V, Inc. Vizio P42HD Plasma HD Monitor What does $3,000 get you in a plasma?
To be perfectly honest, the mere mention of "budget plasmas" makes many people's skin crawl. The performance fans cringe, for they know that there's only so cheap a plasma can be before watching TV with the picture off becomes a viable and sought-after alternative. Others cringe at the thought that anything costing $3,000 could be considered budget, especially when the same money can get you a significantly bigger display with a more "quaint" technology. Since the introduction of budget plasmas, the market has seen a fast decline in prices. Whereas $3,000 once got you one lonely model, it now gets you quite a choice. The three here represent a good cross section of the available models, at least from brands that people have heard of.
I conducted this Face Off similar to the RPTV Face Off that graced these pages one year ago. For the first half of the test, I set up the three plasmas using only the user controls and Video Essentials. I matched their light output on a full-field white as closely as possible. Here lies a problem. Plasmas are designed to have less light output on a full-field white than on a full-white window (say, 25 percent of the screen). Even with the full-field white matched, each plasma still has a different light-output capability. For example, in an image of a dark road with streetlights, the streetlights could still be brighter on one plasma compared with another, even though their full-field output is the same. The discrepancy was so great between the three models here that matching the light output on a white window wasn't possible. This didn't appear to affect the outcome, as you'll see later. For the second half of the Face Off, I calibrated each plasma using our Photo Research PR-650 and whatever adjustments were available on each plasma.
For DVD material, I used an Onkyo DV-SP800 predominantly in interlaced mode, although I used the same player in progressive mode for comparison with the plasmas' internal deinterlacers. I planned on using a 1080i D-VHS tape, but the D-VHS player decided that it didn't want any part in the Face Off and refused to send out a usable signal. I switched to Discovery HD Theater on Dish Network, which worked just fine. I sent each source to a Key Digital HD View 6 distribution amplifier through identical-length component video cables. The plasmas' identities and specs were hidden.
To eyeball these flat panels, I gathered the usual suspects: boss Maureen Jenson, video technical editor Scott Wilkinson, executive editor Adrienne Maxwell, and copy editor Amy Carter.