Samsung's PS51D8000 has a non-standard screen size -- it goes one inch better than the competition's usual 50-inch offerings.
There's more to this plasma than just the smidgen of extra screen space as it also comes with Samsung's excellent Smart TV Internet platform, active 3D support and built-in Wi-Fi.
All this will set you back around £1,260 if bought online.
It may use plasma rather than LED technology, but this model has much the same user interface as that found on Samsung's current generation of LED screens. This is no bad thing because Samsung's interface is one of the best, if not the best, out there at the moment. Its menus look bright and cheery, thanks to their use of warm colours, friendly icons and neat transitions.
Hitting the menu button on the remote takes you to the main menu where you can tweak the picture, audio and network options. As you select each one, a graphic is displayed to the right explaining what it does, which is a useful touch.
This TV has both Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners onboard. They have subtly different electronic programme guides (EPGs), primarily due to the tight restrictions that Freesat places on how its EPG can be displayed.
The main difference is that the Freesat EPG lacks the video thumbnail window that appears in the top-left hand corner when you're using the Freeview EPG. However, both EPGs are first rate, as they've got a clean and welcoming design and are quick to use.
Digital media and Internet features
Samsung has been focusing hard on its Smart TV platform of late. This dedication to the cause certainly seems to be paying off. When you hit the Smart button on the remote you're presented with one of the broadest line-ups of Internet video services and apps on any telly.
Video on demand services include the BBC's iPlayer, YouTube, Vimeo and Dailymotion. There's a wealth of movie rental services too, including LoveFilm, Blinkbox, Acetrax and PictureBox.
You'll find a number of simple games, information services like BBC News and fitness video apps such as ExerciseTV. The set has Skype support and naturally there's a range of social networking apps, including Facebook and Twitter.
We like the way that the social media apps have a dedicated buttons on the remote, allowing you to jump directly to them rather than having to rummage around in the menus.
This model has both Wi-Fi and Ethernet onboard and there are two USB ports. These can all be used for digital media playback. Format support is, on the whole, pretty good. For example, we tried it with a number of Xvid, DivX and MKV video files and it played them smoothly, both locally via USB and remotely from a PC or home network.
However, the set doesn't seem to support files with surround sound audio, so it probably won't serve as a full replacement for a media streamer for some people.
If you hook-up a hard drive or memory key to one of the USB ports you can also use the TV to record shows directly to disc. It's only possible to record what the TV is currently tuned to, so it's not as versatile as a full personal video recorder with twin tuners.
To initiate a recording, hit the record button to immediately start saving what you're watching to disc. Alternatively you can schedule recordings using the EPG, which is very straightforward to do. As it's recording the raw digital stream, the quality is every bit as good as the original broadcast.
Design and connections
Samsung has a knack of churning out TVs with attractive designs and this talent hasn't deserted it on the PS51D8000. This is a supremely slim model by plasma standards; the chassis measures just 37mm thick.
At 25mm, the bezel is also very narrow. The brushed metal effect on the front blends beautifully with the transparent edge that runs around the outer-edge of the set.
Thanks in part to the metal panel on the rear, the set feels very sturdy.
The cross-shaped stand may not be to everyone's taste, but we think it's a refreshing change from the norm, if a tad showy.
The remote isn't as elegant as the TV because it's finished in cheap matte black plastic. It looks at odds with the rest of the TV. The remote is relatively wide too, but the smart layout of the buttons and the rounded edges make it comfortable to hold and use. We also like the fact that it's backlit, which comes in handy if you like to watch movies with the lights turned down.
This model has a pretty generous line-up of connections. The four HDMI connectors are all mounted on the left-hand side. This area's also home to the two USB ports.
On a downward-facing panel to the rear you'll find the Ethernet port (Wi-Fi is also built-in), along with satellite dish and TV aerial inputs for the Freesat and Freeview tuners. Next to these there's a VGA input and small ports for connecting the break-out cables used for the Scart and component connectors.
Perhaps surprisingly, given the slim dimensions of this model's chassis, it actually manages to produce good quality audio. Even if you crank up the volume, it delivers clean and open sound with good levels of bass. As a result, dialogue has strong presence and movie soundtracks have a nicely enveloping feel.
Samsung has also included a couple of extra Sound Retrieval System (SRS) processing modes. The TruSurround mode manages to significantly widen the stereo image without muddying the resulting audio too much, while the TruDialogue option does a decent job of pushing dialogue further up in the mix to make it more intelligible.
2D and 3D picture quality
Samsung may not make as much fuss about its plasma screens as it does over its LED offerings, but this seems like a mistake to us. Previous plasmas from the company have offered top-notch picture quality and the PS51D8000 continues this strong tradition.
Colours exhibit the typically warmer and more natural tone that plasma screens are famed for. This helps to bathe outdoor scenes in natural hues of greens, blues and reds, while skin tones are authentic and detail is fantastically sharp. The set is surprisingly bright for a plasma model, helping its colours and sharpness to really shine through.
This model includes Samsung's Real Black Filter, which is designed to help the set deliver deeper black levels. They are certainly more consistent than what you'll get from LCD and LED screens, but the black levels are not quite on a par with Panasonic's GT30 models, which are its closest competitors.
Contrast is excellent though, and the subtle detail the TV is able to render in murkier scenes helps to add a real cinematic feel to its pictures.
When it comes to 3D, this model's picture chops don't desert it. Samsung ships the TV with a single pair of active specs and the company's 3D glasses are probably the best active models available, mainly because they're much lighter than their rivals. The specs also seem to suffer less from the flickering you sometimes get when using active glasses where there is ambient light in a room.
The 3D pictures are on the whole very impressive. Strong brightness levels from the plasma panel help to counteract the dimming effect of the glasses and the TV delivers images with a strong sense of depth.
Unfortunately a very slight amount of crosstalk -- or image ghosting, where the left and right channels are not completely isolated -- does raise its head every now and again. It's a lot less visible than on most LED screens and you really have to look for it to see it. Nevertheless, it's worth pointing out as Panasonic's plasmas are almost completely free of crosstalk.
The PS51D8000 is a hugely impressive set and runs Panasonic's highly-rated GT30 close. In fact, there's very little to separate the two.
The Samsung has better Internet features and a more stylish design, while the GT30 offers slightly deeper black levels and 3D performance is a tad better.
Either way, this is still a top-class offering from Samsung and worthy of serious consideration if you're looking for a big-screen, 3D-capable plasma set.