The last Samsung plasma we reviewed was also a 51in model, the PS51E8000. More interestingly, it was £1700 – twice the price of the TV here. That's why we were so excited to get our hands on this set, the Samsung PS51E550 (opens in new tab), and why we're so happy with the results: it really is a cut-price corker.
So what's the catch? Well it's fair to say you don't get quite the full selection of bells and whistles that you'll find on Samsung TVs higher up the range (this is a 5 Series set – Samsung's hierarchy goes right up to an 8 Series).
Samsung PS51E550: Design and style
Still, it's true to say that Samsung doesn't really make a bad-looking TV. While this screen doesn't have the invisible bezel or 'barely there' dimesnions of some of the flagship models, we're happy to say that it would be more than welcome in our front room based on looks alone.
And for the record, it still measures only 57mm in depth so it's going to look super-slick hung up on the wall. There's an elegant pedestal stand included, and it swivels to offer the gretest possible positioning flexibility.
Samsung PS51E550: Tech specs
As for the technical aspects of this set, there's no voice and gesture control – and therefore no second remote control – and no Samsung expansion slot for future upgrades.
Nor is there integrated wi-fi, so if you want to connect to the smart TV content or make use of the DLNA streaming capability then you'll need to buy the adapter, or make a wired connection. But elsewhere you'll find plenty of the usual connectivity.
A healthy collection of HDMI and USB inputs (three and two, respectively), digital optical and headphone out sockets are joined by a Freeview HD tuner and, as we have come to expect from Samsung, there's a plentiful selection of apps, including BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport, LoveFilm, Netflix and YouTube.
This telly will, of course, handle 3D content too, though you'll need to shell out for glasses – it's an active-shutter type. Plenty to be getting on with, then.
The basic Samsung interface is now pretty familiar and simple enough to get to grips with. The Smart Hub is much busier and will take a little time to master but, in truth, a large number of the content hubs will probably remain ignored by most buyers, who'll tend to settle for the obvious icons that activate catch-up TV and on-demand film services.
Samsung PS51E550: Remote control
You might not get the fancy remote control that some of the higher-end rivals are treated to, but the relatively ordinary handset is smart enough. The P51E550 will also work with Samsung’s free TV Remote app, using a smartphone or tablet.
With a fair number of small buttons and a high overall button-count (47), this Samsung remote, a bit like the company’s Smart Hub for online content, looks quite busy and fussy at first glance.
A little more variation in button size and placement would make it a touch easier to get to grips with.
One button that does stick out nicely is the hexagonal Smart Hub button. It takes you straight to the Samsung Smart Hub, which is handy. The hub itself divides content up by genre – family, fitness, kids – while the key apps, iPlayer et al, are located at
the top of the screen.
There’s also a 3D button, which makes it easy to switch the Samsung between 3D and non-3D modes.
It’s possible to live-convert any 2D content into 3D, just by toggling through this button, although the results are still way short of those produced by genuine 3D.
Samsung PS51E550: Picture quality
Tune in the Freeview tuner and you're greeted by a sharp and clean picture. Skin tones look natural, while fine details such as strands of hair are picked up nicely.
Watch the HD channels and it's naturally better still, with a good balance between bright whites and decent black levels.
Switch to movies and, while compared with the very best screens around the P51E550 can't quite match their absolute detail nor the deep black levels, it's clearly a very capable contender. Colours are punchy and dynamic without being too lurid, while motion is largely stable, and blocks of colour are completely free from digital noise.
Samsung PS51E550: Sound quality
There's little sign of that irritating hum that sometimes comes with plasma TVs and, all told, the PS51E550 is starting to seem like a bit of a bargain.
Sure enough the sound is a touch on the bright side and comes across as rather hollow, but that's nothing out of the ordinary for any flatscreen, let alone a more affordable one.
Samsung PS51E550: Verdict
As long as you aren't interested in the very latest cutting-edge tech inside your TV and you don't mind making minor performance compromises (and they are minor) then this is a superb big-screen plasma for a price that's comfortably the right side of a grand.