Samsung touts the F8500 as the series sporting the best HDTV picture quality available. This high-end performer is also 3D-capable and smart, naturally, and comes with all kinds of extra goodies and unique interfacing options. As usual, we're much more curious about its performance capabilities.
We've completed our full suite of tests, and one thing is abundantly clear: Samsung's F8500 is the TV to beat right now. Its contrast ratio is huge, boasting both very deep blacks and a surprising peak brightness. Its color accuracy is very good, it handles motion almost perfectly, and promises a wide viewing angle. Combining such performance with Samsung's newly revamped Smart Hub and an alluring design aesthetic makes for one very attractive TV, both inside and out.
The F8500 series is available on the consumer market now, with the 51-inch version available for $2,099 MSRP; the 60-inch version available for $3,149; and the 64-inch available for $3,679. Each entry in the series is 3D-ready and smart.
As of July 17th, 2013, we have re-tested the F8500 plasma with the Black Optimizer setting turned on, instead of off, which has increased its overall score. The result is a much deeper black level and a little less light output. For the test numbers, check the Science page.
Welcome to the Science Page, where we archive and catalog the hard data behind our tests to support our Front Page claims. All of our tests are conducted using DisplayMate's suite of test patterns, with data gathered using the Konica Minolta CS-200 chroma meter. The CS-200 gathers luminance levels up to two decimal points, and gathers u- and v-prime color data to compare with international HDTV ideals dictated by the Rec. 709 standard.
Accurate, rich colors
We test three aspects of a TV's color: Its color gamut, or the range of colors it can display; its color curves, or how much detail it afford to each color across its luminosity scale; and its color temperature consistency, a measure of how much its color temperature varies across its greyscale input.
The F8500 tested very well in all three areas. Its color gamut, while not perfect, was still very good. We check a TV's color gamut (peak red, blue, green, and white) against the gamut dictated by the Rec. 709 standard. The F8500 tested with very minimal error here, adhering adamantly to the international ideal, just as it should.
Color and greyscale curves dictate the amount of detail you can expect to find throughout hues and shades in a TV's picture, as well as how well the TV transitions between neighboring shades and hues. The F8500's curves were very similar to last year's E8000, with red, green, and blue describing a gradual ramp in the usual knee, and the greyscale curving out inversely to complement details within midtones.
Last but not least, the F8500's color temperature adherence is quite solid. While it ranges roughly 100°-200° away from its initial temperature across the greyscale input, nothing is ever overtly visible, nor does it mar the integrity of the image in any fashion.
Like a rock
While we found the thin stylishness of the F8000 to be very attractive in its own right, the F8500 plasma is different enough from its LCD counterpart to warrant an entirely separate kind of appreciation. As a plasma, it's never going to be as edge-narrow nor as lightweight as an LCD, especially not one crafted by a space-saving company like Samsung.
Where the F8000 feels like a thin-crust pizza, the F8500 is more akin to a deep dish. The 60-inch version we reviewed is imposing: Its screen is wrapped in a "Titan Black"-colored bezel of unapologetic width, and it perches atop a sharp, sturdy stand of the same hue. The stand is crescent-shaped and heavy—a worthy counterpart to the plasma panel it holds aloft. The whole product feels solid, clean, and strong.
Like the F8000 LCD, the F8500 plasma series comes standard with Samsung's new 2013 Smart Touch remote, a pop-up camera, voice and gesture control software, and a fully-loaded connectivity suite. Users have access to four HDMI inputs, three USB ports, and the usual panoply of sub-HD connection options. Samsung does not skimp on usability, yet we feel the biggest physical takeaway from this TV is its titanic, imposing presence. Like an ancient oak or your Seger-skewed memories of your grandfather, the F8500 is statuesque, powerful, and immovable (... without a dolly).
While not yet a full replacement for your smart phone or tablet, Samsung's Smart Hub is getting very close.
The F8500 is Samsung's flagship plasma series for 2013, so of course it's WiFi ready and stuffed to the gills with options and settings to toggle. The quad-core F8500 sports Samsung's most current and efficacious version of its Smart Hub, a headquarters of sorts containing streaming content, a web browser, and all the other goodies we've come to expect to be bundled with high-end TVs in the age of cable TV's downfall.
