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Which 42" Plasma is right for you?

Everybody wants one, and 42 inch plasma TVs are the hottest size in flat panel sets. But before you jump on the plasma bandwagon, which model offers the best TV experience?

1. Introduction
Everybody wants one, and 42 inch plasma TVs are the hottest size in flat panel sets. But before you jump on the plasma bandwagon, which model offers the best TV experience?

Yes, picture and audio quality are important, but what about the control, menu system, connectivity, the remote and so important - the style?

RMIT Labs puts four Australian models through their paces to help you sort out what to watch out for and what TVs will give you the best value for your money.

2. Fujitsu P42HHA30AS

Fujitsu P42HHA30AS

Fujitsu P42HHA30AS
The supplied stand is of solid construction and simple design and the display has mounting points at the rear for wall mounting. Phosphor is reasonably dark although the LG's is darker. We should note that the Fujitsu was the only display that did not include an integrated tuner so to view free to air TV you will need to connect the Fujitsu to a VCR or set top box.

The controls are located on the lower right front of the bezel and include just six buttons: power, two to select the input source, two for volume and one to select the display size. The onscreen menu cannot be accessed without the remote control.

The Fujitsu has the smallest and simplest of the units tested, but only very basic functions can be accessed without delving into the menu system. In fact, we believe that the remote really is too basic and has too heavy a reliance on the menu system. Another feature lacking in the remote control is the ability to control other devices such as DVD players and set top boxes, a feature present in the units from Hitachi and Samsung.

Menu system
The menu system is quite straightforward and very easy to navigate. Basic picture adjustments include Contrast, Brightness, Colour, Tint, Sharpness, Luminance, Black Level and Colour Temperature. The Position and size of the image can be adjusted for all inputs other than RGB, which has its own settings such as Dot Clock, Clock Phase, Clamp Position and Auto-calibration.

The connectivity is good but certainly not as good as the Hitachi and Samsung units.

Picture quality
The Fujitsu's image quality is arguably the best of the units tested, but it was not a 'clean sweep'. For example, the gradient fills and shading on faces displayed distinct banding when viewed up close and some still images displayed annoying moire patterns not evident on the Hitachi and Samsung. Of course the problem with gradient fills vanishes when you move away to a more comfortable viewing distance from the display.

For movie viewing, the Fujitsu image is the 'cleanest' of all the displays tested, with greater impact at distance. While the colours are not as vivid as some of the other units, the colour on this Fujitsu is nevertheless more natural.

Audio quality
No speakers were supplied with the unit.

3. Hitachi 42PD5000TA

Hitachi 42PD5000TA

Hitachi 42PD5000TA
The Hitachi stand is the most impressive amongst the units tested and included a swivel base. Wall mounting the display is also an option. Phosphor, while quite dark, has a distinct bluish tinge to it.

Glancing at the front of the Hitachi, one could be forgiven for thinking that the unit itself has no controls, other than the master power switch. In reality, there are seven buttons hidden at the rear of the bezel on the lower left hand side. These include volume and channel selectors, as well as on screen menu controls. The rather silly side of this though, is that the legends for the controls are actually located at the rear of the unit, completely out of sight in a wall mount. We challenge anyone not familiar with the Hitachi to find the controls without a manual.

Hitachi controls

The Hitachi remote control is a largish unit (the Samsung remote is slightly larger), with good-sized buttons and quite wide spacing. The remote can directly control a wealth of features without the need to dive into the in screen menu system. In addition, the unit has dedicated buttons to control the basic functions of a DVD player and it can be configured to control common DVD players from one of 16 different vendors.

Hitachi remote

Menu system
The menu system is very bland when compared with the other units tested, simply because Hitachi does not use icons to identify functions. But the flip side of this we have to admit, is a clean and businesslike display that is quite easy to navigate. The user can tweak typical picture aspects such as colour, tint, colour temperature and the like, but unlike some of the other vendor's products, there are quite a limited number of presets - although to be honest they should be more than adequate.

