Samsung PPM63H3 63-inch Plasma Monitor 
Home Theater Flat Panel HDTVs Plasma HDTVs
Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Sunday, 01 August 2004

As Americans, it is our God-given right to “bigger and better” everything. This is exactly what Samsung is counting on with their newest $17,999 plasma, the PPM63H3. At 63 inches, this “professional” plasma monitor is and certainly looks larger than the more standard 50-inch sets. With the waif-like thinness of a flat screen TV, it is now possible to get what is turning out to be a pretty damn large picture in your living room. Cost-wise, a 63-inch plasma is priced at around the same levels that 50-inch plasmas were a few years back, just below $20,000.

Samsung as a company has made some significant strides in recent years in competing with other more well-known Japanese electronics manufacturers (most notably Sony) by offering innovative technology in competitively priced audio/video products. The PPM63H3 is no exception. It features an exclusive technology called DNIe, which reportedly reduces noise and increases detail. The set has a contrast-enhancing feature that gets the blacks a little blacker and the whites whiter than past plasma sets. The unit also comes with Faroudja deinterlacing technology internally installed to deal with motion problems and make the images, especially for sporting events, look much more lifelike.

The specs on the PPM63H3 range from the obvious 63-inch diagonal 16:9 screen to a reported 1000:1 contrast ratio. The set is 59.2 inches wide by 35.2 inches tall by a mere 3.5 inches deep and weighs in at a whopping 152.1 pounds. It has all of the latest inputs one might expect, including DVI, component video and others. What is missing is HDMI, which is a new, universally adopted method of connecting HDTV devices digitally. (However, you can still interface HDTV devices through the component video, Y-Pb-Pr connectors.) At the time this set was designed and made, HDMI was not yet adopted. The resolution of the PPM63H3 is 1366x768 native, which can reproduce everything from 480i (most TV signals and DVDs) to 720p and 1080i HDTV. The Samsung PPM63H3 has a two-year parts and labor warranty, which is relatively long by industry standards.

Planning where to put a 63-inch plasma is likely the most critical decision you need to make when setting up a PPM63H3. At over 150 pounds, you need to make sure you have both the best mounting hardware to suit your project’s needs and the internal strength in the wall to be able to hold up such a heavy and expensive set. Another absolutely key detail in successfully setting up a plasma of this size is judging the light situation in your room. Under perfect circumstances, you would be installing your plasma in a room that you can make pitch black in the middle of the afternoon. Reality says that the reason why plasmas are so popular is the fact that they fit into places where other TVs can’t and make for a large video source in often less-than-perfect spaces. What you are looking to avoid in set-up is placing a set in a location where it will get strong reflections because the glass that makes up the plasma screen will really glare, resulting in a lousy-looking set. Part of the decision-making process that goes into buying a plasma has to be the understanding that the set is likely to look a little more washed-out during the day than when watching at night. If adding blackout drapes helps make your room darker and you plan to watch your set in the afternoon, this might be a worthy effort.

The physical hook-up of the set is actually pretty easy. The inputs on the back of the set are as easy as color-coded component video inputs or a simple DVI input. Plugging the set into the wall is a cakewalk and attaching the set to its hardware is only scary when you are securing it to the wall. One slip of the hand and the set can be irreparably destroyed. To say you need to be careful when installing a plasma is to understate the seriousness of the situation. At $17,999, I recommend you have a dealer (who happens to have insurance) to install and professionally calibrate your set. It isn’t rocket science, but it well worth the price difference between what it might cost to buy a PPM63H3 for on the Internet and buying one from a reputable dealer or CEDIA installer.

