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Samsung PN58C6400 Plasma HDTV

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Plasma was the first technology to bring us big flat screen TVs. They’re still considered tops by videophiles. We take our first close look at a big 58″ plasma 1080p TV from Samsung.

February 28, 2011 by Mike Chin

Product
PN58C6400
58" Plasma HDTV
Sample Supplier
Samsung
Market Price
~$1,700

Plasma screens were the first large, flat TVs to appear on the market years ago. They still remain popular today, but increasingly, are found only in larger screen sizes, larger than 40" diagonal. This seems to be due to the lower cost of making smaller LCD screens. Plasma is reputed to provide better contrast and portrayal of black, better viewing angles, and less motion blur than LCD TVs. Of course, LCD TVs have improved tremendously since they were introduced, but this bias for plasma tends to remain among those who might be considered videophiles.

The Samsung PN58C6400 is a large 58" diagonal, plasma screen TV. Samsung offers at least half a dozen 58" plasma screen TVs, ranging from $1200 to $3000 manufacturer’s suggest price. At $2150 MSP, this model sits in the middle of the current range, close to the 55" LCD screen Samsung LN55C650L1F reviewed last November. As with that LCD model, the target market for the PN58C6400 is a buyer who wants solid performance, viewability and versatility but not the multi-thousand dollar price tag associated with high end TVs.


Samsung PN58C6400 Plasma TV: Minimalist bezel, high-gloss black, virtually invisible controls — hardly distinguishable from the scores of other large Samsung TVs.

Here is a quick run through the specifications and feature highlights, from
Samsung’s web page
about this product.

Samsung PN58C6400 Specifications (with our comments)
Design Plasma TV
Rose Black Touch of Color
Comes with Swivel Stand
Video Screen Size: 58”
Resolution: 1920 x 1080
Dynamic Contrast Ratio: 2,000,000:1 (compared to 150,000:1 in similar priced LCD models)
Response Time: 0.001 ms
600Hz Subfield Motion Refresh Rate
16:9 Aspect Ratio
Audio Speaker Type: Down Firing
Sound Effect System: SRS TruSurround HD
Sound Output (RMS) 15 W x 2 Audio channels
Features * Samsung Apps Platform
* AllShare™ DLNA Networking
Feature that wirelessly syncs a PC and other digital devices to a TV for full screen playability.

* Wide Color Enhancer Plus
Technology that optimizes hues on a TV and expands the color range for a more vivid viewing experience.
(Sounds like wide color gamut.)

*
ConnectShare™ Movie Technology that enables a user to access camcorder videos and music libraries directly on a TV screen.
* BD Wise Automates the best resolution setting possible for viewing Blu-Ray DVD products.
* Game Mode Optimized for video games
*
Anynet+™ (HDMI-CEC)
Allows one remote to control all digital devices in a home theater/entertainment system.

*
1-Tuner Picture-in-Picture

Allows two or more programs to be viewed on one TV screen via inset windows.
*
Wireless LAN Adaptor Support
(Adapter not suppied. )

* Auto Channel Search
seeks out available channels and automatically programs them for easy cycling.
* Auto Power Off automatically powers down television to save energy if no signal is present.

* Auto Volume Leveler
caps volume on loud advertisements so that they’re more consistent with programming.
* Clock & On/Off Timer
* Closed Captioning

* HDTV Tuner Built-in
enables a TV to utilize Digital Television technology.
*
Sleep Timer
*
V-Chip
allows parents to block inappropriate movies and programs based upon their FCC rating
Dimensions 1.4" Thin

54.7" x 33.2" x 1.4" w/o stand
54.7" x 35.9" x 13.2" with stand
59.1" x 40.8" x 16.9" shipping size (carton)
Weight Package weight: 105.8 lbs
Set weight with stand: 86.6 lbs
Set weight without stand: 71.7 lbs
Accessories Remote Controller Model TM1060
Instruction Book
Power Exceeds ENERGY STAR Standards (But does this suggest the same energy efficiency as an LCD TV?)
Input & Output HDMI: 4
Component (Y/Pb/Pr): 2

Composite (AV): 1
PC input (D-sub): 1
Digital Audio Out (Optical): 1
PC Audio Input (Mini Jack): 1
Ethernet (LAN): 1
USB 2.0: 2
RF Input: 1
DVI Audio input (mini jack): 1

Some notes about the specs:

  • The large number and variety of inputs is great.
  • Standby power is supposedly 0W.
  • The unit is much heavier than the last reviewed LN55C650. The carton is much thicker because the stand comes premounted.

1.4" Thin

The PN58C6400 is just 1.4" thick. Thin profile
is often promoted in Samsung (and other TV makers’) advertising. But as mentioned earlier, the
benefit is almost entirely visual.

The promotional photo on the left shows the reality: The depth of the stand is the real "thickness" of the TV, and this is true whether the TV is 1" or 6" thick. This stand is typical at 13" deep. It is only when the TV is wall mounted that the benefit of extremely thiness really shows up; no one stands to the side of the TV to watch it.

A more tangible benefit is obtained when the TV is wall mounted.

EXTERNAL DETAILS

The carton is very heavy at ~50kg, and its dimensions make it
very hard for a single person to handle. We recommend two people to install this TV. No assembly is required; as mentioned, the stand comes preinstalled.


Samsung PN58C6400 TV on 5′ wide stand in SPCR’s dimmed TV viewing/testing room. Captured onscreen is a scene from the BBC Series Bluray of Planet Earth.


The back of the TV is pretty much as expected. Most of the vents are meant for heat to be dissipated by convection. The two lots on either side near the bottom allow the bottom-firing speakers to also emit sound backwards, where it can reflect off the back wall as well. All the inputs and outputs are near the right bottom corner, with a recess all around them to provide room for the connectors in case the TV is mounted or hung flush against a wall.


Here are all the inputs and outputs, in a single photo. One of the USB ports is marked HDD; presumably it provides enough current to power a 2.5" external USB drive.


Details of manufacturing, etc on the back panel label. Like the other Samsung TVs we reviewed, this one was made in Samsung Tijuana plant.


The wireless remote is the same model supplied with the LN55C650. It requires pointing at the right bottom corner of the TV where the IR receiver is located.

SETUP

The PN58C6400 was connected to several video signal sources, and to the local
area gigabit network via hard wire ethernet. A list of all associated components used for the review
follows:

  • Samsung BD-P1500 Blu-ray Disc Player (1080p) — via HDMI
  • Shaw Cable HD PVR/ Receiver (1080i Motorola) — via HDMI
  • 1080p Home Theater PC (Running Windows 7 Ultimate on AMD 890G chipset, w/ Phenom II 555 CPU, 4 cores unlocked. 4GB RAM with high capacity WD Green hard drives and Bluray drive) — via HDMI
  • Seasonic Power Angel AC power meter
  • Home LAN network — via gigabit ethernet cable
  • USB flash drives, cameras, and external USB hard drives
    with various video, music and photo content

The sparsely furnished viewing room is a modest size, 12′ x 10′ with a standard
8′ ceiling. Viewing distance was 8~9′. The room is kept deliberately dimmed for optimal TV viewing. There were no hiccups during initial
setup, and cable TV viewing proceeded within minutes.

Setting up the TV after the stand installtion was mostly a matter of hooking up all the cables and connections, placing it where you want it, and turning it on. The Samsung fits elegantly into most decors. Its high reflective glossy finish can be very annoying without any image on the screen, but this is not likely to happen often. When the TV is turned on, the vividness of the picture overcomes the reflectivity. In a bright room, especially with lots of daylight, the glossy finish requires turning up the backlighting or brightness of the TV. The high reflectivity is a real annoyance in such conditions. In our TV room, this is rarely an issue. In general, the best big screen TV viewing is experienced in a room that is not bright.

Computer-like chiming sound effects announce turn-on or turn-off but this feature can be quickly turn off.


