Despite its mild flaws, the E530 looks to be an above average budget television, and in our opinion is priced fairly.
Other than the jog stick on the bottom of the bezel, there's nothing about this TV's design that needs explaining. It's not much changed from last year's D530, and has the same trappings as a large majority of modern HDTVs. Being a plasma, it's not very thin, and when fully assembled weighs about 50 lbs., so it's not the kind of TV you're going to be hefting around very often. We like the placement of the jog stick (see the controls section if you're not sure what a jog stick is), but think it unfortunate that its bottom-bezel placement was likely only initiated because the E530 doesn't swivel, which is heresy for a 51-inch panel display.
This TV will blend comfortably into almost any room, but don't expect its appearance to wow anyone, either.
The PN51E530 is square, black, and bulky. It's the epitome of standardized plasma displays. Its stand is a reinforced black rectangle that seats the panel back a bit for balancing purposes. Like most of Samsung's mid-level plasmas this year, it doesn't have any frills, save for a matte gray screen that hums with a gentle touch of blue. Simple port placement and questionably useful on-set controls ensure that the TV is actually less complicated than its button-heavy remote control. Chances are, if you're investing in this TV, you're not looking for anything too fancy, and are more concerned with core performance.
In case you haven't familiarized yourself with it, 2012 is Samsung's Year of the Jog. The jog analog stick, pictured below, is a simplified version of traditional HDTV on-set controls. It can be clicked, and moved in four directions, as a selector, and an allocator of changes in volume and channels. It doesn't do anything else, and on most of Samsung's models is tucked away on the back of the TV. The E530's jog dial happens to be on the underside of its bezel, probably because the TV doesn't swivel. It's convenient enough, but you've really only got a choice between the oversimplified jog and the overly complex remote.
This is the standard infrared remote for Samsung's televisions without internet capabilities. Despite the simplistic design and menu functions of the PN51E530A3, the remote control has buttons a'plenty for every action this TV is capable of. We were, at one time, fans of this remote, but we've since been spoiled by LG's Magic Remote and Samsung's Smart Touch Remote.
The Samsung PN51E530A3 ships with the panel, stand, power cable, 2 AA batteries, infrared remote, quick-start guide, and an installation guide.
All of the ports on the PN51E530A3 are located within a square, recessed area on the back of the TV. While you're facing the TV, they are placed to the left side of the back. The E530A3 doesn't swivel, meaning to get to the ports you either need to plug everything in before settling the TV into its desired position or reach around the left side/over the top. Either option sounds like a mild annoyance, which could have been easily avoided if Samsung had engineered this plasma with a little more swivel.
As we've said, the available ports are few, though this is standard for TVs in this price range. You've got one dedicated USB input for photo, music, and movie playback, two HDMI inputs, a cable input, an EX-LINK port for service updates, a component AV input, and an analog audio output for wiring to a surround system or any external speakers.
There are probably enough ports here for the average user, especially if you're just looking for a cheaper TV for watching cable broadcasts or playing some video games. We don't recommend using the PN51E530A3 as the cornerstone of a home theater set-up, however.
The E530 series is one of the simplest of Samsung's 2012 line-up. Where plasmas are concerned, deep blacks, good motion performance, and consistent picture dynamics win the day. With a contrast ratio over 3000:1, the low-end E530 has plenty of white/black differentiation. This strong contrast is also maintained where dynamics are concerned. We hoped for accurate color production as well--for $1000, a TV this plain had better deliver good performance. While its color gamut is one of the best we've seen this year, it showed us blurry motion with mild shape trailing and no way to correct it through motion smoothing. Despite this unfortunate drawback, we feel that the E530's strengths outweigh its flaws.
The Samsung PN51E530A3 tested with a deep black level of 0.04 cd/m2, and a peak brightness of 153.27 cd/m2. This gives it a maximum contrast ratio of 3832:1, which is plenty of black/white differentiation for almost any viewing purpose. It tested better than all of our comparison models except for the Panasonic TC-P50U50. More on how we test contrast.
