Many of you who have read my articles over the past two years will have realized that my mission at HDTV ETC. and DVD ETC. is usually to review high-end, very high-end, and technologically interesting gear.
One of the main things that I usually wish for when reviewing expensive and interesting technologies is for the price to come down quickly so it can become affordable for the average, mainstream buyer. Plasma technology, which has been frightfully expensive in the past, is headed downwards in price fairly rapidly. When I had the opportunity to test the $2,399 Hisense 42-inch plasma television, I did not have particularly high hopes for its picture quality at that low price, but, ever the optimist, I agreed. Hisense is a Taiwanese company that is breaking into the U.S. market with its products, one of the first of which is a 42-inch EDTV plasma. The EDTV moniker basically states that this is a 840x480 16:9 panel, capable of handling digital TV signals, but without the 720 lines of resolution to display HDTV. In fact, the majority of affordable plasmas are EDTV, and very few 42-inch panels are HDTV with a 1280x720 pixel array. Still, the $2,399 price point for a feature-laden plasma such as this is still quite aggressive. The Hisense comes with a built-in NTSC tuner, component, S-Video, and composite inputs, as well as a DVI-D input. It even comes with speakers and little feet for a table stand.
The Hisense starts life out with good genes -- it is based around Samsung glass. The speakers look very handsome, but I wish Hisense had just used a full aluminum surround instead of the black and silver look that it currently has. That would make it less busy, and have a cleaner, more expensive look to it. I also wish the Hisense moniker on the front was a bit smaller; I usually prefer more subtle, printed badges rather than raised, attached ones. The remote is large, the largest I have seen for a plasma. It has discrete input buttons, which I happen to consider very important in a display. This way it is possible to also program the buttons into your universal remote. The remote has a slide-down panel that reveals a numeric keypad to dial in stations on the built-in tuner.
The enclosed feet that come with the plasma are a nice touch, but the black finish on them is easily scratched. Note to Hisense -- change the feet color to silver and make a wall mount available. The enclosed speakers look good, and even though they attach to the side of the plasma, they also have enclosed feet which I considered superfluous and even unattractive. Since I enjoyed this plasma enough to buy it for my office, I plan to just wall mount it, so these become a non-issue.
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
The Hisense is a veritable piece of cake to set up. There is a coaxial hookup for cable/external antenna and even a choice of YPbPr and YC inputs, something not found on more expensive plasmas. The setup menu is simple, straightforward and easily gone through even without the manual. There is a master power switch and a standby switch. I used the enclosed feet, but attached the speakers to the body of the plasma. I used a Pioneer HD cable box and Time Warner cable for the NTSC/high def feeds, and a Philips DVD player for the DVD feed. I spent a significant amount of time using the plasma with the enclosed speakers to see how this unit worked as a stand-alone television.
Let me start out by saying that the picture quality on this plasma was surprisingly good right out of the box. Frankly, the picture quality using an analog cable signal was better than even more expensive plasmas that I have reviewed. It's clean, without lots of noise, and brighter than I expected. In fact, the panel was much brighter than I expected, and although the black level is not the absolute best I have seen, it is much better than I expected, and definitely better than many others I have seen. Where this plasma does fall short of excellence is the scaler/de-interlacer, as various NTSC artifacts are noticed by a trained eye. Interestingly enough, my staff universally liked the picture quality of this plasma panel, and did not ever notice the artifacts that I did.
DVD picture quality is quite good, as the panel's native resolution is 480p. A good progressive DVD player provides very good picture quality indeed, and I imagine a DVI out player would provide excellent picture quality as the panel would receive a digital signal at its native 480p. Matching this with a V, Inc. DVI player would be an excellent idea.
High def looks much like DVD, as it is scaled down to 480p also, and this is not a bad thing. In most cases, with a good uncompressed feed, HD looked better than the plasma is scaling more information in the form of a 720p/1080i signal down to a 480p signal.
To expound some more on plasma artifacts, there is little of the green moss effect and only occasional streaking of colors. Overall there are relatively few distracting artifacts, and little that an untrained eye would notice. In fact, this is a great plasma for the average buyer, easy to set up, easy to use and includes important features such as a built-in TV tuner, speakers and feet. Hisense even has a relatively inexpensive over-the-air HD tuner that you could hook up to this unit, and the analog performance will satisfy just about anyone.
I enjoyed this panel immensely, for the price it is simply excellent. If the cosmetics and the remote were just a bit better and more integrated, this plasma would easily earn a "Top Choice" award. As it is, I am buying this unit to place in my office so I can watch baseball games and the news on it during the workday.
42-inch Plasma Television
42-inch wide flat screen
Built-in cable-ready NTSC tuner
Brightness: 600 cd/squaremeters
High Contrast: 1000:1
V-Chip, Child lock enabled
MTS Stereo and Second audio program