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With the imminent arrival of high definition, LG intends to popularise the HD Ready plasma market by introducing a range of impressively specified screens at entry-level prices.
Models from the new PX5 series are equipped with a high-resolution panel and digital connectivity capable of displaying high-definition content from broadcast signals (i.e. Sky's forthcoming HD service) or a compatible DVD player. Both digital Freeview and standard analogue tuners have also been integrated into the stylish, glossed design. And memory card sharks will also be able to view digital photos and play MP3 music through the large 42-inch screen.
The good news is that the fully equipped 42PX5D is altogether less expensive than most of its rivals -- only £1,700. The bad news is that cutting costs leads to a few compromises with usability and, to a lesser extent, picture quality.
It's official, black is back. And the 42PX5D's bold design, encased in a dark lacquered uniform, comes straight from the Darth Vader school of style -- undeniably striking but equally imposing if you don't have the space.
The screen's oversized construction, which stretches to integrate a pair of permanently mounted speakers, is comparatively heavier than similar-sized models. It arrives unsteadily supported by a swivelling pedestal stand, although basic wall-mounting options are also provided. The sleek front panel is entirely uncluttered by controls, which are all neatly concealed across the screen's underside to preserve the clean appearance.
Also out of sight, at the side of the screen, is a pair of memory-card slots that will accept up to nine different card formats. This allows the screen to access information from digital devices like camcorders, cameras, MP3 players and handheld organisers. Hidden on the opposite side is a standard set of AV inputs that can be used to grant easy access to devices like games consoles and camcorders -- although there's no specialist DV input.
Otherwise, all connections are efficiently arranged at the rear. There's an enviable amount of space between sockets, which means they can be comfortably reached without relying on blind faith. A complete hierarchy of video connections is headed by an HDMI digital input that will accept high-definition broadcasts or signals from a compatible DVD player. The HDMI input will also support DVI sources using an HDMI-to-DVI cable.
Elsewhere, analogue video connections include a choice of three Scarts, although only one is RGB-enabled, leaving the other two with lower image quality. There's also a set of component inputs that will support progressive-scan video provided you have a suitable player. Sonically speaking, there's less choice with only standard stereo inputs and a single RCA output included, and no digital audio options.
PC users can connect to the screen using either the HDMI input or a separate RGB PC input, which is supported by a PC audio input and PC memory-card slot.
The front of the screen displays more badges than an enthusiastic boy scout, all of which boast the wealth of technological specifications at its disposal.
The 42PX5D's high-resolution XGA (1024x768-pixel) panel and digital connectivity earn it an HD Ready badge that means it can display high-definition content up to 1080i -- essential if you want to receive Sky's HD broadcasts when they arrive next year. Until then you can watch terrestrial or Freeview broadcasts from a pair of integrated analogue and digital TV tuners.
The screen has also been fitted with an upgraded version of LG's own 'XD Engine' chip, which claims to enhance low-resolution analogue signals to high-def levels. In reality, this function only appears to boost black levels and colours but hardly elevates images to high-def quality.
Another relatively unique and more useful feature is the 'X Studio' function that provides quick and convenient access to digital images and music from a multitude of memory cards. Digital camera owners can share, view and edit JPEG pictures on a large screen and even accompany a slide show with music from an MP3 player -- showing off your holiday snaps may never provoke groans from your friends again.
The on-screen display system, which simply involves uncomplicated scrolling through clear, concise menus, is fool-proof. Operation is eased by an intelligently arranged remote that reserves most space for commonly used controls. There are plenty of picture and sound adjustments to play with but not all are effective or easy to access.
Various preset modes offer convenience, but the absence of any short-cut keys means you have to enter the menu every time you change mode. And although menus are vaguely transparent, they don't disappear and tend to obstruct the screen while you make changes. Similarly, despite a button being designated for the purpose, we were unable to instantly access 'Now and Next' digital programme information without first entering the electronic programme guide. These are only slight limitations, but ones that can prove tiring over time.
Extracurricular features include a sensor that supposedly adjusts picture settings according to ambient brightness. But, unless your living room is exposed to extreme light changes, the effect is too subtle to notice. And the same can be said for some of the sound presets, which includes a pseudo-surround SRS mode.
While the LG 42PX5D's picture performance won't threaten class-leading screens, it's nonetheless commendable -- especially when you consider the price. For at least £500 cheaper than an equivalent Panasonic or Pioneer, you'll struggle to find better value for money.
Unsurprisingly, edgy and unstable analogue broadcasts are best ignored in favour of Freeview. Digital TV images appear far more settled, displaying bright, controlled colours with fine detail and depth. And, provided you allow enough space between you and the screen, typical plasma picture flaws remain inconspicuous.
High-definition performance, gauged by connecting an HDMI-compatible DVD player (the Denon DVD-2910) using an upscaled 1080i signal, undeniably improves image quality above its analogue equivalents. Deep black levels expose intricate detail and superb, depth-defining contrast while beautifully balanced colours comfortably separate natural and superficial shades without confusion. However, the picture is occasionally disturbed by digital artefacts and staggered slow movement that other, admittedly more expensive, screens cope with better.
And that's the rub. If you want to spend less you can expect some compromises. But the sacrifices to usability and image quality are small compared to the significant monetary saving the LG 42PX5D offers.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide