Test Report: Panasonic TC-L42d2 LCD HDTV

What is this heathen? This infidel? This sacrilegious interloper? After years of espousing that plasma was the way to go for big-screen TVs, Panasonic comes out with this, the TC-L42D2, a 42-inch LCD set. Such blasphemy. Oh, wait, it turns out the company has always made LCD TVs. My bad. But in this size? Bowing to market pressure, the company has upsized its LCD line, which now overlaps with what had solely been plasma territory in Panasonicville.

At first glance, you wouldn't be able to tell that Panasonic hasn't been making LCDs this size for ages. It's got all the latest bells and whistles one would expect in a late-model LCD. There's LED edge lighting (top and bottom, to be specific), and it refreshes at 120 Hz. It's Energy Star-qualified, and it even comes with an iPod dock.

The biggest difference between the TC-L42D2 and most other LCDs is IPS, or In-Plane Switching, a different design of the liquid crystal that makes the image in an LCD TV. First developed by Hitachi in the 1990s, IPS in larger screen sizes has been brought to market pretty much only by Hitachi, LG, and Panasonic. The difference between IPS and the more common TN (Twisted Nematic) and PVA (Patterned Vertical Alignment) designs is in how the crystals move. Think of each crystal as a cigar. With the other technologies, the cigars are vertical in one mode, then lie flat perpendicular to the screen in the other. When a pixel in an IPS panel is required to be on (lit up) or off (black), however, the crystals may be vertical or horizontal but are always in line with the plane of the screen. Like hands on a clock. But with cigars.

Historically, IPS's biggest advantage over the other LCD technologies has been its viewing angle. Unlike with most LCDs, you can view an IPS panel from an off-center seat without a significant reduction in contrast or color accuracy. In this way, its performance is more like plasma. The main drawbacks to IPS have been poor con- trast ratio and motion blur due to slower response times. Has Panasonic minimized these cons while keeping the pros? Is the TC-L42D2 worth the premium over a 42-inch Panasonic plasma ($200, or 15% as of this writing)? We shall see.