If you're looking for a big-screen TV but don't have gigantic amounts of money to spend, then going the plasma route is often the sensible option. Samsung's PS60F5500 is an example of this, as despite its huge 60-inch screen size you can buy it online for the relatively modest price of £1,000.
That's still a whole lot of wonga, but it's at least £500 cheaper than you'd pay for a 60-inch LED model. It includes Samsung's excellent smart TV software as well as 3D support, but it lacks the anti-glare filter found on the company's pricier F8500 models.
The F5500 doesn't have the integrated camera that you find on Samsung's high-end models, so it lacks motion-control features. I've never found this particularly useful on those sets, so I don't think many people will be bothered that they're not included here. This model does support voice control, however, but as there's no mic integrated into the TV's chassis you have to speak commands into the set's touchpad remote.
The voice recognition software does understand natural speech, so you can ask it questions such as "what movies are on later?", as well as just issuing channel or volume up and down instructions. The recognition engine is still hit and miss though, so it's frustrating to use. I found that it would often detect the words that you had spoken correctly (it displays them on the screen), but then can’t figure out what you're actually trying to get the TV to do. You also need the remote in your hand to use it, so you're often better off relying on that rather than the voice controls.
User interface and TV guide
The F5550 has pretty much the same menu system found on the rest of Samsung's 2013 TVs. It may have changed little from last year, but it's still one of the best in the business. It also looks attractive thanks to its use of colourful graphics and cute icons. As the structure is easy to follow it's fairly easy to find the key settings that you need to tweak.
The TV doesn't have a full colour-management system, but it does have gamma controls and two-point white balance settings so you can still tweak the picture quite heavily if you need to. Unlike many Samsung's sets, the picture presets on this model were reasonably good.
This TV's menu system and smart TV system runs on a dual-core processor so they're a tiny bit slower than those on the quad-core, high-end models in Samsung's range. As the high-end models are lightning fast to use, however, I still wouldn’t describe the F5500's menus as sluggish. If you haven't used the likes of the F8500, you're lightly to find them speedier than most other TVs around at the moment.
The set's guide is also excellent. It's neatly laid out, which makes it quick to jump around between programmes or channels. There's a video window in the top left hand corner too, and the guide integrates with Samsung's smart TV platform so it can show suggestions for shows or movies you might want to watch later.
Design and connections
The F5500's styling is almost identical to the design that Samsung was using on some of last year's TVs, such as the PS51E8000. The bezel around the screen is a little bit on the chunky side, but I do like the way it overhangs the boundary of the screen to create a smoky, transparent edge that runs all the way around the outside of the TV. I'm less keen on the four pronged stand that looks like a crow's foot, especially as it has a very plasticky looking, dusty grey finish that isn’t a patch on the chrome finish found on last year's models.
This TV is also more limited on the connectivity front than Samsung's pricier sets. It has three HDMI ports rather than the four found on the likes of the F8500. Also, none of these ports support MHL, so it doesn’t charge MHL-equipped smart phones when they're connected to the TV via a micro-USB to HDMI cable. It does support Miracast though, so you can wireless mirror-compatible Android smart phones to the set.
Around the back there's a full-sized Scart socket, a set of component inputs (with a shared composite input) and an optical audio output. There's only a single tuner onboard for Freeview HD, so it lacks the F8500's Freesat HD feature. You can record TV shows to USB drives plugged into either of its two USB ports, but as there's only one tuner, you can't record one channel while watching another.
Smart TV system
Undoubtedly one of the best things about the F5500 is its smart TV system. It uses the same system found on Samsung's high-end TVs. The only real difference is that it runs on a dual-core rather than quad-core processor, so the transitions between the different menu screens aren’t as smooth. They're still faster and smoother than many competitors' smart TV systems, however.
Samsung has split its smart TV system into different themed screens. The first is 'On TV' which offers up suggestions on shows you might want to check out that are either currently on or coming up later. It learns your viewing habits as you go along, so its suggestions become smarter over time.
The next screen displays highlights from Samsung's own film and TV rental service. This used to work with the AceTrax service as well, but since that shut down, Samsung's own offering is what's available here so it's not always that useful.
Clicking right with the remote control takes you to the Photos, Videos and Music screen. This is essentially the TV's onboard media-player where you can play files either stored on USB drives or shared to the TV from a laptop or networked hard drive. It works with a decent range of file formats, including Xvid and MKV videos, but there's an annoying quirk in that the fast-forward and rewind controls don't work if you're streaming videos over a network. Instead they only work if you're playing them back from a USB drive.
After the media players comes the Social page. If you log in with your social media details for services like Facebook and Twitter you'll see videos listed here that your mates have shared from YouTube and other sites.
