The plummeting prices of flat-panel HDTVs has been big news for the last couple of years, and in 2006, the latest downward price trend is among flat-panel LCDs in the 40- and 42-inch size range. Vizio, that popular purveyor of price-savvy panels, is once again surging to the bottom with its entrants, the 42-inch L42 HDTV and its slightly more-expensive and arguably better-looking brother, the G42L HDTV. Both have nearly identical feature sets and picture quality, but we'll deal with the G42L HDTV separately. This review is of the Vizio L42 HDTV, which at the time of this writing sells for $1,599 online and even less in select stores. Its price alone makes it a great value, but unlike many cut-rate HDTVs, the L42 HDTV also boasts enough features for just about anybody, as well as picture quality that will leave most viewers believing--rightly--that they got a great bargain. We thought the Vizio L42 HDTV looked stylish enough but not stunningly attractive. It consists of a black frame surrounding the 42-inch-diagonal screen that's in turn mounted above silver speakers. In this case, the frame is thick and glossy black, and despite appearing detachable the speakers are indeed fixed. Aside from prominent HDMI and Vizio logos, there aren't many features on the set's front.
Atop the included silver stand, the L42 measures about 41.3 by 29.8 by 11.4 inches (WHD)--a bit bigger than some 42-inch flat panels--and weighs 73.3 pounds. Like all flat-panel HDTVs, it can be wall-mounted with a special kit such as one available directly from Vizio.
The company includes its standard, nonbacklit remote, which we've always found to be too busy, with too many keys that don't have enough differentiation. We did appreciate the direct-access keys for different inputs, however, and the fact that the clicker can command three other pieces of gear. Hitting Menu brings up a typically drab-looking array of options, but Vizio covered all of the basics. Once again, Vizio has included enough features to satisfy just about everybody without missing anything major. The Picture section of the L42 HDTV's menu offers three presets that cannot be adjusted, as well as a fourth Custom mode that's independent for each input. You can choose from three color-temperature presets or adjust red, green, and blue gain yourself in a fourth custom mode. We appreciated the last option, since the L42 HDTV's three color-temperature presets were really far from the standard (see Performance). There's also an adjustable backlight control that allows you to turn the intensity of the lamp behind the screen up or down. It's worth noting that backlight and color-temperature settings are global and cannot be saved individually for each input.
Other features include picture-in-picture, which offers a side-by-side option, too. There's also a freeze mode that's handy for catching quick information, such as the fine-print of disclaimers in drug ads. Vizio's selection of aspect-ratio controls is average: three for high-def sources and four for standard-def. And as its name indicates, the L42 HDTV is in fact a full HDTV, meaning that it includes an ATSC tuner for grabbing over-the-air high-def and digital stations.
Around back, you'll find a healthy selection of inputs, including the requisite pair of HDMI jacks. Other inputs include two component-video, one A/V input with composite and S-Video, one A/V input with only composite video, and one VGA-style RGB computer input. There's also a single RF input for connecting an antenna or cable, an analog audio output, and an optical digital audio output for passing surround soundtracks from over-the-air HD sources. In sum, the Vizio L42 HDTV's image quality was very good for the price, with relatively deep blacks, accurate primary colors, and solid standard-def reproduction. It did exhibit some murky shadow detail, and its out-of-the-box color temperature definitely needs adjustment, so videophiles will probably want to consider paying a bit more for a better-performing set.
To evaluate the L42 HDTV's picture, we first adjusted the picture parameters for viewing in our dark lab. We quickly realized that the preset color temperature modes--Warm, Cool, Normal, and Custom--were all very different, and surprisingly, only Cool anywhere near the standard (see Before in the Geek box below). Typically Cool is the least accurate, but in the Vizio L42 HDTV's case, that dubious honor went to Warm, which tinged the picture with an unacceptable amount of green. Fortunately, the set does offer adjustments to RGB gain in its Custom settings, and after we adjusted their values appropriately, the color temperature was much improved. See the Tips & Help tab above for those adjustments, as well as our complete dark-room settings.
When we settled back to watch a movie--in this case, Syriana on HD-DVD via the Toshiba HD-A1--we mostly liked what we saw. In darker scenes such as Jimmy Pope's fireside chat with Bennett Holiday, the depth of black in dark areas was fairly good for an LCD; not quite as deep as some we've seen, such as the Samsung LN-S4051D's or the Sharp LC-37D90U's, but still pretty dark. We had a couple of more-expensive like-size LCDs onhand to compare--namely the Vizio's step-up brother, the G42L HDTV, the Philips 42PF9831, and the extremely expensive Sony KDL-40XBR2--and the Vizio L42 HDTV's depth of black was just slightly brighter than that of the Sony and the other Vizio, and significantly darker (better) than the Philips's.