Samsung has designed its latest 42-inch plasma TV, the PS42Q97HDX, with a very specific aim in mind: to tread as perfect a balance as possible between performance standards, build quality and price.
With prices ranging around £800, has it hit on the perfect formula, or does something not quite add up?
Let's reiterate this: paying £800 for a 42-inch plasma TV is cheap. So if Samsung wanted to grab our attention before we even got the 42Q97HDX out of the box, it succeeded. But the set actually grabs our attention even more once it's unboxed, as it's great looking, with a high gloss finish and stylish combination of angles and curves.
The good times continue to roll as we find three HDMI sockets, where most 42-inch TVs costing considerably more only carry two. What's more, these HDMIs support the CEC industry standard, which allows the TV's remote to operate any connected CEC-capable source equipment.
The 42Q97HDX's attractive on-screen menus, meanwhile, play host to far more features than you'd expect, while the specifications quoted for the 1,024x768 screen include a sky-high contrast ratio of 15,000:1.
All too often at the budget end of the market, such impressive on-paper specifications fail to translate into the final performance -- this is not so with the 42Q97HDX.
Right from the off we're struck by its great HD picture quality, as a winning combination of deep, rich, noiseless black levels and bright, vibrant colours inject real cinematic vigour into the Blu-ray scenes, for example where Captain Jack first appears in Pirates of the Caribbean. Colours are nearly as natural in tone as they are vibrant, too. Plus, there's a far crisper, more detailed look to texture-rich sequences in Pirates -- like those in Barbossa's treasure cave -- than we usually see at this price level.
Finally, there's hardly a trace of common budget plasma flaws such as colour striping and fizzing noise over motion.
Although the 42Q97HDX loves playing HD sources, it doesn't support the very highest quality HD format -- 1080p/24.
Also, we urge caution with a couple of features the TV does have, namely an Edge Enhancer and Movie Plus. The Edge Enhancer certainly does make the boundaries of objects more crisp, but often goes too far so that they leap out of the picture in a quite unnatural fashion.
Movie Plus, meanwhile, is designed to make motion look more fluid. It does succeed in doing this, but only at the expense of a flickering effect around moving objects, which -- for our money -- is actually more problematic than any motion judder.
Of course, though, if you don't like them, you can always turn the Edge Enhancer and Movie Plus features off, though this does leave a tendency to exaggerate any noise that might be inherent to a standard definition digital tuner source.
If you look hard, you can find better picture quality than that offered by Samsung's PS42Q97HDX. You'll undoubtedly have to pay more for it. Considered more fairly in the context of other 37-42-inch screens selling for around £800, the 42Q97HDX isn't just good, it's practically revolutionary.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Jon Squire