As with previously reviewed Samsung TVs, the onscreen menu overlays most programming, with logic that’s easy for most people to follow. The degree of menu transparency can be adjusted.


This is just a series of logos on the left bottom corner of the bezel… not that you will ever see them in normal lighting conditions.


These touch controls on the bottom right of the bezel are visible only with a lot of ambient light. Far better to use the remote control.


The web interface screen is identical to the one encountered in the LN55C650. Umpteen Samsung TV apps on the Internet screen provide many web services. It stops short of being a PC by not having real browser.

MENUS & CONTROLS

The on-TV controls are very subtly marked, but no one wants to fiddle with controls right at the TV; these big screen TVs are too big. Everything is done with the remote control.

It is almost impossible to cover every aspect of the menu system and the way you access them via the remote. More than 70% of the 60 page English language manual covers nothing but menus, and there no point duplicating that here. Our main points regarding the remote control and menu interface:

  • All the main TV functions such as input source switching, picture control, volume and channel selection, etc, are reasonably logical and transparent. If you’re just watching TV via cable, satellite or antenna and watching video from a Bluray player or some other media device on the network, the control system is nice and simple. Access to Netflix and other web app is mostly straightforward as well.
  • As you drill down into the menus, both the menu system itself and the way the remote works with these menus become increasingly complex. This is probably typical of most modern TVs. The more esoteric controls are not expected to be used by many people, so they get the least amount of beta testing. The very worst experience was encountered at the user name + password screen for Picasa web album account access: The alphanumeric data entry logic switched back and forth from one to another several times in the course of just two input screens. We gave up on this one after a few tries. In contrast, trial signup and access to Netflix was easy.

VIDEO PERFORMANCE

1. GENERAL — The video presets on the PN58C6400 were tried with many different program materials on all the sources. In genernal, Movie picture mode provided
the best results, with color tone on Normal or Warm1. Contrast was set around 70%, brightness at around 60%, black tone on Normal or Dark. Dynamic Contrast was left off along with Digital Noise Filter, MPEG Noise Filter, Flesh Tone, Edge Enhancement and other advanced features. A bit of tweaking in the video settings menu
— mostly brightness, contrast — could enhance specific program material, but the Movie/Warm1 presets provided excellent results and were usually good enough
to leave alone. Colors were rich, vibrant, realistic; contrast and brightness were very good. Movie mode also was the best choice for less than pristine HD material; for example, 1080i broadcast TV under higher compression conditions (such as prime time on the Shaw cable TV network in Vancouver).

2. HD — With a high quality HD signal, the video performance was consistently excellent. The quality of the signal and the programming affected the video more
than minor changes in the TV controls. With poorer quality material, the artifacts and flaws of
the original were easily seen, much like with poor sources and a high quality
audio system. In general, the Samsung video processing handles
the deinterlacing, upconversion and other tasks very well, with good transparency. These comments held true for 1080i TV broadcasts, 1080p Bluray discs, as well as a wide range of 1080p and 720p digital files. Tests for film resolution, video resolution
loss, signal filtering ("jaggies") and HD noise in the HD HDQ Benchmark Blu-ray disc by
HQV Silicon Optix were all easily passed.

3. MOTION JUDDER was a problem with the video output of an earlier HTPC on a lot of program material. This had to do mostly with the synchronization between the TV’s natural refresh rate, the refresh rate of the video card settings, and the precise FPS of the program material. It is also referred to as Telecine Judder, which occurs as a result of a slight timing error in the viedo signal as it is transferred from one medium (typically film) to another (typically digital). This is particularly visible during slow, steady camera movements which appear slightly jerky when telecined. The earlier HTPC was built around an AMD 785G chipset and integrated video with a dual-core Athlon.

At the beginning of the review process, before this issue was sorted out, judder with HTPC movies was sometimes so bad as to be utterly watchable. Here are some notes from that period:

  • There is a bit of visible judder via the Shaw HD PVR, which provides TV content in 1080i. This is more than all the various other LCD TVs I’ve tested / used here (4 in all).
  • With the HTPC, it was absurdly bad at first, gave me a headache in less than an hour of viewing and experimenting. After many hours of tinkering with adjustments, the judder is now acceptable only with some HD (1080/720p compressed & uncompressed) movies. And only with just the right combination of settings.

