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Vizio P42 HDe 42-inch Plasma Display Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 January 2006
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Vizio P42 HDe 42-inch Plasma Display
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I’m a front-projection guy, so having to unhook my trusty Panasonic for the duration of the review was a little gut-wrenching. I maneuvered the P42 atop a low media bench that placed the screen about two feet up from the floor, with my chair approximately 10 feet away. When I was sitting in my primary listening position, the P42’s height and distance gave me almost a perfect horizontal line of sight from the center of the screen. I connected the P42 to my reference Denon 4806 receiver, via a Monster HDMI to DVI cable, which provided full video switching from my numerous components. I kept my set-up pretty much the same from there on, relying on my Denon 3910 universal player, JVC D-VHS, and my Direct TV HD box for high-definition programming. My Definitive Technology ProCinema 80 system rounded out the system, with all cabling, both audio and video, coming from Monster.

I began by cueing up my Digital Video Essentials DVD to calibrate the P42 for the best possible performance. Out of the box, most television sets, be they plasma or CRT, come calibrated for the best image on your dealer’s shelf. This usually means the color and picture controls are maxed out to ensure the brightest, most colorful image possible to stand out in a crowd. Sadly, most people don’t re-calibrate their sets and live with this funky image for as long as they own their televisions. Out of the box, the P42 is very bright, with a sharp red shift in color. I chose the Digital Video Essentials disc over some other calibration discs because I feel it’s a bit easier to use, and if you’re at all new to calibration, it walks you through every step, allowing you to check your progress along the way. The P42’s set-up menu is very clear and easy enough to navigate, which made the calibration process that much easier. I was able to correct the P42’s red shift slightly; however, I was never able to completely render the image “neutral.” Also, when correcting for one aspect of the picture, others would quickly become a little out of sorts, so eventually I had to settle for the best solution overall. After going through the calibration dance for about an hour, for both the P42’s DVI and component inputs, I was able to achieve better than average black levels and a fairly even color balance and saturation. If what I’ve described sounds at all daunting to you, there are professionals out there who can help you calibrate your set for a very nominal fee. Given that most plasma sets can cost thousands of dollars, an extra couple hundred towards proper calibration is money well spent.

I concluded my set-up procedure by attaching the P42’s speakers. The P42 includes a set of small speaker cables to attach the speakers to the P42’s pushpin terminals.

The Movies
I started with M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village” (Buena Vista Home Entertainment). I chose “The Village” for its many scenes featuring dense woodland landscapes, which can really test any screen’s metal, be it state of the art or budget. I set the Denon 3910’s DVI output to 720p to take full advantage of the P42’s heightened resolution settings. Beginning with the opening scene at the funeral, the windswept blades of grass showed little to no signs of “jaggies” or pixilation. While all of the elements in the frame were smooth and clearly defined, I did notice a bit of noise in the darker regions of the image, as well as the brightest. Also, there were hints of color banding happening in the lightest areas of the image, like around the flickering candles that light many of the characters’ bungalows. Shifting my focus to the P42’s black levels, I found them to be rather admirable. The P42 went a little darker than my reference Panasonic projector, which was to be expected. However, for a plasma screen, it didn’t go quite as deep as some of the best. During the film’s darker scenes featuring members of the cast, I found the gradation between the blacks and darker skin tones to be a bit splotchy. Even though the P42 had excellent separation between levels of gray during my set-up time with the Digital Video Essential disc, its gradation between darker levels of color was often less than perfect. Regardless of the color rendering, the P42’s edge fidelity was topnotch, resulting in a clear, three-dimensional picture. Overall, the colors were very rich and vibrant, with the appropriate amount of saturation with both light and dark scenes. The P42’s heightened resolution provided excellent detail during the film’s many close-ups, allowing me to see further into the characters’ eyes and emotions than ever before. The P42 avoided a lot of the pitfalls that I find with most plasma screens, which is an overly glassy image with smoother than thou skin tones and color gradations. Despite some of the P42’s shortcomings, I was able to enjoy the film in a way I wasn’t expecting, given my propensity for much larger screens.

D-VHS titles are a little hard to come by these days, so I was forced to turn to an old favorite in “The Peacemaker” (DreamWorks). With its true HD resolution, I was able to take full advantage of the P42’s capabilities. Immediately, many of the problems I encountered with standard DVDs were lessened or ceased to be all together with true high-definition content. Starting with the blacks, they were deeper and more clearly defined with high-definition material when compared to DVD. The gradations between blacks and darker levels of color were still a bit muddy, but they improved again over DVD. The skin tones also shaped up considerably in terms of true color and saturation. The red shift in color was all but gone with the exception of the darker regions of the image. The red shift, however, did cause a slight green tint to the blacks, where they met with a lighter shade of color. This anomaly was only apparent intermittently and became less of an issue during daylight or well-lit scenes. Movements, like rapid camera pans or characters running after baddies, showed no signs of pixilation or smearing against the New York backdrop. Often, when looking at high rise buildings during action sequences, the vertical lines of the buildings themselves can become harsh and begin to blur together, thus destroying the illusion of depth. I’m pleased to announce the P42 rendered every corridor of the city faithfully and clearly. The noise level in the image also dropped dramatically, as did the banding in the lightest regions of the image. If you want a great test of all that the P42 has to offer with high-definition material, cue up the last scene with Nicole Kidman going for a swim in the community pool. The ripples on the surface of the water mixed with the wonderful color saturation of the blues makes the water real enough to have you want to just dive in.

My building is currently being remodeled so my high-definition service has been a bit touch and go. However, I was able to obtain a clear signal from a CBS affiliate, which meant all the “CSI” I could shake a stick at. Knowing nothing about the show, I was able to really focus on the image. First off, I was struck by the sheer range and depth of the P42’s color palette. As with the D-VHS copy of the “Peacemaker,” the image depth was phenomenal, allowing me to see clearly through the various layers of glass and techno hardware that make up much of the “CSI” sets. Edge detail was superb and never lost focus, even when holding on a character’s blowing hair against a lighter background. There were several outdoor shots featuring steam billowing from the city’s manhole covers, which never showed any signs of breakup or pixilation. Black levels were great, helping the image to pop right off the screen. Darker areas of color, mainly in the skin tones, still remained a bit patchy at times, but not distractingly so. Again, noise and banding were held tightly in check through the high-definition feed.

Since not everyone is going to have access to high-definition material, or there just simply isn’t enough of it yet, it’s important to look at standard-definition programming as well. I turned my satellite tuner to one such channel with less than stellar results. With standard-definition programming, the P42 provided a washed-out image that was plagued with grayish blacks and muddy colors. Edge detail suffered dramatically, as did image depth. Noise levels and pixilation rose significantly with 480i source material. Also, the P42 didn’t automatically adjust to changes in aspect ratios, so you may find yourself going from watching the “beautiful” people to everyone needing to go on “The Biggest Loser.”

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