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Dell W4200HD - with 1-Year Service plan review: Dell W4200HD - with 1-Year Service plan

Dell W4200HD - with 1-Year Service plan

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
5 min read
Ever since the introduction of plasma TVs, the one question on everybody's mind is "When can I afford one?" These sleek flat screens have taken their sweet time to fall in price, but Dell's W4200HD does mark a sort of mini milestone in plasma pricing. Dell currently charges $2,599 (and sometimes less, depending on frequent promotions), and while the W4200HD isn't quite as cheap as similar-looking EDTV models, such as the company's $2,199 W4200ED, it does deliver sharper high-def and computer images. There's a lot to like about this panel aside from the price: it includes speakers, a stand, and a built-in over-the-air digital/HDTV tuner, and it has one of the most comprehensive input bays we've seen yet on a plasma TV. Its picture performance isn't the best on the market, especially with demanding darker images, but its excellent feature set and clean high-def images will be enough to convince less-critical viewers.

Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.


Dell W4200HD - with 1-Year Service plan

The Good

Relatively inexpensive; numerous inputs; includes stand and speakers; clean high-def images; versatile PIP and aspect controls.

The Bad

Darker images tend toward green; inaccurate color decoding.

The Bottom Line

Despite a couple of flaws with darker images, this high-res plasma remains an outstanding bargain.
Dell's designers followed the model they established with the W2600 LCD TV and others in the company's line, going for a two-tone black-and-silver exterior that looks quietly classy. Buttons along the bottom right of the set are hidden from view yet provide some control, while the frame to the right side conceals a set of A/V inputs.

The panel's dimensions of 40.6 by 24.8 by 3.3 inches (WHD) don't include the matching stand, which adds another 3.25 inches of height and 6.3 inches in depth. Unlike most makers, Dell includes the stand free of charge, although naturally you'll need to invest in your own wall mount if you want to hang the W4200HD like a piece of art. Dell also included a pair of wall-mountable speakers, complete with removable stands, so you can choose to use them or not depending on your setup.

The W4200HD's remote is identical to ones we've seen on later Dell TVs, and we like its slick styling and blue backlight--although we wish more buttons than just the numeric keypad lit up. The user menus are clear and well laid out.

As we mentioned at the outset, the W4200HD's native resolution of 1,024x768 outdoes that of step-down EDTV models with the amount of detail it can deliver with high-def and computer sources (more info). That resolution matches most other high-resolution 42-inch plasmas currently on the market, with the exception of 1,024x1,024 ALIS panels such as the Hitachi 42HDT51. The W4200HD can display TV, DVD, HDTV, and computer sources.

In terms of conveniences, the W4200HD comes fully loaded. While it lacks CableCard, it does come with a built-in HDTV tuner. Its PIP/POP function allows for numerous combinations of big and small inset and side-by-side windows, and you can view just about any sources, computer or video, side by side (you can't watch DVI and HDMI together, however). The five aspect-ratio controls include both horizontal and vertical position adjustments, just like a compute monitor, and all five work with all input sources. Unfortunately, the 4:3 ratio uses black bars instead of gray, which means the set is more susceptible to image retention (burn-in) with 4:3 material. Users who begin to notice signs of burn-in will appreciate the ability to run a full white screen (complete with timer) to even out pixel wear.

Picture tweakers will find the familiar array of color temperature presets (four) and global picture presets (four), although more-advanced functions such as selectable 2:3 pull-down and noise reduction are absent. The plasma also includes independent input memories.

Anybody who looks closely at the W4200HD's spec sheet will probably do a double take at the prodigious input section. This plasma puts forth a total of 13 renameable inputs, and conveniently the menu can gray out inactive ones for quicker access. The crowded back panel includes one each of DVI, HDMI, and VGA connectors; two component-video; two S-Video; two composite-video (all with stereo audio); and one RF input each for digital and analog TV. The jack pack is rounded out by the aforementioned side-panel inputs with composite and S-Video; a composite A/V output; and both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs.

Overall, the W4200HD is capable of producing as good an image as most plasmas out there, although it still has issues displaying darker images and decoding color correctly. Naturally, brighter images and high-def sources looked better.

Prior to calibration, the W4200HD's color temperature came relatively close to the standard in the Normal preset, although the grayscale tended to veer severely into green at the bottom (darker) end. The green tinge was visible on pretty much all darker material. After calibration, it was largely gone, although the entire grayscale wasn't too much closer to the standard.

When we slipped Alien into the DVD player after setting brightness to expose all of the film's shadow detail, we immediately observed that the panel wasn't capable of delivering the inky blacks we've seen on some plasmas. On the other hand, the void of space around the Nostromo, and the letterbox bars, looked a bit darker than on some plasmas we've seen. We did notice some video noise, which looked like flecks of red and green in the black when examined closely, but it wasn't visible from farther than about eight feet from the screen.

Turning to lighter material, we looked at Chapter 12 of Seabiscuit. Flesh tones appeared accurate, although the green of the grass lacked just a bit of luster when we compared it to our reference KD-34XBR960--a result of the Dell's tendency to deaccentuate green compared to other colors. Happily, we noticed few signs of false contouring, and details were sharp and well resolved.

Something strange happened when we tested the set for 2:3 pull-down detection. S-Video sources looked fine, but when we switched the component-video output of our Denon DVD-2900 DVD player to interlaced mode, the picture disappeared. It came back sporadically, but in the end was unwatchable. This occurred only with the Denon, not with the Sony RDR-HX900 or, fortunately, with Xbox.

Turning to HDTV via our DirecTV feed, we watched an airing of HDNet's World Report that dealt with the issue of whether people around the world despised Americans. Even from up close, the images looked stunning, with razor-sharp details and well-saturated color; in short, it was everything we expected from high-def. We did notice jagged edges and unnatural movement in one off-vertical column behind a Russian interviewee, but most 1,024x768 plasmas we've seen show these artifacts. Test signals from our Accupel HDTV signal generator showed that the WD4200 was slightly sharper and cleaner via the HDMI input, although the component inputs were extremely clean themselves.

Before color temp (20/80) 6,066/5,970K Good
After color temp (20/80) 6,779/5,958K Poor
Before grayscale variation ±517K Average
After grayscale variation ±477K Poor
Overscan 3% Good
Color decoder error: red 0% Good
Color decoder error: green -20% Poor
DC restoration All patterns stable Good
2:3 pull-down, 24fps Y Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Y Good


Dell W4200HD - with 1-Year Service plan

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 6