A couple of days ago, Home Theater senior editor Tom Norton invited me over to his place to see three flat panels lined up next to each other: the Samsung PN60F8500 plasma TV, Sony XBR-65X900A UHD LED-LCD TV, and his personal Pioneer PRO-141FD 60-inch Kuro plasma monitor. He had the Samsung and Sony sets for review in Home Theater magazine, and he thought I might be interested in seeing them side by side. He was right!
All three were fully calibrated with a peak-white level of 32 foot-lamberts in Tom's blacked-out room, though as he demonstrated, the Sony needed its backlight turned up a couple of clicks from there to look equally bright. All three sets were fed the same signal from an Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player through an Accell HDMI switcher/splitter. We were sitting about eight feet from the sets, which were arranged in a semicircle around my position. (Tom graciously sat off-axis from the Sony so I could see it straight on.)
We watched clips from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and Avatar on Blu-ray and The Other Guys on a "Mastered in 4K" Blu-ray. We also looked at the few minutes of native 2160p material on the small server that Sony sent along with the X900A.
The first thing I noticed was that the Sony's image had a bit of a greenish cast, while the Pioneer was ever-so-slightly reddish. The Samsung's color looked the most neutral and natural to my eyes. This difference all but disappeared on Avatar, at least in the scenes in the Pandoran jungle, which are mostly green and blue.
Tom also played The Other Guys on a Sony Blu-ray player, which was connected only to the Sony TV, to see if we could detect any difference in color from the "Mastered in 4K" Blu-ray, with its xvYCC (what Sony calls x.v.Color) metadata. I'm no fan of Will Ferrell, and The Other Guys is no great movie, but it does have a fire-engine red Prius in some shots, and I'd never seen that color of red on any other video display. However, it didn't look much different after Tom disabled the x.v.Color mode in the TV.
Of course, the Harry Potter movie has tons of very dark scenes, and all three displays rendered them quite well. I thought the Pioneer was the darkest, but not by much compared with the Samsung. The Sony was plenty dark as well, though the LED edge-lighting at the top and bottom of the screen made the black letterbox bars lighter than on the plasmas. I generally liked the shadow detail on the Pioneer the best, but the Samsung was a close second.
In the detail department, I didn't see much difference between the three sets; the Sony didn't achieve a clear advantage by upscaling 1080p to 2160p, though it didn't seem to harm the image, either. Overall, I liked the detail of the Samsung the best—it seemed a bit crisper without looking edge-enhanced—but again, it was a close contest.
Lastly, we looked at some native 2160p content on the X900A from a Sony server—not the "hatbox" or full-sized PC server, but a small rectangular box intended for use in retail stores. There wasn't much on it—the trailer for After Earth, a clip from the latest remake of Total Recall, and some slow-moving eye-candy shots. That content looked spectacular, but I wasn't convinced it was all that much better than 1080p at that screen size and seating distance. I remember thinking that the jump from 1080p to 2160p is less dramatic than the leap from standard-definition to high-def, at least in this case.
In the next couple of weeks, Tom will set up a Panasonic TC-P60ZT60 and TC-P60VT60, and I encouraged him to hang on to the Samsung F8500 until then so he could compare what are generally considered to be the three best flat panels of 2013 along with his Kuro. When he does, you can bet I'll drop by to see them for myself!
Meanwhile, be sure to read Tom's reviews of the Samsung PN60F8500 and Sony XBR-65X900A in Home Theater magazine or on its website, HomeTheater.com. Neither review has been published or posted yet, but they soon will be.