This month, two PC World readers are going to be the lucky recipients of Huawei’s latest smartwatch, the HUAWEI WATCH GT 2 Pro, valued at $499.
Samsung Series 8+ (F8500) plasma TV
Like watching movies? You’ll love Samsung’s Series 8+ plasma
- Great brightness levels (for a plasma)
- Excellent contrast, detail, colour accuracy
- Samsung’s class-leading Smart TV tech
- Relatively high power consumption
- Panasonic’s plasmas are cheaper
If you can afford the $20 a year in extra power, Samsung’s top plasma TV is by far the best choice for watching high quality video. We think it’s equal to Panasonic’s best plasmas for black level and overall contrast, with an extra boost in available brightness that makes it usable in even a reasonably bright room.
Price$ 3,999.00 (AUD)
For the last few years, Samsung has surged ahead as the go-to company for thin, stylish, powerful LED TVs. Each model refresh has made everything thinner, faster, and more visually impressive. You’d be forgiven for not realising that Samsung actually also makes plasma TVs, and this year they’re something to behold.
The Series 8+ is the better of Samsung’s two available plasmas — the other is the Series 5. We think the Series 8+ is actually a better TV in almost every way than the already-excellent Series 8 LED. The Samsung Series 8+ is also available as a 60-inch model, which is somewhat more attractively priced — where the 64-inch is $3,999, the 60-inch drops the price to $3,199.
Samsung Series 8+ (F8500): Design, features, and setup
The imposingly large 64-inch Series 8+ has to be the most attractive and modern plasma TV that we’ve laid eyes on. Sure, Pioneer’s KURO was an alluring monolithic slab of glossy black plastic, but its thick bezel and thick chassis is starting to look increasingly outdated.
The Series 8+, in comparison, is only 55.4mm thick at its widest point, with a bezel that’s barely an inch thick. The brushed gunmetal finish looks extremely good, providing a contrasting edge against the brightness of the plasma screen, without being overly gaudy or chromed-up.
The bezel is thicker at the base of the screen, where the F8500 meets its single-piece stand. Like the F8000 LED TV, the Series 8+’s stand is quite bulky, measuring a full 320mm from front to back, and extending the entire length of the TV. Samsung’s ‘Metal Flow’ stand is definitely sturdy, holding the screen well in place, but if you’ve got an especially thin entertainment unit, you might find that the stand takes up more room than you’d expect.
The F8500 has what is becoming a pretty standard set of connectivity features — there’s four HDMI ports, one which supports MHL, one which supports Active Return Channel for connecting a home theatre receiver. These main inputs are joined by break-out connectors for composite and component video, wired LAN and Wi-Fi networking, digital audio output, and three USB ports, one of which is able to supply full power to a portable hard drive.
Setting up the Series 8+ is a simple enough process, once you’ve gone through the arduous process of connecting the stand — a total of twelve screws, and four pieces (including the TV) to connect to each other. The TV’s initial setup is quite simple, asking you a series of questions about your location and digital TV connection, and the whole process is complete in under five minutes.
Samsung Series 8+ (F8500): Smart Hub
Samsung’s Smart Hub this year is both more refined and more powerful than last year’s, with the move to a basic grid layout for the app drawer and the various Smart feature screens making everything easy to find. The only problem is actually knowing it’s there — Samsung has packed so many features into the Smart Hub that it’s hard to feel like you’re making effective use of them all.
The S-Recommendation system, which tracks your viewing habits and recommends you new shows to watch, as well as reminders of what’s coming up, works well if you put the effort into picking out your favourite programs every evening. It’s a helping hand that initially requires a helping hand — you need to take the time to teach it what you like, then it goes from somewhat useful to indispensable.
The Samsung F8500 will play any downloaded video, audio or picture file that you want it to, whether it’s stored on your home network or connected directly to one of the TV’s USB ports on a portable hard drive or flash drive. The Series 8+ has an ace up its sleeve in its ability to properly decode and play back video in the new HEVC format, which is twice as detailed as current formats. We didn’t have any long or particularly high quality HEVC clips to play back on the F8500, but we did confirm its support of the codec with some shorter, downloaded test clips.
Voice and gesture control is again a huge step forward from last year’s models, but doesn’t work perfectly — sorry, but you shouldn’t throw away the remote control just yet. It’s convenient to perform simple tasks like changing channel and volume and input when you can’t find the remote, and for navigating through the Smart Hub screen, but for anything more complex it becomes a slight hindrance.
