So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
- Attractive design, Excellent calibration options.
- Image noise and pixel fluctuations across all modes, Mediocre interpolation performance.
The 42 inch NEC PX-42XR4W is a feature-packed plasma television with excellent customisation controls let down by mediocre image quality.
Price$ 5,499.00 (AUD)
The 42 inch NEC PX-42XR4W is a feature-packed plasma television with excellent customisation controls let down by mediocre image quality. In both standard and high definition there were obvious picture quality issues, mostly centered on image noise and pixel crawl fluctuations. The native resolution of the panel is 1024 x 768 which we suspect is the source of the problems - it's a 16:9 panel and 1024x768 is a 4:3 resolution, meaning every widescreen signal that is displayed will be affected by interpolation.
Standard Definition (SD)
For testing standard definition we use Digital Video Essentials and the Philips CE 2006 Demo DVD, in addition to watching the "Fall of Carthage" scene from Gladiator.
Digital Video Essentials revealed both image noise and pixel fluctuations in all of the tests. The greyscale block test displayed noise across the greys and was most severe at 40% amplitude. We attempted to compensate by adjusting the sharpness, as this can often reduce image noise substantially, but it had no effect. In the black on white block tests we found sub-pixel discolouration around the edges, though from a viewing distance of around two metres this was barely noticeable. The Greyscale intensity ramp was quite good with deep blacks and pure whites but while the grey blending was handled well, the entire screen was still rife with the same image noise. On a positive note, we were impressed with the colour capabilities of the NEC - the colour block and SMPTE pattern tests garnered excellent results, presenting rich colours without over-saturation.
We detected moderate motion jitter using the Philips CE 2006 Demo DVD, but this was on par with most mid-range plasma televisions we have reviewed. In areas where the colours being displayed were dissimilar (eg. red and blue), our colour tests showed minor bleeding. This is a result of a discolouration in the sub-pixels whereby the two adjacent colours are blended into a new colour (in this case, purple) in an attempt to create a smooth transition. The effect tended to fail for the most part and while not a big problem at a comfortable viewing distance, it was still noteworthy. The contrast test showed minor stepping on flesh tones and we found pixilation and aliasing in the sharpness tests. The dot pitch of this screen was a little overt, but this is to be expected of an XGA (1024x768 resolution) panel.
The noise found in the static image tests could easily be seen when watching Gladiator. The sky at the coliseum, normally azure, was littered with undulating dots - an infection which spread to other textured surfaces as well. Oddly, skin tones were quite good in close-up and we found no trace of over-sharpening. There was a lack of motion blur and contrasts between light and dark areas were handled with grace. In watching Gladiator, as well as other video tests, we could appreciate the excellent colour capabilities of the PX-42XR4W. In fact, we couldn't help but think how much better this unit could be if it handled the interpolation better, or if the native resolution was a 16:9 format like 1366x768.
High Definition (HD)
We connected an Xbox 360 to the panel to test its high definition capabilities and were unimpressed once again. While the images looked reasonable in both 720p and 1080i, the image noise that plagued standard definition was also prevalent here. Colours were again excellent however, with only slightly evelvated red levels that were easily fixed with the calibration tools. Some over-sharpening on high contrast areas was also present, and caused text to look a little muddy.
If you look past these problems the high definition image is still good, but compared to other plasmas on the currently available the PX-42XR4W fails to make its mark.
Design & Customisation
Even if the image quality isn't pristine, its design certainly is. A silver and matte black bezel hides the function buttons and gives it a refined look, and when paired with the optional silver stand (an additional $399) will offset any lounge room nicely. The connectivity options are rich sporting two HDMI ports, two component ports, one composite input and a D-Sub connector. This particular model doesn't feature an in-built tuner and speakers, like the stand, are an optional extra.
The calibration and on-screen menu options for this panel are exceptional. Not only is the menu system easy to understand and use, but it's fully featured as well - the image calibration tools sport six-axis colour control which extends the calibration tools far beyond brightness, contrast and sharpness. You can add or subtract red, blue, green, cyan, magenta and yellow to the image to tailor the picture to your liking, and then save your custom settings in up to six different calibration profiles.
The PX-42XR4W also has the ability to work with two signals at the same time via either split-screen or picture in picture (PiP). This works brilliantly and is very simple to use. The bottom half of the remote control is dedicated to this function and only requires a couple of button presses to effortlessly switch between your active signals.
Although not a primary use of the screen, it's always handy to have the option of connecitng a PC up via te D-Sub input. Testing revealed a somewhat muddy desktop, with icons and text were not as sharp as they could have been. Calibrating helped but it still wasn't ideal. The DisplayMate Video Edition vertical and horizontal resolution tests met with serious banding and distortion. We could understand this problem when watching DVDs since the screen was scaling the image to fit the DVD resolution, but we ran our PC tests at the native resolution of the panel and it suffered the same problems. The noise we experienced in the standard definition testing was also seen in our colour block and greyscale tests, especially in low greys and dim to dark colours. As a whole, we would be hard-pressed to recommend this unit to someone planning to use it as part of their Media Centre set up.
The PX-42XR4W has so much potential to become a great television with its excellent design, wide array of inputs, and extensive calibration tools - if only the image scaling problems were worked out. NEC has made better televisions in the past, so hopefully it will improve on this unit in the future.
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