Once known simply as 'plasma screens' in the collective consciousness, the 42-inch TV is where the flatscreen dream started in the late 1990s - and where it's still at its most innovative and best.

It's something of a sweet spot for the latest smart TV tech, with the availability of ever-cheaper bigger TVs, 40 to 42-inch TV models are in danger of being regarded as small screens, which just goes to show how disgustingly spoilt we've all become.

Serious home cinema addicts have moved on to 50-inch and bigger screens, leaving this category a swarm of slashed prices and some great value - though thoroughly advanced - options that can drag a living room or bedroom into the modern age.

Arguably the minimum size where both Full HD (now standard) and 3D makes sense, and where a Blu-ray player and Freeview HD (also now standard) become a must, the 40-42-inch TV size hasn't lost its allure, despite becoming affordable.

So here's our breakdown of the current best 40-inch and 42-inch TVs today...

Panasonic TX-42AS500 review

Panasonic TX-42AS500

A great smart TV for a very reasonable price

A good value way to get into the world of smart TV, this 42-inch Full HD TV boasts plenty of apps, a fabulous and friendly user interface, Freeview HD, great viewing angles and wide digital file support. Two HDMI inputs and a touch of motion blur are the lows on an otherwise highly impressive effort that's ideal for a living room. My Home Screen is the star turn, but the user interface in general is excellent. The presence of Netflix and all BBC apps is great, too, while there's a comprehensive support for digital video and music file formats over DLNA networking and from a USB HDD or thumbdrive. The slim bezel is a real selling point, and pictures are highly watchable across all sources.

Read: Panasonic TX-42AS500 review

Panasonic TX-42AS600 review

Panasonic TX-42AS600

The most affordable Freetime TV packs in all UK catch-up TV apps

This TV is a step up in Panasonic's range from the one above, and it's all about usability. Pictures from all sources are clean, with HD channels and Blu-ray in particular reasonably fluid and with just enough contrast and colour to compete. It's Freetime that really excites however, the Freesat-centric catch-up TV service that's not available on the model below. Bringing not only excellent usability, but all key catch-up TV apps for the UK, it complements the excellent My Home Screen user interface, and adds a Netflix app. The TX-42AS600 also plays nicely with digital video, music and photo files.

Read: Panasonic TX-42AS600 review

Samsung UE40H6400

Samsung UE40H6400

Some strong features are slightly undermined by annoying flaws

The UE40H6400 has all the right credentials to become a best-seller for Samsung. Set up right, its crispy Full HD pictures, rich colours, and punchy contrast look great with most types of content. The brand's Smart Hub proposition remains strong, although some of the latest tweaks are less than compelling.

Casual gaming and social media feel crowbar'd in from the mobile playbook. With Sony stealing the performance high-ground with its W8 series (below), and Panasonic offering arguably the slickest Smart environment with Freetime, this set is up against serious competition. Overall though, it comes recommended with only minor caveats.

Read: Samsung UE40H6400 review

Sony KDL-42W653A review

Sony KDL-42W653A

A great budget TV with superb picture quality

Ducking out of 3D with the 42W653A has proved a masterstroke by Sony. Deciding to ditch a feature most people are no longer bothered about has enabled the brand to retain more of its latest picture processing power for the 42W653A. It has also allowed Sony to use a more contrast-rich source panel than they did with the W805 series. The 42W653A's picture quality really is excellent for its money, while a ground-breakingly low input lag performance also makes it a stellar option for serious gamers.

Read: Sony KDL-42W653A review

Samsung UE42F5500 review

Samsung UE42F5500

A great value LCD TV with a few minor flaws

A great-value TV currently going for a very low price, Samsung's UE42F5500 makes a fine choice for a living room. Motion blur is a serious issue when it comes to picture quality, granted, but it's the appearance of the Smart Hub and a great Freeview HD interface that most impress. It's the use of a dual core processor which speeds everything up and that makes the UE42F5500 such a joy to use. It's hardly the last word in picture quality, but the UE42F5500 makes a fine, affordable telly and a great value example of a thoroughly smart TV.

Read: Samsung UE42F5500 review

Toshiba 40L3453DB review

Toshiba 40L3453DB

A super cheap bargain TV, but enthusiasts will want more

The 40L3453DB is essentially a 40-inch TV at a no-frills price that actually offers a few frills! These include a passable smart TV system complete with some video streaming sources; multimedia playback via USB and DLNA; and picture technology that includes a pseudo 200Hz engine and a full HD resolution. It's also well connected for its money, with three HDMIs doing HD video duties rather than the two you might have expected. Best of all, although its pictures don't truly excel in any department they do avoid most of the horrors commonly associated with budget TVs. Just don't expect much from its sound, and be prepared to be patient if you regularly use the sluggish smart features.

