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Ease of Use


  Size: 42" Plasma TV
  Resolution: 1024x768
  Contrast: 10000:1
  MSRP: $1,099
Dick De Jong, March 28, 2006
HDTV Solutions

With VIZIO's P42 High Definition Plasma Television, I have glimpsed the future of HDTVs and it looks mighty familiar. This nuts and bolts model typifies the maturation of the HDTV industry. In the recent past, when you went shopping for a flat screen TV, the choices could be confusing, HD Ready, HD Compatible, or HD Maybe-if-the-Moon-is-Full. Now, with models like the VIZIO P42, it's back to the good old days when you could buy a television without worrying that it was missing some basic feature. The P42 reminds me of an old fashioned TV - which is not a bad thing. It has all the tuners and connections and comb filters that you need in the HDTV world and everything you should expect in a TV.

Considering the stunning picture the P42 can deliver, it's rather a very good state of affairs that HDTVs like this one are becoming more common. Unplugged, it may not be the handsomest beau at the cotillion. It doesn't sport an elegant black glass screen that other more expensive models flaunt. But the P42's unadorned minimalist mien reflects VIZIO's tagline: Where Vision Meets Value. I realize that comparing an $1899 42-inch plasma high definition monitor to the old 21" cathode ray tube set that you have demoted to the guest bedroom might be a stretch. But I bet that in four or five years, we will see a lot of these wide screen beauties relegated to second or third TV status. Then we'll know that HDTV's future has arrived.

Before we go any further, it should be stated that the VIZIO P42's resolution is 1024 x 768. I know, for you by-the-numbers guys, this doesn't pass HDTV muster, and it automatically crosses this model off your must-have list. But I don't judge the quality of the TV image by counting pixels. When you see how the P42 handles HD signals, you might reconsider. And if you need numbers to assuage you, how about a stated 10,000:1 maximum contrast ratio or a 231 billion color capacity?


Out of the Box
If you read my review of the Olevia LT42Hvi, you know that I value easy-to-use TVs. I call it plop-ability - how quickly can you pluck the TV from the box, plop it down, plug it in, and plop yourself on your favorite couch to enjoy it. Weighing a mere 85 pounds (with its included stand), the plucking is much easier than some heavier 42" HDTVs. And with a depth of four inches, finding a place to plop it is fairly simple.

Component Video                     Audio            Video            Audio            Audio  Out      Cable/Ant   

But, hooking the P42 up is a different story. Since VIZIO decided to place the audio and video connections horizontally and facing down on the bottom of the back of the monitor, plugging can be a pain. Unless you have the flexibility of a Bikram Yoga master, I would suggest plopping the set high up on a table when you are connecting the wires. Even then, you may need a flashlight, magnifying glass and a mirror to see the location and orientation of the plugs. If you are only doing this once, this can be a minor annoyance. But with only one HDMI input, I had to get behind there all too often to disconnect and reconnect my HDTV Dish receiver and my DVI enabled OPPO DVD player. It reaffirmed my appreciation of TVs that are side mounting their connectors and those with two HDMI inputs.

Video        Audio          S-Video                   Service    HDMI     DVI Audio       PC RGB       

While VIZIO does package one three-prong AV cable and a useful screen cleaning cloth, once again, an HDMI cable was not included in the box. I may be howling at the moon, but would it be so expensive to bundle in one 6' HDMI cable?

Hallelujah. A well-written 60-page manual. In addition, VIZIO has included poster-size, (I'm not kidding, 22 x 32"), highly graphic, informative, step-by-step, installation and programming instructions. It even has a color-coded chart for all the possible AV connections [HDMI, DTV, RGB PC, AV 1, 2, & 3 (S Video), TV, DTV Audio Out (Optical), and Audio Out]. A handy feature not always found in more expensive models, the DTV Audio Out allows you to route audio from a digital signal (the TV is receiving through an antenna or cable source) out to a separate speaker system instead of using the passable 10W built-in speakers. Now, if only they had been so thoughtful as to provide a second HDMI input.

