Faroudja PlasmaSync 42MP4 & Native Rate Series Digital Cinema Source Plasma Display & DVD player-digital video processor Page 2
The integration of the three devices—plasma display, DVD player, and processor—was not entirely seamless: The package comes with three different remotes made by three different manufacturers. There's a fully featured DVD remote with a complex array of buttons, and a simple, slim, eight-button Faroudja remote for the processor that relies heavily on Faroudja's onscreen menus. It's a bit schizophrenic: the two remotes call up entirely different sets of menus for the same device. Finally, the PlasmaSync 42MP4 comes with its own simple remote with few functions, since the display is nothing more than a monitor. Plus, you'll need two external tuners: one (such as in a VCR) to watch conventional TV, and one to watch digital TV.
I did not attempt to review the PlasmaSync 42MP4 by itself, since it's not sold without a processor. So all I watched were DVDs that had been passed through the processor and displayed at 1024x768, and, of course, high- definition material passed directly to the 42MP4.
Although a plasma display still can't rival a CRT for picture quality, the technology has come a long way since I saw my first plasma more than six years ago. I've reviewed more than a dozen plasmas since then, and have come to enjoy watching them for the brief times they've been in my home. But one thing has been true of almost every plasma I've seen: To a greater or lesser extent, plasmas present rather noisy pictures. It seems to be a feature of the technology.
Not the Faroudja PlasmaSync 42MP4. The most striking thing I noticed the minute I turned it on was an almost total lack of video noise. This was the quietest picture I've ever seen on a plasma, and I've seen few that were more enjoyable to watch.
But there's more. Detail was superb. I watched the DVD of Ali and saw every bead of sweat on the champ's body. The color palette was rich and full. My only serious complaint was a subtle graininess in dark, solid images of clothing and walls. This was probably a result of the processing—I saw it with several discs—but it was subtle enough that I didn't even notice it until Jamie Wilson, who calibrated the display for me, pointed it out. As he put it, if that's the price for a perfectly quiet picture, it's worth it.
Black levels, plasma's weak spot, were quite good. One Video Essentials test pattern shows three small squares with different levels of black; all three were differentiated, though barely—something some other plasmas can't do. But on another simple test, it was apparent that the 42MP4 could not produce true black. The set's frame was jet black; next to it, the picture looked dark gray rather than black. However, I doubt that any plasma could pass that test. Still, it was dark enough to present some detail in dark areas, though not as much as with a CRT-based display.
Most of my evaluation was done using the RGB output from the processor to the plasma. I didn't acquire a proper DVI cable until fairly late in the review process, but when I did manage to look at the system using that connection, I saw a small improvement in picture quality, primarily in sharpness and detail.
Watching high-definition images was instructive. They were pleasant enough, but they were noisier than DVD pictures, because they hadn't passed through the processor. I watched HBO-HD and a local HD channel, and even though they were downscaled to the set's native resolution, the images were sharper than the internal DVD player passing through the processor. The color palette was more diverse and true, as is always the case with HDTV. But with the added noise, I wasn't sure which I preferred.
Then, I concentrated on the specific capabilities of the DVD player. In both its audio and visual characteristics, it reminded me of the Pioneer DV-47A universal player I reviewed in the June 2002 SGHT. I don't know how many people would use the NRS-DCS as their primary CD player. Anyone spending so much on this device would almost certainly already have a CD/SACD or DVD-Audio player that they prefer. Still, Faroudja says it uses low-jitter crystal oscillators, special shielding, and other enhancements described earlier. It claims that the NRS-DCS provides "audio performance rivaling the most expensive CD-only transports." (The player is a transport because it lacks an onboard D/A audio converter. The CD signal is passed out only through the box's digital output.) The player gave CDs the characteristic Pioneer sound: thin and bright, even a bit harsh. Enough said.
However, the NRS-DCS did offer characteristic Pioneer performance as a video player. When I watched Ali, the detail was rich and precise, the color palette full. Compared to my reference, Sony's DVP-NS999ES DVD/SACD player, the image was leaner but a bit more detailed. The Sony's images, played through the component input on the NRS-DVS, were warmer but maybe a bit softer. You choose which you prefer. Millions of people prefer the Pioneer look; with this combination of equipment, so did I.
All in all, this combo of plasma display, processor, and DVD player is a winner—as it should be for the price. It was a real pleasure to watch. If you want a plasma and have the money to buy the best, this Faroudja package is it. You can, of course, buy another excellent plasma and match it with this or another Faroudja processor. But with this system, Faroudja has matched the products for you, and the result cannot fail to please.