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Samsung PN51D8000, Includes Two Pair of 3D Glasses

Samsung PN51D8000, Includes Two Pair of 3D GlassesSamsung PN51D8000 - previously wrote articles about Sony Handycam DCR SX65, Dell XPS 17 3D, and Samsung Dart T499. Now we are talking about Samsung PN51D8000, Includes Two Pair of 3D Glasses. With picture quality that's nearly the equal of the tough competition, as well as best-in-class design and features, the Samsung PND8000 makes a strong case for being the best overall plasma TV of 2011.

For the last couple of years it has seemed that our job as TV reviewers comes down to determining which TV is better: the best Panasonic plasma or the best Samsung plasma. In 2011 the vessel bearing the Samsung flag is the PND8000, and while Panasonic's VT30 still deserves the nod for overall picture quality in our book, the Samsung is good enough to match the Panasonic's numeric Performance score of 9. Samsung PN51D8000 picture quality is superb, and we don't expect any other TV aside from the VT30 to surpass it this year--although the less expensive PND7000 series, which we have yet to review, might equal it. The kicker, and it's a big one, is that the 59-inch Samsung PND8000 we reviewed actually costs less than the 55-inch Panasonic, while delivering a better design and even more features. Unless you're the pickiest of videophiles with the most unlimited of budgets, it's tough to justify the cost of the VT30 over the PND8000.

Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 59-inch Samsung PN59D8000, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality. That said, we've heard reports that the smaller 51-inch model may have worse black-level performance than the size we tested, although we won't know for sure until we can evaluate one ourselves.

Samsung PN51D8000 Design

Thinner than its Panasonic and LG counterparts and sporting a new, more compact frame around the screen, the D8000 series gets our vote for the best-looking plasma TV available. That bezel is narrower than any plasma's we've tested, outdoing the Panasonic GT30's by 0.19 inch. The bottom edge of the frame is a bit thicker (2.13 inches), but that does nothing to spoil the PND8000's LED TV-like dimensions.

Samsung differentiated the equal-sized D8000 and D7000 plasmas by coloring their metallic frames "titanium" and "brushed black," respectively. While both look plenty slick--especially with the company's trademark transparent edging--we slightly prefer the darker D7000. We also like the latter's stand better, with its rectangular base and transparent stalk. The D8000's chrome-colored spider stand is a great reason to get this TV wall-mounted.

The remote included with Samsung's PND8000 and UND8000 is a flipper. The top side of the wedge-shaped rectangle offers standard TV controls that shoot infrared commands to the TV, while the bottom gets a full QWERTY keypad along with a screen, and works via Bluetooth (which doesn't need line-of-sight).

Unlike our experience with the UND8000, we had no trouble this time around pairing the clicker with Samsung PN51D8000 (a necessary step to enable Bluetooth). According to Samsung, the pairing issue on the UN was due to a previous pairing performed before the review sample was sent to us; since we purchased our PN review sample directly from a merchant, rather than it being a sample sent by Samsung, its remote was never previously paired. We expect most users won't have any problems pairing.

We liked the clicker more than the QWERTY remotes included with Vizio's current models or Sony's Google TVs, but that's not saying much. The screen is its best feature, allowing you to see what you're typing without having to look up at the TV. Spacing and key action were improvements on the other two. Unlike the flipper found on Boxee, Samsung's can sense what side is "up" and automatically deactivate the "down" side to prevent accidental button presses.

While we appreciated the little thumb touch-cursor control better than Sony's when using the browser, it was still quite difficult to control. The lack of backlighting on the QWERTY side was a major flaw--using the remote in dim to no light ranged from annoying to impossible--and all told we actually liked using our Android phone as a remote best of all (see "Streaming and apps" below).

Samsung's new 2011 TV menus have been refreshed and also feel a bit snappier than before. The main column of adjustments, formerly transparent, is now bright opaque blue with rounded edges and good-size text. Each major menu item gets a text explanation and many are accompanied by helpful little illustrations.

Samsung PN51D8000 Features

As Samsung's highest-end plasma TV for 2011, Samsung PN51D8000 comes equipped with the kitchen sink. The main step-up features compared with the less-expensive PND7000 are the remote described above, the ability to interface with the optional Skype camera, a Web browser, and a performance-related feature called Local Contrast Enhancer (LCE).

A Samsung representative described LCE to us as an enhancement to the dynamic contrast control that automatically optimizes contrast separately for different areas of the picture. We generally leave dynamic contrast disabled to avoid such on-the-fly fluctuations as much as possible, so we don't consider LCE an improvement to picture quality.

Unlike some previous Samsung plasmas, the D8000 is missing dejudder--and we couldn't care less. If you're a fan of its smoothing effect and still want a plasma, however, Panasonic has added the option to its 2011 models.

Samsung doesn't include the two pairs of 3D glasses mentioned above, model SSG-3100GB, in the TV's box, but buyers of Samsung PN51D8000 (and other 2011 Samsung 3D TVs) who don't receive glasses at the time of purchase can use Samsung's dedicated Web site to claim them. Samsung is still the only company to make such an offer; Panasonic, for example, only includes one pair of glasses, and that's only on its most expensive model, the TC-PVT30 series. According to Samsung its promotion will continue through June 25, although we expect a similar one to continue after that date.

Samsung PN51D8000 is incompatible with Samsung's 2010 3D glasses. Bluetooth does make the new glasses easier to use, though, since they keep sync much better than the old infrared versions did. We applaud the inclusion of built-in Wi-Fi on this Samsung (as well as the D7000 and D6500 plasmas), saving the cost and hassle of the $80 USB dongle.

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