Picture quality
We were not at all happy with the default colour settings of the Hitachi and considerably more tweaking was required when compared to the other products before we were satisfied. However once over this hurdle, we were very pleased with the image quality. The display is quite sharp, second only to the Fujitsu when viewing movies from a comfortable distance, but the Hitachi is better at handling still images than the Fujitsu.

Hitachi speakers

Audio quality
The Hitachi and LG were the only units that shipped with speakers; in Hitachi's case they are 'bolt-on' speakers that sit either side of the display. There is no doubt that the Hitachi speakers were superior to the integrated speakers of the LG. The sound was rich with surprisingly good bass and in simulated surround mode, the audio definitely took on extra depth.

4. LG RT-42PX10

LG RT-42PX10

LG RT-42PX10
The stand supplied with the LG is a simple but sturdy unit and wall mounting is also an option. It has arguably the darkest phosphor of the four units tested.

The long and slim LG remote control can directly control many of the displays features without the need to access the on screen menu system. The down side is that the control buttons are quite small and closely spaced and it is not able to control other devices such as DVD players.

LG remote

Menu system
The LG menu system is surprisingly extensive; even so it is very easy to use. For some, the Picture menu options may be a tad bewildering, although you could just stick with the presets: Dynamic, Standard, Mild and User. If you want to delve deeper, the colour, tint, sharpness, flesh tone, colour temperature and even RGB are all adjustable. There is also a reasonable swag of audio settings to play with and the surround sound has presets for flat, music, movie and speech.

Connectivity is quite good although the Hitachi and Samsung are better in this regard. One very useful feature is the location of a set of video inputs on the side bezel, so a video camera, for example, can quickly be connected to the display rather than trying to poke around at the rear of the unit as you are forced to do with some displays.

LG connectors

Picture quality
On specifications alone, the LG appears a little behind the eight ball when compared to the other units tested. Its display resolution of just 852 x 480 pixels is up against Fujitsu and Hitachi's resolution of 1024x1024 and Samsung's 1024x768. Analog free-to-air looks crisp and clear on the LG but some of the high resolution digital free-to-air signals had noticeable artefacts, as did some of the DVD images. Admittedly these are generally not discernable at a comfortable viewing distance from the display, but the Fujitsu, for example, definitely produced a sharper image under most circumstances.The colours are strong and vivid, perhaps a little too strong at the default settings but this can easily be remedied.

Audio quality
LG's speakers are integrated in the side bezels of the display and appear to occupy a similar area to Hitachi's "bolt-on" speakers. And, while the LG speakers are certainly superior to many high end CRT TVs, when compared to the Hitachi speakers they sound a little thin, particularly in regard to their bass response.

5. Samsung PS42P4H

Samsung PS42P4H

Samsung PS42P4H
We were not supplied with a stand for the Samsung although one can be purchased as an option if required. Like the other units, the Samsung has provision for wall mounting. The phosphor has a distinct greenish tinge.

The controls, which are touch sensitive 'stubs', are located on the lower right side of the bezel. There is a good complement of functionality including source selection, volume, channel and menu functions.

Samsung remote

While the Samsung remote control is the largest of the units tested, it is not overly large at all. The major controls are all quite large and relatively widely spaced although the secondary controls located under a slide cover in the lower third of the unit are small and closely spaced. As these are probably less often used, we do not see this as a major problem with one exception - this secondary set controls DVD and VCR programming, and this task could become a little tedious given the small control size.

On the topic of programmability, the Samsung remote is by far the most flexible, with a wide range of codes listed in the manual for cable set top boxes, DVD players and VCRs. The remote also features a small LCD display that shows what input device is selected and battery level; the display is not backlit.

Menu system
The extensive menu system is very simple to navigate, although we were surprised that Samsung used such coarse and chunky graphics for the on screen display as they detract from the high resolution of the display. The image quality can be adjusted by selecting from four preconfigured settings: Dynamic, Standard, Movie and Custom. The latter, as the name suggests, can be adjusted by the user with the Contrast, Brightness, Sharpness, Colour and Tint tweaked for the Custom setting. In addition, there are five colour temperature presets that can be selected. There are also quite a few menus dedicated to the audio, including a five channel graphic equaliser and SRS settings.

