It's fair to say that normally if you see a price of less than £800/US$800 attached to a 51-inch TV, you probably won't expect that TV to be up to much. Right from the start, though, the Samsung PS51E490 starts trying to oppose those negative expectations with a design that's stylish, if a bit too chunky to be trendy.

There's a brief 'living down to expectations' moment as you find the TV carrying only two HDMI ports, not having a Full HD resolution, and not supporting Samsung's smart TV online services.

But once you've taken these shortcomings on the chin, it's pretty much all uphill from here. HD picture quality in 2D and 3D mode is surprisingly strong, with good colours, more sharpness than expected, solid motion reproduction and a handy contrast performance by budget TV standards.

Its PC network and USB multimedia playback features are strong too, and the inclusion of two pairs of free 3D glasses with the TV is an act of startling generosity.

Yes, you can get better plasma TVs if you spend more money, but so what? The Samsung PS51E490 is specifically designed for people who can't afford to spend more money, and it satisfies the likely needs of that target audience well.

We liked

Buying Guide
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The price of the Samsung PS51E490 is enough to put a smile on any cash-strapped film fan's face, making it one of the cheapest 50-51-inch TVs around.

Even better, though, is the fact that the Samsung PS51E490 doesn't only get by on its price appeal. Its pictures are much better than those of most budget big-screen rivals, in both 2D and 3D mode, and it delivers some decent multimedia playback from USB or networked PC. It even sounds better than average.

We disliked

The lack of any online services is unfortunate if understandable given the Samsung PS51E490's price. Standard definition pictures are a bit rough looking too, and you can get better contrast if you spend more on another plasma TV (surprise surprise).

Finally, the TV doesn't have a Full HD native resolution, and can suffer a little judder with its motion.

Final verdict

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Samsung might like crowing about its high-end LED TVs, but the Samsung PS51E490 proves the brand still knows its way around the budget end of the market too. Its picture and sound performance are both much better than you've any right to expect from a 51-inch TV that costs less than £800/US$800, and it even gives you a Freeview HD tuner, multimedia playback from USB or networked PC, and active 3D, including two pairs of glasses.

It's not the best with standard definition pictures, and you can't take it online for streamed video. But we personally felt more than happy to live with these compromises in return for the Samsung PS51E490's other talents.

Also consider

If you've got your heart set on a plasma TV (and there's no reason why you shouldn't have) then you could consider Panasonic's P50X50, which has maybe marginally better pictures for similar money but doesn't have 3D. If you want 3D on a different plasma TV, your cheapest good rival is the Panasonic P50UT50.

If you're willing to think about LCD, good options would be the LG 47LM620T, which delivers a passive 3D option complete with seven pairs of glasses included for free, and Samsung's own UE46ES6300, with its active LCD system and online services.

Both these LCD options are a bit smaller with their screen sizes than the Samsung PS51E490, though.