on producing a 3D image free of jagged edges. By scanning every 3D frame at 1080p, rather than intermediate frames at a lower resolution, the F8500 produces impressively crisp 3D video which really pops out of the screen. In practice, this means less jagged edges around moving objects and clearer Z-axis images, although colours aren't quite as vibrant in 3D mode. This is beyond the reduction you get when wearing 3D glasses, but it's only a minor complaint and not enough to spoil 3D films. We also noticed a small amount of motion stutter too, but only with 50Hz content from Sky 3D.

The 64in F8500 has more room for speakers inside than most, but Samsung has stuck with its tried and tested 2x10W driver setup. They produce reasonable sound, but they aren't as immediate as other plasma sets, such as those from Panasonic, because they fire backwards rather than forwards. There's plenty of volume here, but no real bass presence. As Samsung's flagship plasma TV for 2013, the F8500 manages to impress; it has all the features we've come to expect from the company, along with excellent picture and sound quality. However, it's very expensive and only available in large screen sizes, which makes it impractical for many. Panasonic has also just launched its own 2013 range of plasma sets, which includes mid-range as well as high-end models. Even so, right now Samsung's F8500 is one of the best TVs out there.
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