The Good Inexpensive for a plasma; relatively deep blacks help achieve a high contrast ratio; accurate color decoding; video processing includes 2:3 pull-down.
The Bad Some visible false contouring artifacts occur just above black; lacks an HDTV tuner and a CableCard slot.
The Bottom Line In its MX-42X3, Maxent has assembled a bargain 42-inch plasma that performs quite well compared to the higher-priced competition.
Maxent, a little-known brand from parent company Regent USA in California has recently introduced a line of LCD and plasma flat-panel TVs at very aggressive price points. One example is the 32-inch LCD for less than $1,000, and another is this 42-inch plasma, the MX-42X3. As does the 50-inch , the Maxent MX-42X3 skips amenities such as a built-in HDTV tuner and a CableCard slot, but it does offer most of the other features found on competing models--just for less money. You can find this high-resolution plasma for less than $2,000 in stores, and considering its price, the MX-42X3 does perform surprisingly well. Although it won't win any beauty contests, the Maxent MX-42X3 is attractive enough. A black bezel surrounds the screen, which helps increase the viewer's perceived contrast ratio and give the onscreen image more "pop." The silver speakers are housed to the left and right side of the screen rather than below it, and the tabletop stand is also finished in silver, giving the set a distinctly two-tone look. Compared to some other plasmas, the MX-42X3 is fairly wide, owing much of its 50-inch width to the nondetachable speakers.
The remote is fairly well laid out, and the most common function buttons such as volume and channel are easy to access by thumb. Behind a slide-down cover, we found dedicated buttons for each input; a nice bonus but not ideal for easy access. Unfortunately, the remote is not backlit or illuminated in any way. The Maxent MX-42X3's internal menu system or GUI, for graphical user interface, is straightforward and easy to navigate, although we exited it unintentionally on a few occasions due to a poorly placed menu key. With a native resolution of 1,024x768, the Maxent MX-42X3 qualifies as a high-resolution 42-inch plasma; it has the same number of pixels as most other plasmas of its size and will display more detail with HDTV and computer sources than EDTV models (more info). All sources, including high-def, computers, DVD, and standard TV, are scaled to fit the pixels.
Since it lacks an HDTV tuner, the MX-42X3 is technically an HDTV monitor. It's also not Digital Cable Ready, so you'll need to use an external tuner such as a cable or satellite box to watch TV or HDTV on the MX-42X3.
The Maxent MX-42X3 does include a few picture-affecting features. Selectable picture modes, namely Vivid, Standard, Cinema, and User, all have different picture presets for contrast brightness, and so on; and the User setting is different for each input, providing the set with independent input memories. The three color-temperature options, Cool, Natural, and Warm, each result in different grayscales. The panel also includes horizontal and vertical size and position controls, similar to a computer monitor, but we didn't find them all that useful. They only affect the image with component-video and computer sources and don't work properly even then; for example, the right side of the image expanded disproportionately when we tested the horizontal-size control.
The Maxent MX-42X3's aspect-ratio controls are similarly hobbled; while we liked having five choices for use with 480i sources such as standard TV, we didn't appreciate being limited to just 4:3, which places black bars to either side of a 4:3 image; and 16:9, which fills the screen with native wide-screen images, for 480p and HDTV resolutions. That's annoying because, for example, you can't expand nonanamorphic letterboxed DVDs from a progressive-scan player to fill the screen. Other than a few audio options and onboard speakers with a 10-watt internal amplifier, that's all there is to the feature package.
The connectivity options on the Maxent MX-42X3 are adequate if not overly generous. There is one HDMI input with HDCP copy protection for use with HDTV sources, two component-video inputs, two A/V inputs with either S-Video or composite, one VGA input, one VGA output, and a subwoofer jack. Custom installers will appreciate the inclusion of an RS-232 port for control-panel programming. Overall, we were happy with the picture that the Maxent MX-42X3 produced. Its out-of-the box color temperature was rather accurate, and after calibration, we saw that blacks were deeper and richer than many other plasmas we've tested, which really helps it produce a better-looking home-theater image.
We did see two problems, however. The MX-42X3 tends to float blacks, meaning that black areas became brighter when other areas of the screen increased in brightness--this contributed to its Poor score under DC Restoration in the Geek Box (see below). Also, in the opening scene of Alien: The Director's Cut, we saw a few false contouring artifacts. We often see these artifacts in a variety of areas just above black and sometimes even in relatively bright scenes--people's faces, for example--but thankfully, they were visible only in the very darkest scenes on the Maxent. Conversely, bright scenes from the awesome Vertical Limit Superbit DVD looked really solid, with excellent detail and snap to the picture.
The color decoding is relatively good as far as plasmas go, with only a hint of red push, so we had to back the color control down, resulting in slightly less than full saturation. The Maxent MX-42X3's actual primary colors measured closer to the HDTV standard than many plasma panels we've tested. Red is a little on the orange side but still more accurate than most, green is the biggest offender in that it measured yellowish, and blue is very close to accurate. The reason manufacturers choose inaccurate phosphors, which create color in plasmas, is twofold. Accurate phosphors are often more expensive, and sometimes accuracy is sacrificed for more brightness. For example, a yellowish green is much brighter than the green that will make football fields look natural.
The Maxent MX-42X3's video processing was clean and smooth. It definitely incorporates the all-important 2:3 pull-down detection for the elimination of motion artifacts with film-based material such as prime-time TV on cable, satellite, or antenna. We verified this by running the DVD player interlaced and watching the opening scene of Star Trek: Insurrection, which was rendered smoothly and cleanly with no visible motion artifacts.
HDTV sources looked fine with excellent color saturation and natural skin tone rendition. HDNet aired a movie preview program that looked really snappy with good detail. Dark concert footage on HDNet revealed excellent shadow detail and looked clean and smooth. Note that we were using the HDMI input with our HDTV source set to 720p resolution, but when we switched to 1080i, the picture immediately lost some sharpness. Test patterns from our Sencore signal generator confirmed that the Maxent severely truncates the resolution on 1080i sources via HDMI, so you should set your HD receiver to 720p output.
Although HDTV looked sharp and detailed, the Maxent MX-42X3 won't look as sharp as a larger, 50-inch plasma with 1,280x768 resolution or better, but that is to be expected. For true HD resolution in a plasma panel, be prepared to go bigger and spend more money.