Finally, you come to the Apps page. As you'd expect, this is where all the smart TV apps are found. The line-up of apps is top notch, as Samsung's system now includes iPlayer, 4oD, ITV Player and Demand 5 alongside Netflix and Lovefilm. There are plenty of other news and information apps too, as well as various premium movie rental options, such as KnowHow Movies. Samsung's smart TV system is the best there is at the moment.
The F5500 has two 10W down-firing speakers, but doesn't include a mini woofer like the F8500. Nevertheless, it's not totally lacking in bass, so music and action movies don’t sound as gutless as they do on the likes of the Panasonic's TX-L55WT65. Its large size also helps it create a fairly wide soundstage with a pleasing stereo spread and it's got enough mid-range punch to make dialogue sound crisp.
It does, nevertheless, lack some of the depth and presence of better sounding models such as the Sony KDL-40W905A, mainly because that set is capable of producing fuller and more rounded bass and dialogue.
2D picture quality
First things first, if you're looking for a TV that you can comfortably use during daylight hours in a room that gets a lot of light, I'd advise you to look elsewhere. Why? Because the F5500 lacks the Real Black Pro and Super Contrast filters found on the company's higher-end plasmas and which help cut down on reflections and improve black-level performance in brighter rooms.
You can tell instantly that it doesn’t have the Real Black Pro filter as when it's off, the screen looks greyer than Samsung's own higher-end plasmas and Panasonic's latest sets. Sadly, this also means that it's much more reflective than all the other plasma sets I've seen this year. In fact, when it's powered down it looks like a huge grey mirror.
More of an issue is that even when it's turned on during the day in a bright room, reflections are still very visible and annoying. I could clearly see myself and a picture mounted on the back wall of my lounge reflected back from the TV, which is very distracting when you're trying to enjoy the daytime delights of Homes Under the Hammer. This also means that in bright rooms black level and contract performance is relatively poor.
Another slight issue is that this 60-inch version uses a pentile pixel structure, unlike most other TVs, (including the other screen sizes that the F5500 is available in) which use a striped layout for the red, green and blue subpixels that create each pixel on the screen. The pentile pixel structure uses fewer overall subpixels, so it's a cheaper technology to use for building displays, hence this screen's low price tag.
Sitting at a normal viewing distance it's not quite as sharp-looking as a plasma with a standard pixel layout, but the difference is very slight. There are times when onscreen text can look less defined and blocks of colour sometimes look 'noisy' as you can see dithering created by the subpixels, but for the most part, from a normal viewing distance, it's not a huge issue.
The PS60F5500 may be found wanting in a bright room due to its lack of a good anti-reflection coating, but if it's used in the evening in a darker room it starts to show its strengths. Black levels aren’t bad at all, for example, and as you'd expect from a plasma screen, they're consistent right across the display, unlike most LED sets. It also does a decent job of reproducing shadow detail, although it's not as good in this regard as Panasonic's latest plasmas.
The TV puts in a convincing performance when it comes to colour reproduction too, as for the most part it delivers believable hues that don't look overdriven. Motion handling is traditionally a strength of plasma technology and so it proves here. Even without the set's motion processing turned on, the F5500 produces smooth and stable motion performance.
There are a couple of weak points, however. Firstly, at times you'll notice a jump in brightness levels between one scene, or camera angle, and another. It doesn’t happen all that often, but can be jarring when it does rear its head. Secondly, its standard definition upscaling tends to look soft and on heavily compressed sources, such as some Freeview channels, you'll see quite a lot of jaggies on diagonal lines in the picture on these sources.
3D picture quality
As with all plasma TVs, the F5500 uses active technology for producing its 3D pictures. This means it relies on the more expensive type of 3D glasses. The set comes with two pairs included, but extra pairs will cost you around £30 each. Samsung's glasses feel flimsy, but they are light and this makes them reasonably comfortable to wear. They also seem to suffer less from flicker than a lot of other manufacturers' eyewear and fit comfortably over normal prescription specs.
Usually 3D has more impact the larger the screen you view it on and certainly the PS60F5500's large size helps its 3D pictures to look very immersive. Some crosstalk does creep in here and there -- such as on the outstretched hand as the boy tries to snatch the wind-up mouse near the start of Hugo -- but it's subtle enough so as not to be distracting when watching a full movie. The F5500's motion handling in 3D is also very good for a set in this price range.
If you primarily watch TV during daylight hours in a bright room, don't buy the PS60F5500. The surface of the screen is just too reflective to be comfortable to watch in this type of environment. If you usually watch movies in the evening, however, with the lights turned down, then this set is a much more attractive option thanks to its combination of huge screen size, relatively low price, great smart TV system and decent picture quality.