The picture’s sharpness is particularly apparent with Sky HD cricket and football coverage, as well as unusually crisp Xbox 360 games like Prey and Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth II. And it’s also with pristine, fast-moving sources like this that you most notice the impact of Samsung’s Smooth Motion Driver, as objects really do glide across the screen more ‘solidly’, for want of a better word. The SMD processing does occasionally struggle to keep up with particularly fast-paced action, especially while watching HD, causing the occasional judder. But for the most part it’s a feature we’d rather have than not. And in any case, you can always turn it off if you don’t like it.
Unlike Samsung’s previous plasma generation, the PS50Q7HD enjoys impressively vibrant, largely natural colour tones that give pictures plenty of dynamism and richness. What’s more, these colours are allowed to strut their stuff against a backdrop of some of the deepest black levels seen from a flat panel TV. And these black levels aren’t just empty dark holes either; the picture’s combination of brightness and contrast is canny enough to ensure that even the darkest corners of an image still contain subtle details and a sense of depth.
The current benchmark plasmas from Panasonic and Pioneer do still highlight one or two weaknesses in the Samsung’s picture makeup. First, although colours are, as we said, generally natural, flesh tones can look a touch green around the gills and overstated during darker scenes. Next, very bright colour elements, such as the Sky News channel logo, can become over-dominant to the point of looking artificial and forced. Finally, DNIe doesn’t suppress all forms of video noise quite as successfully as one or two other picture processing systems. But these issues are all pretty minor given the context of the Samsung’s price.
The PS50Q7HD’s only serious weak link is its sound. It employs a ‘hidden’ speaker design, where the speakers are tucked on a down-facing ledge under the screen. And this configuration results in a soundstage that’s underpowered, flat, short of frequency range and generally just plain average.
After failing to impress with its previous couple of plasma generations, Samsung has finally come up trumps with the PS50Q7HD. It benefits from all manner of performance improvements, has been stuffed to bursting point with features, is dressed to kill, and most importantly of all has been priced so ground-breakingly affordably that what few foibles it has – even the flimsy sound – are eminently easy to live with.