Movies and Television
I used two sources for regular TV viewing: a Comcast DCT5100 HDTV Digital Cable TV Tuner and a Sony SAT-HD300 DirecTV Tuner (both tuned to normal NTSC channels, of course). I used a DirecTV HR10-250 HDTV TiVo Recorder for TiVo evaluations. Honestly speaking, I’ve never been very impressed with the picture quality of regular NTSC television on plasma televisions, and the PPM63H3 is no exception. The combination of compression applied by the broadcasters (this is how they can offer 60 different Home Shopping channels on your cable system) and the relatively limited resolution of fixed pixel TVs creates a picture that seems muddy to me. The contrast of the monitor seems much weaker on regular TV sources. Even on a high-quality broadcast channel like CNN, Aaron Brown’s dark suit was very washed out and I could barely distinguish the lapels or any contours on his suit. Watching golf highlights on ESPN, I was very aware of the grass color as an unnatural shade of green, and again, the natural color gradations of grass were totally lacking.

In a way, the poor quality of NTSC broadcasts from satellite or digital cable shouldn’t be considered a downside for a resolute video monitor, which at its absolute best performance, is limited to the source material that it is fed. It is important to note, however, that with increasing amounts of compression running on digital cable and satellite TV that your NTSC picture is unlikely to get better-looking over time.

Testing DVD Movies
The PPM63H3 definitely proved to me that it is capable of displaying a pretty incredible picture, given a higher quality input. I was very clearly able to see the quality differences in DVDs. The “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (New Line Home Entertainment) DVD looked very impressive upon first glance and never relented. The detail level was as clear as I’ve seen on any flat screen TV and competitive in many ways with the bulkier yet less expensive HDTV CRT sets. In the second chapter when the two hobbits Frodo and Sam (Elijah Wood and Sean Astin) are walking through the rocks with a grassy valley in the background, the picture approaches HD quality. However, there were still noticeable aberrations in the picture that merit mention. The first issue is the appearance of skin – it just never looked quite right. This monitor just didn’t seem able to get human skin perfectly natural-looking. The other notable deficiency was in depth of field – it was actually pretty good, but when compared to the 37-inch Sony plasma TV that I had on hand, the very deep images in this movie seemed a little more blurry.

The movie “Independence Day” really demonstrated some strengths in this monitor. In the opening scene, an alien spaceship approaches Earth, passing the moon with a star-filled sky in the background. These star-filled sky images that you see in many sci-fi movies can really punish plasma TVs, showing bright white spots against a pure black sky background, cause many plasmas to wig out – a very noticeable blurry gray cloud appears around the stars. This was thankfully not the case on this monitor – I was very impressed with the PPH63H3’s ability to show the pinpoint spots of white stars against a black sky without any hint of blurriness. The Earth looked great in the background, too. Another strength of this monitor is its color reproduction – the vibrant colors seem to jump off the screen, especially when compared to other plasmas.

Testing HDTV
As I mentioned earlier, regular broadcast TV usually disappoints me on plasmas. Conversely, true HDTV usually blows me away on most of the higher-quality plasmas I’ve seen. The PPM63H3 exemplifies this further. It really seems like this set is ideally suited for HD. I didn’t have that many chances to watch a lot of HD sports (thank you, NBC, for not giving us the US Open in HD!), but I was able to catch the final NBA Finals game on ABC, which looked spectacular. When Al Michaels began the broadcast, it looked like he was sitting in my living room on the other side of the coffee table talking to me – he was right there. Every hair on his head was discernable; the color saturation was as real as life; every fan in the stands was as clear as if you had spent $2,500 for a ticket. ABC used a few non-HD cameras for some of the odd angles. It was painfully obvious when they switched to a non-HD camera – the picture went down the proverbial shit can when compared to the gleaming 720p HDTV. Unlike many sets, quick camera motions did not phase this plasma a bit – when the cameraman panned across the court, the image never became unstable. One criticism I do have is that the monitor would get a little unstable along the lines of the court – there was a very slight but noticeable shimmer on the floor lines when compared to the smaller Sony plasma.

