EICTA's announcement last year of the requirements a screen must fulfil to call itself truly HD Ready caught Sony on the hop. The company couldn't boast a single large screen that met the criteria and sadly, on the evidence of the KE-P42M1 42in plasma TV, it still can't.
First, the set's native resolution is a measly 852 x 480,meaning that hidef pictures have to be downscaled to fit. Second, it has no digital connectivity, so it's not future-proofed against the increasing use of exclusively digital connectivity for delivering high definition sources.
On the design front, few plasma screens these days are as unashamedly large as the KE-P42M1, though a tidy finish and some cutesy curves almost make the size seem like a positive.
A glance at its connections reveals that the lack of digital jacks isn't the screen's only connectivity woe, since there's no PC provision, either. Thankfully, you do at least get component video jacks for progressive scan and analogue high-def fodder, plus a trio of Scarts.
Things look up with the discovery of Sony's WEGA Engine picture processing technology, which introduces all-digital mapping of incoming pictures to the native resolution of the screen and adds extra pixels of detail, smoother contours, better colour tone and smoother colour gradations.
Other interesting features are restricted to noise reduction, anti-screenburn measures and a low power mode that reduces the screen's brightness.
We've not seen a bad WEGA Engine picture yet and its prowess is particularly evident with basic sources like its own tuner or an RGB-connected Sky Digital receiver. The way WEGA Engine works its detail-boosting magic on such material without causing any digital processing artefacts is remarkable, as is the seeming absence of grain or colour noise.
Colours, meanwhile, look vibrant and solid, as well as enjoying very natural tones. And as usual, such colour joys are backed up by a robust, deep black-level performance.
We did spot a little colour banding and fizzing noise over motion at times, but this is sufficiently sporadic not to spoil the general impression that standard definition pictures are as delightfully natural as any we've seen.
It's with high definition, via the component video jacks, where the Sony's shortcomings really appear. The single biggest problem is simply that high-def pictures look rather soft. Either because of the screen's low native resolution or problems for WEGA Engine in downscaling high-def - or a combination of both - the picture lacks the fine detail and pin-point sharpness we'd usually expect to see.
Audio is hit and miss. Dialogue is kept clear and rich, but the frequency range is a bit limited and the speakers can't open up much to accommodate a raucous action scene.
It's hard not to be disappointed by the KE-P42M1.On the surface it may seem a bargain, but look a little deeper and the severe lack of HD friendliness and future-proofing actually makes the price seem a touch steep. John Archer