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Review summary Everyone--and we mean everyone--is getting into the plasma market. BenQ's PDP-46W1 plasma TV is for all practical purposes identical to V's Vizio V4, and they're both near twins of their Gateway competitor. Offering 46-inch, low-resolution screens and relatively bargain prices, all three are good values if your main concern is a big picture on a flat panel. People seeking a quality display for home theater should look elsewhere. Framed in plain black, this 3.75-inch-thick panel looks more serious and industrial than the tacky gold-finished Gateway and the brash silver Vizio. The 46W1's standout design attribute is a pair of handles on the back. Two people shouldn't have any trouble hefting the 78-pound set atop a table. BenQ includes a stand, but a wall-mount costs $199 extra.
The remote, identical to that of the Vizio P4, is smallish, has tiny buttons, and lacks illumination. Scrolling to your desired input is a chore, and the menu system is a frustrating jumble of icons and often grayed-out picture controls. With its 852x480-pixel native resolution, the 46W1 can handle every DVD detail but, like almost all plasmas, can't fully resolve HDTV. Of course, the panel can still accept HDTV, TV, and computer signals. Because the set has a 42-inch model's pixel count but is considerably bigger, the pixels are larger and more visible.
The main functionality difference between the 46W1 and its look-alikes is that its DVI input is incompatible with HDCP copy protection. That means this plasma won't work with DVI-equipped HDTV receivers and DVD players such as the Samsung DVD-HD931.
Otherwise, for a plasma, the 46W1 has an impressive feature set. The panel can receive standard (non-HD) TV signals via a built-in NTSC tuner. It also boasts PIP (picture in picture) and a pair of built-in speakers. The color-temperature presets are Warm, Standard, and Cool; the User setting allows a technician to tweak the grayscale. Each input has independent memory, so you can individually optimize the pictures of all your video sources.
The connectivity suite is fairly generous. One set of component-video inputs and one DVI jack head up the list. Finishing off the ins are two for A/V (one with S-Video), one for 15-pin D-Sub VGA computer hookup, and one for RF antenna connection. Finally, you get an RS232 control port. In the lab, we experienced plenty of problems but came across a few impressive finds. For starters, the 46W1's color decoder was really accurate, making for richly saturated, natural-looking hues at the proper settings. The fairly good grayscale tracking contributed to the true colors. The panel's 3:2 pull-down processor reduced artifacts in film-based video sources, such as DVD movies.
On the flip side, the 46W1 offers no control over the DVI input's contrast, brightness, and other such parameters. You need the ability to tweak these basics to get a good picture; otherwise, the DVI jack is next to useless for home theater. This flaw forced us to use the component input for both DVD and HDTV, but the switch revealed more troubles. Serious edge enhancement introduced video noise and caused lines to appear around objects. Since the component in doesn't allow sharpness adjustment, we couldn't fix the problem. When we chose lowly S-Video and set the sharpness selection to 0, we got a much cleaner result.
The BenQ's black-level performance is among the worst we've seen from any plasma. Black looked more like dark gray. Significant false-contouring artifacts appeared as pools of unnatural color and video noise in the shadows. The effect was prevalent in both dark and fairly bright material.
We also ran into a strange issue with HDTV. After we had used the D-Theater version of Joe Kane's Digital Video Essentials to tweak the 46W1 for 720p HDTV, the panel simply would not display the 720p source. This was apparently an isolated incident; the set did handle HDTV on other occasions.