Released in the fall of 2009 as part of Samsung’s mid-level plasma lineup, the PN50B550 offers exceptional image quality, solid features and a decent price tag. Additionally, this plasma HDTV is capable of playing full 1080p high definition content from Blu-ray players, satellite signals and other 1080p sources. Unlike many plasma TVs released prior to 2009 that could be described as power-hungry, the B550 has earned an ENERGY STAR rating for its energy-efficient design that sips electricity compared to other plasmas.
Taking a look at the PN50B550 is quite a treat with its beautiful piano black border and large 50 inch widescreen. The included TV stand is equally well-designed, although the functionality of it may have taken a back seat to its good looks because the large flat-panel seems a bit tipsy atop the stand. If the B550 is placed on a level, sturdy TV cabinet; however, you should be fine. The B550 is also wall-mountable as well (wall mount not included).
The included remote control is similar to other Samsung plasmas, and its buttons are tactile and easy to find. It features a matching piano-black finish ‘” a great looking style piece for your coffee table. All of the TV’s settings are accessed via the remote. The on-screen menu system is relatively easy to navigate. The B550 offers plenty of customization options, which may seem overwhelming at first, but it’s better to have too many options than too few of them.
Taking a look around back of the screen, you’ll find the inputs/outputs arranged in the lower corner and side of the TV. The B550 offers a good selection of connections:
~ 4 HDMI
~ 2 Component video
~ 1 Composite video
~ 1 VGA input
~ 1 USB Connection
~ 1 Digital optical
~ 1 3.5 mm headphone
~ 3 RCA audio inputs
~ 1 RCA audio outputs
The abundant number of inputs/outputs allow for a wide range of connectivity options. You can easily run a Blu-ray player, gaming system, surround sound system, cable box/satellite box and even connect a PC via the VGA connection. Even then, you still have available inputs/outputs if needed for additional components.
Weighing in at just over 84 lbs., the B550 should be installed by at least two people. The 50 inch screen requires a bit of space with its dimensions measuring 48.8 x 11.4 x 32.4 inches (WxDxH) with the stand installed. The screen itself is about 3 inches thick.
The PN50B550 offers many of the features found in more expensive plasmas. It supports any TV resolution, including 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p. Though it supports all TV resolutions, the B550 shines when it comes to displaying full 1080p HD content. If you don’t plan to use this TV with an HD cable or satellite package and/or with a Blu-ray player, you may want to consider a standard definition model and save the money.
Plasma TVs are renowned for their image quality and speedy performance, and the B550 is no exception. This 16:9 widescreen plasma features a 600 Hz refresh rate and 0.001 ms pixel response time. This makes the B550 exceptional when it comes to watching fast-moving imagery, such as sporting events, action movies and video games. You won’t see any noticeable “ghosting” effect during action sequences as you might with some LCD and LED televisions.
The white balance, individual colors, tint, contrast and several other picture quality settings are fully adjustable, so you can dial in the perfect picture. There’s also preset settings if you’d like to bypass these options. The menu system offers helpful tips along the bottom of each menu screen to guide you through the picture adjustment process.
Built-in ATSC and QAM digital TV tuners allow you to watch high-quality digital TV, including over-the-air HDTV programming, without the need for a separate digital cable box. If you plan to run cable or satellite service to the B550, setup is as easy as connecting the coaxial cable to the TV input labeled “ANT IN”.
With both a VGA and USB connection on the rear of the flat-screen, you can connect a PC or video camera quickly and easily to watch video or view your computer screen directly on the TV. Despite the large picture when using this feature, the image clarity is greatly degraded, so it’s not practical to use this TV as a gigantic computer screen. The USB port on the side of the TV allows you to connect a USB flash drive to view images, video and update the B550’s firmware.
Sound is delivered through two rear-mounted speakers pushing a maximum of 20 watts. The sound is fully-customizable, and there’ a SRS TruSurround HD feature that adds a surround sound effect to the audio. This feature works well in some cases, but I prefer to have it turned off. It’s a matter of personal preference; either way, it’s a simple push of a button on the remote to turn it on/off.
Screen Burn Protection
A big concern of plasma TVs since they were first introduced is the issue of screen burn. Samsung addresses, and virtually eliminates, this problem in the B550. It has a built-in screen burn protection feature that offers three levels of protection. Most 2009 and later plasmas offer similar protection against screen burn, so this is an issue that is fast becoming obsolete in plasma TVs.
Samsung designed the PN50B550 to be eco-friendly by nearly cutting the energy usage by half compared to past plasmas. This ENERGY STAR 3.0 rated model uses 440 watts of power. It features an intelligent energy-saving option that can be turned on/off in the menu.
The PN50B550 excels against similarly priced plasmas when it comes to video quality. When viewed at the optimal viewing distance of about 13 ft., the B550 displays vivid colors, stellar detail and top-notch contrast. The dynamic contrast ratio of 2,000,000:1 means that this HDTV will display an accurate level of blacks and gray on-screen ‘” details are still vivid even when the imagery is dark.
Action movies and sports look awesome viewed on the B550. The only time I noticed the image quality degrade ever-so slightly was when the room was brightly lit. This is a common issue with most plasma screens. You may want to consider an LCD or LED HDTV if you plan to watch television in a bright environment, such as a sun porch or a room with strong ambient lighting. However, when watching sports or movies in a dimly-lit room, it’s tough to beat the overall picture quality of the B550.
Sound quality is best described as average. It’s by no means a deal breaker, but I was not blown away with the factory sound. When paired with a decent surround sound system; however, the B550’s video and sound combination is sensational. And that’s really what this plasma HDTV was designed for ‘” providing a move theater experience in the comfort of your own home.
~ Top-notch HD image quality ‘” 1080p, 1080i and 720p
~ Many picture setting calibration options
~ Three levels of screen burn protection
~ USB and computer connectivity
~ Wide selection of input/output choices
~ No need for convertor box; digital tuners built-in
~ Wide viewing angle
~ No ghosting or lagging effect during action sequences
~ Vivid color, contrast ratio, details and clarity
~ Competitive price ‘” Under $1,000
~ Great looks, design and functionality
~ Screen will show glare at times despite the built-in anti-glare feature
~ Uses more energy compared to LCD or LED TVs
~ Video quality is slightly diminished in brightly lit rooms
~ Built-in speakers are nothing special; still adequate for most people
~ Table base can be unstable if bumped or not placed on flat, level surface.
Who’s it For?
The bottom line is that the Samsung PN50B550 50 inch widescreen plasma is for anyone who values image quality and clarity when watching movies and HD content. The 50 inch diagonal widescreen is plenty big for most living rooms or small home theaters yet not overwhelming large. The TV itself is a piece of art hanging on the wall or mounted on its stylish stand. Despite the minor drawbacks mentioned above, I found no major flaws that could be considered deal breakers. If you watch most of your TV during the daytime inside an exceptionally bright room, you may want to shop elsewhere, but I think that most people will cast this concern aside after they watch their first Blu-ray movie on the Samsung PN50B550 and witness the stunning picture quality before them.