The basic measure of a plasma TV's picture detail is resolution, and despite their similar sizes and nearly identical looks, not all 42-inch panels are the same. For example, take Sampo's high-resolution (1,024x1,024 pixels), HDTV-compatible PME-42X6. Its extra pixels can convey more detail with HDTV sources than lower-resolution (and less expensive) units, such as Sampo's own PME-42S6. The set's not at the top of its class, but it performs fairly well and can be found on the Internet for a relatively low price.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.The PME-42X6 looks like your basic plasma TV: the panel is a silver-framed, 42-inch piece of glass that's 3.7 inches deep. It comes with an oval stand for tabletop installation, but it can be wall-mounted as well.
The tiny built-in speakers are along the panel's upper edge, so they're invisible when you look at the television head-on. Buttons for power, input, menu, volume, and some of the other more commonly used functions are on the panel's right side.
The remote is a big, clunky affair with a pull-down door. Unfortunately, the door conceals the buttons of some of the most useful features, such as direct access to each input, so we ended up keeping the door open the majority of the time. The remote has neither backlighting nor illuminated keys. Even with its relatively high 1,024x1,024-pixel resolution, this plasma still doesn't display every pixel of 720p or 1080i high-definition signals. Instead, it converts those signals and all others to fit its native resolution.
Compared with many other plasmas on the market, the PME-42X6 is loaded with extras. It's among the few panels we've seen that offer picture-in-picture as well as split-screen viewing. Each of the numerous inputs remembers its individual settings for contrast, brightness, and so on. On the audio side are a built-in 10-watt amplifier and stereo speakers. SRS sound processing simulates surround effects, and an output for an external subwoofer is provided.
You'll also find the standard selection of performance features, including four color-temperature settings: 6500D, Low, Mid, and High. Among the aspect-ratio choices are the obligatory 16:9 for anamorphic, 4:3, and several 16:9 zoom modes. An onboard 3D comb filter is for composite-video sources such as VHS.
This panel's connectivity is more than adequate for most home-theater setups. Two broadband component-video inputs, one DVI input, and one 15-pin RGB input combine to ensure plenty of options for HDTV sources, progressive-scan DVD, and computer hookup. Note, however, that the DVI input doesn't include HDCP copy protection, so it's not compatible with recent DVI-equipped HDTV receivers. For standard video sources, there's one S-Video and one composite-video input, each with its own stereo audio jacks. An RGB output, an RS-232 port for use with touch-panel control systems such as Crestron and AMX, and the subwoofer output complete the jack pack.
Sampo's optional PCE-XTN6 TV tuner (listed at $299) enables you to plug a standard NTSC cable or an antenna directly into the rear of the panel. Out-of-the-box performance was, as we expected, pretty dismal. Contrast and brightness were set way too high; if you leave them that way with a static picture, you could burn in the plasma element very quickly. However, the 6500D color-temperature setting came in fairly close to the standard 6,500K, measuring 6,000K at the bottom of the grayscale and 5,650K at the top. After calibration, those measurements changed to 6,600K and 6,400K, respectively, and the panel tracked the grayscale very well in between.
The PME-42X6's color decoder is excellent, with no overaccentuation of red tones (known as red push) whatsoever. As a result, it can achieve excellent color saturation, especially with component-video sources such as DVD and HDTV. Chapter 31 of Charlotte Gray looked really good, with deep purples and greens in the fields of violets.
Switching our progressive-scan DVD player to interlaced mode, we spun up the opening sequence of Star Trek: Insurrection and were pleased to find evidence of 3:2 pull-down in the PME-42X6's video processing. The unit solidified the lines and nearly eliminated jagged-edge artifacts.
The PME-42X6's reproduction of deep blacks isn't the worst we've seen on a plasma, but it's no match for what you'd get from a properly configured CRT-based display, and it's visibly worse than on our reference 42-inch panel, the Panasonic PT-42PD3-P. False-contouring artifacts were also readily apparent whenever the picture approached black, showing up as pixelated pools of color.
Bright HDTV material from our JVC HM-DH3000U D-Theater DVHS deck looked quite good, but dark passages again proved problematic. For example, the X-Men scene in which Magneto wrecks the concentration camp gates revealed the PME-42X6's black-level performance issues and some false-contouring artifacts.