When this problem was first encountered, we called out to our colleagues at Missing Remote for assistance, as they live and breathe HTPC and big screen TVs. Some of their generously helpful responses and advice:

From Mikinho & Andrew Van Til:

  • You will need to use INPUT 1 and have it labeled as DVI PC. Sounds silly but this changes the presets. Some PN58C6400 options are obscured as presets rather than exposed to the user as real options.
  • As Andrew mentions, you’ll also need to configure pulldown on the GPU for 24p since it is not supported on the PN58C6400.
  • For MPC-HC, using MadVR and Reclock offers a great way to reduce judder and optimal colorspace. MadVR produces the best chroma upsampling and scaling quality I’ve seen. Reclock to reduce the judder.

From Aaron Ledger:

  • I own the PN58C8000 plasma display which is a big brother to the PN58C6400. I don’t know a whole lot about the C6400 series, but I think it is a model reserved for sale in club stores like Costco and Sam’s Club. From what I understand, it is fairly similar to the C6500 model, which mainly removes 3D capability and proper 24p support (Cinema Smooth).
  • If your source is 24p from your HTPC (23Hz GPU setting which is 23.976Hz), the C6400 should be doing the pulldown to 59.94Hz itself. This will result in the inevitable telecine judder. You could also do the pulldown in the HTPC by putting your output refresh rate to 59.94Hz (59Hz GPU setting).
  • In my experience with the C8000, Cinema Smooth does not exhibit judder that is introduced by 2:3 pulldown. You do of course still have the poor temporal resolution (low frame rate) of the film itself, but nothing can be done about that. Cinema Smooth simply takes each frame of film and displays it 4 times the 23.976 frame rate.
  • If you wanted to, I understand it is possible to change the display type of the lower Samsung plasma models to that of the C8000 to get Cinema Smooth option. http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=1242723
  • If you’ve become used to frame interpolation in LCD displays, the C6400 plasma is going to appear to have more judder. The C8000 plasma features an option called Motion Judder Canceller (MJC) which is essentially frame interpolation and gives a similar effect to what happens on some LCD displays. MJC is not available on the lower tier models. Note that there was a firmware bug on some of the lower tier Samsung plasmas that always had this feature enabled though it has since been corrected, so make sure you have the latest firmware. I prefer to leave this option off all the time except for perhaps watching sporting events.

Further tweaking of all the various settings eventually resolved the problem, but there still were times when the refresh rate of the graphics card simply had to be changed to match the video file characteristics to get acceptably smooth motion.

Interestingly, simply upgrading to the higher performance HTPC (AMD 890G chipset, w/ 4-core Phenom II) resolved all of the HTPC judder issues. Now, HDMI1 is relabeled as DVI PC, the PC graphics settings are set to 1980 x 1080 @ 60Hz refresh, and the TV can play any decent movie or video file without judder.

3. BLACK — The depiction
of black was very good, even off to the side, well beyond 30 degrees off axis. There was simply no fading to gray of black portions on the screen viewed from anywhere in the 12′ width of the room. This is the same result that we obtained with the last reviewed Samsung LCD TV. This plasma is excellent for black depcition, but it is not better than the LN55C650, only as good. There does not really seem to be much room for improvement, anyway.

4. STANDARD TV — No one buys a HD TV capable of 1080p resolution video to watch 480i programming but it still happens from time to time. When it does happen, your eyes will not be insulted by this Samsung TV. Still amazing that most of us watched 480i TV till just a few years ago!

AUDIO

The speaker system and ampliers in the PN58C6400 are good enough to allow immersion into a decent program. There is plenty of volume, extended enough highs, and adequate bass. Clarity with dialog is good, though it varies with program material. If you are not planning to view HD music videos on a regular basis, the speakers and amp in this TV will do fine. The standard audio profiles (Movie, Clear Voice, etc) are equalizer
presets which can sometimes be improved upon by directly tweaking the 5-band equalizer. The internal speakers can be turned off when using an external amp and speakers.

