Panasonic TH-42PX60U 42-inch Plasma HDTV

What We Think
This entry-level Panasonic plasma has a few things going for it, but a couple of performance issues pull it down.
A lot of the recent excitement about flat-panel TVs has been about massive, 100-inch and larger screens, but 42-inch plasmas have long been the most economical flat-panel option. And they've become more so as a bevy of new manufacturers have turned the flat-panel market into a fierce battleground. That's great for shoppers, who now have a pretty good selection of budget plasmas from which to choose. But it's been tough on the big players, who have to either match plummeting prices or deliver enough features or performance to make up for the premium they charge.

The new Panasonic TH-42PX60U 42-inch plasma HDTV is a case in point. At its typical $2,500 street price, it will cost you a few hundred dollars more than many entry-level 42-inch plasmas. But while it offers a few nice extras, a close look at its performance reveals it to be something less than a great bargain.

Certainly better-looking than a lot of budget plasmas, the TH-42PX60U mixes a silver plastic housing and stand with a black plastic bezel around the screen, which should blend in well in most living rooms. The speakers are permanently mounted below the screen, which is likely to fit existing home theater furniture better than a side-mounted design.

You won't find many fancy features in this TV. For example, a CableCARD slot and its best friend, the TV Guide onscreen programming guide, are absent, though we didn't miss them. Likewise, there are no overly complex color-decoder controls, but they're also unnecessary for this set. The nicely sized remote control is comfortable to hold and most of its important buttons are within thumb's reach, though the channel and volume controls are slightly too close to the bottom for my hand. Unfortunately, it lacks backlighting, but then most budget flat-panels' remotes do.

SETUP Most of the TV's inputs can be found on the back panel. Chief among them are a pair of HDMI jacks that accept anything from 480i through 1080i signals - they'll come in handy if you try to jack in one of the new high-def disc players or a standard upconverting DVD player alongside your digital cable box. The two component-video inputs accept the same range of standard and HD signals, and you get two inputs with your choice of either S-video or composite video (with stereo audio). An RF jack lets you connect an antenna to capture digital or analog off-air broadcasts through the built-in tuner. The Panasonic TH-42PX60U doesn't have a VGA input, however, so if you want to use a computer with this TV you'll need either a Media Center PC or another computer with a video card to feed one of the regular video inputs. An additional S-video input and another composite-video input are behind a door on the front panel to connect temporary sources, such as a camcorder. There's also an SD card slot so you can easily view photos.