Read: Toshiba 40L3453DB review

Finlux 40F8073-T review

Finlux 40F8073-T

Another flawed yet superb value 40-inch TV

Like some of the other TVs on show here, the 40F8073-T is truly excellent value. A decent TV with any kind of apps usually costs around £500, with exceptions to that rule regularly disappointing with a total lack of usability and processing power. The 40F8073-T's success on all counts (though don't expect top picture and sound quality) makes it an excellent value choice for a living room, with thoroughly usable media software and even a web browser contributing to a great value package.

Read: Finlux 40F8073-T review

10 best 40 and 42-inch TVs in the world today

Panasonic TX-L42E6B

Mid-range 2D marvel with a slinky silver finish

Best bought for My Home Screen - 2013's finest smart TV innovation - this 42-inch TV is also seriously good looking, with a super-slim frame and silver finish. The easiest-to-use smart TV we've tested to date, the multiple home screen approach provides a highly visual yet simple system. The picture has plenty of dynamism, too, with natural-looking images that are a notch above the Finlux's. It's a potentially brilliant gaming monitor, too, with low input lag and a spotless treatment of HD sources.

A surprisingly open-sounding mid-range and some well-rounded trebles are enough to convince us of the Panasonic TX-L42E6B's good value status, though if you're looking for something slightly smaller then you should consider the Panasonic TX-L39E6B, an almost uniquely 39-inch sized screen that's otherwise identical to this one, and sells for £510.

Read: Panasonic TX-L42E6B review | Compare the best prices

10 best 40 and 42-inch TVs in the world today

Samsung UE40F6400

3D and voice control are overshadowed by Smart Hub

It may not be a patch on the Panasonic TX-L42E6B 42-inch TV looks-wise, but there's a lot to love about the Samsung UE40F6400. As well as Freeview HD, it packs in both voice control and active shutter 3D modes on top of a touchpad remote and awesome integration with Samsung Galaxy devices. Not bad for a mid-range TV, and though voice control of its S Recommendation search facility for on-demand apps isn't always spot-on, the search feature itself is excellent.

Pictures are a riot of ballistic colours, decent contrast and fine HD detailing, while the 200Hz LCD panel at the core ensures that everything is largely free from motion blur. However, all of this is overshadowed by Samsung's Smart Hub, which once again proves that it's the most app-packed around. Nicely designed for 2013, its exclusive hosting of on-demand apps for all UK terrestrial broadcasters makes it hard to beat.

Read: Samsung UE40F6400 review | Compare the best prices

10 best 40 and 42-inch TVs in the world today

Sony KDL-40W905A

One-touch NFC smartphone pairing and superb pictures

In true Sony style the Japanese brand has seen fit to furnish one of its flagship TVs with a smart TV system dominated by its own content. Video Unlimited, Music Unlimited and Play Memories jostle for position with the likes of BBC iPlayer and YouTube in what the manufacturer calls the SEN - Sony Entertainment Network - but it's not as impressive as similar hubs from Panasonic or Samsung. However, what the Sony KDL-40W905A 40-inch TV does offer is a firm focus on picture quality over everything else; nuanced colours, sublime detail and terrific local dimming (which helps achieve deep and intense black) create a pitch-perfect picture in both 2D and 3D.

The icing on the cake is the most polished smartphone-TV linking system yet. Touch your NFC-ready smartphone to the Sony KDL-40W905A's slim NFC-equipped TV remote control to pair the phone to the TV. Its static SideView app is nothing on the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B's second screen app, but this Sony's easy to use interface and even better images are a fine option.

Read: Sony KDL-40W905A review

10 best 40 and 42-inch TVs in the world today

Samsung UE40F8000

Flagship flatscreen packs an almighty punch

It may only be a couple of hundred quid more than the step-down Samsung UE40F7000, but this, Samsung's flagship 40-inch TV for 2013, makes a suitably impressive case for top dog status by adding an unusual arc-shaped stand as well as a higher-grade panel and more advanced LED micro-dimming. Packing an almighty punch on all three key fronts of design, performance and features, the incredibly slender Samsung UE40F8000 impresses most of all in the shadows. Feed it a really dark scene and the screen manages to deliver an excellent black level depth that stretches all the way across the screen with near immaculate uniformity.

There's even a new Cinema Black feature that dims the sections of Edge LED lighting where the black bars are above and below some films. As if that wasn't enough, the Samsung UE40F8000 in 3D mode handles motion and crosstalk better than ever, with scintillating results.

Read: Samsung UE55F8000 review

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