Format wars: they started with Betamax and VHS, now we're seeing DVD-RAM vs DVD-RW and DiVX vs MPEG. Home cinema is full of them, and they ultimately leave consumers with defunct technology.
In the plasma vs LCD battle, however, both technologies have their own features and foibles. If you're looking for a large screen that will leave change for a holiday, for example, plasma is the current favourite. And while there are cheaper deals out there, £2,000 or less for a 42in screen from a trusted brand like Toshiba seems more than fair if the quality is there...
First impressions are par for the budget plasma course. The 42WP46 isn't exactly cutting-edge in terms of looks, and those of you low on space will be somewhat alarmed by the size of the frame surrounding the screen, not to mention the overall weight, which is considerably more substantial than many of its rivals. Those of you thinking of wall-mounting this screen had better choose the wall carefully! The all-grey colour scheme isn't particularly inspiring either, and the variety of different finishes looks a bit untidy.
Connections hold another slight disappointment - there are no DVI or HDMI all-digital video inputs. This is a bit surprising, given how bullish Toshiba has been about including HDMI on many of its new LCD and DLP rear-projection screens. This omission leaves high-definition and progressive scan duties to be performed by the component video input - but this is a 'budget' screen, so we can't really complain.
Black is back
With the action from out Alien vs Predator test disc the 42WP46 was pretty good - but some way short of being great. Heading up the good stuff is the screen's contrast performance, reaching profound black levels. This immediately gives pictures from all sources plenty of depth and solidity - albeit without quite convincing us that the contrast ratio of 3,000:1 isn't a tad optimistic.
Also contributing to this solid feel is the screen's impressive brightness, which helped colours scorch into our viewing room in spectacular fashion. Colours at the lighter, richer end of the spectrum are well saturated and natural in tone, too, as well as managing to stay accurately contained within their proper boundaries.
This edge definition helps the 42WP46 look impressively sharp at times - a trait that's further enhanced by a pleasing dearth of some types of picture noise.
It's not all good news, however. The screen only suppresses certain types of picture noise. The biggest concern is the greenish pixel noise it throws up. This gives pictures from many sources - but especially high-definition ones - an 'alive' finish that's hard to ignore. Also troubling was the noise trails over motion, particularly on flesh tones, alongside traces of solarisation with lower-quality sources.
The 42WP46's sound is respectable, achieving some impressive volume levels without rattling, and with a rich tone to the mid-range. A 'Super Woofer' chucks in some bass, too, but dialogue sounds muffled and the sound is not involving enough for action movies like Alien vs Predator.
Four stars in all categories is a good result, but we were ultimately a little disappointed by the 42WP46. Although it's equipped with an impressive brightness and black level response, and produces images that are sharper than those of many plasma screens, it doesn't do enough to tackle plasma's traditional problems with noise, nor does it perform well enough with high-definition sources. .