I had an HDTV D-VHS copy of “Independence Day” around, so I was able to see this movie in both DVD and HDTV versions on the PPM63H3. The DVD looks really good, but as I watch the HD version, I am awestruck at how much better it looks on D-VHS. The opening titles are razor sharp. That same star-filled sky seems to have three times as many stars. The skin tones look natural and detailed: every wrinkle and freckle is visible (not so on the DVD). In terms of this detail and color accuracy, the Samsung really seems to better the Sony KE-37XS910 – this is especially significant, considering that the plasma is nearly four times bigger than the Sony. The Sony, however, did seem to have better contrast. Early in this movie, in a scene in a dark government room at Space Command, when the two senior military guys walk into the room, their uniforms are almost lost in the background. One of this monitor’s weaknesses seems to be in ultimate contrast and shadow detail. In all honesty, I’ve never seen any flat screen TV that was great at shadow detail, but I have seen some Panasonic sets that seem to do a better job then any of the other plasma sets out there.

The PPM63H3 contains Faroudja deinterlacing technology. There really isn’t any way to turn this feature on or off, but I do have to say that this set seems to handle motion pretty well. As I mentioned in the NBA Finals game, fast-panning camera shots did not seem to faze the Samsung a bit. Fighter plane scenes in “Independence Day” were very clear. There were scenes on the DVD that would cause the monitor to pixilate slightly, but all in all, I was impressed with the monitor’s ability to handle motion.

Downside and Other Comments
Samsung claims a 1000:1 contrast ratio. I don’t have a way of measuring this, but it does seem reasonable in comparison to other sets I have seen and their reported stats. About the highest I have seen claimed is 3000:1 by Panasonic, and their sets do seems to have great contrast. Industry conjecture is that Panasonic achieves this by driving their phosphors harder, which gains extra contrast but at the cost of screen life. A typical plasma TV has a life expectancy of 30,000 hours, but a Panasonic supposedly has one of 15,000 hours. The set has a native resolution of 1366 x 768, which is the highest currently available in a flat screen (at least that I am aware of). Many better 50-inch sets have the same resolution, and several people asked if the pixels become more visible on the larger set. Simply stated, no, they do not. I never felt like I was seeing individual pixels (aka the “screen-door effect,” usually very noticeable on LCD projectors). The set has a charcoal gray border around it, which is the ideal border for the viewing surface. I’ve seen a few plasmas with glossy black borders, which are very reflective, very distracting and a very poor design choice. Many consumer plasmas have a satin silver border, which is also very good from a viewing standpoint and cosmetically more attractive in many applications.

Lack of an HDMI input could be a problem for many users who see this connection method as the future for HDTV. I was able to get stunning results from component video in the analog domain so I am not too concerned. The basic fact is that this plasma was designed and was being built before or at the time when HDMI was being approved (last fall), so it is hard to expect it to have the connection. While I have yet to test it, DVI inputs, which this set has, are supposedly easily converted to HDMI with an adaptor.

The Samsung PPM63H3 does not have the absolute best picture quality of any plasma display that I have seen, but it is up there. The PPM63H3 does have the largest screen size of any plasma I have seen and that counts for a lot. All plasmas have a similar set of limitations in terms of contrast and shadow detail, but size comparisons are absolute. This is a huge monitor, and I loved having a chance to spend time with it. In comparison to the Pioneer PDP-503CMX 50-inch plasma that I had a chance to also spend time with, the extra 13 inches of screen size made a gigantic difference in my overall enjoyment. A 63-inch monitor is nearly large enough to create a full theater effect, especially in a modest-sized media room. It has nearly every type of input that you would likely need (while it does not have an HDMI input, it does have a DVI input, which is supposed to by fully compatible with HDMI sources). The set is only four inches thick; many similar or even smaller sets are five to five-and-a-half inches deep. That extra one to one-and-a-half inches of depth absolutely makes a very noticeable difference when this giant is hanging on your wall. At over $15,000, this set is certainly not for everyone. But at 63 inches, it is definitely one of the few sets that should be considered for a higher-end plasma-based media room.
Manufacturer Samsung
Model PPM63H3 63-inch Plasma Monitor
Diagonal Screen Size More than 56-inches

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