Review: Samsung PN-64F8500 plasma
When I arrived at Cleveland Plasma to check out this latest beauty from Samsung, Chris could barely contain himself as he told me of the excitement the F8500 has been generating online. Big improvements over last year's E series were expected, and specifics were just beginning to trickle in. I was appreciative of Samsung's previous lines, though I admit feeling somewhat let down at the E series' limited brightness and lack of substantial improvement over the D series. Chris said it looked like the F series was going to change all that, and he was right on the money.
This is an attractive TV, with a narrow pewter bezel, slim profile, and a tiny, top mounted Skype camera. The remote is a small but solid-feeling clickable touchpad device.
The screen soaks up ambient light very well. With very bright ceiling lights on, reflections were dark and well suppressed. I could see myself looking at the screen with some effort, but my reflection appeared to be a mostly featureless silhouette.
I could hear a small amount of buzzing very close to the screen, though by about a 6 foot distance the whirring of a Blu Ray player masked the slight buzzing with most content. Some bright test patterns, like the ANSI checkerboard pattern, generated a little more buzzing that was audible from 8 or 9 feet. This can vary from one set to the next, but it is safe to say it will not be an issue on this sample.
The viewing angle is perfect from side to side, and as long as you don't stand close to a F8500 that is on the floor you shouldn't be bothered by any dimming in the vertical direction.
The F8500 initially defaults to Standard mode, which looked a bit etched and artificially enhanced. Pans had the uber-smooth soap opera feel, though at times motion broke up and appeared choppy. Despite the fact that still images looked excessively grainy, it appeared that strong noise reduction was at work with moving images, making them smoother but somewhat smeared. The picture lacked stability, with brightness pumping and flashing apparent at times. Colors were vibrant and fairly pleasing, though not quite lifelike and natural. Whites appeared bright, bluish, and somewhat flat; and brightly lit faces were overexposed and suffered from a caked on makeup look. Deep blacks and fairly good shadow detail hinted of good things to come, but this display's as-delivered state hardly puts it's best foot forward.
Relax was quite similar to Standard, though without the overexposed look. Colors popped and skin tones were not as offensive as one might expect, though the overall look was more subdued and “doctored” than realistic.
Colors, which were respectable in the previous modes, improved quite a bit by switching over to Movie mode. They appeared much more realistic, though perhaps a bit pale in overall balance. In addition, the picture gained brightness and pop, and realism took a leap forward. However, depth could be a bit lacking, and whites had a bit of an off-white or greenish tinge. At times, I thought I glimpsed hints of the dirty screen effect, in which bright panning objects appeared smudged or dirty until they stop moving. Though to a much smaller degree than in the two previous modes, graininess with still images and glazed over motion were visible. Stability, contrast, and shadow detail were impressive. It appeared that Movie mode has some great qualities, though it was not quite seductively rich or lifelike yet.
Ugh... With it's cartoonish colors and gaudy whites, Dynamic wore thin in a hurry. However, it was bright and punchy, which will appeal to some at least in the short term.
A few simple things can be done by anyone to bring out significantly more performance in Movie mode. Turning sharpness down to half or less of it's starting position will reduce graininess, and with 1080 HD sources changing the Picture Size from 16:9 to Screen Fit will improve sharpness and eliminate overscan. In Picture options, changing Color Tone from Warm2 to Warm1 alleviates the off white and greenish tinge, and turning off the other various “enhancements” found there will increase the accuracy of the picture. Finally, in the advanced settings, reducing gamma to -1 eliminated a slightly flat sensation. Later, after examining the measurements, I was surprised at this since gamma was already quite high, but I did feel it made an improvement short of a more complete calibration with the aid of test equipment. After making these simple changes, without the aid of test patterns of any kind, the F8500's performance improved significantly. Thus configured and viewed in a light controlled room, the F8500 is a real head turner.
The richness of blacks and contrast is arguably the toughest test for any display, and traditionally a good plasma will outperform a conventional LED in that regard. While last year's E series took a timid step forward, there is no doubt the F8500's blacks take a more confident leap ahead. In Movie mode's picture options, a selection called Black optimizer does seem to make the blacks darker when set to Dark room. In that setting, the black level, which appeared excellent before, improved even further; coaxing what appears to be state of the art black level performance out of the F8500. Do the blacks appear illuminated with the lights out in the Dark room setting? Yes; not even the last run of Elite Kuros could claim otherwise. However, the F8500 is so good that nearly any significant picture content made the blacks appear extremely or even totally devoid of light, which is a significant accomplishment. Bright objects appear to come out of a velvety, inky black background. However, the extra darkness comes at the price of stability. Later testing revealed that Dark room caused dynamic fluctuation of the blacks, so it will be a judgment call on whether to take advantage of that circuitry.
Black levels were measured with a C6 meter profiled with a Jeti 1211 reference spectro to the F8500.
