Life continues to get harder for traditional budget brands like Goodmans, Bush and Alba. Today's attack on their market share comes from no less a name than Philips, in the shape of the 42in 42PF9946 - yours for just £1,900. This frankly measly sum gets you a major hunk of TV.
The 42PF9946 wears Philips' 'old-school' attire, which means it carries rather more frame around the screen than most of today's svelte rivals. While some may not like the amount of extra wall space the 42PF9946 takes up, there's no denying that it does at least wear its size well.
There's a big disappointment in store with the 42PF9946's connections, though. There are no component video or digital video inputs, making the screen incompatible with any normal high definition video feeds, including Sky's upcoming high-definition broadcasts.
There's a standard VGA PC input, but this won't synch with even a D-VHS 1080i/720p feed via a component to VGA adapter. As befits a plasma TV stripped down to hit a price, the 42PF9946 sports precious few features of interest, just a contrast booster and noise reduction system, plus Dolby Virtual audio processing.
The 42PF9946's picture is pretty impressive though - or at least, it's a cut above the vast majority of the sub-£2k 42in plasma posse. Colours leap off the screen in a way seldom seen in the budget plasma world, ensuring that the picture entices you in and doesn't let your attention wander.
The rich colours are painted against an impressively deep backdrop too, thanks to a solid talent with black levels that keeps background details easily visible and delivers fairly extensive depth of field. The 42PF9946 also delivers more sharpness and fine detail than many of its budget rivals.
Inevitably, this low-end screen doesn't enjoy Philips' Pixel Plus system, but the picture never seems to lose focus, portraying some pretty fine textures and never looking anything less than precise. What's more, the 42PF9946 also manages to suppress that common plasma nasty, colour banding - few budget brethren deliver such smoothly graduated colours.
The 42PF9946's budget ambitions are revealed, though, in three key ways. Firstly, the screen suffers rather with the traditional plasma problem of greenish dot crawl, especially over dark picture areas. This can make dark scenes look slightly 'alive'. Secondly, the screen only tackles with partial success the plasma problem of fizzing over horizontal motion. Finally, the screen's colours, while vibrant, aren't always completely natural, especially with low-lit skin tones.
Sonically, the 42PF9946 performs well above its station. That hefty chassis pays dividends in the form of a really potent, loud soundstage that contains considerably more bass 'meat' than usual. The mid-range is aggressively portrayed too, ensuring that dialogue is always clear. The only slight weaknesses are a lack of treble sparkle and some occasionally audible audio spillage from the tuner during Scart viewing.
In pure performance terms, the 42PF9946 is certainly no cutting-edge superstar, and can't hold a flag to some of Philips' own higher-end plasma and LCD models. But throw its price into the equation, and it's actually a hugely attractive proposition.
Except for one thing: its lack of high-definition compatibility. We understand Philips' argument that there's a market out there for people who just want to get a big hang-on-the-wall TV as cheaply as possible and don't give a monkey's about high-def, but this argument doesn't really hold up when you consider how little extra in percentage terms you need to spend to get a screen that will handle the format of the future. John Archer