As 50-inch 1080p plasma sets go, the Samsung Series 6500 PN50C6500TF delivers all the connected features you could ask for in Samsung’s typically user-friendly package. This set is an older model (from 2010), however, and though its image quality was quite good, its so-so audio, bare-bones hardware, and lack of 3D support reflected its age.
In our juried subjective image quality tests, the Series 6500 earned the highest average scores (by a small margin) in its test group of four HDTVs for brightness/contrast, detail/sharpness, and overall image quality. Judges particularly noted its good off-axis image quality. But the tests also demonstrated that the days when plasmas routinely trounced LCD TVs at handling motion are long gone: The three LED-backlit LCDs in the test group significantly outperformed the Samsung plasma set on our motion tests, especially on a diagonal panning shot of a city. This may not be the plasma TV to buy if you want to watch fast sports on it.
The Series 6500 PN50C6500TF may not appeal to people who are watching their energy bill, either. Like most other plasma sets, it is guilty of voracious energy consumption: 172.8 watts per hour on average in our tests, though the set registered no visible consumption when turned off.
Samsung does keep the set thin (it’s only 1.4 inches thick) and sleek, with a metallic finish to the black bezel. To achieve its thin profile, Samsung lined up the television’s ports in a slightly recessed right angle on the back left of the set.
Our test unit’s input/output configuration was a bit skimpy: On the side-facing array, you get four HDMI and two USB ports, along with PC audio in, analog and optical digital audio outputs, and an Ex-Link (RS-232C) port for control of motorized mounts. But the bottom-facing edge provides only one combined set of composite/component video and analog stereo inputs, a PC (RGB) input, and ethernet and coaxial ports. As shipped, the set doesn’t support Wi-Fi, but Samsung will sell you an adapter that you can use in one of the USB ports. There’s no headphone jack.
The setup routine is fairly typical, asking for language choice, home or store demo presets, and date/time info before launching the channel scan (assuming that you use a direct cable or antenna connection, rather than an HDMI hookup to a digital cable or satellite box).
Samsung’s provides well-organized, easy-to-follow on-screen menus. Its minimalist picture presets are a bit unusual: Dynamic (for brightly lit rooms), Standard, Relax (which is supposed to reduce eyestrain), and Movie. Advanced settings let you tweak image quality, but may or may not be available, depending on the current video source: You can make only a handful of adjustments for PC video, for example. The set offers two so-called expert patterns to help you see the impact of settings adjustments.
The advanced settings offer a full range of controls, including 10-point white balance (for movie mode only), which lets you adjust the white balance in 10-point intervals by changing red, green, and blue brightness levels. Not all current HD sets provide this level of control.
The Series 6500 comes with five preset audio modes: Standard, Music, Movie, Clear Voice, and Amplify (which ups the intensity of high-frequency audio in order, Samsung says, to help the hearing impaired). In my tests, the set’s simulated surround sound was adequate, but like many other sets equipped with two 10-watt built-in speakers, it seemed a bit weak, even at maximum volume, when I played The Phantom of the Opera on Blu-ray.
Samsung continues to shine in its connected TV offerings, which include the big guns (Hulu Plus, Netflix, Vudu, and YouTube) plus Yahoo Widgets, including ones for Facebook, Twitter, and a slew of local stations. There’s a paid app store, too, and support for media playback from DLNA devices over your home network. Note, however, that Samsung recommends installing its own PC Share Manager software (a free download) on a PC you wish to access, whereas other DLNA-supporting sets seem to work without additional software.
Samsung’s media playback application is one of the nicer ones we’ve seen, with a good-looking user interface and lots of useful features, including file-sorting options and advanced slideshow controls. The media player supports a dozen or so video formats, along with MP3 and PCM music and JPEG images.
Samsung threw in a bunch of features designed to entice you to purchase other Samsung electronics. Owners of some Samsung mobile phones and other devices can activate the set’s AllShare feature, which lets you view SMS text messages, call info, and media stored on your mobile device on your TV. The set’s AnyNet+ technology enables the remote to control other AnyNet+-enabled Samsung devices.
Samsung’s long, skinny remote is well designed, with clearly labeled buttons that offer quick access to controls and content. There is some overlap: For example, you can get to Yahoo Widgets via a dedicated button, or you can reach them by using the Internet button that brings up links to all Web services. A Tools button summons a quick menu of controls for adjusting image and audio modes, invoking picture-in-picture functionality (between two inputs only), accessing AnyNet devices, and the like. At the top of the remote is a button for lighting up the other buttons.
Samsung provides a printed black-and-white manual that covers both its 6400 and 6500 series plasma TVs, plus a quick setup guide to help you mount the set on its stand and connect video sources. Both are available for download online as PDFs.
Macworld’s buying advice
Overall, the Samsung Series 6500 PN50C6500TFXZA delivers good image quality and first-rate connected TV features at a reasonable price for a stylish 50-inch plasma. If you aren’t interested in preparing for a 3D future, and the set’s high energy consumption doesn’t put you off, this model is well worth considering—especially if its street price continues to drop.