A few pixels short
The native resolution of the PME-42V3 is just 852x480 pixels. While this is pretty common for low-end plasma panels, it falls short of true high definition. Inside, a video scalar converts all your input signals such as TV, DVD, or HDTV to display properly at the screen's resolution. However, we saw lots of de-interlacing artifacts watching TV and movies, which indicates that the PME-42V3's scalar is not so hot. Even HDTV material showed artifacts, since both 720p and 1,080i images are scaled down by 33 percent and 56 percent respectively to fit the screen. A good external line doubler or video scalar is a must with this panel; it will noticeably improve your viewing experience by eliminating these artifacts, as well as minimizing noise and grain.
This panel is also plagued by false contouring, a video artifact frequently seen on plasma displays, which resembles creeping moss and occurs in dark to near-dark parts of an image. You won't notice this problem as much with brightly lit movies such as Austin Powers II, but videophiles will be driven to distraction by the problem during dark, moody films.
We also plugged in a PC and surfed the Web. But when we set the PC's reolution to 1,280x1,024 there were too many artifacts, making text difficult to read. We had much better luck when we reset the PC's graphics card to 640x480. The panel's built-in aspect-ratio controls allow you to stretch 4:3 images to fit the full width of the screen. The panel automatically detects and displays HDTV signals in wide-screen mode, but you'll have to manually select the correct screen size for your DVDs.
Plug and play
Setting up the panel and all your video inputs couldn't be easier. The screen ships with its stand assembled and mounted. You can plug in composite, S-Video, and both DVD and DTV video sources. This panel will also accept signals from your personal computer or DTV tuner through a 15-pin VGA jack, a row of BNC jacks, or a digital video interface (DVI) jack.
Readying the picture controls was easy as well, but be warned that this is a powerful panel, capable of producing more than 30 foot-lamberts (fL) of screen intensity with a white test pattern. By turning down the contrast and brightness a bit, you'll still get a good picture with lots of contrast and prolong the life of your investment. There are also three selectable color temperatures. We measured the warmest setting at just less than 7,000 degrees, not far off from the 6,500 degrees specified by the American television system. Many consumer TVs don't come nearly that close. The supplied remote is a nice size and very easy to use, with a good range. You'll also have access to all operating and menu controls from the lower front of the panel.
With close to 30 different 42-inch plasma displays on the market right now from nearly a dozen manufacturers, the competition is fierce. Unfortunately, the Sampo display doesn't stand out from the crowd in terms of picture quality or features, so the price is a huge determining factor. Industry giant Sony is selling a similar panel with a list price that's $1,000 less than that of the PME-42V3. But the street prices vary widely from the manufacturer's price. So if you come across a real bargain on this Sampo model, it might be just what your living room needs.