The E530's curves started out strong--gradual slopes and decent smoothness--but around the last 30% of the input spectrum began to get very jumpy and uneven. This isn't a great performance, but it's not terrible. None of them peaked early or were slow to rise, so while the sRGB spectrum might show substantial banding, most televised content is going to be acceptable in its color fidelity. In simpler terms, you likely won't notice these errors on a day to day basis while watching this TV, but might notice it in familiar pictures. More on how we test color performance.
The E530 tested with just below average color temperature. Most of its errors are within the range of perceptibility, meaning that while they are technically missing the 6500° Kelvin temperature standard, they won't be visible to human eyes. The darker half of the input spectrum bleeds into visibility, however, meaning your shadows will be a little on the cold or warm side, adding a blue or orange tint. This won't be terribly noticeable during broadcast content. More on how we test color temperature.
The E530 tested with a very impressive color gamut. As you can see from the chart below, it hit the white, red, and blue points perfectly, and missed the green point by a hair. We test against the rec. 709 color gamut for HDTVs, to determine how close their color production comes to what is considered the gold standard. This is a great result, and is even more amazing when you consider that this is a lower-end plasma. More on how we test color temperature.
We test picture dynamics to determine how well a TV maintains its black/white contrast with varying amounts of each shade on the screen. Due to the technology behind their operation, many plasmas tend to show brighter whites on a mostly black screen, and darker blacks on a mostly white screen. We expect this, and the E530 behaved in just that way. It has an auto dimming feature that darkens out its screen to less than 0.01 cd/m2 while showing a full black screen, but during partial amounts of black and white, its contrast remained high. More on how we test picture dynamics.
The Samsung PN51E30A3 supports all NTSC formats. It is a native 1080p, plasma television.
While it didn't quite best the two viewing angle behemoths we pulled as comparison models prior to testing, the PN51E530A3 still boasts an impressive total viewing angle of 138°; that's 69° from center on either side, which is ample real estate for group gatherings, and certainly put the Panasonic TC-P50U50 to shame.
We've found through repeated testing that plasma TVs tend to test with better motion performance than LCDs. That's why we were both surprised and disappointed to discover that the PN51E530A3 doesn't handle motion as well as it should. Granted, it's just slightly on the upper end of entry-level, but when it comes to plasmas, even those in the $500 range tend to have better motion performance. It wasn't terrible, but we saw a lot of blurring, both during our motion performance test and during subjective viewing of broadcast content. This TV wouldn't be a good choice for a lot of fast motion events, like sports. We also ran Diablo III (from a connected Macbook Air) to see how it handled game content, and it did better in that regard, though this may have been because it was set to 720p resolution.
This Samsung has some great uniformity; white screens were full and smooth, and there was almost no bezel shadowing whatsoever. Likewise, its full black screen looks the same as when the power is off, due to some permanent dimming features that are well implemented.
As usual, we were disappointed with this TVs audio performance. Samsung has included their line-up of Sound Mode options for 2012: Standard, Music, Movie, Clear Voice, and Amplify. At half total volume, voices were murky and hard to hear, explosions capped out with a tinny aftershock, and general loudness seemed a lot less than it could have been.
Likewise, the PN51E530A3's surround sound mode, called SRS TruSurround HD, doesn't seem to do anything. We get annoyed when manufacturers come up with a fancy title for their surround modes, as if to mask the fact that it's just a useless option to toggle on or off. Perhaps with a perfectly placed television in a highly acoustic room, it would make a difference, but for testing purposes it only served to make voices just slightly less murky.
A look at the chart below should spell out a major problem with this TV. It costs a little over $50/year with the brightness maxed out. We don't recommend setting your brightness to 100, as 45 seems to be the optimal placement, but the fact that it can even tax the available electricity so heavily is shocking. It left similarly priced and more expensive plasmas in the dust; for a TV with no internet or 3D options, we're not sure why it needs so much power, but it's something to keep in mind for when the electricity bill shows up.
