Plasma Panorama

For a long time, flat-panel TVs were linked with the future in the popular imagination. And when they finally became a reality, they were still out of reach for most people, costing ten grand or more. But these days it's a different world. For less than $3,000, you can bring home a 42-inch plasma HDTV. And for a bit more cash - say, five or six grand - you can get a swanky model with extras like a digital tuner that'll also deliver high-def cable channels.

To get a better view of the plasma-HDTV landscape, we selected four 42-inch models at a range of prices. We started with V, Inc.'s Vizio P42HDe ($2,499), a budget HDTV monitor - meaning you have to add a tuner - that's sold exclusively through Costco and Sam's Club outlets nationwide. Stepping up in price a bit, we chose HP's PL4245N ($4,000), which the company touts as the perfect monitor for its Media Center PCs, although it also works fine as a standalone TV.

Moving into fat-wallet territory, we rounded out our test group with Pioneer's PDP-4350HD ($5,500) and Panasonic's TH-42XVS30U ($6,500), both packed with high-tech features and the latest in digital A/V connections. Keep reading for the details on each set, and click to see PDFs for a comparison table of features as well as lab results below. PDF: Features Checklist PDF: In the Lab