It had to happen eventually. LG has been edging nearer and nearer that magic £2,000 figure for a 42in plasma TV - and with its new sub-£2,000 RZ-42PX11, it's finally made it. In fact, we've seen it selling at Comet online for as little as £1,450. Remarkable.
Unfortunately, I haven't been impressed by LG's previous entry-level panels. But behind the scenes, the brand has been honing plenty of new PDP technology...
Aesthetically the RZ-42PX11 is run-of-the mill. The silver extremities looks plasticky, while a matt-black inner frame looks more like a last-minute bid to add style rather than a truly heartfelt, inspired design statement.
Things pick up considerably with a hunt for connections, though. As well as three Scarts (one's RGB), the RZ-42PX11 confounds my price-induced expectations by providing a standard PC input, component video inputs ready for high-definition and progressive scan DVD feeds and a DVI input ready to work with today's new generation of DVI/HDMI-equipped DVD players. It's common for budget flatpanel TVs to dispense with high-def and/or digital video inputs, so the LG's provision of both at this price point is impressive.
Remarkably, the RZ-42PX11 also belies its price by carrying plenty of features. These are headed up by LG's so-called XD Engine picture processing system. The XD Engine claims to apply six separate digital processes to standard resolution pictures in a bid to boost brightness, contrast, detail and colours, as well as reducing signal noise. I've seen LG screens carrying this before and not been especially impressed - but with Samsung's DNIe technology recently taking big leaps forward, this latest incarnation of XD Engine promises to be exciting.
Other neat picture tweaks include a dedicated flesh tone adjustment, noise reduction for certain sources, a 'cinema mode' for improving motion with film as opposed to video sources, and separate adjustment of the red, green and blue picture components.
There's even a slick picture-in-picture system at your disposal, plus a clever 'low power' option that potentially makes the RZ-42PX11 even more of a bargain-hunter's dream by reducing the brightness to use less power and, potentially, increase the TV's life-span.
So far, the RZ-42PX11 hasn't put a foot wrong. Its connections, features and price all impress. And on paper, its specifications seem the business too: namely a supposed 3,000:1 contrast ratio and 1,000cd/m2 brightness rating. Only the meagre 852 x 480 native resolution causes consternation.
...We salute you
The good news is that the RZ-42PX11's pictures rock. I don't know what LG's been taking since its last budget offering, but I want some of it!
There are huge improvements across nearly every part of the screen's performance. Colour fidelity is more vibrant and smoothly saturated than before and, even more noticeably, hues are very natural in tone. Even low-lit scenes enjoy impressively believable flesh tones free of the old green tinges that characterised early LG PDPs.
There are also significant leaps forward when it comes to traditional plasma problems like colour banding and fizzing noise on motion. In fact, with highquality sources like a high-definition or DVI progressive DVD feed, it didn't suffer with either of these problems - it's worth remembering though that the restrictive native resolution of this panel means that higher-definition sources are scaled down to fit (don't expect it to look as good with high-def material particularly when compared to an alternative XGA resolution). And even with bog-standard TV tuner fare they're bearable as long as you don't set the contrast too high.
Progress can also be seen in the screen's fine-detail response. The pictures are pleasingly detailed, with perfectly rendered, glimmer-free edges that clearly benefit from another of the RZ-42PX11's unexpected feature additions - a Faroudja DCDi de-interlacer.
Contrast is acceptable without being outstanding. The quoted 3,000:1 contrast ratio is hopelessly optimistic (the real contrast ratio is actually 240:1), but at the same time the screen delivers tangible blacks, giving pictures plenty of depth.
If even half of the improvements detailed above are down to the latest generation of the XD Engine - and from our lab data, I suspect they are - then the system has progressed from being much ado about nothing to an effective bit of screen engineering.
On the debit side, there's evidence of colour banding and motion noise with lower quality video inputs, and you won't have to look too hard to find plasma's familiar green and grey dot crawl over dark picture areas. But this is me being picky. The RZ-42PX11 is without a doubt frighteningly good value for money.
I suspect that the slender stereo speakers on the RZ-42PX11 will outperform your expectations too, presenting a wide soundstage packed with the sort of subtle details that bring a good movie mix to life. They're no substitute for a dedicated sound system - dialogue can sound a touch overwhelmed when the going gets tough - but for uncritical use, the results are fine.
Home cinema is a funny old game. You get up one morning expecting to spend another day in the company of a routine budget flatpanel TV - and end up with the rush of adrenaline that comes from the feeling of seeing an important product.
In many respects, LG's RZ-42PX11 annihilates every other 42in plasma screen currently at the sub-£2,000 mark; the caveat of course, is that this is not an HD-ready panel. If you're content with a screen that looks good with today's generation of DVD and digital TV sources, you'll find it difficult to justify spending more.