Plasma in Steps

What We Think
TH-42PX50U 50PF9830 P55XHA40US
With tweaking, it can deliver clean pictures with strong contrast and vibrant, natural color. Great for the videophile on a budget. A reasonably priced 50-incher with a great look and numerous cool features, but overall picture performance comes up short. Pricey on a dollars-per-inch basis, but its impressive picture, video processing, and picture adjustments all score high.
Plasma HDTV screens go up to a breathtaking 71 inches, but most sets sold now are entry-level 42-inch models. With an average cost of $3,000 and falling, it's no wonder they're so popular. Even plasmas with 50-inch or larger screens, which used to be exorbitantly expensive, are hitting earthbound prices. You can now find 50-inch plasmas for less than $5,000, and even some 60-inch models are under $7k. As prices keep dropping, more people are starting to think big when shopping for a plasma TV. But what happens when you step up in size - is the bigger image always worth the higher price?

To get an idea, we rounded up an interesting trio of plasma sets with screens ranging from 42 to 55 inches, spread out across a wide range of prices: Panasonic's 42-inch TH-42PX50U ($2,700), Philips's 50-inch 50PF9830A ($4,499), and Fujitsu's 55-inch P55XHA40US ($9,999). Aside from screen size, the key difference between these sets is resolution - the Panasonic uses 1,024 x 768 pixels to create images, while the Philips and Fujitsu each provide a more generous 1,366 x 768 pixels. Beyond this, you'll see that each company has packed its TV with dramatically different features to capture your imagination - and dollars. Did they succeed? Let's look and see.

key features Panasonic TH-42PX50U Philips 50PF9830A Fujitsu P55XHA40US
Screen Size 42 inches 50 inches 55 inches
native Resolution 1,024 x 768 pixels 1,366 x 768 pixels 1,366 x 768 pixels
Inputs (besides composite/S-video) HDMI, component video, CableCARD HDMI, component video, CableCARD, Ethernet, flash-media card, and USB HDMI, DVI, VGA, component video, RS-232
Other built-in HDTV tuner; built-in speakers built-in HDTV tuner; Ambilight 2 backlighting Color Focus fine color adjustment; Ambient Sensor daylight contrast control