NETWORKING, MEDIA SHARING

Samsung’s home networking function called AllShare provides
networking to access media files on any number of networked devices and PCs from the TV. No software needs to be installed in any of the other devices; they just need to be connected to the TV in one way or another.

Access to/from PCs was spotty, just like with the LN55C650. No surprise, as the feature and implementation are identical. The Samsung TV only saw the Windows 7 PCs in the network. The manual lists a big range of supported files: AVI, MKV, ASF, WMV, MP4, 3GP, VRO, MPG, and TS. In actual use, the TV’s ability to recognize media files was considerably more limited than any Windows HTPC. There’s was no clear rhyme or reason why one MKV file would be recognized and playable but not another.

Generally, access to non-PC devices connected via USB (such as external hard drives, cameras, etc) with flat, simple folder structures were always more consistent than files in PCs. Such directly connected devices are accessed via a single button on the remote called Media Play.

A digital HD video file played directly on the PN58C6400 sometimes looked slightly better than when that same file was played from the HTPC. The reverse rarely, if ever, occurred. The difference, when it showed up, was small, however.

POWER CONSUMPTION

The previously reviewed Samsung LCD and LED TVs had great power management and energy efficiency. As expected, the PN58C6400 is nowhere near as good; all plasma TVs require a lot more power than LCD TVs.

Power measurements shown in the table below are typical numbers at the AC plug with
many different types of source material on the screen. The actual readings
varied somewhat with the mix of dark and light on the screen at any given
time. The brightest sequences caused the great power consumption. When turned
off, the AC power dropped too low for it to register on the meter.

Samsung TV Measured Power
Mode
AC Power in Watts
PN58C6400
LN55C650
UN55B7100
Power Off
0
0
0
Standby (w/ no active inputs)
No standby mode; Screen turns off w/o signal after 10, 20, or 30 mins
No standby mode; TV turns off w/o signal after 15, 30, 45 or 60 mins
32
Screen Off
118
n/a
n/a
Power Save Off
movie: 170~190
TV: 300~330
110~135
110~132
Power Save Low
movie: 165~185
TV: 240~290
84~90
90~94
Power Save Med
movie: 160~175
TV: 230~250
66~82
78~84
Power Save High
movie: 160~170
TV: 200~215
56-62
65~68
Power Save Auto
n/a
96~120
62~132

First, the good news: This TV draws no measurable current from the wall when it is turned off. The quiescent current for the remote/standby circuit to stay active has to be below 1W for it not to register at all.

The bad news is that when you watch TV news, talk, cooking and game shows with typical settings, the PN58C6400 will pull 300W or more from the wall. It’s not quite the 440W rating on the back of the TV, but it is 2.5~3 times more energy than Samsung’s LCD TV of nearly the same size (55" instead of 58"). It appears that the TV draws less power when movies are played because they have more dark scenes than TV shows like news, cooking, talk or game shows, which are all usually very bright. The drop to <200W in movies is very dramatic. No such dramatic changes were seen between TV and movie programming in the LCD TVs reviewed before.

The slight reduction in brightness in Low Power Save mode is perfectly acceptable. The
power saving here on TV shows can be upwards of a whopping 90W. This will add up quickly. The Med and High settings
are too dim to consider seriously.

When used as a monitor with the HTPC, power consumption was about the same as with TV programming. Even a Windows 7 desktop with a black background caused AC power to exceed 320W (w/o power saving). At the very least, Power Save Low is a must.

OTHER FUNCTIONS

TV Monitor for HTPC — The PN58C6400 works well in this mode.
Even a modest, cheap PC is far more flexible in its digital file management
than any TV we know of, and issues such as video or audio codecs are solved easily
with quickly downloaded updates. Virtually any movie file can be made playable. The
1080p movies via the reference HTPC provided
stunning video and audio indistinguishable from the original Blu-ray disc,
sometimes with minor adjustments in the TV picture settings to complement the video output of the PC. The video and audio connection via
HDMI worked perfectly.

