Samsung is one of only a handful of manufacturers that offers large-screen TVs in both the plasma and LCD categories. A new addition for 2008, the PN50A550 offers many of the advanced features found in the higher-end A650 Series, but at a more reasonable price of $1,999.99. This 50-inch plasma HDTV has a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution and a thorough connection panel that includes three HDMI, two component video and one PC input, plus a single RF input to access the internal ATSC, NTSC and Clear-QAM tuners. The HDMI inputs accept 1080p/60 and 1080p/24 signals, and one HDMI input is located on the side panel for easy access. Also on the side panel is a USB port for JPEG and MP3 playback. The TV lacks a full program guide for tuned channels, but picture-in-picture functionality is available. This model does not sport the Touch of Color design aesthetic or the Ethernet port found in the step-up A650 line.
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Samsung has included a generous collection of advanced picture controls, including a few settings that we have not seen on any other plasma. The Cell Light function lets you increase pixel brightness to improve overall light output; this TV still can't get as bright as an LCD, but this control does provide more ability to tailor image brightness based on your viewing conditions. There's also a Blue Only Mode that makes it easier to correctly adjust color and tint. In addition to three picture modes and five color-temperature options, the PN50A550 offers gamma control, multiple color spaces (with the ability to fine-tune all six color points), precise white-balance adjustment and a flesh-tone control. You can choose between six aspect ratios, including a Just Scan mode that displays 1080i/1080p signals with no overscan. Samsung wisely offers several features to help prevent or counteract short-term image retention, a common plasma concern.
On the audio side, the menu includes five sound modes, with a custom mode through which you adjust the audio using a five-band equalizer, as well as SRS TruSurround XT and an Automatic Volume control to reduce level discrepancies. Like many new Samsung models, this plasma also features three entertainment modes (sports, cinema, and game) that tailor both the video and audio settings to suit that type of entertainment. These modes provide quick and easy set-up for those who want it, but you lose the ability to adjust most of the advanced controls that Samsung has so kindly provided.
Read about the high points and low points of the PN50A550 on Page 2.