When it comes to screen specifications, the PS51D550 is still a full HD affair promising a wonderfully named but also wonderfully vague ‘Mega Dynamic Contrast Ratio’. However, read the small print and crucially the PS51D550 doesn’t have the Real Black Filter found in the PS51D8000 - a fact which Samsung history suggests could have quite a negative impact on its black level performance.
Leaving the comparisons behind for a while for the sake of simplicity, the PS51D550’s onscreen menus are well presented and stuffed with a surprisingly plentiful supply of calibration tools. Among the more surprising discoveries on such a value-driven set are a white balance adjust with offset and gain tweaks for the RGB colour elements; a flesh tone adjustment; the facility to tweak the plasma cell output (as well as the contrast and brightness); and a Motion Drive circuit that adjusts the brightness in relation to how much motion the picture is showing.
The key point about the cell output feature is that it allows you to boost the image’s brightness without, hopefully, damaging the screen’s black level response.
Unfortunately for the PS51D550, we tested the PS51D8000 first in our Samsung double header. As a result, the PS51D550’s pictures didn’t immediately impress. For there are a number of picture areas where the PS51D550 is clearly a few steps behind its more expensive sibling.
For a start, the picture looks quite a bit less dynamic. The naked eye can clearly see that the screen’s black level response is less extreme than that of the PS51D8000; dark scenes have a slightly grey-green look to them rather than the deeper, truer black colour seen on the PS51D8000. Also, colours are slightly less punchy and vibrant, as well as not looking quite so natural. Greens in particular look more muted and the image as a whole has a slightly green undertone, plus there’s a more orangey look to reds.
The PS51D550 is clearly a step down from the PS51D8000 where noise levels are concerned too, with marginally more plasma ‘fizz’ visible on the cheaper model. Plus its skin tones are less subtle and so occasionally look a little mannequin-like, and finally and perhaps most aggravatingly, the PS51D550’s screen is markedly more reflective of light in your room.
But - and it’s a very big but - while we’ve undoubtedly sounded rather down on the PS51D550’s performance so far, we’ve only done so to make the point that the PS51D8000 is (in most ways...) a much superior TV to the PS51D550.
Of course, though, many people will not be able to afford the PS51D8000. Which brings us to how the PS51D550 stacks up against other 50-51in plasma TVs in its own price category. And in this context it becomes a very tempting proposition indeed.