In Cinema Mode, the PN51E30A3 proved very easy to calibrate; its cell light and contrast were already at 100, so we simply dropped the sharpness to 0 and knocked brightness down just slightly, from 50 to 45, to give peak whites the most definition amongst individual shades.
All of our calibration is done in conjunction with the DisplayMate software.
The PN51E30A3 has just 3 video modes. They are: Dynamic, Standard, and Movie.
Just in case we hadn't made this clear, the most complex thing about this TV is its remote (every inch is jam-packed with single-use buttons). Other than the occasional software update, there's no customization available for any of the menus or interface features, and nothing to set up or change outside of the main menu and the USB media menu.
2012 has been a great year so far for Samsung, and we've enjoyed their bold foray into new Smart TV capabilities (the ES8000 series, for example). Likewise, their 3D technology has improved drastically from recent years, and even their 3D glasses--though goofy as can be--are comfortable enough. We're just reminding you that you won't be getting any of that with the PN51E530A3, and no amount of service updates will enable it.
That stated, the simple menus this plasma comes equipped with aren't bad. They're very intuitive; by that, we mean it's pretty hard to encounter anything you don't understand. Picture the opposite of Sony's internet platform layout (ooh, burn). There aren't any fancy "ping" sounds or pretty graphical renderings to look at, but it makes getting into and out of the menus a snap.
This TV has a clear intention from the engineering and marketing side of things, and complexity is not it.
The main menu for the PN51E530A3 is the same menu you'll find on all of Samsung's "dumb" 2012 TVs this year. It's a traditional and simple layout that'll be the back of your hand if you've used any HDTV from the last few years. It features Samsung's trademark azure blue color, and is mostly opaque to allow for real-time viewing of changes to content in the background. The usual offenders--Picture, Sound, Settings, Input--are all present.
For this TV's purported use, it's probably the perfect menu, but it's about as exciting as diet tofu.
Samsung's media menu can be accessed via the main menu, or by pressing the "P.MEDIA" key on the remote control. It's a simple sub-menu for the separate categories of Pictures, Music, and Movies, and users can then view USB-stored files of that nature. There's no viewing of wirelessly shared files, so whatever you want to scope out will need to be stored on a USB memory device first. Like the main menu, the USB menu is severely simple.
Like Panasonic's P50U50, the Samsung PN51E530A3 is one of the rare models this year that is just a television. By that, we mean it doesn't do 3D, have any smart features, built in WiFi, or even very many connectivity options. Its sole focus is on color, contrast, and smoothness.
For $999, we feel that the E530A3 is priced fairly. It tested with a strong contrast ratio, an almost perfect color gamut, good picture dynamics, and its plain appearance strikes us as, for lack of a better word, classic. Before you rush off thinking it's the budget TV for you, there are some drawbacks we'd like to report. For a plasma, we were disappointed with how the E530A3 handles motion. It's blurry and has no motion smoothing settings. If you're looking for a good sports TV, steer clear of this one.
On the specs side of things, it really doesn't have a lot of ports. However, the draw of entry level TVs--besides being cheap--is often in their simplicity of set-up and operation. The E530A3 has enough ports for general purposes, but wouldn't serve as the hub for a home theater. We also found that it's expensive to maintain on the electrical side of things, costing roughly $50 a year for the average user.
If you feel like web browsers are best left to the realm of PCs, apps to the realm of the smartphone, and 3D to the big screen in IMAX, the E530A3 might be what you're looking for. But we'd recommend checking out some other budget plasmas first; you can get better performance for less money.
The two sizes in the PNxxE30A3 series are identical, save for their differences in price. Both have sparse ports, and the performance of the 60-inch E30A3 should be the same as for the 51-inch.
Meet the tester
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