This 42-inch plasma screen doesn't get off to a flying start: a scan of the 42X4R's specifications reveals the lack of a built-in tuner. So we're dealing with a screen here, not a TV. This is a disadvantage that's expanded upon with the revelation that this screen hasn't any Scarts either.
That points to one thing: this 42-inch screen is made for high-definition. This is confirmed by the two HDMIs and two component video inputs. This future proofing is admirable (we'd like to see other flatscreen manufacturers adopting it as a matter of course) but limiting: you'll only be able to receive standard-def pictures using lower quality composite or S-video connections rather than the RGB Scart route.
Connectivity problems aside, the screen looks decent enough, with its striking colour scheme setting off the slender proportions of the frame a treat. If you want the matching speakers and a stand though, be prepared to pay for them: they're not included in the screen's price.
If you plump for the optional stand, speakers and tuner, the 43X4R's price creeps up to a more expensive £2,600, which causes a reconsideration of the screen's initial bargain status. That said, the speakers are pretty good, with impressive treble and a subtlety of execution.
Getting set up isn't much fun, though: the onscreen menus are a jargon-heavy exercise in frustration. The same goes for the unfriendly remote. Still once those hurdles are overcome, the screen turns out to have a high feature count, with Crystal Clear Driving circuitry (for picture brightness) and Advanced Intra Field Noise reduction (for motion noise) worthy of note.
Secondary features include gamma tweaks for optimising the brightness and contrast balance, two 'theatre' picture presets and picture-in-picture features.
Grouchy but good
The PlasmaSync 42X4R's pictures are better than we were expecting, considering the screen's user-unfriendliness. With our standard-definition DVD of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and a high-definition feed of perennial favourite Planet Earth, pictures are generally clean looking and free from noise, indicating that the screen's features are earning their keep.
Colours too are natural (if not especially vibrant) and pictures have a general sharpness that's particularly impressive with HD material. Where this screen falls down is with black levels. Darker areas of the interior hotel scenes of Fear and Loathing... are too grey for our liking. They're also afflicted with that old plasma problem of dotting noise, even though in the main picture noise is well suppressed.
This screen delivers a likeable picture, but it's hardly a show-stopper. The lack of Scarts seems to indicate that this screen is happier with high-definition rather than standard-definition material. That said, the double helping of HDMIs should be applauded and encouraged.
The low price for this screen (£1,800) is offset by the additional cost of a tuner, stand and speakers. But if you have your own cinema system and Sky HD, it's a very appealing proposition. Shame about the lack of Scarts though...