Black level measured .0069 fL with Black optimizer off and a 1080P/60 source. With the Black optimizer set to Dark room or Auto, it measured .0025 fL. With 1080P/24 and cinema smooth on, black level was .0072/.0025 fL, which is not significantly different. With Black Optimizer set to either auto or Dark room, Movie mode's modified ANSI contrast ratio was 7436:1, at 34.95/.0047 fL. That was further evidence of some black level floating, as the black level on a dark screen was significantly lower than black level of the checkerboard. Because of this fluctuating black level in the Dark room setting, I made the decision to do the calibration in Movie mode with the Black optimizer off. As calibrated, with Black optimizer off, the modified ANSI contrast ratio measured 6034:1, at 38.62/.0064 fL.
After going into the service menu, I opened up the Cal-Day and Cal-Night modes, which are normally not present in the TV's menu. In a departure from previous Samsungs, these modes, before calibration, produced one of the worst, most peculiar pictures I've seen yet on a modern plasma. After resetting some curiously strange settings, things looked much, much better.
The F8500 is a light output heavyweight, breaking records in my experience for large plasmas. Light output could have been as high as 58 fL after calibration in Movie mode, though I backed that down to about 51 fL after viewing some program material. Cal-Day could be calibrated up to an astonishing 84.1 fL, but otherwise behaved similarly to Movie mode once the proper groundwork was laid. The light output with a 100% full white screen was a super strong 23.4 fL. Cal-Day could reach well into the 40's with the ANSI checkerboard pattern, which is a record in my experience. These are wonderful numbers for hockey fans, because the F8500 will maintain brightness better when showing a bright rink than any other plasma I know of. It's also great news for those who have brighter rooms, because the F8500 will remain punchy when other plasmas begin to look bland.
Calibration of Movie mode was straightforward, until I got to the CMS adjustment. In the past year, thanks to advances in software capability, I've transitioned from calibrating only fully saturated colors to focusing more on 75% saturations at 75% luminance, which gives a better approximation of real world picture content. With the F8500, it's just not possible to accurately calibrate the CMS at 75% saturation; it's color gamut shrinks as saturation is reduced. I ended up targeting somewhere in between the old standard of 100% saturation/75% luminance and 75% saturation/75% luminance. What I got was a perfectly acceptable compromise, with all color saturation delta errors below about 2, but with slightly pale shades below full purity.
Unlike the E series, the F8500 goes blue the more load is placed on the ABL circuitry by progressively larger measurement windows. This is subjectively more pleasing than the more earthy tone the E series exhibited with bright scenes. In my estimation, good window sizes to use for calibration seem to be either 5% conventional windows or approximately 18% APL windows.
With a 1080P/24 signal and Cinema Smooth engaged, my meter synced at around 96 Hz.
Cinema Smooth caused a significant shift in gamma and white balance, adding an average of 3 dE to the grayscale run. Because of this, it may be desirable to either send a Blu Ray signal to a dedicated input, put up with some motion judder by leaving Cinema Smooth off if you're not much of a movie watcher, or calibrate with Cinema Smooth on and let TV content be a bit less accurate.
How does the F8500 look after all the tweaks have been made? Majestic, with bright scenes oodling pop and excitement like I've never seen on a large plasma. It's textures are smooth, devoid of graininess. Colors look very lifelike, but on the polite side of accurate. Blacks and contrast are excellent, though not a substitute for the late, great Kuro king. The black bars are just visible with letterbox movies, but only in a dark room. Because of the way bright objects change our perception, the bars tend to be more visible with dark movie scenes than bright ones. Shadow detail is superb, looking correct in intensity and neutral in color. Resolution and sharpness are as good as I've seen.
I've calibrated many Panasonic 65VT50s, with the last one being just a couple of days ago. Though I did not have one available for a side by side comparison, I know it extremely well and can give impressions of how it and the F8500 compare.
Compared to the VT50 calibrated in the normal fashion of ISF Day using mid panel brightness, the F8500 is punchier in bright scenes. It is also a bit smoother, especially up close. The VT50 has slightly superior color accuracy, though it looks a bit more “hot” and colored with skin tones than the F8500's more relaxed color palette. If you are easily offended by the sunburnt look skin tones have on many displays, the F8500's less saturated but still seductive colors will be like a soothing balm on your eyes. The VT50's blacks are superior, though subjectively they appear extremely close. Dark movie scenes in dark rooms may show the VT50's slightly superior blacks. Motion quality will depend on if you use Cinema Smooth or not, but I prefer the VT50's motion overall. The F8500's edge in brightness makes it superior in slightly brighter rooms or if you just like brighter images.
The F8500 is a winner, with special appeal to lovers of bright and punchy images. It's color was very natural and easy on the eyes, and over all it's performance keeps pace with the very best.
Samsung 64F8500 movie.pdf