The 's most prominent design feature is the "touch of color," a deep scarlet that runs along the base of the bezel, seemingly under the surface of the plastic. It's not blaring. In fact, we've had to point out the color to other editors. The color red may not be everyone's bag, but the beauty of the design is hard to deny. Other models come in a grey tone rather than red.
The TV's onboard controls are located on the lower left corner of the bezel. Rather than buttons, Samsung has designed touch-sensitive areas of the bezel itself. We're never big fans of this technique, as they're hard to locate in the dark and they leave ugly fingerprints on your otherwise unblemished and undistracting bezel.
The remote control that ships with the is standard for many Samsung TVs. The button layout is sensible and intuitive, so your fingers quickly learn their way around without you having to look down. It's also well-balanced. The only issue we had with it was that it had to be pointed pretty directly at the lower left corner of the TV to get a response.
The ships with the stand, remote control & batteries, a power cord, and a brief instruction manual. The full manual is available online. There are no 3D glasses that ship with the TV.
People typically cite a deep black level as one of the things they like best about plasmas. The did not disappoint, managing a 0.03 cd/m2. As you can see, it fared well against the competition, though the Samsung LN46D500 (an LCD television) was not too far behind. More on how we test black level.
The produced a peak brightness of about 182.93 cd/m2, which is pretty good for a plasma TV. The Panasonic ST30, another plasma, was not nearly as bright. Note the top two TVs on the chart, both LCDs, and note how much brighter they are. This can have a big improvement in watching TV in a sunny room. More on how we test peak brightness.
The 's contrast ratio measured approximately 6098:1. That's incredible, by our standards. More on how we test contrast.
The is not very good at maintaining a consistent black level. A small patch of black will appear much brighter than a large patch of black. It's a problem common to plasma TVs. If you're looking for a TV that delivers uniform blacks and whites, try an LCD. More on how we test tunnel contrast.
The had a very hard time maintaining a consistent peak brightness. In essence, if there's only a little area of white on the screen, the TV will make it very bright. But as the area expands, the overall brightness will go down. This is a common shortcoming of plasmas as a result of reducing the heat output. Wouldn't want a melted television, would you? More on how we test white falloff.
The showed a poor and blotchy luminance when trying to display and all-white screen. This is an unusual problem for a plasma TV. When displaying an all black screen, the TV has the... well, it's not exactly the opposite problem, just a different problem. If fed an all-black signal, the screen just shuts off. That's not good processing, that's just lazy. More on how we test white falloff.
The greyscale gamma measures how well a TV transitions from black to white within the greyscale. We're looking for a smooth line in the graph below, with a slope between 2.1 and 2.2, ideally. The 's shows some minor hiccups in the left portion of the graph, which represents the shadow details. We noted the same issue with our eyes – there is some crushing in the shadows. The rest of the response curve is nice and smooth, though overall it's a bit steeper than ideal. More on how we test greyscale gamma.
The maintained a steady color temperature throughout the signal range. There's a little hiccup towards the shadows, but you'll probably never notice, unless you're a super AV nerd (like us). More on how we test color temperature.
The did not produce the smoothest color response curves, but we've certainly seen worse. The biggest issue that we notice here is that the blue channel is out of sync with and darker than the red and green channels. Overall, we were not impressed with the color performance, which was prone to banding when objects were in motion, and noisy when static. We also found the hard to calibrate, as none of the menu controls performed the functions for which they were labeled. More on how we test RGB curves.
The color strips below are digital representations of the RGB curve performance, compared to three similar TVs, as well as an ideal response curve.
Overall, the was absolutely terrible. We're not sure to what we can attribute all of these problems, because we've seen a lot of great Samsungs this year. Part of it may be due to the 1024 x 768 native resolution. As all broadcast signals had to be down-converted to fit on the screen, it's possible that something was lost in the process.
The results are clear enough, though. As objects move across the screen, there are heavy amounts of color banding and distortion. Faces twist and smear. Straight lines flicker and attain ghostly halos. It's a real mess. More on how we test motion performance.
The has few problems handling native 24fps content, like many Blu-Ray discs. More on how we test 3:2 pulldown and 24fps.
The has a native resolution of 1024 x 768, perhaps the first TV we've reviewed that bears this odd spec. Sure, it's a common enough resolution for computer monitors, commonly known as XGA. But North American broadcast uses several distinct resolutions, and none of them are XGA. This means that every broadcast signal you throw at the has to be shrunk and reformatted to fit the screen. All TVs have to do this to some degree, but the does a really ham-handed job of it. Fine detail looks like garbage, making it impossible to read text. For everyday TV viewing, you might be able to ignore it, but if image quality is a chief concern, you should steer clear. More on how we test resolution scaling.
