Sometimes, you don't have to lift a ﬁnger to ﬁnd a killer TV deal – one comes to you instead. And that's the case with the new Samsung PS50A556 plasma television.
Offering 50ins of screen real estate and a Full HD resolution for a little over £1,000, it's guaranteed to get some people's attention, especially when compared to the 50in 1080p-compliant Pioneer PDP-LX5090, which, at around £2,500, is more than twice the price.
Okay, so the Pioneer is an exceptionally good TV, but the point still stands: on paper, this is a similarly-equipped plasma at less than half the cost.
It certainly doesn't look or feel like a budget option. The set is well-made; solidly constructed and competently styled in standard-issue high-gloss black (the slightly pricier PS50A656 model comes in a ﬁery red ﬁnish, for those who are into that sort of thing).
I'm not personally a fan of the build- quality of Samsung's LCD TV range – they've got more plastic on show than Jocelyn Wildenstein – but have no such complaints about its plasmas, which are heavier, sturdier and much less likely to attract scratches and dust.
There are a couple of nice instances of design ﬂair on display too, namely the nifty touch-sensitive controls on the right hand side of the screen and the slim blue power light.
Connectivity is similarly impressive, with Samsung including three v1.3 HDMI ports (one on the left side panel), plus component video, a pair of Scarts and a PC input.
Also at the back is an optical audio output for hooking the TV to an external sound system, while at
the side you'll ﬁ nd S-video and composite inputs, a CI card slot for adding Setanta Sports and a USB port.
The latter can be used for MP3 music and JPEG photo playback from a USB stick; it doesn't work with external hard disk drives, unfortunately. All in all, that's as good an array of sockets as you could expect, and it means you can connect up several HD sources with a minimum of fuss.
I found myself pleasantly surprised with the picture quality straight away. While the black levels can't touch the epic, super-clean bottomlessness of Pioneer's Kuro screens, they're sufﬁciently inky to give the picture a pleasing sense of depth.
I spun up the opening scene of Sunshine on Blu-ray, where the Icarus II spacecraft is shown sweeping past the camera: the unending blackness of space in the background actually looks fairly convincing here, rather than washed-out and slightly grey.
The cell brightness can be adjusted, which is fairly unusual for a plasma. This lets you reduce the overall brightness behind the picture, which helps maintain the darkness of the blacks when you're watching in an unlit room. That said, there's still a bit of 'bite' lacking in the very darkest areas.
Bold and beautiful
1080p24 material on Blu-ray is fully supported, so ﬁlms can be played at their native speed if you wish.
You can also enable xvYCC-expanded colour space if you've got a source capable of outputting it. That said, colour reproduction isn't this TV's strong point, and while there's a nice vibrancy to oranges, reds and greens, gradation from light to dark isn't as smooth as I'd have liked – for example, the sun in the opening scene of Sunshine looks a little like an archery target, rather than a massive ball of ﬁre, indicating a lack of bit-depth.
Motion is handled well. There's little sign of ghosting, even with the quick-panning, high-tempo footie fest that is Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 on the Xbox 360 – but then you wouldn't expect to see any real issues with that on a plasma screen.
Samsung's Movie Plus technology also proves effective when it comes to removing judder, particularly on ﬁlm content, although it doesn't measure up to the standards of technologies like Philips' Perfect Natural Motion, and becomes totally unavailable when you're watching a Blu-ray ﬁlm in 1080p24 – which is why I noticed plenty of judder as Icarus II made that ﬂy-by in Sunshine.
I also spotted some minor motion artefacts appearing during very quick pans; shimmering areas, usually visible in character's faces.
Razor's edge detail
As you'd expect from a large, 1920 x 1080 resolution screen, detail from a hi-def source is almost sharp enough to slice open your eyeballs. Total Recall (recently released on Blu-ray) has never looked so good – the deﬁnition available from this Arnie favourite is often jaw-dropping.
It's not always clean, sadly – the backgrounds in the ﬁrst episode of BBC HD's aerial photography showcase Britain from Above were surprisingly busy with noise, even with the TV's reduction tech cranked up – but objects are crisp and sharp-edged.
Standard-deﬁnition content fares much the same as hi-def material, but obviously without the detail aspect creating such an impact. Still, I found both digital television and DVD movies to be eminently watchable on the PS50A556, mainly thanks to those strong black levels, so you can consider this Samsung a worthy living room TV as well as an HD movie screen.
I should make a quick mention of sound quality before I wrap things up: it's reasonably good, better perhaps than the same brand's larger LCD screens, and does its job effectively enough considering
the speakers are practically invisible, but as always you should really pair up a big screen like this with
an external audio setup to add a bit of sonic steel to whatever you're watching.
Dark horse of plasma
With OLED technology the talk of the town, and LCD screens becoming cheaper than a month's worth of electricity, plasma TVs aren't particularly trendy – unless you have a wallet big enough for a ninth-gen Kuro. Yet Samsung has succeeded in putting together a very strong plasma performer for a truly tempting price.
The Samsung PS50A556 might not stretch for the very pinnacles of picture quality, but it delivers ﬁne images and a raft of useful features, not to mention tank-like build quality and a thoroughly inoffensive design.
It's a bargain, then – and not one that requires much effort to ﬁnd...