We've all looked at flat screen TVs and marvelled at their gorgeous exteriors, but JVC has jolted things up a notch with its latest 42- inch plasma screen.
Part of the Japanese firm's InteriArt range, the PD42B50 is a real looker: the classy black frame combines with an underslung silver speaker panel flawlessly, and if you're willing to splash the cash, it can all be mounted on a truly fantastic glass floorstand straight from the drawing boards of Italian design house Atelier Bellini (a cheaper desktop stand is also available for those who'd rather not spend an extra £500). Even the remote control is dashingly handsome.
Get past the stylish looks, however, and the JVC starts to look more and more ordinary. For starters, at a time when most manufacturers are churning out high definition WXGA and ALIS flat screens in preparation for the introduction of HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs and HDTV, this TV sports an uninspiring 852 x 480 pixels in its panel. Sure, it will accept an HDTV signal through its component video input, but the native resolution is far from suitable if you want to truly experience a high definition picture.
Secondly, JVC has decided to completely leave out digital video inputs. Again, with alldigital DVI and HDMI connections almost certain to replace Scart and component video as the high-end video connection of choice in the near future, you have to wonder about the level of this TV's usefulness in a top quality home setup, say, two years down the line.
Hitachi, Philips and Pioneer have all equipped their latest plasma models with digital video inputs, while the JVC has a rather more basic line-up, with three Scarts, one component video, one S-Video, one composite video and an analogue monitor input for PCs. It's a decent enough selection, but hardly the bleeding edge stuff that those seeking the uppermost echelons of performance are currently looking out for.
When it comes to basic performance, however, the PD42B50 goes some way towards atoning for its uninspiring specifications. Like the company's previous plasma model, this TV makes use of JVC's DIST (Digital Image Scaling Technology) system.
In the same vein as Philips' Pixel Plus, this is a processing system designed to increase the detail and clarity of the picture by adding extra pixels; essentially a kind of faked high definition video mode. And, while it doesn't come close to emulating the brilliance of the new, enhanced version of Pixel Plus used in Philips' latest TVs, we found that it certainly does boost detail.
However, with the native resolution being so low to begin with, this results in a lot of jagged edges. You are free to tone the effect down if you wish, or even turn it off altogether. For instance, we discovered that a higher quality source like DVD doesn't really benefit from the processing, while the picture from the built-in analogue TV tuner, on the other hand, gets a noticeable bump up in clarity.
JVC cites an impressive figure of 3,000:1 as the TV's contrast ratio, which seems gargantuan compared to most of its rivals. In practice, though, its ability to create deep, well defined areas of very dark colour is merely decent rather than especially noteworthy (with different companies using different methods of determining contrast ratio, it's unwise to put too much stock in these figures).
Fast movement causes some minor juddering, but no other side effects, while the colours look fairly washed out compared with other screens. Finally, one odd picture quirk of this TV - and this is likely something to do with the DIST system - is the fact that at times you can make out a faint set of vertical lines running across the picture. These are most apparent in large areas of light colour, and although they aren't off-putting, you don't see them on other 42-inch plasma screens.
Thanks to the built-in BBE Sound System, the PD42B50 gives a good showing when it comes to sonic matters. A non-Dolby virtual surround mode dubbed '3D Surround' is also thrown in, and although it won't knock your socks off, it does add a little extra bit of bonus functionality to the mix.
The TV is well designed when it comes to usability, with a well thought out on-screen menu system, automatic channel tuning and all the usual bits and bobs you would expect from a big name like JVC. The remote control is also easy to get to grips with. In fact, the trickiest part of using the PD42B50 is building the Bellini stand; the results are well worth the effort, mind you.
Despite the looks and design, it's hard to recommend the JVC over the current generation of screens made by Pioneer, Hitachi and Philips. All of these have high definition panels and digital video compatibility, they perform to a higher standard, and in the case of Pioneer and Hitachi, are quite a bit cheaper. Compared to these, the JVC is just a pretty face.