To preface this review - I'm a VERY long-time AVS browser, but a first-time poster. Considering the wealth of knowledge I’ve obtained by reading through the countless threads contained within this forum I felt somewhat of an obligation to post a review of my new 860. Generally it's overwhelming for mostly anyone to look at a four year-old 3-digit page count next to the thread of your interest knowing that you have to start from pg 1, but it's something we as A/V junkies (ehh sorry - enthusiasts) do all the time and if in the end your gear gives you the expected enjoyment I think we would all agree that this experience is well worth it. On to the review...
I’m an owner of a 4+ year old 8th-gen 50" Kuro which has served me very well over the years. However, when it came time to build my dedicated HT room (18x18), I needed something newer, preferably larger and (arguably) more impressive in terms of picture quality/aesthetics. I briefly considered going the projector system route, but realized that I just didn't have the space or configuration to get it done right, so I decided to go with Plasma over a comparable-sized LCD/LED instead. I won't go into the reasons why I chose Plasma - that topic has been discussed here and in other forums “ad nauseam” - this is just my personal preference. After much deliberation, measurement and re-measurement regarding the TV size I thought a 58" screen would fit the dimensions of my room very well (considering a viewing distance of ~8') without being overbearing (aesthetic balance of all HT components within the set room décor was important to me and my wife). I briefly considered a 63" screen, but that would've swallowed up the wall on which the TV would be mounted, so I went with a 58”. I know, I know – bigger is always better – but I can tell you (with some trepidation) that in this case a 63 incher would not have looked “at home” on my wall. With Pioneer exiting the plasma market a couple of years back, this left me with really only 3 viable options (in no particular order) - Panasonic, Samsung or LG. Again, I won't go into specifics with regard to how I made my decision between these, but here are the key attributes I was looking for:
- No 3-D (not interested)
- Balance between good picture and solid black level (Kuro-like)
- Aesthetic appearance (as a TV this size hung on a wall would by default become the center-piece of any room)
Since 3-D wasn't a priority and most TV manufacturers were coming out with 3-D offerings for their top-line 2010 models, the “old” 2-D models could be had at a significant discount. After much research (5+ mos), I narrowed down my preferences to PN58B860 and TCP58V10. From what I’ve been able to gather, the consensus online seems to be that the Samsung has a more vibrant picture with a slightly higher black level over the Panasonic. But Panasonic’s ’09 (and as yet undocumented ’10) black level issues along with the Samsung’s form factor skewed my decision toward the 860. After some time (and a lot of patience) I was able to procure quite a fetching deal on Frys.com and my new 860 finally arrived about a month ago. Now on to the good stuff…
Here are my impressions so far… First, as I’m sure many of you who are still reading this are wondering – what about the infamous buzz? It’s important to note that I’ve known of and experienced the buzzing associated with the operation of electronic components with most (if not all of) my electronic devices. However, none of these (including my now sold original Xbox 360) have ever exhibited operational noise so unbearable that it distracted my attention or startled me out of enjoying whatever I was doing… This noise would simply be unacceptable considering the sophisticated QA processes available with today’s CE products. My 860 does indeed have a humming sound. Note that I don’t call it a “buzzing” because I feel that it’s more accurately described as a “humming”. This sound can be heard at absolute silence and if you go so far as to put your ear to the exact spot on the front (just below center) or the back of the TV (upper left corner). Some of you may read this and immediately draw the conclusion that here’s another example of a buzzer, which goes to demonstrate that Samsung’s top-line model of 2009 is defective. You would of course be mistaken. As some witty/sarcastic folks have mentioned on this forum – holding your face 1" from the TV panel or with your ear to the back is not the way most people choose to watch television… As a side note – I never would’ve listened for or heard this noise had I not read about the “buzzing” experiences described here in the first place - so this forum does have it's draw backs (wink wink). The buzz, whine, purr, or whatever you want to refer to it is absolutely normal (at least on my panel) and is not at all distinguishable over the ambient sounds of my home. The noise of my PS3 fan is certainly MUCH louder and it’s behind a cabinet door (properly ventilated of course). The hum from my 5-year old JBL subwoofer can be heard over this TV. Oh and my dog’s snoring definitely drowns out all of the above combined (he’s only 6 months and snores like an 80-year old man). Most importantly – I can’t hear the buzzing from my viewing location (8’ away). So to answer the buzzing poll – yes, there is a hum/buzz but I’m not concerned about it and it doesn’t bother me. I’d like to point out that I’m not dismissing/discounting the excessive buzzing experienced and noted by others on this forum; I’m simply describing my own personal experience, so as with all things – YMMV.
