As the fascination with high definition picture quality continues to grow ever stronger among the AV community, more and more of us are irresistibly drawn toward much larger TV screen sizes than we would ever have contemplated a few short years ago.
The old 32in screens that used to represent the extremes of our televisual ambitions are now increasingly being relegated to bedrooms, studies and kitchens, while our living rooms are playing host to ever bigger screen acreages. In fact, all the latest sales trends point towards us already moving past the 37in level to a point where 42in screens are becoming the new screen size of choice.
So now seems as good a time as any to take a look at four of the latest 42in TVs hoping to ride the latest TV buying wave.
Price comparison:LG 42PG6000 Price: £700 More info: LG Electronics Size (on stand): 1044(w) x 735(h) x 308(d)mm Weight: 27.8kg Native aspect ratio: 16:9 Native resolution: 1024x768 Claimed max contrast ratio: 30000:1 Claimed max brightness: 1500cd/m2 Connections: Four HDMI inputs, S-Video input, component video input, two scarts (one RGB), PC input, RS-232 port, RF jack, digital audio output, CI slot, USB 2.0
Although LCD seems to be winning the battle for AV punters' hearts and wallets, we're only too pleased to be kicking off this group test with a plasma TV, as to our mind plasma has plenty of life left in it yet.
The 42PG6000 is surprisingly well built for a 42in TV costing under £700 from most retailers, with a high-gloss black finish, a tasteful half-moon power light at the bottom right, and best of all a 'single layer' fascia whereby the screen and the bezel appear to be cut from a seamless sheet of glass. Cool.
Other clever touches of the 42PG6000 include its provision of four v1.3 HDMIs and a USB port for MP3 or JPEG playback; its use of 'invisible speakers' tucked down its sides to preserve the TV's aesthetics; 100Hz processing to reduce flicker during movement and camera pans; and LG's XD Engine processing for boosting colours, detailing and noise reduction.
It's worth mentioning, too, that all of these features and more are accessed by LG's really outstanding, graphics-led operating system.
The 42PG6000's video performance is actually somewhat disappointing for a plasma TV. For starters its black level response falls considerably short of that produced by numerous other plasma TVs, and even a few LCDs.
Also, colours don't look very natural at times, with a slight orangey tone to reds and some rather 'radioactive' greens.
Next, HD pictures don't look as immaculately sharp as we know they can, perhaps because of the screen's relatively low resolution of 1024x768. Finally, colour blends can appear rather 'striped', HD pictures can look 'gritty', white objects can appear to suffer a little red bleed, and really bright parts of a picture can leave a shadow of themselves behind briefly.
This latter problem should reduce over time, though, and there are certainly areas where the 42PG6000 shines. It's rock-solid at showing motion, for instance, with practically no LCD-like blur or resolution loss to worry about. Plus colours are very vibrant by plasma standards, and the set's 'invisible' speakers work unexpectedly well.
But none of this stops the 42PG6000 rank as a considerable disappointment overall.
Cheap as chips, nice looking, brilliant connectivity, good motion handling and sound Minus points
Black levels not up to plasma's usual standards, HD doesn't look particularly sharp
Price comparison:Philips 42PFL7603D Price: £1,000 More info: Philips Size (on stand): 1046(w) x 716(h) x 262(d)mm Weight (with stand): 27kg Native aspect ratio: 16:9 Native resolution: 1920x1080 Claimed max contrast ratio: 30000:1 Claimed max brightness: 500cd/m2 Connections: Four HDMI 1.3 inputs, component video input, two Scarts (both RGB), composite video input, stereo audio inputs, tuner input, CAM slot, S-Video input, headphone jack, USB input, digital audio output
This new 42in TV is part of Philips' new Design Collection range - and it looks it. A fairly straightforward gloss black bezel is turned into something truly 'high fashion' by the combination of a unique transparent 'shroud' that curves forward around the TV's four sides, and a 'stereo' version of Philips' Ambilight Spectra technology, where pools of coloured light sympathetic to the picture content spill from the TV's left and right edges. Hubba.
Inside this cutting-edge bodywork, though, beats not Philips' latest Perfect Pixel image processing engine, but last year's Pixel Plus 3 HD engine. If you want the latest Perfect Pixel HD engine in the new Design Collection bodywork, you'll have to wait for the imminent 9603 and 9703 ranges.
Thankfully, though, Pixel Plus 3 HD is itself a seriously sophisticated operator. And so after spending some quality time tweaking various aspects of the Pixel Plus 3 HD engine - and countless other options in the 42PFL7603's mammoth onscreen menus - the set produces some stunning pictures for its price point.
As is usually the case with Pixel Plus, the sharpness and detailing apparent in HD and standard definition images alike is remarkable, making standard def look nearer HD, and HD look like something even better!
Colours sparkle with an intensity that's rare even by LCD standards, too, yet crucially this intensity doesn't compromise the set's tonal naturalism at all. In fact, the detail levels in the picture help colours look unusually realistic, thanks to pretty much perfect colour blends.
Black levels are great by LCD standards, actually looking deeper than those of LG's plasma model, motion looks fluid and the set's sound is more powerful than the efforts of its rivals today put together.
Not having the very latest picture engine means pictures occasionally suffer a little motion blur and one or two over-stressed edges. Plus you can make images look over-processed if you don't keep most Pixel Plus 3 HD elements set to a low level.
But provided you're careful, the 42PFL7603 can reward you with a level of all-round AV grandeur and flexibility that our next two contenders today will surely find hard to follow.
Frequently stunning picture quality, great audio, gorgeous looks, endless feature count, impressive connectivity Minus points
Slight motion blur, some contrasty edges look over-stressed, requires care with settings