Competition has gotten extremely tight among 42-inch plasmas; the category is experiencing what industry types call price erosion. The solution is for a manufacturer to introduce a slightly larger and more-expensive panel. Gateway's 46-inch set, which doesn't have an official model number as of this writing, has the same resolution as its smaller sibling, the 42-inch. Listed at $3,799, the newcomer costs less than some 42-inchers on the market, and it certainly offers a lot of bang for your buck--as long as you don't expect great home-theater performance.
The set's unusual gold finish contrasts with its screen's black, 1-inch border. At the lower right, several option buttons run along the bottom of the frame; to their far left sits a remote sensor/power indicator. Gateway doesn't include a stand, but you can buy an optional one direct from the company for $149.
Despite being a bit large, the remote is impressively configured. It features an intuitive layout, backlit keys, and direct access to each video input. You can also program the remote to control up to seven additional devices in your home-theater system.
This 46-incher has exactly as many pixels as most 42-inch panels: 852x480. That's plenty for DVD but not nearly enough to convey the full detail of high-definition TV. That said, no other plasmas of this size offer higher resolution, and high-res 42-inch sets are significantly more expensive than this Gateway.
Plasmas aren't known for deep feature sets, but that's changing as they become more popular, and this panel is packed with extras. The Gateway has a built-in TV tuner, so it's ready for all standard (non-HD) cable, antenna, and satellite sources. While the picture-in-picture (PIP) mode features three window sizes and nine display positions, it's limited to analog video and available only when the main screen's source is RGB or DVI. Independent memory for each input, our favorite tweaky feature, enables you to individually optimize all the video sources feeding the panel. An excellent 3D-YC comb filter helps clean up composite video. The four aspect-ratio options are 16:9 anamorphic, panorama, letterbox, and 4:3. There are also three selectable color temperatures and several gamma-correction settings.
This Gateway is also one of the growing number of panels with an onboard audio system. The two side-firing rear speakers, despite being bolstered by Wow sound processing, sounded tinny. You get a BBE Sonic Maximizer and simulated surround sound (SRS), and bass-extension circuitry lets you add a separate subwoofer.
The connectivity suite is also generous. Along with the obligatory composite and S-Video inputs, you'll find ins for component video (two sets), RGB from computers and HDTV set-top boxes (15-pin VGA-style), DVI transmission with HDCP copy protection, and RF cable/antenna. The corresponding audio inputs are joined by a subwoofer output. Finally, there is an RS-232 port for touch-panel control systems such as Crestron and AMX.
In our home theater, the 46-inch Gateway earned a mediocre score. Before calibration, the panel measured a blue 8,200K at the bottom of the grayscale and an even bluer 11,000K at the top. Even with the set's limited adjustment options, calibration vastly improved the grayscale, which ended up 6,550K near the bottom and 7,200K at the top, much closer to the 6,500K ideal.
Happily, the color decoder worked fairly well and didn't overaccentuate red. But red leaned toward orange, and green was on the limy side. White-field uniformity, the evenness of white across the screen, was not good. That fault was a surprise as plasma technology has the potential to be quite good in this regard.
As we watched the opening sequence of Star Trek: Insurrection via the interlaced outputs of a Hitachi DV-P735U DVD player, 3:2 pull-down detection was evident. This important feature compensates for the difference in frame rate between film and video, eliminating many of the motion artifacts that would otherwise appear in DVD movies.
The biggest performance problem occurred during darker scenes. Like the smaller, the 46-inch Gateway cannot reproduce black; the best it can muster is dark gray. We also saw significant false-contouring artifacts at or near black. For example, during Wolverine's bar fight in chapter 7 of the X-Men 1.5 DVD, pools of color moved in the black background, and the shadowed parts of Rouge's hooded face had definite edges rather than gradual fades. To our surprise, even moderately bright scenes, such as chapter 4 of Charlotte Gray, were riddled with these artifacts.
For a low-resolution panel, the Gateway performed decently with HDTV images, in which the black-level issues, especially the false contouring, were less visible. We played the 1080i D-Theater version of X-Men on our JVC, and the aforementioned sequences were distinctly cleaner, with fewer of those nasty moving artifacts. Of course, both detail and color saturation were also much better.
The Gateway's DVI input worked properly with the DVI outputs of the Samsung Bravo D1. With both players, DVI improved the picture, but the fundamental black-level problems remained.and the V