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Samsung PN50B650 50-inch LCD
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The Samsung PN50B650 isn't just a capable HDTV; its ethernet connection turns it into a multimedia machine, with access to online video, news and weather reports, and the photos and music stored on your PC. And with an estimated street price of $1200 (as of 12/7/09), it's a good bargain, too.

The PN50B650 performed well in PC World Labs image-quality tests, earning a respectable mark of 3.5 stars. Aside from its results on a Wheel of Fortune clip, which I found a bit oversaturated, the set generally scored well for brightness, contrast, and color, with pleasing and natural-looking skin tones.

Regrettably, it had problems with motion, doing particularly poorly on our diagonal-panning test, where it violently vibrated in what should have been a smooth pan over a still photo. That test intentionally forces an extreme situation--you're not likely to see anything so problematic in normal TV viewing--but it's a sign that other problems may crop up.

While viewing Blu-ray titles, we noticed slight vibration in a brick wall in chapter 7 of Mission: Impossible III, and moiré patterns in a Hong Kong building in a helicopter shot from chapter 9 of The Dark Knight. However good or bad it looks, the PN50B650's image quality won't degrade if you step over to the side or lie down on the floor--a great viewing angle is one of the advantages of a plasma HDTV. LCDs, by contrast, look pale and desaturated when you view them from an extreme angle.

On the other hand, plasmas are energy hogs. The Energy Star 3.0-compliant PN50B650 burns about 211 watts when in use, according to PC World Labs tests. By comparison, the Vizio VF550M--a larger, 55-inch LCD--burns only 157 watts. When "off," the Samsung sips a mere 0.1 watt--the lowest number that will register on our test equipment.
Internet Connectivity and Media Playback

The PN50B650 really stands out when you plug it into your home network via the set's ethernet port. Thanks to its Internet connectivity, you can watch YouTube, browse photos on Flickr, or enjoy a wide selection of Yahoo widgets, including news, sports, and weather. You can follow Twitter feeds or play Texas Hold ‘em. You can watch movie trailers on Yahoo Video or, if you're willing to shell out the money, see actual movies via pay-on-demand services from Amazon and Blockbuster.

Samsung's YouTube interface is a bit confusing at first (if pressing the remote's Right button doesn't do what you want, press Up and then Right); but once you get the hang of it, you'll find no serious trouble. It displays videos in a box large enough to watch comfortably but small enough to help hide YouTube's low resolution. The interface gives you an option to go full-screen, but as you might expect, most YouTube videos don't look great when viewed full-screen.

The ethernet connection also gives you access to media stored on any computer on your home network that's running DLNA server software. Windows Media Player 11 and 12 qualify, and plenty of other DLNA server programs, many of them free, are available for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. The PN50B650 comes with a Windows server program on CD.

Once your server is up and running, you simply press the remote's Media Player button to have the PN50B650 find your computer's photos, music, and videos. The photo slideshow is easy to start and use, but it provides no option to listen to music as you watch, say, your summer vacation clips.

You'll get that option if you plug a USB flash drive into the PN50B650's USB port and look at your media from there. On the other hand, your music choices are more limited with USB than with DLNA. The PN50B650 can play only MP3 files via the USB port. Over DLNA, it can also play any format that the server software supports; for instance, it can play WMA files if you're using Windows Media Player.

In fact, the PN50B650 can show you multimedia with nothing plugged in except AC power: The TV's memory carries a small gallery of paintings, recipes, and other goodies. None of the items are worth making a big deal about, however.

Priced from $999.00

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