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The best you can get for under a grand
on July 12, 2011
I was in the market to upgrade from a 37" LCD and after much deliberation, soul searching, and navel gazing I decided that the PN51D550's size and features were too good to pass up. I'm not really a 3D kinda guy but I have two young kids so the inclusion of that particular bell and whistle was non-negotiable. Considering that Amazon had it for around $950.00 including shipping, well that was just too good to pass up. Log into the account, whip out the credit card, light a novena candle to ensure safe shipping and hope for the best (and it shipped just fine.)
So far I've had this machine for about a week and I must say I've been relieved and ecstatic at my decision. I'm about fifty hours into breaking in the thing (I know, I know, unnecessary perhaps but I'd much rather err on the side of caution) and it's been a love affair from the get go. Like most HDTV's, watching stuff in standard def isn't pretty but it's passable. The real beauty comes when watching stuff in HD, when everything just comes alive. Blacks are inky, reds are redder than Lenin, and the images are clean enough to eat off of. If you've ever wanted to count the lines on Gordon Ramsay's face you've come to the right TV.
Because I'm still doing break in, I haven't watched any BluRays on it yet, but I'll edit my review once I get around to doing that. I also can't comment on the TV's native audio quality because I have this hooked up to a receiver, which I'd highly recommend for anyone in the market for one of these. These sets were made to be complemented by 5.1, 7.1, or 7.2 channel systems. If you are planning on doing the receiver thing, just remember that this particular model does NOT support the ARC function so you'll need an optical audio cable as well as an HDMI cable when hooking up.
EDIT, 7/16: After sheepishly remembering that BluRays with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio won't show black bars I tested out a few and the results were mesmerizing. The blacks on THE DARK KNIGHT were obsidian, as they were on TRON:LEGACY but alternately the vivid whites, oranges, reds, and yellows on that film were exceptionally vivid and incandescent. I also played a few laps of GRAN TURISMO through a PS3 and it was an out of body experience. It was like the textbook definition of every color being displayed, and with no visible lag whatsoever. Astonishing. I'm coming close to the 100 hour point and I can't wait to check out 2.35:1 stuff.
I don't believe in giving out calibration settings because I believe that no two TVs, and more crucially, no two TV owners are going to see the exact same thing the exact same way but I will say that once you put the PN51D550 in Movie mode about 95% of the calibration is done, at least to my peepers.
Regarding issues of buzzing, I've haven't heard any emanating from my set. I keep the set's volume at zero and let my receiver handle the audio but even when I have to rely on the set's native audio (like when I play the Wii) I hear no buzzing. Either I'm one of the lucky ones or my hearing is even worse than I thought it was.
Another issue I've read about the PN series revolve around brightness pops, or fluctuations, that occur, especially when watching darker scenes. I have noticed these on occasion but they tend not to bother me. You have to have a sharp eye to notice them for they usually last for a split second before the set self corrects. When watching movies famous for their dark cinematography, like THE DARK KNIGHT or BLADE RUNNER, I've noticed maybe five or six brightness pops each viewing. Not nearly enough to bother me nor to inspire a brightness pops drinking game.
As for glare, yeah, it's there. You might want to consider in advance where you're going to place this baby because in the middle of a sunny day with the blinds and drapes open this thing does a killer impression of a mirror. I've found though that when I sit off to the side a bit (and this TV has an amazing viewing range, like most plasmas) the glare is much less noticeable. When you're viewing at night and don't want to sit in complete darkness, consider placing your lamps either to the side or slightly behind the set to avoid or reduce glare.
All told, I can't think of another major name brand TV that brings together the best combination of size, features, and quality for under $1,000. At this (admittedly early) stage, I can honestly say that this is the best TV I've ever had the pleasure of owning.
SON OF EDIT, 9/15: After two and a half months, I'm still smitten. A couple more thoughts to share:
1. I cannot stress enough the importance of a break in period so all those cute little plasmites can burn evenly. I was watching the special features on the TAXI DRIVER blu ray when I stupidly fell asleep during one of the Scorcese interviews (you know you're REALLY tired if you can fall asleep to him talking.) Of course after the interview ends, the disc goes back to the main menu which has bright yellow cursive graphics all over the place. Two hours later I woke up, ejected the disc, turned off the PS3, and found some faint burn in on the blank, black screen. After smacking my forehead in self punishment, I immediately turned on an HD movie channel and let THE RING run for about five minutes. When I turned the box off to check on the screen, voila!, burn in gone. A little preparation goes a long way.
2. SD content looks a bit better now, though it's obviously no match for blu rays or 720p, or those rare 1080p, broadcasts. Watching stuff on channels like Antenna TV or TV Land is a lot less messier than it was when the TV was right out of the box. If have streaming services like Netflix or Hulu+ the quality varies. Newer content, especially on Hulu+ looks and sounds outstanding, but older, grainier Netflix content looks appropriately disastrous. Well mastered DVDs played through a PS3 look terrific.
I'm still insanely happy with this set. Not for nothing do I refer to it as The Third Child.