Plasma televisions continue to offer the best value among the larger flat-panel displays, and the Vizio VP42 HDTV is an attractively priced 42-inch plasma TV that delivers a well-contrasted picture and, for the most part, accurate color representation.
Other than a couple of quibbles about its handling of standard-definition video and about some undocumented advanced picture controls, the VP42 turned in a solid widescreen viewing experience without sacrificing important video-connection options or ease of use.
The VP42 HDTV weighs nearly 90 pounds, and Vizio wisely recommends that at least two people tackle the task of unpacking and hefting it onto its new perch. Including its factory-attached base stand, the VP42 measures a full 44.3 by 29.8 by 11.4 inches.
Setup couldn't have been easier. A plastic pouch taped to the display's protective shipping wrapper contained a handy fold-out poster that listed the included accessories (power cord, remote, A/V cable) and detailed the color-coded connection options on the rear of the TV.
The back of the poster outlined the initial setup process. Vizio also includes information about professional installation-service options for owners who wish to take a hands-off approach.
Style is certainly subjective, but the Vizio VP42 offers a modern appearance that features a glossy black bezel and fixed bottom-mounted stereo speakers (2 x 10 watts) concealed behind a silver colored mesh grille.
The VP42's speakers were capable of producing impressively loud sound that didn't exhibit any signs of clipping at high levels, but I did tweak the bass adjustment slightly to "warm up" the overall sound quality.
An acrylic accent centered on the grille is engraved to let people know the VP42 is a plasma HDTV, not an LCD, and on-display controls were within easy reach along the lower right edge of the TV.
The downward-facing A/V inputs on the rear of the display include two HDMI ports, two sets of component video inputs, a VGA input for PC use, and a single RF input that can be used for cable or antenna reception. I had no trouble using any of the A/V connections with a variety of standard and premium cables.
Like most plasma HDTVs at this size, the VP42's native resolution is 1,024-by-768 pixels (rectangular pixel shape). The maximum HD input resolution with this TV is 1080i. Vizio recommends that PCs connected via VGA use the relatively common 1,360-by-768 widescreen resolution.
Crafted in a slender, sculpted shape, the VP42's remote control is slightly tapered in the middle and rubberized on the back for easy grip with one hand.
The remote's numerous buttons give it a somewhat cluttered appearance, but my thumb naturally landed near the channel and volume controls when I picked it up. The remote's relatively small buttons offer decent tactile feedback, but they do lack a backlight or a glow-in-the-dark function.
An extensive list of codes provided in the manual lets the remote control additional A/V components such as a VCR, cable box, or DVD player. I found that the remote remained operable out to at least 15 feet and at angles nearly perpendicular to the front of the display.
The VP42's relatively basic menu options include independent picture adjustments for each video input, but I was mildly disappointed to note the lack of information in the manual regarding the TV's advanced picture adjustments.
Though most of these advanced features are well-labeled and should be familiar to most videophiles, complete documentation would be preferable.
Also, on-screen resolution and signal information are depicted using a poorly contrasted scheme of yellow text on a light-gray background that makes it unnecessarily difficult to read.
Prior to performing my tests, I configured the VP42's picture settings for optimal color, contrast, and detail. I was pleased to find that the TV's "normal" color temperature came very close to the standard used in broadcast and cinema.
Still, blue and red hues needed a slight increase to balance things out, and advanced color-temperature controls are provided in the standard user menu.
Primary and secondary color accuracy was quite good, with red, blue, and yellow being nearly perfect.
Cyan and magenta were also very close, but green was shifted toward blue rather than to the yellowish-green that is the ideal. That's because greens with too much blue also have the tendency to make half-dead lawns look lively.
It's worth mentioning that the VP42's minimum sharpness setting failed to eliminate all the edge "enhancements" that are not a part of the original video signal. This is not a deal-breaker, but I like to have the option of disabling such tweaks.
When I tested it with a library of challenging DVD video material, I found the VP42 to be good at preserving dark detail while maintaining realistic skin tones.
Video-noise reduction was also effective without significantly softening image detail, and I was impressed with how the VP42 handled fine gradients without noticeable banding or other image artifacts.
Even so, video containing fast motion was less detailed than I've seen on other plasma displays such as the NEC 42XR4.
That said, the VP42's result was nowhere near the total loss of detail I experienced when viewing the same content on the Westinghouse LVM-42w2 1080p LCD monitor.
Also, the TV's detection and processing of film-based video (encoded at 24 frames per second) was inconsistent.
Although 24-fps test clips on the HQV Benchmark test DVD were detected immediately, my oft-used scene from "Gladiator" required several seconds for the VP42 to lock on.
Given the TV's quality noise reduction, preservation of detail, and decent film-based video performance, VP42 owners shouldn't feel compelled to abandon a functioning DVD player that provides 480i output via component video for one that performs upscaling via HDMI, since the visual differences would likely be negligible.
I was also pleased to find the VP42 properly deinterlaced 1080i video, both static imagery and full-motion scenes. It may have less than half the pixels of a 1080p HDTV, but it puts every one to good use.
Contrast measurements (ANSI checkerboard) were an impressive 990:1 with a black level of 0.12 Cd/m2. That's among the darkest black levels I've measured to date from a plasma display.
The PC Magazine Editors' Choice NEC 42XR4 plasma display, which lists for more than twice the price, achieved a contrast ratio measurement of 1,001:1 with a 0.15 Cd/m2 black level.
Power-consumption measurements using an Extech Power Analyzer/Datalogger revealed the VP42 will cost its owner $3.37 a month, calculated using a rate of $0.13 per kWh at 4 hours of use per day/20 hours in standby mode.
For comparison, a 50-inch LG plasma that I am currently reviewing was calculated at $5.61 using this same formula.
The Vizio VP42 HDTV is a solid value for a quality high-definition plasma TV.
Although similarly sized LCD panels can offer up to twice the native resolution, plasma displays such as the VP42 generally perform better when displaying video containing fast motion.
The VP42 also delivered excellent image contrast and color quality, and it did so at wider viewing angles than all but the most expensive LCD HDTVs can manage.
BOTTOM LINE: The Vizio VP42 HDTV is an inexpensive plasma television that delivers a good-looking picture without a lot of fuss.
PROS: Very good image contrast. Good color representation. Excellent value.
CONS: Unable to eliminate edge enhancements completely. Inconsistent detection of film-based video. Bland-looking on-screen signal information.
COMPANY: Vizio Pty Ltd
Price: $1,099.99 List
Screen Size: 42 inches
Type: Plasma, HDTV
Native Resolution: 1024 x 768
Supported EDTV and HDTV Resolutions (HD Ready): 480p, 720p, 1080i, 480i
Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Video Inputs: Component, Composite, HDMI
PC Interfaces: Analog VGA
Built-in TV Tuner: NTSC, ATSC
Rated Maximum Viewing Angle: Horizontal: 178 degrees
Rated Maximum Viewing Angle: Vertical : 178 degrees
Brightness (Max): 120.4 cd/m^2
Max PC Resolution: 1024 x 768 pixels
EDITOR RATING: Four out of five stars
Image Quality: Four out of five stars
Value: Four and a half out of five stars
Usability: Three and a half out of five stars
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