When we fed the a 480p signal, it lost 2% of the sides and 3% of the top and bottom to overscan. When we tried to look at some high contrast, high frequency patterns, the TV choked. Some patterns it simply chose to display as solid colors. It was among the worst we've seen, and 480p is supposed to be the easiest of the broadcast formats for an HDTV to convert.
Though the is marketed has a 720p TV, it's native resolution is not 1280 x 720. As such, even 720p signals have to be rescaled to fit the screen. They look terrible. High contrast, high frequency patterns were rendered with many problems.
The 1080p signals we sent the TV were also a problem. High contrast, high frequency patterns looked worse at this resolution than any other.
The is a plasma TV that uses active shutter technology. By and large, we've found that to be the most successful combination in producing a decent 3D effect. The D490 was among the better 3D TVs we've seen at avoiding pitfalls like crosstalk. There was one major issue with the performance, however. You had to face the screen at exactly the right angle to get the best experience. Turn your head just a few degrees and the crosstalk went through the roof. As a result, our crosstalk test results were insufficient to approximate the real-life experience. Naturally, you're going to turn your head a little over the course of a two-hour movie, and each time you do the crosstalk will reappear, reminding you to tilt your head back, and thus taking you out of the movie and back into drab reality.
When you don the 3D glasses, you're essentially wearing sunglasses. The brightness is severely reduced, which in turn diminishes the contrast ratio. Surprisingly, the black level actually got brighter than in 2D. This is likely due to the different calibration settings when the TV is in 3D mode.
The 3D performance was not effected as severely as the contrast, which indicates that the TV is doing a pretty good job of accommodating whatever chromatic shift the glasses are introducing. In other words, any tinted glass or plastic you put in front of your eyes is going to change your color perception. Because Samsung also designed the glasses, they know exactly what that shift is and can recalibrate the screen's colors to accommodate.
The color temperature, in the chart below, was probably the most affected of the color tests. It's far less consistent than in 2D.
The 3D color curves are not as smooth in 3D as they were in 2D, but they really weren't that bad, all told.
The greens were significantly more saturated in 3D than they were in 2D. The white point (those circles in the center) was also more green/blue when in 3D mode.
The crosstalk is a point of issue with the because if your head position changes even little, the crosstalk can either disappear or go through the roof. We're talking about very subtle shifts, a few degrees, and the picture quality is totally changed. Overall, it doesn't make for a great experience.
The works with any of the 2011 Samsung active shutter glasses, but it does not ship with any. That's a separate purchase.
The has a native resolution of 1024 x 768, which is very unusual for an HDTV. It does not natively support any of the standard broadcast formats. Sure, it will support all the formats, but they have to be rescaled to fit the screen and the TV does a very poor job of it.
The produced a viewing angle of 138 degrees, or 69 degrees from center in either direction. It compares quite favorably to the two LCD televisions, the Samsung LN46D550 and the Vizio.
Like so many plasma TVs, the outermost layer of the screen is a piece of glass which can cause a lot of reflection from ambient light. If you're shopping for a TV to put in a sunny room, a plasma may not be the best choice. Manufacturers have tried to address this problem over the years with new technologies that reduce glare, but it's not perfect.
The has a number of video processing modes, but few to none that actually aid in picture quality.
The was rather difficult to calibrate, as almost of the menu items were accurately labeled. There's always some degree of this in an HDTV, as much of the terminology has been rudely ported from its analog ancestors. But the controls on this TV were more off than usual. The Contrast setting, for example, didn't seem to control contrast at all, but rather a combination of hue and brightness. We did the best we could. The results are in the table below.
All of our calibration is done in conjunction with the DisplayMate software.
There are just three video preset modes. All can be adjusted your preference and auto-saved.
Let's start with that you do get. For traditional video inputs, there are 3 HDMIs, 1 dedicated component input, 1 shared component/composite input, a VGA and audio input, and a digital audio output. There's also a USB port for playing photos, videos, and music from USB mass storage devices, as well as an EX-LINK (RS-232C) port.
What's not included is just as important to mention. There's no ethernet or WiFi. It's not a "Smart TV," so no internet connectivity or DLNA support. There's no analog audio output, so you won't be able to play audio out from older audio devices. Finally, it's a small point, but most TVs in this price range include a fourth HDMI input.
The ships with a mini-version of the full instruction manual. It helps you get the TV set up, but it doesn't cover all the picture settings and so on. Fortunately, there's a digital manual built right into the TV's menu. You can also download a manual. Unfortunately, it the Samsung website links to the manual for a slightly different model, but most of the details should be the same. Find it here.
The USB port on the side of the supports standard USB mass storage devices like thumb drives. From there, you can play photos, videos, and music files.
Like most TVs with this option, you can create slideshows or playlists, including photos and music together from the same device.
