Samsung's HP-P4261 is one of the least-expensive full-featured, high-resolution plasma panels on the market. Sure it costs more than so-called EDTV models of the same size, but it also delivers more detail with high-def and computer material. But while the HP-P4261 is beautifully designed and will look dashing on your wall, its performance leaves something to be desired compared to other plasma displays available today. That said, its relatively low price and high style could increase its appeal for less critical viewers.
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 Samsung HP-P4261 has an extremely attractive design. A wide, glossy-black border surrounds the screen. The speakers are housed beneath, behind a strip of perforated silver. Silver trim surrounds the whole panel, giving it a two-tone look. A large silver power button on the bottom center is ringed with blue light. When powered up, the set emits a goofy video-game-sounding alert.
Measuring 47 by 41 by 17 inches (WHD) when set atop the included stand, this 3.25-inch-deep panel can also hang on the wall with an optional bracket (model WMN4240, $199 list). Unlike many plasmas, the HP-P4261 has a jack pack that faces straight back instead of down, so wall mounting may be more of a hassle than usual.
The remote has a rather basic design with no backlighting. Its simple button layout lets you control other pieces of A/V gear. The internal menu system is very similar to those on all late-model Samsung digital TVs; we found it intuitive to navigate.With a native resolution of 1,024x768, the Samsung HP-P4261 outdoes step-down EDTV models in the amount of detail it can deliver with high-def sources (more info). Its resolution matches that of most other 42-inch plasmas currently on the market, with the exception of 1,024x1,024 ALIS panels such as the Hitachi 42HDT51. The Samsung can display TV, DVD, HDTV, and computer sources. Unlike a few high-def plasmas, it lacks a built-in digital tuner and a CableCard slot. That's not a huge deal unless you really don't want to connect an external tuner box.
All in all, the feature package on this panel is decent. Dual-tuner PIP (picture-in-picture) with split screen is onboard here, although the second window can't display component, DVI, or VGA sources. There are three picture presets plus an input-independent custom mode to modify the image. Selectable color temperatures include Cool 1, Cool 2, Normal, Warm 1, and Warm 2. The Warm 2 setting on our review sample measured the closest to the standard. The versatile aspect-ratio control allows three choices with high-def and 480p sources (four with 480i), including a zoom option with adjustable picture position and vertical stretch.
A new feature from Samsung called MCC (My Control Color) gives you the ability to change skin tones, blues, and greens using an internally generated animated picture. This turned out to be a pure gimmick that does not improve picture performance.
On the audio side, there are five sonic presets: Standard, Music, Movie, Speech, and Custom. Custom allows you to equalize the audio to some extent. The Auto Volume control tames aural peaks and valleys so that you don't get blown off the couch during commercial breaks.
The panel's connection options are reasonably generous. A DVI input with HDCP copy protection for use with HDTV sources (and some DVD players) heads the list; unlike some current plasmas, the HP-P4261 lacks an HDMI port. Two broadband component inputs capable of receiving and displaying 480i/p, 720p, and 1080i are also present, along with an A/V input with S-Video, an A/V input with just composite video, a set of A/V monitor outputs, and a VGA-style 15-pin RGB input for use with a PC. Another set of A/V inputs with S-Video is located on the right side of the panel for convenient camcorder or video game hookup.The overall performance of the Samsung HP-P4261 was somewhat disappointing. The most noticeable flaw was severe solarization, or false contouring, which appeared in sources from regular TV to DVD to high-def. The color decoding, which also leaves a lot to be desired, cannot be improved. In its favor, the panel had a good grayscale both before and after calibration (see the geek box), and there is 2:3 pull-down detection in the video processing as long as Film mode was engaged in the menu.
After calibrating the panel, we sat back and watched some of our favorite reference DVDs. Solarization reared its head during chapter 12 of the Seabiscuit DVD, where we saw large, yellow, moving blotches on Chris Cooper's face. These blotches appeared mostly in highlights and occurred in all types of program material.
Chapters 2 and 3 of the Alien DVD are great torture tests for black-level performance, and torture the Samsung we did. The very dark scenes were fairly quiet in terms of artifacts but did show a dark gray rather than a true black--although the blacks were darker than those on ALIS-based panels such as the Hitachi 42HDT51. Chapter 3, a medium-bright scene, showed some false contours on the airlock door and at the beginning of the scene where the astronauts are awakened from their deep slumber.
HDTV material from our DirecTV HD satellite feed mostly looked good, aside from the solarization. Again, dark material from The Wind and the Lion on the HDNet Movie channel revealed visible video noise that looked like dancing pixels.
The bottom line is that this Samsung has some performance issues, particularly with dark material--which, to be fair, challenges most plasma panels. It is too bad there's so much dark material in movies, but that's reality, baby. The HP-P4261 is really not a competent performer for home-theater use, but it might make a good TV for the family room, where critical viewing isn't the focus.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6,100/6,250K||Good|
|After color temp (20/80)||6,625/6,625K||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||± 263K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||± 128K||Good|
|Color decoder error: red||-10%||Average|
|Color decoder error: green||-5%||Good|
|DC restoration||No stable pattern||Poor|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Y||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|