The 42XR3 is the smaller brother of one of our favourite plasmas, the 61XR3. The 42XR3 is still more expensive than most at this size, but the performance will win over anyone who has picture quality high on their list of priorities. There's no Freeview tuner or RGB Scart input though, so you'll have to wait for HD content to make the most of it
NEC's 42XR3 is the smaller brother of one of our favourite plasmas, the 61XR3. Because of its huge size (and therefore price), the 61XR3 was only suitable for businesses and the super wealthy, and while this 42XR3 is still more expensive than most at this size, the performance will win over anyone who has picture quality high on their list of priorities.
There are still problems though -- the lack of a Freeview tuner offends us, especially as the set doesn't have an RGB Scart input. And even though the NEC is a strong picture performer, it can't work miracles when you're forced to watch digital TV through a lowly S-video connection. As a result, you'll need to be geared up for high definition if you want to get the most out of this plasma, but if you've budget left over after this hefty investment, you'll have the centrepiece of your digital home.
Understated design makes the NEC 42XR3 a lovely plasma to look at. The screen's sheer size is amplified by a small frame that boasts no distinctive marks other than its manufacturer's logo. Some TVs are badged up to the nines with Dolby logos and picture technology trademarks, but NEC is far too modest for all that gubbins.
While we like the way that the connections are housed down the side of the TV as opposed to underneath (it makes them far easier to access), it's been at the cost of a couple of Scart inputs that any television, digital or not, still needs to offer. When you attach the speakers, there's another design flaw to be found -- any fat cables in your collection may not fit in correctly.
We use high quality Monster interconnects here on CNET.co.uk, which not only have thick cable protection but also have magnetic shielding around the terminals. Our DVI cable had to sit in a rather uncomfortably bent position on the TV. Luckily we only had to do this for a couple of weeks, but we certainly wouldn't do it for a prolonged period.
The remote control is very simple -- a small grey unit with very few buttons. This means you don't have to worry about granny getting all confused when she comes over for Christmas. But unlike most premium plasmas, the remote control won't work with other pieces of equipment such as DVD recorders. Unlike Pioneer or Panasonic, NEC doesn't make supplementary electronics. Instead it's coming from the business side, where simplicity is key. We certainly have no complaints.
Despite having one of the most basic TV remotes in the history of the world, the plasma itself can be set up for a number of different uses. We like the way the analogue audio inputs can be selected for use with any of the available inputs. This may sound confusing, but it means that you can run music from one source over video from another -- handy if you're having a party, for example.
While the remote control's simplicity is a breath of fresh air, the menu system's 8-bit console appearance spoils the appeal of the television itself. If you can put up with their unsightliness, then you'll find there are plenty of options to be played around with. Like a fine wine, NEC's plasma can be enjoyed by all, but if you're an expert, your insider knowledge can significantly enhance your experience. We'd suggest taking a look at our calibration guide and tweaking the contrast/brightness levels to fit. There are a couple of presets such as Theatre, so you can optimise it at the touch of a button.
NEC's internal picture processing is brilliant at reducing the blockiness that can be found on Freeview broadcasts. We cheated, though: we fed our Humax Freeview box through Panasonic's DMR-EH50, which was then able to provide pictures through its progressive-scan component outputs. It sounds complicated, but it's worthwhile if you can afford it, because Panasonic's box provided a very stable picture.
You'll probably want to invest in something like Denon's DVD-2910 to make use of the DVI input. Alternatively, with a Media Center PC you can send everything digitally through a DVI cable.
The internal processing offers wonderfully vivid colours, no matter which source you're using. During the Ashes, we could really make out the different shades of green at Trent Bridge, and when we played grainy home videos taken with the Sony DCR-DVD203E, they looked surprisingly good. The contrast level is excellent, which not only improves the colour reproduction, but also means you can make out detail in darker areas. This is not really important to everyday video playback, but it makes a huge difference in moody movies such as Ronin.
NEC doesn't boast about its advanced picture processing technology, as Toshiba does about Active Vision and Philips does about Pixel Plus. However, its plasma picture quality is beautiful to behold, and when passers-by comment on this as opposed to the size or style of the TV itself, you know you're onto a winner.
The 42XR3's speakers are pretty weak when you bear in mind the action movies you'll want to show off this baby with, but they manage to cope admirably. They convey plenty of vocal clarity, and while they may not be the punchiest of speakers, you can still tell when something's exploding on screen. It also helps that they can be removed, and considering the price of the TV, we suspect that the vast majority of users will be using a dedicated sound system anyway.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide