Samsung's least expensive 42-inch plasma, the SPN4235, has a lot going for it, including built-in dual-tuner picture in picture, a DVI input, and an ultrathin design. But the set's principal selling point is its affordability. An online price of less than $3,000 puts the 4235 on a par with models such as the Sampo and the Gateway , and the three panels have comparable pictures, as well. This plasma is fine for viewing everyday TV in brighter rooms, but serious home-theater fans will want more.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.
All plasmas are thin, but a 3.1-inch depth makes this Samsung one of the flattest TVs we've ever seen. The bezel measures just 1.3 inches from its outer edge to the screen--that's a lot of picture in a very slender frame. The 4235's silver competitors seem designed to stand out, but this set does the opposite, blending in with an industrial-looking charcoal gray.
Despite its low price, the 4235 does come with a pedestal, and a wall-mounting kit is available for $199. You can also buy the $149 matching speakers; none are onboard.
The set's menu system is pleasantly simple. The remote isn't backlit, but it keeps everything fairly well organized. It's also preprogrammed to control A/V gear from other companies.
Like most other manufacturers, Samsung designates its low-resolution panels as EDTV (enhanced-definition television) models. The term is confusing since the 4235 can accept and display an HDTV picture when connected to an external HDTV receiver. The set's 852x480 pixels aren't nearly enough to convey the full impact of the 1080i and 720p high-def resolutions, however, so if you want the ultimate in picture detail, step up to a higher-res panel.
The 4235 has a good feature set. Heading the list is dual-tuner picture-in-picture, which enables you to watch two channels or sources at once (click here for more). The second window can be side by side with the first or inset, and you can watch a video source and a PC source simultaneously. For regular TV, you get a choice of five aspect ratios. Panorama, for instance, stretches the image's sides more than its center; the mode is unavailable for progressive-scan and HDTV sources.
We counted four color-temperature presets; Warm2 comes closest to the ideal. There are three picture presets, and happily, each input can remember its own adjustments for contrast, brightness, and so on.
A row of downward-facing jacks along the back panel holds all of today's key inputs, including one for DVI transmission with HDCP copy protection, a pair for wideband component video, and one (VGA) for a computer display. There's only one A/V input with S-Video, however, so you'll need to connect a receiver or another device to the Samsung to switch between multiple A/V sources.
Aside from a few high points, the 4235 performed like other inexpensive plasmas we've seen recently: not too well. It should be fine for regular TV viewing as long as you don't look too critically, but you can do better for home theater and HDTV.
The 4235 demonstrated very good color decoding in our lab tests, with minimal accentuation of green and barely any accentuation of red. Increasing the Color setting heightens vibrancy and saturation without causing inaccuracy. The set's video processing also did a fine job eliminating jagged edges from the opening pan of Star Trek: Insurrection.
We performed our color tests using the Movie picture mode and the Warm2 color temperature. Our precalibration measurements were 5,955K at the bottom of the grayscale and 6,086K at the top. Instead of being too blue, as it is on most sets, the image was too red. Aiming for the NTSC standard of 6,500K, we calibrated, and the new numbers were nearly dead-on: 6,493K and 6,485K, respectively.
In DVD movies, darker material caused problems. In a scene from The Professional, for example, Leon sits down to comfort Mathilda. Leon's black coat looked dark gray, and false-contouring artifacts appeared as indistinct pools of darker color among the folds of wool. As we watched Tony lecture Leon, we noticed similar artifacts in Danny Aiello's close-ups, and even the lighter shadows were plagued by flat swatches of color. Known as false-contouring artifacts, they're probably the 4235's biggest flaw.
A high-definition loop of an ESPN baseball game revealed the same black-level problems. Players' black batting helmets came out distinctly closer to their true color on the Panasonic. Colors did have plenty of pop, thanks to HDTV's improved color resolution. But the picture was softer than it usually is with HDTV sources, which is to be expected from an 852x480 panel.