It's a brave new world for computer dealer Tiny, with its first giant leap into the home cinema sector being marked by some of the cheapest plasma TV deals seen to date. Some might be surprised that Tiny has gone down the plasma route, given that LCD technology is currently all the rage and the company's PC background, but who's going to argue with eye-catching 42in plasma deals from £995?
The various packages include such extras as a DVD recorder or player, DTS4 5.1 speaker system, 5.1-channel amplifier, TV stand, glass plasma table, internet (service) box, detachable speakers and even a Tiny PC running Microsoft Media Center thrown in for good measure.
The Tiny Focus 4200 bundle on test here comes complete with a built-in TV tuner, tabletop stand, detachable speakers (with stands), and an internet box for surfing the net, all for just £1,295. The screen features a Samsung panel and is set in a stylish brushed metal surround and flanked by stereo speakers that can be detached and mounted on their own mini stands.
The remote control features the same brushed-metal finish and is nicely designed with decently-sized buttons. The 85mm-thick screen is a VGA panel, unlike the larger, native hi-def 50in XGA models Tiny is selling for £2,600 that carry DVI. In brief, XGA (extended graphics array) offers greater resolution and more colours than VGA. The good news for those willing to wait a little while longer is the imminent arrival of a 42in XGA model.
The current VGA screen can accept progressive scan and computer signals of 1,280 x 1,024 resolution via its component inputs from AV sources such as video players/recorders and games consoles, but the signal is down-converted for playback on the panel's native 853 x 480 screen, making the screen hi-def compatible, but not native high definition.
It's good to see two RGB Scarts included in the line-up of connectors - which also takes in a standard 15-pin PC D-Sub input, RS-232 port, tuner, and the usual S-video, composite video and stereo audio jacks.
The picture quality of a VGA panel like the Focus 4200 very much depends on what's fed into it. Off-air pictures via the analogue tuner look soft around the edges, but handle detail better in poor contrast areas than some sub-£500 CRT screens can. It is also a good idea to tweak the picture settings to get a more acceptable result.
Things significantly improve on DVD playback via RGB Scart or component. Although the result is not as richly saturated and striking in contrast/black level response as more expensive screens, the Tiny plasma does a commendable job for the price.
There were no screaming flaws that made viewing uncomfortable, but colour banding is obvious, and backgrounds were prone to noise and loss of detail. That said, the panel coped effectively with video played from a JVC D-VHS player, giving reasonable clarity.
Sound-wise, the detachable, standalone speakers did not perform badly, producing a fair amount of bass and volume without distortion or rattle, but a 5.1 surround speaker system is needed for delivering a movie soundtrack's full impact.
For the price and bundled extras, the Tiny Focus 4200 is a bargain waiting to be grabbed, but one major concern is that the plasma is not future-proof. It would be nice to be kitted out ready with native hi-def resolution and HDMI or DVI connectivity. It probably makes sense to wait and see if a 42in XGA, digital socket-equipped model appears soon within an equally affordable package. Lisa Keddie