The picture on this set can be described in two words – ABSOLUTELY PHENOMENAL (even out of the box)! The colors are vibrant, the blacks are black and the overall perception when viewing content is – “just look at this picture!” That’s the comment I heard from my wife, friends, parents and neighbors. I’m very happy with the TV and that’s before I made any adjustments to the Movie or Standard settings (it’s a given that the Dynamic setting is never to be used, for obvious reasons). Being the worry-wort that I am, I decided to go with a subdued picture setting for break-in purposes (just for the initial 100-200 hrs). I modified the Standard mode as my default break-in setting with lowered Cell, Contrast and Brightness levels; the Movie mode was adjusted with the CNET pic settings and will be my after-break-in-period settings.
After updating to the latest FW (I’m assuming it’s 1018, because that was the only available option), I popped in the Avatar Blu-ray to enjoy the 1080p/24 goodness… I switched between the modified Standard and Movie settings while the movie was playing to see what my normal viewing experience will be like after the break-in period… Again, I’m pleased to report that the picture is absolutely stunning! I won’t be having this set professionally calibrated. I realize that each set and viewing environment is different and I’m sure a professional calibration would improve the image and is worthwhile to some, but given all the available settings from numerous sources here and other places online I can’t justify the $300-400 calibration fee. I’m happy with the CNET settings (thanks Katzmaier!). After all, I'm the end user for my own set, so it’s all about how good it looks to me (and my wife of course).
One of the best features of this set is how thin it is… Definitely the leanest plasma I’ve ever seen. I thought it was thin at the local Best Buy where I first saw it about a year ago, but you really don’t get the full effect until you bring it home and see it in your own environment. This is further amplified with a Sanus LL-22 Low Profile wall mount (sorry for the Sanus promotion here, but this wall mount is really that great). Even with the power off, this TV is stunning just hanging on a wall (I installed a pair of Datacomm Power Solution outlets to run the wires in-wall up to code).
I have the 860 hooked up to an Elite SC-25 via HDMI, so I can’t comment on the native speakers that many here are not happy with (I simply turned off the TV speaker via the main menu option). The one worry moment did come when I turned on the TV for the first time to do the FW update and noticed how quickly the IR set in. There have been many comments here regarding the IR propensity of this set and along with the buzzing these were the two things I obsessed the most over during my 5+ month research. I’ve never witnessed the slightest inkling of IR on my Kuro, so this was definitely a concern from the start with the 860. I immediately dialed down the Contrast to under 50 (which is in turn made the picture look awful), but after a successful 1018 FW update I have yet to see any noticeable IR since (crossing toes as I write this, can’t cross fingers or I couldn’t type). I dialed up (slightly) my break-in Contrast to 58, with Cell 7 and Brightness 48. I read somewhere to set the Contrast at 50 or below to avoid the early IR issues, but I find that anything under a 58 results in a far too dim a picture for my taste. While I want to break-in the set for my own peace of mind going forward, I don’t want it to be at a noticeably measurable expense to the viewing experience. I’m sure some of you will disagree, but that’s my give-and-take on the break-in situation.
In closing, I would recommend this TV to anyone looking to buy a plasma, who’s not interested in 3-D. These can be had today (assuming you can find one) for less than half of what they originally retailed for back in April of 2009. An outstanding deal for sure. Again, I don’t claim that the buzzing is not at all an issue – but it’s not an issue for me (crossing my toes…)
Pioneer Elite SC-25
Belkin PureAV Hybrid AVU1500 UPS w/PureFilter Technology
(1) Mirage UNI-THEATRE L/C/R Speaker
(2) Mirage Prestige Black Satellites
JBL L8400P sub