Although it's tempting in today's cash-strapped times to simply look for the cheapest options with everything you buy, we'd argue that sometimes it pays to think a little higher than that. For actually, in the TV world right now you might be quite startled by the sort of extra features and performance quality you could get your hands on if you're willing to spend just that little bit more.
To show you what we mean, we've rounded up a group of four new 'step up' 40-42in flat TVs from a quartet of the UK's biggest brands that all offer a significant incentive for saving up for a month or two more, or buying your bank manager that extra bottle of beer…
Price: £1,100 More info: JVC Size: 985.2(w) x 675.2(h) x 69(d)mm Weight: 16.5kg Native aspect ratio: 16:9 Claimed max contrast ratio: 1000,000:1 (dynamic) Claimed max brightness: 450cd/m2 Connections: Three v1.3 HDMIs; component video jacks, D-Sub PC input, PC audio input, USB input, headphone jack, PCMCIA slot, composite video input, RF input, Two Scarts, digital audio output
The premium you pay for the 42DV1 over the majority of JVC's LCD TV range gets you three key 'bonus' features: an extremely slim design, a healthy dose of ecological brownie points, and the completely bonkers HandClap function.
Covering these in order, the 42DV1's slimness finds it less than 30mm deep for the majority of its rear end, giving it a really futuristic look from most angles - even though the screen's depth rises to a less jaw-dropping 69mm for a central section housing analogue and digital tuners.
As for the tree-hugging stuff, the screen runs at a strikingly low typical level of 225W, carries a 'full power off' switch, and has a Radio mode that lets you turn pictures off if you're listening to music.
The HandClap system, meanwhile, is really a bit of a gimmick, permitting you to perform basic operations - turning the TV on or off, or muting its audio - just by clapping your hands a set number of times. While we guess this could be useful for people who constantly lose their remote controls, though, we personally didn't feel inclined to use it much. Especially as the feature throws up a distracting warning icon if the TV detects that ambient noise levels are too high for the function to work well.
Other handy bits and bobs about the 42DV1 include a USB port for MP3 and JPEG playback, 100Hz processing for clearer motion playback, and JVC's multi-facetted DynaPix HD video processing engine.
Happily all this processing helps the 42DV1 produce some really likeable picture quality. Particularly impressive is how little resolution is lost over moving objects. But black levels are also deeper and more natural than those of cheaper JVC TVs, thanks to a new backlight design.
The set additionally renders colours with extreme stability and vibrancy, and the DynaPix HD system does a great job of upscaling standard definition pictures to the screen's full HD resolution with sharpness and clarity. HD pictures are extremely crisp and detailed, too.
Three things stop the 42DV1 from earning an unreserved recommendation, though. First, while black levels are good, they're not the absolute best around. Second, contrast and colour both drop off quite severely if you watch from much of an angle. And finally, while the 42DV1's sound is surprisingly powerful for a thin TV, it's also rather uncontrolled, sometimes becoming harsh and unclear at high volumes.
Great slender design, good pictures for the most part, powerful sound, plenty of features Minus points
Black levels decent rather than great, viewing angle limited, sound can distort
Price: £900 More info: Panasonic Size: 1029(w) x 704(h) x 334(d)mm Weight: 27kg Native aspect ratio: 16:9 Claimed max contrast ratio: 2000,000:1 (dynamic) Claimed max brightness: N/A Connections: Three HDMI inputs (all v1.3), component video input, two Scarts (both RGB), composite video input, PC input, stereo audio inputs, tuner input, CAM slot, S-Video input, headphone jack, SD card slot, digital audio output
Panasonic has introduced a key split into its latest plasma range, with premium sets using the brand's new, high-performance NeoPDP plasma panels, while the budget sets use the latest version of the brand's 'old' plasma technology. So the first thing that has to be determined with the P42S10B is which plasma tech lies at its core.
Contrary to what you might expect given the 'step up' nature of this group test, it's actually not the NeoPDP system. But it still offers something important above Panasonic's entry-level models in the shape of 400Hz Sub-Field Drive processing. This, as its name (sort of!) suggests, creates completely new frames of image data, raising the screen's refresh rate from the 50Hz PAL standard to 400 frames per second, to radically reduce the motion judder problem commonly associated with Panasonic's plasma screens (especially when watching 1080p/24fps Blu-ray feeds).
Other key things differentiating the P42S10 from Panasonic's cheaper models are its full HD resolution - this is very rare on a 42in plasma TV - and the ability of a built-in SD card slot to play AVCHD video files as well as JPEG stills.
The P42S10B's extra resolution and processing power deliver clear benefits over budget Panasonic models - at least with high definition sources. Blu-rays play back with extra clarity and detailing thanks to the higher pixel count, and there's noticeably less juddering thanks to the 400Hz engine.
These strengths join forces with the excellent black level response traditionally found with Panasonic plasma TVs, giving your average movie plenty of cinematic impact.
Despite offering you a clear improvement over Panasonic's entry-level plasmas, though, the P42S10B isn't quite the unbridled success we might have hoped for. Colours during standard definition viewing sometimes look slightly strange in tone, for instance. Also, standard definition pictures can look a bit soft, and the picture isn't particularly bright compared with LCD rivals. This shouldn't be a problem in dark rooms, but could cause an issue if you've got a lot of lights or sunlight around.
Still, with some perfectly respectable audio to keep the perfectly respectable pictures company, while not truly awesome the P42S10B is still, well, perfectly respectable…
Brilliant black levels, good HD pictures, good value, full HD Minus points
Standard def pictures can look a bit soft, colours not always the most natural, pictures not very bright