With Samsung's latest LCD TVs selling well and all manner of cutting-edge goodies set to emerge from the company in the coming weeks and months, it would be easy to forget that the Korean brand also still makes plasma TVs. So we're delighted to have got our hands on a pretty substantial reminder of Samsung's plasma efforts, in the shape of the 50-inch PS50A556. It's available now for around £1,100.
The combination of a glossy black finish, angular design and a little translucent strip along the bottom edge ensure that, in keeping with most Samsung products right now, the PS50A556 looks pretty sweet.
It's also good to discover that the PS50A556 sports a 'Full HD' 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution -- despite its relatively low price -- as well as a decent bounty of connections that includes three v1.3 HDMIs, a PC port and a USB 2.0 jack for JPEG photo playback.
Promising to boost the PS50A556's picture quality, meanwhile, is Samsung's proprietary DNIE+ processing, with its focus on boosting colours, sharpness, contrast and motion. This is aided and abetted by a Movie Plus mode, which adds in new, carefully calculated frames of image data between the real ones in a bid to improve motion handling.
Other welcome findings on the PS50A556 are its Filterbright screen, designed to cut out the majority of onscreen reflections, and an 18-bit colour processor Samsung tells us can produce a whopping 262,144 shades of grey-level gradation.
Unfortunately, we don't have as much positivity to report on the PS50A556's picture quality as we might have expected.
If you compare its images with those of most LCD TVs, we guess you can feel impressed by its reasonably deep black levels and respectably crisp motion handling. Plus, unlike LCDs you can watch it from nearly right angles without its pictures deteriorating significantly.
While never less than watchable, however, the PS50A556's pictures are also plagued by a series of flaws, as we're about to discover...
While the PS50A556 is far from ugly, it also lacks the curvy bezel and fancy 'hint of red' colour scheme that enables Samsung's high-profile A6 LCD TVs to stand out from the crowd.
There are issues with its operating system, too. For as well as forcing you to cycle through each AV input one button press at a time, rather than providing a sensible list for you to select your desired input from, the picture presets the TV carries are ridiculously complicated to handle from the onscreen menus.
The lion's share of problems, though, are sadly reserved for the PS50A556's performance. For instance, HD pictures don't look quite as sharp and detailed as we'd expect of a 1080p screen, while standard definition can look really very soft at times.
There's also a fair bit of video noise over standard-def images, especially if you use any image preset other than the relatively gentle Movie one, and colour tones sometimes look decidedly off-key. This is again particularly the case with standard definition, but HD certainly isn't immune.
Further image glitches include some gentle colour blocking over skin tones, occasional dotting noise over rapidly moving objects, and processing errors if you don't keep the generally useful Movie Plus mode set to a pretty low level. We also have to say that although the PS50A556's black levels are deep compared to many LCD screens, they're no match for the best plasma efforts of Pioneer and Panasonic.
Unfortunately, the PS50A556's audio resides in this review's negative section too. For while news or documentary-style content can sound fine, any sort of movie action scene finds the TV's 'invisible' speakers short of both bass oomph and treble clarity, while vocals tend to sound rather muffled.
Having been impressed with the previous generation of Samsung plasma TVs, we had high hopes for the PS50A556. But Samsung hasn't brought its plasma technology on as fast or far as some of its rivals, leaving the PS50A556 now only seriously worth considering if you can find it substantially discounted a month or two down the line.
Edited by Nick Hide