V, Inc. Vizio P42HD Plasma HD Monitor

HD for an SD price.

Note: the other TVs in this Face Off include the Panasonic TH-42PD25 Plasma HDTV, and LG RU-42PX11 Plasma HD Monitor.

The Vizio P42HD is $200 less expensive than our other two competitors, yet it sports 20 percent greater horizontal resolution and 60 percent greater vertical resolution. At 1024 by 768, it's one of the very few HD-resolution plasmas at this price point. That alone makes it worth a look.

Our first selection was the "Montage of Images" from the Video Essentials DVD. Most of the panelists remarked that the V, Inc. seemed brighter than the others. Adrienne even said that it was the brightest and liveliest image but conceded that it was rather noisy. The apparent brightness was due, at least in part, to the extremely high color temperature. The normal color-temperature setting was way too cool. The only other color-temperature adjustment was global RGB controls, which require extra equipment to set accurately, so I left them alone until the second half of the test. One clip that got everyone scribbling on their questionnaires featured a close-up of a boy's face: As the camera closes in, severe false contouring, most likely due to quantization errors, became readily apparent. The LG also had this problem, but the Panasonic did not. With several other selections, the panelists noticed this issue in gradations of shadows. Throughout the test, each reviewer noted this plasma's video noise and various artifacts (further prompting revealed that many of the artifacts were quantization errors).

Our second selection, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, a very dark movie, didn't do the V, Inc. any favors. With the highest black level in the bunch, the P42HD wasn't well liked among the panelists, although some thought that the image seemed to have more detail. Amy mentioned this on the next selection: The Fifth Element. Early on in chapter two, there's a close-up of a bearded face, and high marks were given all around for the P42HD's detail here.

Gladiator was our next selection. The flyover of the Colosseum at the end of chapter 12 is a great test for deinterlacers and scalers. Even though there were artifacts in the synthetic Snell & Wilcox test pattern on Video Essentials, the P42HD handled this scene about as good as the processing star, the LG. While not perfect, this plasma doesn't require a decent progressive-scan DVD player to get a watchable image.

When we switched to HD material, the first thing that Scott commented on was that he didn't like that the only component video input that could handle 480i couldn't do HD (and vice versa). This isn't mentioned in the manual, nor is it labeled as such on the unit. With HD material, the praise for the V, Inc.'s detail level continued. At this point, the panelists assumed that all three plasmas were the same resolution, but they had their suspicions. Scott and Amy thought that, as far as detail was concerned, this one looked the best.

After calibration, everyone thought that the picture and colors were a lot more natural, but not perfect. Scott felt that there was still a slightly greenish tint to the picture. Amy pointed out that the fleshtones that were off before calibration were much warmer and more realistic after calibration.

As far as looks went, this was the clear winner. Everyone liked the slim bezel, and Scott said specifically that he liked the lack of speakers (although they do come in the box and can be mounted, if desired). Amy and Adrienne both liked the remote, with Adrienne pointing out that it was the only remote that had discrete input-access buttons.

As you'll see in the rest of the Face Off, ranking the contenders proved especially difficult. Each plasma was strong in one area and weak in another. Each panelist's favorite changed almost on a source-by-source basis. For example, Maureen thought that the P42HD looked the best with The Fifth Element but the worst with Video Essentials. Scott picked it as his number one with HD material before calibration but last with SD material. What it came down to in the end was that the V, Inc.'s processing wasn't as good as that of the LG, and its black level and noise were worse than those of the other two. These factors weren't offset, as far as our panelists were concerned, by the higher detail level and lower cost. All and all, not bad, just outplayed.

• HD resolution
• Low price