With plasmas plummeting in price and LCDs getting better all the time, this 42in plasma from Sony looks expensive. Screens of the same size are going for as little as £1,000, so why should you wait until you can afford this one?

The answer is behind that floating screen, which is itself part of the justification for the price. Already a design classic, the screen is surrounded on all sides by a transparent glass frame, creating the impression that the picture is hanging in mid air, as if by magic.

The good looks extend to the multimedia box, which is generally well laden with connections. It can handle high-definition and progressive scan signals via component inputs, plus there are the usual RGB Scart/Svideo/ composite video suspects and inputs for a PC.

Disappointingly, however, there are no DVI nor HDMI jacks for digital signals, which also leaves this set unable to accept Sky's imminent HD service. Of course, this screen was on sale before we knew exactly how this was going to be delivered, but it does make the high price seem unjustified.

A trio of RF terminals and a conditional access module slot are connected with one of the KDE-P42MRX1's key features: a digital tuner. This is backed by an authoritative set of functions, including a very sophisticated EPG and fast digital teletext.

What goes some way to explaining this screen's price is its picture processing brains, AKA Wega Engine. We've been hugely impressed with Wega Engine on smaller Sony TVs, so let's hope it holds up here...

Happily it does - though arguably not quite so devastatingly well as we might have have hoped. The colours on show from our test disc, the US remake of The Ring, were particularly striking, combining one of the most natural tones we've seen on a plasma with breathtaking vibrancy and an almost complete dearth of picture noise.

And while we're on the subject of noise, we also have to give massive credit to the purity of the Wega Engine system. Unlike practically all systems found on rival screens, it throws up nothing in the way of nasty processing side effects, going about its amazingly sophisticated business - in real time, let's not forget - as if massively improving pictures was the easiest job in the world!

Traditional troubles

Sadly, however, the KDE-P42MRX1's Wega Engine isn't absolutely the most successful we've seen, although this is due to little glitches in Sony's core plasma technology rather than in the Wega Engine process. We spotted occasional evidence of the old quartet of traditional plasma weaknesses: fizzing behind movement, colour banding, mediocre contrast/black level response and green or grey dot crawl over dark areas. We know from experience that some other manufacturers' screens can handle these old-school issues better.

To be fair, they aren't much of an issue with high-definition or progressive scan, with which this Sony is as good as anything else we've seen. But with RGB Sky feeds or Freeview, their presence is undeniable.

There are no such negatives in the KDE-P42MRX1's audio performance. While we feel that the built-on speakers slightly spoil the design ethic, we absolutely love the power, dynamic range, clarity and richness of the sound they produce.

So is the KDE-P42MRX worth the money? It's too inconsistent to be good value at the list price, but with online prices dropping to around £4,500, it's definitely worth considering. Make no mistake, the speakers and that Wega Engine are serious pieces of kit capable of (standard definition only) miracles, which makes us warm to this screen - but only with that price drop.