Big doesn’t have to mean expensive. Although the high-end 1080p resolution has become the de facto standard for most HDTV buyers as prices have fallen, Samsung’s PN50A450 plasma-screen TV cuts resolution down to 720p in order to offer more screen real estate for the buck. Unfortunately, this corner cutting shows in the final video quality, which looks grainy and lacks the sizzle of better sets. But those who prioritize price and size over resolution may still find this extremely affordable television to be a good value.
*Note: Samsung is using the model number PN50A460 for the same set at discount retailers.
Features and Design
Besides shrinking the PN50A450’s display down to just 1365 x 768 resolution, Samsung hasn’t done all that much to skimp on this display. It gets many of the technologies found in the company’s higher-end sets, including FilterBright anti-glare technology, the ACE silhouette editor that smooths facial colors, and Natural True Color with 18-bit color processing. It also has a built-in NTSC/ATSC tuner with Clear QAM for picking up over-the-air HD broadcasts. On the audio side, the PN50A450 features down-firing 10-watt speakers and support for SRS TruSurround XT.
Like most of Samsung’s flat-screen televisions, the PN50A450 adopts a classy (if not terribly unique) glossy black bezel. While this finish typically collect fingerprints easily on manhandled devices like MP3 players and laptops, we can’t find much to complain about on a television, which shouldn’t be getting touched too often. The lower right-hand side sports a discrete red LED that lights up when the set is off, along with embossed buttons for basic functions like changing channels, adjusting volume, switching inputs, and bringing up the TV menu. When powered on, the silver Samsung logo below the screen gets a gentle white glow from below, but not nearly enough to be distracting. Overall, the clean styling on the PN50A450 was right up to par with Samsung’s pricier sets, and guests would never know from viewing it while turned off that it occupies the lower end of the company’s line-up.
Ports and Connectors
Since Samsung has targeted budget buyers who may not have accessories that are completely up to snuff with the latest high-def input standard, we found it wise that the company included two component video inputs in addition to three HDMI inputs on the PN50A450. These, combined with dual composite A/V inputs, plus S-video and VGA, should be more than sufficient for the array of components most buyers will connect to a TV like this. It’s not the most complete rear panel we’ve ever seen, but we wouldn’t anticipate needing many more connections when looking in this price range. USB inputs would be nice, but that’s clearly a premium feature outside the scope of this unit.
Image Courtesy of Samsung
Performance and Use
Watching Jumper on Blu-ray using Samsung’s own BD-P1500 player brought out the true weakness in the PN50A450’s display quality. Although 720p resolution produces a passable approximation of “real” HD on small sets, where the somewhat limited pixels are packed close together, plastering the same resolution across a 50-incher just makes the lackluster quality more apparent. The usual dazzling sharpness of Blu-ray was completely absent, replaced by a dull graininess. Bright scenes exacerbated the effect – a yellow wall in one character’s apartment appearing to be dancing with digital noise even as the camera stood perfectly still.
Samsung’s settings didn’t allow us to coax anything better out of the weak display. Switching into Dynamic color mode (which supposedly boosts contrast to a rather unbelievable 1,000,000:1 ratio) cranked up the brightness to eye-scorching levels but only made the pronounced graininess worse. The other modes, standard and movie, produced a more realistic-looking image, but nothing could cure the TV of its mediocre image quality. You can’t simulate pixels that aren’t there.
Although the lack of resolution stood as this set’s primary hindrance, the black levels also left us shaking our heads. Black horizontal bars in movies looked, at best, like a milky black. Dynamic contrast mode helped hide the defect by bringing the bright parts of an image up far higher, but we still weren’t impressed by the amount of luminescence “dark” parts of the screen were throwing off.
The only aspect of this display that actually pleased us might be Samsung’s anti-glare FilterBright technology, which managed to knock the glare off the screen even when viewing under skylights and fluorescent overhead lights.
Given its shortcomings in the video department, the PN50A450 actually surprised us when it came to sound quality. Dialog during movies was clear, sound effects seemed to have in-room presence, and although the internal stereo speakers suckle just 10 watts per channel, they get plenty loud. In a quiet room, seated about 15 feet from the screen, listening to audio on level 14 (out of 100) was perfectly sufficient. Of course, as with any built-in television speakers, bass was lacking, but that’s par for the course. No television’s speakers can substitute for a real home theater system, but for cash-strapped buyers who may be considering this particular model, the built-in sound system will work just fine until they can scrape together some more funds for the real deal.
The remote that comes packaged with the PN50A450 looks a bit like it was designed in Microsoft Paint. All of its buttons seem to be simple shapes with primary colors, and the number buttons might be stolen right off a large-print remote for the elderly. While this makes it quite simple to operate, it doesn’t quite match the TV’s darker, more seductive look, and doesn’t look all that stylish on a coffee table either. Functionally, it’s also hindered by a lack of glow-in-the-dark or back-lit buttons, making it harder to use in the dark if you’re not already used to the feel of its flat and hard-to-differentiate buttons. Although Samsung gave the bottom of the remote a rounded, ergonomic shape, designers also added hard plastic nubs for it to sit level on a countertop, more or less negating any attempts at comfort.
Samsung’s menus consistently manage to impress us with their intuitive layout and ease of navigation, and the PN50A450 fared no different. Accessing the most commonly used features of the television posed no problems, but in some cases we wished the options stretched deeper. For instance, the TV won’t remember tweaked settings from input to input, and although you can customize the Dynamic, Standard and Cinema color profiles to taste, we thought being bound to only three profiles felt pretty limited. The TV offered quite a few more options when it came to audio, all the way down to a five-band equalizer and five different customizable profiles to play with.
Samsung’s PN50A450 is the V6 Mustang of the flat-screen TV world. It may look a lot like its pricier, brawnier big brothers, and when it’s sitting the parking lot you might even fool some passersby, but when it’s time to throw down, it’s not even in the same league. That said, not everybody needs to own the pinnacle of video (or car) technology, and when you consider that it retails for $1399, exactly half of the price of the full-HD Samsung PN50A760, you may start to wonder whether you really need those extra 1,025,280 pixels. Short answer: yes – if you want it to look like HD is supposed to. But if the budget just doesn’t allow for it, you could do worse than the PN50A450, for the price tag.
• Very affordable
• Large size
• Surprisingly good built-in speakers
• 720P Resolution
• Grainy video quality
• Milky black levels