When it comes to a movie experience, having faithful black reproduction is really important. It's not much of a secret that the current range of LCD TVs struggle with producing deep black, because of the way they work. Their pixels don't generate any light and so a light is projected from behind them. This process means that it's never possible to have total black on screen. Plasma TVs, on the other hand, use pixels that glow, so creating black is as simple as turning the pixels off.
Until now, there really weren't very many 1080p plasmas on the market, meaning, if 'Full HD' was your thing, you were forced to go with LCD, and probably a smaller screen size. Fortunately, Samsung has popped to the rescue with a plasma TV that can show HD in its full glory.
The styling of Samsung TVs seems to evolve with every new generation. That's not to say that there's anything wrong with past models, but each time a new range is released, subtle tweaks make all the difference.
The P96 is finished in piano black -- no great surprise there -- with subtle silver 'wings' at the side. These wings sit in front of the concealed speakers and are designed to direct the sound to the front of the TV. At the bottom an LED glows in a subtle blue. This can be turned off through the menu system if you don't like it, or left on -- either way, it's nice to have the choice of disabling it.
On the right-hand side of the screen is a set of touch-sensitive controls that blend in with the bezel. These can be used to switch the TV in and out of standby, and to change channel and increase the volume -- handy if the sofa has eaten the remote.
The P96 has plenty of inputs. There are three HDMI sockets, two at the back and one on the left-hand side of the screen. The latter is useful for games consoles, which may be moved to different TVs, and saves faffing around at the back of the screen.
The remote control supplied is identical to all the other Samsung TV remotes. If we're honest, we're a little tired of this design -- it doesn't do the TV justice, it's not especially comfortable or responsive, and it's well overdue for a reworking.
As well as being a 1080p screen, the P96 offers a whole bunch of other features to make it a more attractive proposition. While we've never felt that Samsung screens are especially well set up out of the box, we can't fault them for including plenty of picture control options to get the image looking perfect.
The Movie Plus Mode is a somewhat controversial feature that you'll either love or hate. What it does is add processing to movies that can reduce the traditional 'film judder' that some people don't much care for. It works by adding interpolated frames between each actual frame, smoothing the transition and reducing judder.
You'll also find the usual picture adjustment modes that process the image and add artificial sharpening. If you're a purist, you'll want to turn off as much of this stuff as you can. We're pleased to see Samsung makes this possible -- some manufacturers aren't so willing to let the user tinker around.
We always recommend that people spend time fiddling with their TV settings because it's the only way you'll get a picture you are happy with. Don't worry about messing it up -- you can always hit the reset button!
When we review a TV, pretty much the first thing we do is check the Freeview performance. This is generally because it's part of the set-up process, but it's also the most commonly used source.
The Samsung deals with Freeview acceptably, but at 50 inches, this screen is a little large for the picture to look perfect, especially given the low bit rates used on most channels. While it can do a great job with upscaled DVD, digital terrestrial can often look very blocky. It's hard to blame the TV for this, and it does a fair job, but it's safe to say this is a TV for people who want to enjoy high definition. Anything less and you'll be compromising quality to some extent.
Happily, HD material from our Toshiba HD DVD player looked stunning. The P96 does a superb job of all the material we tested it with. Space epic Serenity looked excellent, mostly because the black of space was reproduced faithfully. Engaging the Movie Plus Mode reduced motion judder, as it is supposed to, and we actually liked the results most of the time. There were, however, times when it made the picture look a little unnatural, where the motion was slightly too fluid.
Upscaled DVD looks good, too. We tested a Star Wars movie, and were happy with the results. There are even points where you can get so drawn in by the enormous size of the screen that you totally forget you're watching standard definition.
Samsung has also listened to the criticism about the sound produced by flat-panel TVs. To increase the low-end bass, the TV has what is called a 2.2 audio system. This adds more bass and improves the sounds considerably -- it's more suited to movies with some action sequences. Don't expect 5.1 performance, but it is a step up.
At a recommended retail price of £2,200, this isn't the cheapest TV on the market, but it is a performer. We didn't see anything while testing that alarmed us -- everything looked good and hi-def looked stunning.
We hate the remote control though, and are not fans of the speed the TV moves through menus. Samsung should dedicate some time to improving this -- it makes setting up the TV really tedious.
In terms of performance, the Panasonic TH-50PX70 and the Pioneer PDP-508XD plasmas still have an edge -- more so for the excellent Pioneer -- but the Samsung PS50P96 can be bought online for around £1,600, and that alone makes it well worth considering.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Kate Macefield