Computer monitor maker Envision Peripherals Incorporated (EPI) has introduced a line of plasma and LCD TVs to the U.S. market under the AOC brand. The AOC A42HD84 is a budget-priced 42-inch, high-resolution plasma that costs less than most 32-inch LCDs and brings new meaning to the phrase no frills, with virtually no features, limited connectivity, and few options for optimizing the picture. Its performance, while blessed with a few good characteristics, also left us wanting more. AOC A42HD84 does a few things right and costs a relative pittance, but in the end, that's not enough to earn our recommendation over similarly low-cost plasmas.
Compared to many flat-panel displays with black bezels and silver speakers, a different two-tone look is at work with the AOC A42HD84. The black border still surrounds the screen, but two thin silver horizontal strips frame the top and bottom, lending the AOC a distinctive, decidedly unbudget appearance. Adding to its attractiveness is the absence of any speakers on its face; they're hidden in the back of the cabinet and fire upward.
The A42HD84's feet--it doesn't have a single pedestal stand, necessitating a tabletop at least 28 inches wide--are finished in a high-gloss black that matches the bezel around the screen. We appreciate the set's compact dimensions, which are smaller than the Vizio P42HDTV's but 1.5 inches wider than the Panasonic TH-42PX60U's. Overall, including those feet, the unit measures 41.7 by 29.5 by 9.8 inches, and the panel itself is 3.5 inches.
The remote reminds us that this is, after all, a budget plasma. Although the bland gray clicker is small and extremely basic, without illumination or the ability to control other equipment, all key functions are within thumb's reach. Following the remote's model, the internal menu system is simple to navigate, and its scant options are logically arranged.
The AOC may be priced like an EDTV, but it has the same high native resolution as most 42-inch plasmas we review: 1,024x768. While that's not technically enough to display every pixel of HDTV sources, it's the norm among plasmas smaller than 50 inches. Like most of its kind, the AOC A42HD84 can handle high-def, DVD, standard TV and computer sources.
Otherwise, it's as featureless as a cue ball. A built-in ATSC tuner is about the only major feature the A42HD84 has to offer, and that's required in TVs of this size. AOC's Web site mentions an EPG but don't get excited; that's just the standard bare-bones guide that all ATSC tuner-equipped TVs have. Multitaskers will lament the absence of picture-in-picture.
We were surprised to find that, despite the welcome presence of independent input memories, the AOC A42HD84 offers neither preset picture modes nor selectable color-temperature settings, which are two features we've come to expect from even the most budget-priced HDTVs. Aspect-ratio control includes four modes for standard-def and three for high-def, and you can't elect to use gray bars in 4:3 mode, just black. That's unfortunate because gray bars help combat uneven phosphor wear (a.k.a. burn-in). On the plus side, like many plasmas, the AOC has a scrolling white-bar setting that you can engage to help even out wear if you notice signs of burn-in.
Connectivity is limited compared to other plasmas we've reviewed. A single DVI input with HDCP copy protection is the lone digital input on the set; we were surprised to see DVI instead of HDMI, given the increasing prevalence of HDMI over the last year or so. Two component-video inputs are the next most important video connections, along with a VGA-style PC input; 1,280x1024 is the listed maximum resolution, but we recommend matching the native 1,024x768 resolution if you connect a PC. A single S-Video and one composite-video input are the only standard-def A/V inputs on the rear panel. One RF input will handle either standard NTSC or ATSC HDTV antenna signal reception. We were pleasantly surprised to find an RS-232 control port for programming purposes. On the right side of the panel, there's another A/V input with S-Video and composite-video inputs for convenient camcorder or video game hookup.
As we mentioned at the outset, we found some major issues with the AOC A42HD84's picture quality, although it has some good characteristics. Its biggest problem is an exceptionally blue grayscale (see the geek box), and since there are no selectable color temperatures, you are stuck with what you get out of the box. The blue cast was visible everywhere, from shadows to whites to skin tones and everything in between, and the panel's accurate color decoding, with no red push, doesn't make up for it. The primary color of green was about as inaccurate as any we'd seen recently, tending too far toward blue.