The power requirements of a plasma TV jump all over the place as the scenes change from light to dark and back to light. LCDs, on the other hand, are quite steady, regardless of the video content. On average, the required about 171 watts, which will cost you an average of about $33.47 per year.
The Panasonic ST30 series made big improvements over the first-generation 3D plasma TVs, but it was not perfect. The motion performance left a lot to be desired, and the premium you have to pay for 3D is aggravating, if you're of the opinion (like us) that 3D is not worth it, by and large.
The produced a very deep black level, but the Panasonic ST30 was able to top it. However, the Samsung managed a brighter white that worked out (mathematically) to give it a wider contrast ratio, overall.
The Panasonic ST30 produced smoother color curves than the , though the Panasonic wasn't perfect itself (we noted some slight hiccups in the bright greens). Both TVs had problems with the color of moving objects, which created an ugly color banding.
The and the Panasonic ST30 both fell short in our motion tests. We hated the way objects in motion took on a host of artifacts, including color banding, haloing, and flickering.
The Panasonic ST30 and are both plasmas, so both had a more than adequate viewing angle.
The Panasonic ST30 has a media card slot that can better support your camera or camcorder than having to plug cables into the TV. Beyond that, it's pretty similar .
The is an LCD television, positioned within the Samsung LCD line-up at roughly the same place that the Samsung PNxxD490 is position within the plasma line-up. It's not a perfect TV, but the D550 has fewer fatal flaws than the D490. For instance, the D550 has some issues with motion performance, but not to the degree that the D490 did. Overall, if we had to choose between the two, we'd definitely pick the D550.
The Samsung LN46D550, an LCD, couldn't match the deep blacks of a plasma TV like the , but it came close. Though the whites were significantly brighter, the D490's contrast ratio still won the day.
The Samsung D550 beat the D490 in most color tests, most importantly in the RGB color curve tests, which indicate that the D550 will have smoother color transitions.
Neither the nor the D550 had great motion performance, but the D550 did not experience nearly as many problems as the D490 did.
The is a plasma TV, which is bound to offer a much wider viewing angle than an LCD television like the Samsung D550.
The Samsung D550 series offers a second USB port, a fourth HDMI, and an ethernet port. Unfortunately, the ethernet is for DLNA support only, and not internet connectivity.
The Vizio E3Dxx0VX series (yeah, it just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?) was held up as an exemplar of value by our Selects Awards this year: great performance matched with a low price. Without a doubt, it's a better buy than the .
The Vizio E3Dxx0VX series could not compete with the black level of a plasma TV like the . As a result, the contrast ratio is almost much narrower.
We were very impressed with the Vizio's color performance, which outperformed the in most key aspects.
The did not come close to the great motion performance of the Vizio E3Dxx0VX. Sure, the Vizio had a few lingering artifacts, but it was much better, overall.
As a plasma TV, the vastly outperformed the Vizio when it came to a wide viewing angle.
The Vizio trumps the handily when it comes to connectivity, matching everything the Samsung has and adding an analog audio out, ethernet, WiFi, and the ability to connect to Vizio's platform of online content and apps.
The is a modestly-priced plasma TV. It originally retailed at $649, but at the time of this review, that price has already dropped to $499, and probably lower from third party retailers. A quick glance at the specs sheet tells you this is an unusual TV, as the native resolution is 1024 x 768. Did Samsung have some leftover parts from their computer monitor production line? We'll never know. The result, however, was problematic. All the standard broadcast signals had a hard time conforming to the TV's resolution. Certain patterns and details, especially small text, were all but illegible. If that were not bad enough, we also noted problems with the motion performance. Objects in motion tended to lose a lot of their color detail, resulting in ugly, smeared color bands.
On the plus side, it's a fairly inexpensive 3D TV. Granted the glasses don't come included and we don't think 3D is worth it at any price, but some people love it. The also produced a fantastic contrast ratio and viewing angle, as well as being a stylish object.
Samsung has released some of the best TVs this year, but the D490 is far from perfect and we have a hard time recommending it. The Vizio E3D420VX is better value, and you'll probably find it for just a little more money.
Both models in the D490 series are quoted as 720p TVs, but the detailed specs tell a slightly different story that could have major consequences for the performance. We tested the 43-inch, which has a native resolution of 1024 x 768. That doesn't match up to any broadcast standard, so everything looked a little blurry on it. The 51-inch version has a 1360 x 768. That's much closer (still not perfectly matched) to the 720p broadcast standard, so it probably wouldn't have the same problems. Otherwise, the TVs offer the same features and specs.
Meet the tester
Editor in Chief@davekender
David Kender oversees content at Reviewed as the Editor in Chief. He served as managing editor and editor in chief of Reviewed's ancestor, CamcorderInfo.com, helping to grow the company from a tiny staff to one of the most influential online review resources. In his time at Reviewed, David has helped to launch over 100 product categories and written too many articles to count.
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