A Real-World Plasma Face Off Page 2
The GTW-P42M102 is obviously in a league of its own, purely for its list price of $2,999. As with any relatively inexpensive component, it's difficult to judge whether the sacrifices Gateway made to reach this price point are acceptable. Everyone noticed that our sample unit had perceivable vertical banding problems, which created jagged edges, among other things. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to get a second sample. I don't know if these problems are specific to this sample, but I do know that they didn't appear on the sample we recently had in for review. Maureen wondered if Mr. and Mrs. America would notice, considering the attractive price. Adrienne, who put herself in the Mrs. America category, did notice and wasn't keen on the results.
The Gateway's other attributes were consistent with Kevin Miller's findings in his review (February 2003). The display has good color, thanks to its accurate color-temperature setting. Fleshtones were a bit pink, compared with the other displays, which were more yellow. Most images looked vibrant and colorful. The black level isn't as good as that of some of the other displays, but the Gateway did seem reasonably bright. Image detail was also quite good, considering this display's 852:480 resolution. In the end, most panelists qualified their comments with the "but it is less expensive" disclaimer. Still, nobody was excited enough by the price to get past some of the more-typically plasma-like artifacts. As Adrienne put it, "$3,000 may be much less expensive than the other plasmas, but it's still a lot to pay for a display."
GTW-P42M102 ED Monitor $2,999
Dealer Locator Code GAT
• Great price
• Built-in TV tuner
As one of plasma's inventors (in collaboration with Fujitsu), Hitachi is in a unique position to offer next-generation plasma technology. ALIS (Alternate Lighting of Surfaces) is one such example. On the CMP4121HDU's 1,024:1024i panel, ALIS rapidly alternates horizontal rows of pixels to create the image so that 1,024:512 pixels are lit at any given one-sixtieth of a second. This saves energy and processing power. The Hitachi and Sony displays share this technology, and the process creates a reasonably bright, pleasing image. Maureen observed: "The Sony and Hitachi displays were brighter, so my eye was drawn to them first. With DVD, the colors on both looked positively vibrant." The measurements don't indicate that the Hitachi was objectively the brightest; however, subjectively, it seemed to have better contrast than many of the plasmas.
HD images looked better than DVD through the Hitachi, as the slightly higher resolution has an edge over its 480p competition. It wasn't quite up to the Pioneer's or NEC MP Series' challenge, though. The latter display's 1,024:768p resolution fared quite well with high-resolution sources. Overall, the Hitachi panel fell somewhere above the median group ranking, with no single outstanding attribute but no faults, either.
CMP4121HDU HD Monitor $7,995
Hitachi Home Electronics
Dealer Locator Code HIT
• Good contrast
• Resolution matches with 1080i sources
Of the two NEC panels, the MP Series is definitely geared more toward home theater. The VP Series offers numerous commercial features that most consumers won't likely need. For example, it has a milky screen coating to help eliminate glare in high-ambient-light environments, such as airports or casino lobbies. If you want to link several of them together, it also offers various video-wall processing functions. The MP Series, on the other hand, provides more consumer-related features like 3:2-pulldown detection and multiple color-temperature settings. As a result, it was the 42MP4 that caught most people's eye. (FYI: NEC refers to the model number as the 42MP4. The actual model printed on the back of the panel is PX-42XM1A.)
The 42MP4's greatest attribute is its resolution. Maureen commented, "When we switched to the Haunting D-VHS tape, the NEC looked fabulous. The picture was clear and well defined, as a D-VHS tape should look." I agreed that the picture was substantially more detailed than the nearby Sony and Hitachi models, which both have a 1,024:1,024i panel, and even better than the Pioneer, which also sports a 1,024:768p resolution.
Adrienne concurred that the 42MP4's picture was highly detailed but pointed out that, with DVDs, you won't benefit from the extra resolution. She thought the image, as set by the factory, was too green but added, "After calibration, I suspect that the NEC would be the best overall performer." We all felt that, with a good ISF-type calibration, the color level could be excellent. Other attributes, like the color decoder and apparent gray-scale tracking, indicated as much. The 42MP4 had the second-best black level of the group, following closely behind the Panasonic.
42MP4 HD Monitor $9,495
42VP4 ED Monitor $7,995
Dealer Locator Code NEC
• Excellent resolution for HDTV images
• Good black level
• Anti-glare screen for high-light environments
• Built-in video-wall processing functions