Like last year's ES8000/E8000 flagships, the F8500 allows for remote-free motion control, making use of a pop-up camera mounted at the top of the TV. Unfortunately, the functionality isn't really much improved from last year's iteration. The idea remains the same: The camera tracks the motions of a user's raised hand, and the user is able to select and toggle things like volume, menu settings, and channel selection without a remote. It's still more trouble than using the Smart Touch Remote.
The real draw of the new Smart Hub is the way in which it integrates all of your content together into one place. The voice function on the remote—which works quite well, by the way—allows you to ask the TV, "What's on for sports?" or search for a specific film, and the Smart Hub will quickly populate a list related to your search (to the best of its ability). Using the included IR flasher, you can even allow the F8500 to change channels on your cable provider for you. The search function will list all iterations of a film and how you can watch it—$2.99 on CinemaNow, $4.99 on MediaHub, or a $7.99/month subscription to Netflix, for example.
Where the Smart Hub has received a thorough overhaul, mostly for the best, the F8500's menus are almost unchanged from its predecessor's, the E8000. Users will still find aqua, opaque sub-menus for Picture, Sound, Network, etc., allowing for a multitude of ways to alter your TV's picture performance, speaker quality, and basic functionality. Hobbyist calibrators will enjoy Samsung's multitude of advanced picture options—though we recommend turning off most post-signal processing effects and motion smoothing settings.
The F8500's natural contrast ratio puts last year's E8000 to shame.
Update: As of July 17th, 2013, we have gathered new data for the F8500. With the TV's Black Optimizer setting turned On, under the same conditions as the results gathered at the time of review, the F8500 achieved a Black Level of 0.008 cd/m2 and a Peak Brightness of 150 cd/m2 , giving it a new Contrast Ratio of 18,750:1.
Samsung's new F8500 takes the proverbial cake in natural contrast ratio compared to almost any TV we've reviewed before it. To determine contrast ratio, we divide a television's 20% APL (average picture level) brightness by its 20% APL black level. The readings are taken in a light and temperature controlled environment to ensure maximum accuracy. 20% APL is roughly the same picture saturation as most content.
It's true that the F8500 does not appear to achieve the black levels of Panasonic's 2013 plasma line-up—when I tested the entry-level S60 a few weeks ago, it tested with a black level of 0.01 cd/m2 , the lowest luminance reading our current instrument is capable of. The F8500 did not achieve this level; its minimum luminance of 0.02 cd/m2 is still much darker than last year's E8000, and is a very good black level in general, but is a whole magnitude brighter than what Panasonic's plasmas have boasted this year.
Where the F8500 really "shines" is in its peak brightness, which measured 214.74 cd/m2 at 20% APL. In our collective experience, that is extremely bright for a plasma, and is very bright for a plasma also capable of such a deep black level. The two measurements give the F8500 a contrast ratio of 10,737:1, which beats last year's E800 (2,775:1), Panasonic's 2012 flagship VT50 series (3,401:1), and Panasonic's S60 series from 2013 (9,132:1). Needless to say, this is a massive contrast ratio: The F8500 is as bright as you'd ever need it to be, while still allowing for the deep black levels that plasma technology is famed for.
Performance that surpasses last year's flagship, and then some
The F8500's performance is without flaw. In fact, it improves on last year's E8000 in many ways. While its black level is very commendable (you'll find numeric data on the Science page), what really impressed us was how bright it managed to get at the same time. This plasma does away with the old worries about watching in a dark room, or being outshine by standard ambient lighting: Yes, it's just that bright. While it doesn't hit the searing whites of some modern LED LCDs, it is severely bright for a plasma, and is so much brighter than the black levels it achieves that its contrast ratio is of the widest we've ever seen.
Along with this massive contrast (and terrific edge gradation along the greyscale), the F8500 is engineered with highly accurate colors. Its adherence to the Rec. 709 gamut was terrific (though not quite as good as what we've seen from Panasonic's 2013 plasmas). Its color curves were of a similar curve to last year's E8000, with the greyscale curving out to add definition to mid-tones. All in all, its color integrity is great, though a touch imperfect; it is still much better than 90% of the televisions we test.
The F8500's high brightness and titanic contrast remedied any falloff problems it may have dealt with in years past, as well as a satisfyingly wide viewing angle. We found it improved drastically on the E8000's motion performance, as well, clearing up problems with blurring and color trailing, even with no motion assistance settings enabled. This plasma is an extremely efficacious performer, on top of all it does already.
Like a certain famous rabbit, it just keeps going and going...
... the F8500's viewing angle, that is. Plasma televisions often sport very wide horizontal viewing angles due to the nature of their technology, and Samsung's flagship plasma is no exception. Viewing angle is an important test of quality; our test often reveals consistency (or lack thereof) in a TV's panel construction. It also is what dictates a television's flexibility in terms of where you can comfortably view it from. A wide viewing angle can mean peace of mind in deciding where to place your TV in the room; a narrow viewing angle often threatens lonely, solo viewing.
The most interesting thing about the F8500's viewing angle test was its consistent black level at off-angles (more on that in a moment). The F8500 tested with a total viewing angle of 158°, or 79° from center to either side of the screen. While this isn't quite as wide as the E8000's 179° total, it is wider than both the Panasonic VT50 from 2012 and the Panasonic S60 from this year, and makes for ample viewing flexibility in general.
We test viewing angle by measuring a television's diminishing contrast ratio from 0° (facing) to 90° (perpendicular). The F8500's contrast drop-off chart described a comb-like pattern, with the black level fluctuating mildly between 0.02 cd/m2 and 0.01 cd/m2 at every other off-angle; a level of 0.03 cd/m2 ar 40° off-center threatened to derail the whole test, but each angle past 40° measured a consistent 0.01 cd/m2 , which speaks to the integrity of the F8500's "Super Contrast Panel."
One caveat: The F8500's vertical viewing angle is quite marred by this kind of panel, taking on severe shadows at off-angle vertical viewing. Consumers planning to wall-mount the F8500 should definitely take note of this.
Motion, audio, and power consumption
The F8500 handles motion-based content very well. It made short work of both of our motion tests, with very minimal blurring and no color-trailing or interlacing/artifacting. While the F8500 does allow users to enable a de-judder mode, we really don't think it's necessary, and it does cause the soap opera effect while on. The F8500 does very well without it: The final motion score is a 9.75 out of 10.
Where audio quality is concerned, the F8500 is nice and loud. While its two, 10-watt downward firing speakers are entirely standard for 2013, the TV's depth and sturdy build allow for plenty of space, nullifying any chance of the speaker buzz that's sometimes present in very slim TVs. The F8500's surround imitator works decently, its various audio modes are distinct and useful, and most importantly, it's plenty loud at lower volumes. We've given it an audio quality score of 8/10.
Finally, our power consumption test has revealed that, in the tradition of plasmas before it, the F8500 uses quite a bit of power. In terms of wattage, the 60-inch iteration draws an average of 406 watts while playing back standard content. This means that you'd be adding $79.28 to your electricity bill, were you to watch the F8500 4-6 hours a day, every day, for one year.
One of the best televisions we've ever reviewed
That may sound like effusive praise, but it's the truth. Within the realm of picture quality, Samsung's F8500 is absolutely awesome. The brightness this plasma achieves is worth praise alone, but its deep black levels and the accuracy of its colors are solid gold stamps, branding it as the current TV to beat.
We've been very impressed with plasma tech this year: Panasonic's S60 and VT60 series hit unspeakable black levels, and each 2013 plasma has come within just a few decimal points of perfectly matching the international standard for HDTV color. The F8500's contrast ratio (over 10,000:1) is unlike almost any TV we've reviewed before, and may just surpass the legendary Kuro in its staggering black/white differentiation.
The F8500 may be a stellar, nigh-perfect performer, but it also has plenty left in its bag of tricks. The included Smart Touch Remote and revamped, quad-core powered Smart Hub make for one of the most enjoyable, unique TV interfacing experiences ever available on the market. Samsung's two flagships just do so much, and most of it they do very well.
While we can't claim that the F8500 is the new reference TV in picture quality, it looks to be one of the best 1080p televisions ever. Each screen size in this series is fairly expensive, and they should be: There is only quality here. The F8500 has royally surpassed one of the biggest drawbacks of plasma tech—their dimness when compared to LCDs—giving those with the funds to pursue it every reason to do so.
Meet the testers
An enthusiast of all things tech, Josh is one of Reviewed.com's resident television experts. When he's not looking at bright TV screens in a dark room, he's probably reviewing a laptop or finding a new snack at 7-11.
Editor, Home Theater@Koanshark
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
Checking our work.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.Shoot us an email