Insignia is Best Buy's house brand, so the company's inexpensive 42-inch plasma, the NS-PDP42, is available only at the giant electronics retailer. By all appearances, however, this plasma shares a strong heritage with LG, from the panel's external design, to its menu system, to the tendency for a somewhat noisier image than those of other plasmas. We can forgive a little noise, but the NS-PDP42 is cursed by a picture quality characteristic we find unforgivable, even at this price: burn-in. The NS-PDP42 has the worst case of "temporary image retention"--the more charitable term--that we've ever seen. That's too bad, because in other areas the Insignia's picture is perfectly decent for a budget set. To our eyes, however, the burn-in is a deal-breaker.
When we first unpacked the Insignia, we felt a twinge of deja-vu. We had seen this design before--it was just a question of where. When we flipped on the TV and caught a glimpse of the menu system, the answer was staring us in the face: LG. The NS-PDP42 looks almost exactly like the 50-inch 50PC3D we reviewed in 2006, down to the horizontal protrusion below the logo and the green, nondimmable power indicator. The charcoal-gray Insignia looks pretty unassuming next to the shiny cabinets of its competitors, but its looks won't embarrass anyone.
We did appreciate the novel stand, which folds up behind the panel when it's packed into the box and swings out, ready for action, with a quick twist. Of course you can pull the stand off for wall-mounting, if you would like, so we'll supply the TV's dimensions in both cases. With stand, the Insignia NS-PDP42 measures 44.4 inches wide by 29.5 tall by 15 inches deep and weighs 64.4 pounds. Stripped of the stand, the panel measures 44.4 by 27.4 by 4.1 inches and weighs 55.8 pounds. This isn't the most compact 42-inch plasma we've seen, so it might be a hassle to fit into tight spaces.
We liked the ample spacing and well-differentiated layout of the big clicker's buttons, along with its direct-access keys for input selection and certain key menu items, such as picture and audio adjustment. The remote can operate three other pieces of gear. Those tell-tale LG menus are relatively well laid out and easy to navigate, and we felt the font and graphics--along with most aspects of the NS-PDP42's design--were a cut above those of most budget HDTVs.
As with its design, the Insignia's feature set is pretty complete for a low-buck HDTV. Like most 42-inch plasmas on the market the Insignia has a resolution of 1,024x768, which qualifies it as an HDTV but doesn't quite allow it to display every pixel of the lowest high-def resolution. Of course, at this screen size, that pixel count is fine for most viewers--1080p resolution, as we found when reviewing models such as the Panasonic TH-42PX700U, is all-but-unnoticeable at 42 inches. Like most other HDTVs, the Insignia scales all sources, whether high-definition, DVD, or standard-definition TV, to fit the native resolution.
In addition to the three picture presets, which cannot be modified, there's a pair of User slots, which are each independent per input, allowing you to create two different user settings for each source. The selection of color temperature controls follows the same model, with three presets accompanied by a User mode that allows you to fine-tune the set's grayscale--although it wasn't much help; see Performance for details. We didn't like the global brightness control, which consists of a seven-position slider operated by a rocker switch on the remote (and absent from the menu). It doesn't improve the set's black level performance when decreased below the default middle position, but does make it worse if increased, so we left it in the middle.
The picture menu also includes a section labeled "DB"--identified in the manual as a "digital booster" for use with HD sources--with On/Off controls for noise reduction, contrast, and color. We turned off contrast, because it adjusted the picture on the fly, but left color on because it improved color decoding a bit. Finally there's an Advanced submenu with options controlling 2:3 pull-down detection and black level. Only the latter was active with high-def sources, and should be set to "light" to preserve shadow detail.
With standard-definition sources, the Insignia lets you choose from among five aspect ratio modes, while high-definition sources limit this choice to a still-respectable four. Among other features, the Insignia also throws in a few to combat potential burn-in, which it calls "image sticking." These include a pixel orbiter, which moves the image around the screen slightly over time, an inverse mode, which turns blacks white, yellows blue, and so forth, and a simple white screen that can be left on over time if you notice the image "sticking." Owners of this TV may find themselves using this last option quite a bit.
Although we applaud the inclusion of a power-saving mode, which limits the TV's peak light output, in our tests it was too aggressive and didn't let the plasma get bright enough for our tastes. See the Juice Box below for further details on the Insignia's power consumption.
In terms of connectivity, the Insignia offers just about what we expect on a budget HDTV these days: two HDMI inputs and two component-video inputs, which should be plenty for most viewers' high-def needs. There's also a VGA-style computer input (1,024x768 maximum resolution), an AV input with composite and S-Video, an RF input for antenna and/or cable, an analog audio output, and an optical digital audio output. There's also an RS-232C port to interface with custom remote systems, although we doubt it'll get much use. For temporary connections, Insignia also throws in a side-panel AV input with composite and S-Video.
Our main issue with the Insignia NS-PDP42's performance is its tendency to temporarily retain after-images in dark scenes--an issue colloquially known as "burn-in." In other areas it's a middling performer, and if not for this issue we'd improve its score into an area competitive with models from Vizio, Westinghouse and other budget brands.