In a recent 42in plasma TV roundup, we found ourselves impressed by LG's entry-level 42PX4D: an exceptionally affordable set that only let itself down by not having a high enough native resolution to claim HD Ready status.
So I'm only too happy to find atop my test bench this month a model from higher up LG's current range, the 42PX5D, which promises full highdefinition readiness while only adding around £400 to the price tag.
The 42PX5D is every bit as sumptuous-looking as its cheaper sibling, with its wide chassis positively imperious in its glossy black finish.
Connectivity includes HDMI and component video inputs, so it's good to go for HD. Other connectors are in plentiful supply too, and include a D-Sub PC input, three Scarts (though only one, annoyingly, is RGB-capable), memory card slots for direct playback of digital photos or MP3s, and even a slot for adding a Conditional Access Module. As usual, this latter jack provides external evidence of the 42PX5D's built-in terrestrial digital TV tuner.
The resolution boost that mostly differentiates the 42PX5D from the 42PX4D finds the newer screen sporting 1024 x 768 pixels (a 4:3 ratio made widescreen by the use of an asymmetrical pixel structure).
Another spec worth noting: a claimed contrast ratio of 5000:1. This is interesting on two counts. First, of course, it's ridiculously high (we measured real world contrast at 310:1 out of the box). Second, however, it's actually only half the figure quoted for the cheaper 42PX4D (VGA resolution screens are always brighter than WXGA screens). Given this difference in spec and glass, this model and its stablemate don't quite have as much in common with its stablemate as a cursory glance might at first suggest.
LG makes much of its proprietary driver electronics. The XD Engine picture processing system is a six-step application designed to boost image clarity, colour saturations/tone, contrast, brightness, colour gradation/greyscaling, and frame rate handling when watching movies.
The screen also offers individual adjustments for the fleshtone, greentone, bluetone, constituents of the picture; SRS TruSurround and BBE audio processing; four measures for fighting screenburn; a low power mode that reduces the picture's brightness; plus picture-in-picture system.
The only feature disappointment is that while the set supports the 7-day Freeview electronic programme guide, you can't set timer events from it, or employ any sort of genre filtering.
I was really impressed with this screen. Once calibrated, the 42PX5D proves more than a match for the majority of its £2k rivals, with its colour range being arguably its greatest strength. I'm used to most plasmas TVs being able to look exceptionally vibrant with the OTT computer graphics overwhelming so much of the UK's news coverage, but I'm certainly not used to a PDP - especially such an affordable one - that also makes subtler skin tones and textures look remarkably rich and solid.
It probably does no harm to the TV's colour response that its black levels are exemplary. While the screen's contrast ratio might not measure as high as that of the 42PX4D, for my money the realism of the 42PX5D's black levels and naturalism of its peak whites are actually even more film-friendly than those of the non-HD Ready model.
It's also impressive at this price to note that the deep blacks don't look forced; there's enough greyscale subtlety available to pick out subtle light shifts in even the darkest of corners. And motion looks clean and judder-free.
Image clarity is high, at least during HD viewing. In fact, a selection of pure 1080i D-Theater material - from the sumptuously clean and colourful animation of Ice Age, through the gritty darkness of submarine movie U-571, and onto the stylish lighting of Terminator 2 - the 42PX5D is consistently excellent, punching well above its price and outperforming the lower-resolution 42PX4D.
There are some inevitable caveats though. One of its strengths - the outstandingly full-on colour response - can occasionally go too far, slightly overcooking some colour tones and exaggerating any colour noise and dot crawl that may be inherent to a source.
Both these traits become increasingly common the further down the source quality tree you go.
The quality of the pictures you get from the LG 42PX5D depends on how careful you are with your picture settings. Its extreme colour saturations make it sensible to crank the colour level down from its factory preset of 50 to around 40-45, and to reduce the contrast from the ridiculously high 100 preset to around 65-70. The brightness can also have a point or two knocked off from its 50 preset.
As a general rule I'd recommend leaving the XD Engine processing on, though for HD sources I actually found the picture cleaner and more natural looking with XD turned off.
While the 42PX5D outdoes its cheaper sibling with HD material, it doesn't bring anything to the standard-definition party. In fact, its performance with anything below a progressive scan DVD feed is arguably worse in terms of visible noise and colour tone errors - probably due to the extra scaling required to fit a standard-definition picture to the native resolution of the higher-definition panel.
My final point may seem trivial, but it's worth making anyway. The 42PX5D's screen is extremely reflective, a problem if trying to watch dark sequences in a room awash with ambient light.
This LG's integrated audio system is fine; voices sound believable and there's a fair amount of distortion-free mid-bass.
I really like the 42PX5D. If you're looking for an above average plasma screen that doesn't break the bank, it's very enticing. It's likely to prove ideal with Sky HD sources, as well as the next generation of HD disc systems, and as such can be considered something of a steal. There are some rival displays from the likes of Hitachi and Pioneer that might edge past the LG when it comes to absolute performance, but they'll struggle to match its sheer value. John Archer