It’s also nice, for future-proofing’s sake, to see that Samsung has included an Evolution Kit slot on the rear of the F8500, near the HDMI inputs. This means next year, should Samsung come out with an even faster and more powerful and more fully-featured Smart Hub or other ancillary program, you’ll be able to purchase an Evolution Kit and upgrade your TV. This year’s Evolution Kit for 2012 TVs is $299, so we’d expect the upgrade price to stay around that point.
We’d recommend you read both our review of the Samsung Series 8 LED TV and our guide to Samsung’s 2013 TVs for a more complete idea of what the Smart Hub looks like and can do for the Series 8+ plasma.
Samsung Series 8+ (F8500): Performance and picture quality
At this point in time, we’re seeing the best ever performance out of edge- and back-lit Full HD LED TVs. Samsung’s own Series 8 LED looks great, as does the top LG LA8500. Sony’s BRAVIA W900A has some impressive lighting tech that should be hard to beat.
But at the moment, nothing we’ve seen or reviewed in 2013 holds a candle to Samsung’s Series 8+. Like the 2012 Panasonic ST50A and VT50A, the F8500 Series 8+ is one of the best televisions we’ve seen.
We watched a swathe of video content on the F8500: free-to-air digital TV through the internal tuner, compressed 480p, 720p and 1080p video files from a connected USB hard drive and network streaming, a few Blu-ray movies, and streaming video from various on-demand sources like ABC iView and Foxtel On Demand.
The Series 8+, just like the ST50A, comes extremely close to replicating the deep, inky blacks of the Pioneer KURO LX609A that we’ve never been quite able to replicate. We’d put the F8500 on the same level as Panasonic’s best plasmas, which is an incredible achievement for Samsung considering it invests all of its marketing budget, if not its research dollars as well, into LED and LCD technology.
With Blu-ray video, the Samsung Series 8+ absolutely shines. We watched The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, TRON: Legacy and The Hobbit, as well as Avatar and Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs in 3D. All of these titles look fantastic — the screen is able to accurately represent every little bit of detail hidden in each frame, with the faux-film grain in Batman Begins looking appropriately gritty without any of the crunchy straight-edged artifacts that cheaper Full HD panels can display.
The Dark Knight’s mix of bright and dark segments in its opening sequence does a great job of simultaneously showing off the high maximum brightness and the deep black level that the Series 8+ can display. We watched almost all of the Series 8+’s test video in the Movie preset, which has the most accurate colour but trades off a small amount of maximum light output — we didn’t miss it. The F8500 is so bright for a plasma that even lowering overall brightness keeps it well within an acceptable range for viewing in a well-lit room.
Samsung’s 3D glasses have been refined since previous years, getting a lot smaller and lighter and less obtrusive. Being a plasma TV they’re still active shutter glasses, which don’t perform well under fluorescent light, and you’ll have to change the battery every now and then, but if you’re watching the occasional 3D movie in a dim or dark room you’ll have no problems with them at all.
The F8500 has a frame rate smoothing feature that does a great job of cleaning up any unwanted judder in video content. If you’re watching free-to-air TV, it’s a great feature and we think it works extremely well in this kind of scenario. It’s less useful for Blu-ray movies where you want that 24 frames-per-second effect — which the Series 8+ natively supports.
One thing we should draw attention to is the relative power consumption of the Samsung F8500. It’s quite the energy hog when you compare it to any LED TV on the market — where a 65-inch edge-lit LED TV has a six-star energy rating, and will consume around 360kWh per year, the 64-inch PS64F8500 has a one-star energy rating and will consume a whopping 1038kWh per year. In real-world terms, you’re going to be adding about $20-40 per year onto your energy bill with this TV versus an LED TV. We think it’s worth it, but it’s a decision you’ll have to take into account.
Samsung Series 8+ (F8500): Conclusion
Samsung’s Series 8+ plasma TV is a stunning piece of technology. It looks good, has a huge range of built-in features, and the picture it produces is among the best we’ve seen.
Our only qualm with it is the amount of power it consumes when you’re enjoying it. In a world where everything is getting more energy efficient, it’s a guilty pleasure — but one that we’re more than happy to indulge in.
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