Good picture quality and features -- especially Internet streaming -- make the Samsung E550 a worthwhile choice for TV buyers on a budget. Three models are available: the 51-inch PN51E550 (*Est. $850), 60-inch PN60E550 (*Est. $1,300) and 64-inch PN64E550 (*Est. $850 to $2,000).
Very good, but some competitors are a bit better. When addressing picture quality, CNET notes that most plasma TVs, including value choices like the Samsung E550, can outperform most of this year's LED offerings -- at least under the right viewing conditions. However, even the most ardent fans will concede that the E550's core performance doesn't match up to that of some other plasmas.
Black levels, for example, put most LED sets to shame, but fall short compared to videophile-grade plasma sets such as the Panasonic Viera VT50 and Samsung E8000. Even Panasonic's competing budget series -- the similarly equipped UT50 and the stripped-down Viera U50 -- do a better job of producing the very blackest blacks.
Color gets a mixed reception. Some reviewers consider accuracy to be excellent, especially compared to the E550's direct competitors, but TelevisionInfo.com and others find lots of technical bobbles. Even so, TelevisionInfo.com says most of the issues it sees won't show up on the screen in typical TV programming.
The biggest concern is performance in a decently lit viewing room: The set's limited peak brightness and reflective screen can drastically worsen picture quality in settings where light isn't tightly controlled. Competing sets like the Panasonic UT50 and U50 suffer similarly under lights. If you intend to use your TV in a room with lots of ambient light, a more upscale model such as the Samsung E6500 or especially the Panasonic Viera ST50 will likely provide a more enjoyable experience. Both include special black filters that do a great job of controlling glare.
The E550's 3D performance is fairly good. CNET complains about a bit of crosstalk -- resulting in a ghosting artifact in 3D -- but other reviewers find it insignificant. TelevisionInfo.com sees very little ghosting, and adds that those who find the artifact to be extremely objectionable can choose to decrease 3D depth to get rid of it completely, although the trade-off is a less-immersive 3D experience. Color in 3D holds up well.
Like most plasmas, there are no issues to speak of when it comes to off-angle viewing and screen uniformity. While the 51-inch and 60-inch versions of the E550 are Energy Star qualified, the 64-inch PN64E550 is not.
Well equipped for the price. The E550 is Samsung's least expensive plasma TV with both 3D and Internet streaming features. A bonus is that two sets of 3D glasses are included in the box, and extras cost only about $20 per pair.
When it comes to Internet streaming, few complaints can be found. The E550 uses the same Smart TV platform found on the company's higher-end plasma TVs, including the flagship E8000. All experts say that despite a somewhat cluttered interface, Samsung's streaming features are the best currently available. The lineup of Internet content is extensive, and includes lots of major and niche providers; the only notable omission is Amazon Instant. You'll also find a cell phonelike app store and a web browser that's usable in a pinch; most TV web browsers are anything but. There's DLNA compliance for streaming your own content from a PC or other DLNA device on the same network, and Wi-Fi is built in.
A little glass lends a touch of class. Most mid-priced plasma TVs don't break much ground on the design front, but the E550's traditional black bezel gets a glass overlay that gives the edge a transparent strip. The neck of the stand is also transparent. It's not a huge statement in terms of style, but CNET says it lends the E550 some "minor panache." The remote is backlit, although its multitude of buttons and their arrangement draw some minor complaints. There are enough ports -- including three HDMI inputs -- for most modern home theater setups.
The best choice for some, but not all. With good 3D and excellent Internet streaming, the E550 presents a great value. If you prize picture quality over feature performance, however, the Panasonic UT50 offers similar -- although not as well-rated -- features and better picture performance for the same price. Better still, if 3D and streaming don't matter much at all, the step-down Panasonic Viera U50 lacks those features altogether, but has better picture quality than the Samsung E550 and costs less.
Review credibility: Excellent
The 51-inch Samsung PN51E550 falls short of some competitors in terms of black level performance and viewing in well-lit spaces, CNET says. However, Katzmaier adds that overall picture quality and the set's streaming features are good enough to earn it consideration among value-priced plasma TVs.
Review: Samsung PN51E550 Review, David Katzmaier, Sept. 5, 2012
Review credibility: Excellent
Neikirk concedes that there are plasma sets with better core performance available. Even so, he considers the Samsung PN51E550 to be solid overall choice as the centerpiece of a budget home theater.
Review: Samsung PN51E550, Lee Neikirk, July 13, 2012
Review credibility: Excellent
ConsumerReports.org tests plasma TVs, and rates and ranks them so it's easy to see which ones score highest. While discussion is far longer than in the past, it still isn't as detailed as that from other reviewers. All three screen sizes of the E550 series get their own evaluations. Reviews are available to subscribers only.
Review: LCD & Plasma TVs Ratings & Reliability, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, Not dated
Review credibility: Very Good
About 75 owners weigh in on the various screen sizes of the Samsung E550 plasma TV, and all reviews can be accessed from this page. For the most part, feedback is positive, and the set earns an overall grade of 4.0 out of 5 stars. The minority of unhappy owners expresses a variety of complaints, some of which address different, older Samsung sets.
Review: Samsung PN51E550 51-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Slim Plasma HDTV, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of October 2012