No Buzzing — This plasma TV has the least buzzing noise of any we’ve either reviewed or examined casually. It has hardly any audible buzzing or humming even from directly above the back of the TV. Given the apparent difficulty of suppressing all audible electronic noise, this is excellent.

CONCLUSIONS

The Samsung PN58C6400 is obviously a very capable 1080p HD large screen TV. This TV excels in many ways:

  • Convincing blacks as expected from a plasma screen
  • No change in colors, including blacks, at well over 30° off axis
  • Excellent picture quality
  • Decent sound
  • Good Internet/LAN access
  • No audible buzzing noise

The judder issue encountered originally was resolved by carefully picking the right settings in the HTPC video drivers, and in the TV adjustments. Later, it was completely resolved by upgrading the HTPC to a more powerful system with more advanced integrated graphics.

In a darkened with a good sound system — or even with the built in speakers — and the picture suitably toned down in brightness and contrast for the darker conditions, the viewing experience with a good movie is truly immersive, making you wonder why you’d ever bother with the hassles of going out to a movie theater if the Samsung PN58C6400 is available as a alternative in the comfort of your own home.

The single glaring black mark on the Samsung PN58C6400 is the horrific power consumption, over 300W in typical use, nearly three times that of the last 55" LCD Samsung TV reviewed, in any comparable mode. Our experience with plasma TVs is limited to just this model, and we know they generally take a lot more energy to run than their LCD counterparts. Whether this model’s power consumption is exceptionally high in comparison to other similar size plasmas is not possible for us to say, but in this day and age, 240W~330W just to watch TV seems absurdly high. It is really difficult to give any unfettered endorsement of a TV with such high power demand.

The much reduced power draw in movie mode suggests to us that the role of the PN58C6400 should be limited to just that: Viewing movies in a dimmed room. Then, with judicious settings, the power draw does not often exceed 200W, and the magic of its video performance shines.

Videophiles claim that the performance strengths of plasma still make it the best HD TV option, that "at a given price point it is better in almost every metric (black levels, contrast, color accuracy and pixel response) compared to LCD". This could well be true, but it is very difficult to ignore the increased electricity consumption, epecially if the PN58C6400 will be often used to view TV programming, especially during brighter periods of the day, when most users will turn up the screen brightness/contrast, thus increasing power consumption even further.

Perhaps there are no plasmas with better energy efficiency; we cannot confirm until we test for ourselves. A search through Energy Star’s TV listings shows that by their measure, 180~200W is typical for a plasma TV of this size, and the PN58C6400 falls right in line at 186W. ES rates similar size LCD TVs, in contrast, at an average of 100~110W. (Thanks to Doug Hanson for point this out.) Note that during our power monitoring of the PN58C6400, the only time <200W was seen was with Power Save Low, displaying movies. Most TV programs pushed the power up to 240~290W. That is a huge amount of power when you consider that the average PC and monitor rarely draws more than 100W during a peak these days, and turning on all the CFL lights in our 3-room 900 SF lab for photo-ready brightness barely takes 200W.

We suggest that a good performance, high efficiency LCD TV like the Samsung LN55C650 we reviewed in November is a better option if you seek a general purpose big-screen TV that will sometimes be used for movies. Your eyes will not notice any difference, your energy consumption will not jump, and you can rest assured that your entertainment hours are not making any serious contribution to energy wars. If on the other hand, you seek a big screen TV just for watching movies, the PN58C6400’s high energy consumption may be justifiable given its excellent video performance.

SPCR forum readers suggest that our point of view is too harsh, of not only plasma but also the videophile, that there are ways to ameliorate the increased power consumption if a plasma TV calls to you. These and many other counterpoints can be found in the lively discussion about the review at the link below.

Our thanks to Samsung Canada for the review sample TV.

* * *

Related Articles in SPCR
Samsung UN55B7100 55" LED HDTV

Samsung LN55C650 55" LCD
1080p TV

* * *

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