In terms of connectivity, the Samsung is one of the best with a total of five video sources and two PC inputs - one of which is a DVI connector. And, for convenience, one of the inputs is also located on the side of the bezel.

Samsung controls

Picture quality
The colour fidelity is very good with natural skin tones and also nice vivid colours in animated features such as Toy Story 2. We did find that the image was not as sharp as the Fujitsu, and we would also have to place the Samsung behind the Hitachi in this regard.

Audio quality
No speakers were supplied with the unit.

6. Specifications compared

Product Fujitsu P42HHA30AS Hitachi 42PD5000TA
RRP inc GST AU$9,999 AU$8,999
Warranty 3 years full parts and labour 1 year
Distributor major retailers and AV specialists Hitachi Australia Ltd
Phone 1300882201 1800 032 689
Pixel Resolution (HxV) 1024x1024 1024x1024
Pixel Pitch (HxV in mm) 0.90mmx0.15mm 0.90mm x 0.51mm
Colours (eg 16.7 million) 1.07 billion 16.7M
Viewing angles (Horizontal and vertical) 160 degrees 170
Panel Luminance (typical in cd/square metre) N/A 1,100
Contrast ratio (Typical) N/A 1,000:1
Comb Filter (eg 2-line, 3-line or 3D) N/A PAL: 3L, NTSC: 3D
Aspect Ratios 16:09 Panoramic/Zoom/Cinema/Full/4:3
Integrated amp? Yes Yes
Output in Watts RMS 10 watts each 12W x 2
ntegrated or "clip-on Speakers Optional clip on (not supplied) Speakers bolt on to the sides of the display
Speaker configuration (eg 2-way bass reflex) N/A 2-way, 3 speaker, Bass Reflex, (2x80mm Woofers, 1x25mm Dome Tweeter)
Surround/Audio modes supported (eg SRS) N/A SRS TruBass / Matrix Surround
Tuner Program Memory (eg 200 channels) No Integrated Tuner 200
Picture in Picture support No Multi Picture (1 Tuner):
P in P / Split / 4 / 12
Freeze Frame support No Yes
List all RF supported (eg PAL B/G/H, NTSC M etc) Dependent on optional external tuner NTSC M
PAL B, G, H / I / D, K
SECAM B, G / D, K / K1
List Video supported (eg PAL M/N, NTSC4.43 etc) all format PAL, SECAM, NTSE etc PAL, PAL 60, M, N
NTSC 4.43, 3.58
Component Video supported (eg 480i/p, 1080i 50/60, etc) 480i, 1080i, 576p and 720p @50/60Htz 480i/p, 575i/p, 720p (60), 1080i (50/60), 1035i (60)
PC Signals supported (eg VGA, XGA, etc) VGA, XGA, SXGA, UXGA VGA to UXGA (the latter with interpolation)
DVI RGB signals supported (eg Horizontal 31 to 60kHz, Vertical 50 to 80Hz, Clock 20 to 75MHz) Yes Hor: 31 to 62kHZ
Vert: 50 To 85Hz
Clock: 20 To 80MHz
Component (Y, Pb, Pr) 2 2
S-Video 1 1 (+1 via Scart Adaptor)
Composite Video 1 3 in / 1 out
RGB 1 1
DVI 1 1
Scart 0 1
Audio 3 in 5 in / 1 out
Power consumption for operation and standby modes 220-240 volts 365W /
Weight 30 kg 34.9kg (excluding stand & speakers)
Stand provided or optional Optional Swivel desk stand provided

Product LG RT-42PX10 Samsung PS42P4H
RRP inc GST AU$4,999 AU$7,999
Warranty 1 year 2 years
Distributor LGEAP Samsung Electronics Australia
Phone 02 9684 8000 1300 369 603
Pixel Resolution (HxV) 852x480 WVGA 1024x768
Pixel Pitch (HxV in mm) N/A 0.912x0.693
Colours (eg 16.7 million) 16.7M 16.77M
Viewing angles (Horizontal and vertical) >170 160
Panel Luminance (typical in cd/square metre) 1200 1000cd/m2
Contrast ratio (Typical) 5000:1 3000:1
Comb Filter (eg 2-line, 3-line or 3D) 4H 4H Digital
Aspect Ratios Auto/normal/wide/14:9/zoom 16 : 9
Other DCDi, XD Engine DNIe / DCDi / Cinema Progressive Scan
Integrated amp? Yes N/A
Output in Watts RMS 15W x 2 15W * 15W
Speakers bolt on to the sides of the display Integrated base mounted (clip on)
Speaker configuration (eg 2-way bass reflex) 4 speaker system 2Way 10Speaker - JBL
Surround/Audio modes supported (eg SRS) SRS / BBEFlat / Speech / Movie / Music / User Config SRS TruSurround XT
Tuner Program Memory (eg 200 channels) 100 channels 100 channels
Picture in Picture support Yes Dual Tuner (configurable PIP size) Yes Dual Tuner (configurable PIP size and position)
Freeze Frame support freeze function available Yes
List all RF supported (eg PAL B/G/H, NTSC M etc) NTSC / PAL / SECAM Pal B/G, D/K, I
List Video supported (eg PAL M/N, NTSC4.43 etc) NTSC / PAL / SECAM PAL/SECAM/NTSC3.58/NTSC4.43
Component Video supported (eg 480i/p, 1080i 50/60, etc) 480i/p, 576i/p, 720p, 1080i 1080i/720p/480p/576i/480i
PC Signals supported (eg VGA, XGA, etc) VGA to SXGA (the latter with interpolation) XGA
DVI RGB signals supported (eg Horizontal 31 to 60kHz, Vertical 50 to 80Hz, Clock 20 to 75MHz) supported Hor: 31.469 to 68.677kHZ
Vert: N/A To 84.997Hz
Clock: N/A
Component (Y, Pb, Pr) 2 2
S-Video 1 rear, 1 side 2 (audio channels shared with Composite Video inputs)
Composite Video 1 rear, 1 side / 1 out 3 (2 sets of audio channels shared with the S-Video inputs) in / 1 out
RGB 1 1
DVI 1 1
Scart 0 N/A
Audio 4 in / 1 out 6 in / 1 out
Power consumption for operation and standby modes 350 W operation / 4.5 W Standby 330W Operation
Weight 36kg 43kg
Stand provided or optional detachable desk top stand included provided (separate box)

7. Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice: Hitachi 42PD5000TA

Hitachi 42PD5000TA
It was a two way race between the Fujitsu and Hitachi for the Editor's Choice Award. The Fujitsu is a better display in terms of picture quality but is some AU$1000 dearer. Hitachi gives you more for your dollar like a pair of side speakers, great swivel stand and a built in TV tuner. This made it really hard to pick a winner. All we can say is if you're very pedantic and all you care about is picture quality do yourself a favour and buy a Fujitsu Plasma. If you want to drive your dollar further go for the Hitachi.

8. How we tested

How we tested

Test Equipment - Hardware

  • MediaStar HDT900 - high definition digital set top box
  • Panasonic DVD-RA61 - Component video source with 54MHz video DAC
  • Nintaus PDVD-N9769 - RGB and progressive scan DVD source.
  • Hills Optimax 600+ - high gain fringe area antenna.

Test Equipment - Software

  • The Ultimate DVD Platinum Edition - used to configure the display and provide standard test patterns, images and diagnostic tools.
  • Gladiator DVD - to provide realistic skin tones, fast action sequences and landscape detail.
  • Toy Story 2 DVD - to provide saturated "cartoon" style colour and sharp edged objects with very smooth gradient fills.

About RMIT IT Test Labs

RMIT IT Test Labs
RMIT IT Test Labs is an independent testing institution based in Melbourne, Victoria, performing IT product testing for clients such as IBM, Coles-Myer, and a wide variety of government bodies. In the Labs' testing for, they are in direct contact with the clients supplying products and the magazine is responsible for the full cost of the testing. The findings are the Labs' own -- only the specifications of the products to be tested are provided by the magazine. For more information on RMIT, please contact the Lab Manager, Steven Turvey.