The ATSC off air tuner worked as it should, scanning the signal from my rabbit ears antenna and building a program guide of all the available digital channels. Perhaps surprisingly for this meat-and-potatoes TV, a clear QAM digital cable tuner is included. I'm not a big advocate for the necessity of a QAM tuner, though I see from the forums that many people are more fervent about the topic. Of course, the P42 has most of the other features that you have come to expect in a TV: parental controls, PIP (picture in picture), POP (picture-by-picture), and audio reverb settings (e.g. Concert and Arena).

About the remote control - I realize that with any remote, over time, you become familiar with the layout of the buttons - but for as long as I tested the P42, I was constantly fumbling with the dang thing. It didn't help that it was not backlit and that the buttons are (what seems to be an industry standard) small size.

I know that hard-to-reach connections and small buttons are not huge obstacles to overcome. The question is why do you have to deal with them at all? It definitely plummets the plop-and-use rating.

As usual, to calibrate the monitor, I attached an Oppo OPDV971H DVD player to the HDMI input on the VIZIO and used the Digital Video Essentials DVD test patterns to adjust black level, white level, gray scale purity, color bias, and linearity. Though out of the box, the image was definitely acceptable; the default settings, (in what seems to be another industry standard), were too bright, too saturated and too contrasty.

Next came the woeful (for me) task of tweaking settings. The P42's On-Screen Picture Adjust menu made the chore yet more stultifyingly Sisyphean (yes, that bad). You would think that when you are adjusting the picture, you would want to be able to monitor your fine-tuning. But the VIZIO's On Screen Display takes its title to heart. It literally covers the middle half of the screen with a bright blue background and it doesn't disappear when you are setting the controls. If you have ever tried to calibrate color by looking at a color bar test pattern through a blue plastic filter, you know why they suggest you do it in a darkened room. But when the On Screen menu almost completely covers the test pattern, the job jumps from foolish to frustrating. You have to turn on the menu to make your adjustment and then turn it off to see the results. Let's just say the use of the menu could have been designed more intelligently. And if you are a tweaker by nature, you may be disappointed by the lack of a wider range of controls.

Setting those annoyances aside, the test patterns from the HDMI source calibrated quite well. After turning down the brightness, color and contrast settings, the colors were true and consistent across the screen. The grays looked neutral. The image did overscan about 5% on the bottom and 3% on the top and sides.

Each input has its own picture adjustments settings. Of note, the RGB PC menu includes a Color Temperature option and H-Size, H-Position and V-Position controls that are not available for the other inputs. Also, the manual suggests that for best picture quality, you set your PC timing mode to VESA 1024 x 768 at 60Hz.

Despite the inconveniences, the P42 sure produces a pretty picture. Of course, I'm talking about an HD image piped in through the HDMI input. (As I was surfing around my Dish Network standard definition channels, I came across a Bulls game on WGN that looked so horrible that not even the station manager's mother could love it. And the P42's high quality reproduction just accentuated the ugliness.) But switch to SportsCenter on ESPNHD and that Technicolor set of saturated primary colors reaches out and grabs you by the eyeballs. On CBS, the sharpness of the March Madness HD broadcasts can be startling. And some of the DiscoveryHD programs can be mesmerizing. Of course, in comparison, regular NTSC broadcasts are ho-hum at best. Repeat after me, HDTVs are made to view HD sources. More HD channels cannot come soon enough.

One of the selling points of a plasma TV is its contrast ratio and the VIZIO did not disappoint when it came to producing subtle differences in shading. Though to obtain a true black, it seems the adjustment causes you to lose some of that wide contrast range. As far as the stated 170 degree viewing angle is concerned, I would never advise sitting so far off center. But if you are sent to the peanut gallery, the picture degradation is not significant.

As I reread this critique, it sounds like a thumbs-down review. To the contrary, I came to fall into really-like (not quite true love) with the P42. Yes, it definitely could be easier to use and VIZIO could add another HDMI input. But the often-exhilarating experience of viewing HD sources can make you forget those shortcomings. And I appreciate what VIZIO is trying to do with this model, which is to offer a cost conscious product that delivers where it counts - on screen.

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