TV shoppers who want decent picture quality on a budget may like the 51-inch Samsung PN51E490. Pluses include good 3D performance, with two pairs of glasses thrown into the bargain. However, you can get a plasma TV with slightly better picture quality -- or much improved picture quality but no features -- for about the same price.
Only good picture quality for the money. For the selling price, the Samsung PN51E490 provides better than average picture quality with great colors and deeper blacks than any LCD/LED set in its class. However, reports say competing plasma sets from Panasonic offer slightly improved image quality. PCMag.com, which likes the Samsung well enough to name it an Editors' Choice budget TV, still calls its black levels only mediocre. Panasonic's near-identical 50-inch TC-P50XT50 (*Est. $720) gets more positive comments regarding black levels.
Other performance aspects are similar, however. Both sets are only 720p resolution, which is still high-def enough that the picture will look pretty good at typical seating distances. Both have limited brightness and fairly reflective screens, meaning they play better in dark rooms than well-lit ones. The limited brightness is especially an issue when viewing 3D images. If you can live without 3D -- and limited streaming in the case of the XT50 -- the 50-inch Panasonic Viera TC-P50U50 (*Est. $700 to $1,000) offers improved picture quality in full 1080p and costs about the same.
Good 3D, but no Internet streaming. The headline feature of the Samsung PN51E490 is decent 3D viewing. This TV uses active-shutter technology that has many advantages, but is also subject to more ghosting. Here, reviewers say ghosting isn't much of a factor, and 3D performance holds its own against most plasma TVs, including high-end models. The only caveat is that because of this set's limited brightness, 3D will look best with the lights down low. As a bonus, Samsung packs two pairs of glasses in the box and extras are among the least expensive available, about $20 per pair.
What you won't find with this TV is support for Internet streaming, although it is DLNA compliant and Wi-Fi ready/Ethernet-port equipped for streaming your own content from a personal computer or another DLNA device on the same network. In comparison, the XT50 lacks Panasonic's more complete Viera Connect streaming platform, but does provide a small suite of video-oriented apps including Netflix and Hulu Plus. The U50 offers neither streaming nor 3D.
It looks like a plasma TV. The PN51E490 won't be mistaken for a piece of modern art; all you get is a plain, black bezel. There are few controls on the set itself, just a joystick-like control that makes it easy to move through the set's menus. Connectivity is sparse with just two HDMI inputs. PCMag.com finds the remote awkward to use, but at least it's backlit.
A good value, but maybe not the best. On its own, and when compared to LCD/LED sets with similar performance, the Samsung PN51E490 looks like a great deal. However, you can get a very similar set -- the Panasonic TC-P50XT50 -- that offers better blacks and a streaming feature for about the same amount of money. For those who care more about picture quality than added features, the Panasonic U50 might be a better bargain still.
Review credibility: Excellent
PCMag.com is impressed enough with the Samsung PN51E490 to name it an Editors' Choice among budget HDTVs. There are shortfalls, however, including mediocre blacks and a resolution that's only 720p. Yet those are outweighed by picture quality that's solid for its price and a good 3D feature with two pairs of glasses included.
Review: Samsung PN51E490B4F, Will Greenwald, Oct. 9, 2012
Review credibility: Excellent
ConsumerReports.org includes the Samsung PN51E490 among the many current plasma TVs it tests, rates and ranks. Although discussion is shorter than what's provided by most reviewers, it's still helpful and meatier than what we've seen here in the past.
Review: Samsung PN51E490, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, Not dated