Today's big movies are made for big screens, but few among us can actually afford a decent sized plasma or LCD on which to watch ever-growing DVD collections. Wrong.

Goodmans and its fellow budget-orientated peers are starting to deliver plasma screens with prices accessible to a lot of people. Okay, they are bound to be stripped of the extras and stylistic flourishes found on the Hitachis, Sonys and Pioneers of this world, but our first impressions of the GTV42P2 are very good.

Plain Jane

On looks it doesn't rate too highly, but the minimalist design approach and matching silver finish to the external tuner/multimedia box, screen frame and speakers won't look out of place in your lounge.

The Goodmans initially surprised us by including a much more comprehensive set of sockets than we ever could have hoped for. The highlight is unquestionably a DVI input, but unfortunately it's not HDCP-compliant, so Sky's HDTV transmissions next year will remain out of reach (although the screen resolution of 852 x 480 is not enough to correctly display HD material anyway).

Conspicuous by their absence, however, are component video inputs, and the bad news doesn't stop there. The VGA and DVI inputs are not configured to take either progressive scan or highdefinition sources either.

When we gave our Alien vs Predator test disc a spin it was immediately obvious that contrast is a problem for the Goodmans. Any time the screen was asked to serve up a deep black colour, we instead saw a misty grey that flattens the image, mutes colours and hides background details. Oddly, this is particularly the case if you use superior RGB Scart as opposed to a composite or S-video feed.

Because the screen resolution is low, images from all sources lack anything like the sort of fine details we've been lucky enough to have seen on many of today's LCD and plasma rivals, leaving them looking soft, imprecise, furry-edged and one-dimensional.

The image also looks more unstable than usual, thanks to the appearance of rather a lot of picture noise - especially flickering around small, bright picture elements and traces of the dotty fizzing over horizontal motion that still afflicts the plasma world's less accomplished screens.

Cheering colours

While lacking much of the brightness and vigour found on many flatscreens, colours are at least quite natural in tone, even when it comes to those ever-tricky skin tones. The picture also doesn't suffer too badly with plasma's traditional colour banding problem, meaning that once your eyes have adjusted to the other shortcomings we've just highlighted, you do at least start to perceive the image as fairly natural.

The speakers prove to be something of a mixed bag. On the one hand they portray an unusually expansive soundstage that seems to spread far and wide to either side of the screen, and use impressive amounts of detail to paint a pleasantly 3D audio portrait. On the other, there's not really enough mid-range and bass power to balance the treble out, meaning things can very quickly start to sound harsh at the sort of high volumes that films like Alien vs Predator require.

While we can't wait for the day that we can give full marks to a budget plasma screen, that day is no nearer with the GTV42P2. Its performance is uninspiring, and it's in danger of becoming a defunct screen once HDTV gets going. With a heavy heart, we have to recommend you look elsewhere for your budget big-screen.