This is a continuation of the review I started on the 63B550, which can be found here: http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showt...4#post16465584
This time I will review the new super slim B860 plasma, see how it compares to the B550, and provide measurements of the B860 and contrast ratio results for both. I had the opportunity to perform a full ISF calibration on both these new plasmas and watch some demo material on both calibrated sets.
I decided to take some out of the box measurements of the B860 before any changes were made. Attached are the results for standard, eco, and movie modes. Standard was pretty bad; anything watched in uncalibrated standard mode is not going to be close to accurate. It wasn't even blazingly bright at 42 fL. Movie mode was quite accurate; the gamma and grayscale were not too far off target, and the color primary points were just a little narrow. It put out 38.5 fL with a 100% white window, which is adequate but a little on the low side for most living rooms. Overall movie mode looked very good for a set prior to calibration, but it did look a little dull to me.
I started the calibration of the B860 and checked out the service menu. It was disappointingly sparse, just as it was on the B550. No secret goodies here. I decided to just do the calibration in the user menu.
Unlike the B550, the B860 has full CMS adjustments; it's possible get amazing color accuracy from this set. Unlike the wannabe CMS adjustments in some other TV brands, it looks like Samsung did a great job implementing this.
The grayscale and gamma both improved, though the set was still a little too dark and a little too blue with very dark images. These are very minor criticisms, though; the gamma and grayscale performance were both very, very good.
Light output improved to 45.5 fL, which added more punch to the picture.
Overall, I was very happy with how the B860 calibrated. Measurements are attached. Curiously, though, I found that I was able to coax slightly more light output from the B550 than the B860. I could not take the contrast (picture) control as high on the B860 without compromising performance. The advantage here goes to the B550, because it's slightly higher light output will make it suitable for brighter living rooms. It's a small difference, though, only equivalent to 3-4 clicks of the contrast control. However, the B860 had better measuring colors than the B550 due to it's more thorough picture controls. Would the differences be enough to be visible?
Next I measured the contrast ratio of both sets. I used a meter that is very accurate at low light (Milori Trichromat-1) and had a black blanket draped over the set while the measurement was taken. The full on/off contrast ratio (after calibration with a small window for 100% white), which gives an indication of how black the set can go in a fade-to-black scene in a movie or show, was 2481 on the B860 and 2546 on the B550. The modified ANSI measurement, which gives a better idea of real world contrast, was 883 on the B860 and 1067 on the B550. The higher numbers for the B550 are due mainly to it's higher light output.
I have measured the contrast ratios for the Panasonic 800u, Panasonic G10, and Samsung B7100 LED backlit LCD in prior reviews. I will be measuring a 9g Pioneer Kuro (the contrast King of plasmas) soon and will add it's numbers as soon as I can.
After calibration, I looked at the same program material on both sets one right after the other. I looked for differences between the two Samsungs as well as how they compared to the Pioneer 9G Elite Kuro, going from memory of the 111FD I had done earlier that day and the dozens of 111FD's and 151FD's I've done in the last several months.
They were viewed in a living room with moderate light, though the light decreased as the evening wore on.
The first thing that struck me about the B860 was how rich the colors were. Faces didn't look sunburnt, but the colors were very vibrant. That color vibrancy and richness is what manufacturers are going for when they add red push, but here it was achieved accurately. The colors looked more vibrant than with the Pioneer Kuro's ISF modes.
It also looked very contrasty; dark images looked a little too dark, and shadow detail was a little hard to see. That was not the result of poor black level retention as I might suspect (it had no problem in that regard), so I believe it was due to the very slightly high gamma at the low end. It was not enough to make the image look bad; in fact, many people would prefer it. It's the opposite presentation of a Panasonic 800u, which in THX mode comes out of black faster and looks a bit washed out to some people because of it. The Pioneer Kuro ISF modes are in the middle (and most accurate) in this regard, and also have the most accurate measuring gamma.
Both the B550 and the B860 looked absolutely grain free and smooth, in a good way. Scenes that look noisy and grainy on many sets look cleaner and clearer on the Samsungs. The Pioneer Kuros have a noisier look to their color, and the Panasonic 800u and G10 seems to be in between the Kuro and the Samsungs in this regard.
Blacks looked very deep in this environment; from the measurements I know the blacks are not quite as deep as the G10 and Kuros, but in a typical living room it's hard to tell. In a dark theater room the Kuro would live up to it's stellar reputation, though, and I don't think it would be subtle.
I was able to see some minor differences between the B860 and B550, but they definately looked more similar than different. The slightly higher light output of the B550 was just barely visible. The color of the B550 was just a bit different, as expected; sometimes I felt yellows were pushed a bit more on the B550 and sometimes I thought flesh tones looked a bit more natural on the B860, but it was hard to tell.
Overall I feel that the B860 is an excellent display, with textbook measurements and a grain free picture that is rich in both in contrast and color. Since the Kuros have been discontinued, it will be up to Samsung and Panasonic to keep advancing the plasma state of the art.