Samsung's 42Q7HD is a plasma TV that is both attractively designed and extensively equipped with HD compatibility, integrated Freeview and advanced picture-processing systems. It has limited connectivity and a couple of minor performance issues, but for its price these are easy to ignore
Samsung's 42Q7HD attempts to recreate the recent success of the company's impressive and affordable LCD range using plasma technology for a bigger screen experience.
For the price, it does a pretty good job -- you won't find many budget screens as attractively designed or extensively equipped with high-end features, including HD compatibility, integrated Freeview and advanced picture-processing systems.
Single input options limit its versatility, especially if you want to connect several high-definition sources, and picture performance is slighted by blanched black levels that separate the screen from more illustrious models. But, for around £500 cheaper than the class leading screens in question it's a sacrifice that most budget buyers should be willing to make.
Samsung leads the way in the affordable style stakes, and not many budget-priced plasmas can claim to be as stylish as the latest 42Q7HD. The gloss black frame is underscored by a brushed metal speaker system and pedestal stand, and is guaranteed to attract admiring glances. Even the gently tapered, homogenous remote is eye catching compared to its typically ugly and oversized contemporaries.
Several essential controls have been neatly integrated into the side along with a set of easily accessible standard AV inputs. It's a thoughtful feature for camcorder or games-console owners who want to make quick, occasional connections without having to delve behind the screen -- especially if it's wall-mounted.
Rear panel connectivity is reasonably impressive, although flexibility is limited by only featuring single input options. For instance, the solitary HDMI digital input only allows you to directly receive high-definition content from a single source. That means if you want to use several HD sources, say Sky's HDTV receiver and an upscaling DVD player, you'll have to frustratingly switch cables or invest in expensive adaptors.
Similarly, only one of the two Scart terminals is RGB enabled leaving the other to cope with compromised picture quality -- not ideal if you want to connect a standard DVD player and satellite receiver. Nonetheless, there are component inputs that can be used to support progressive scan DVD players and some high-definition sources, like the Xbox360, while simultaneously freeing up alternative connections. PC owners can use the standard VGA terminal with accompanying PC audio input for computer or media centre applications.
The screen's sexy design and affordability make it easier to ignore its somewhat slighted connectivity. But you could be found wanting if your system comprises more than a few components. Plus, several (admittedly more expensive) models do offer greater versatility and convenience using multiple inputs.
Samsung's 42Q7HD is undoubtedly attractive, but the underlying technology proves it's more than just a pretty panel. The future-proof specification includes high-definition compatibility, an integrated Freeview tuner and several advanced picture-processing systems that are all too often absent at this price.
The proprietary DNIe digital engine uses various technologies including a 13-bit colour processor to enhance individual elements of the picture such as colour, contrast and detail. And there's a DNIe demo mode that allows you to judge the difference yourself using a split screen to emphasise the improvements in depth, definition and noise reduction.
More specifically, typical plasma constraints, such as smeared movement and unwanted reflections, have also been addressed. The new FilterBright system minimises glare caused by ambient light, leaving images cleanly defined in different lighting conditions. Movement has also been made more cohesive using the Smooth Motion Driver, which adds another ten frames per second to the original source to reduce judder and ghosting.
The icon based, graphical menu system is exceptionally easy to use, although the remote is a touch temperamental and the neon light that flickers at the front of the screen with every button press can be distracting. There's the usual array of sound and picture preset modes but customising the settings yourself produces more natural images.
Aside from a couple of pseudo-surround sound settings, including SRS TruSurround XT, there's few of the advanced adjustments that can be found in more expensive screens. However, one extra curricular feature worthy of mention, especially if you're a games enthusiast, is the Game Mode. Selecting this enhances contrast in dark areas, increases response time and amplifies the bass sound to create a more involving games experience.
The screen isn't overwhelmed with interactive functions, which eases operation by default, but the core technology that lies beneath is more impressive that you expect to find from a budget screen.
Picture performance is competent and commendable for the price, but there's a discernible difference in image quality compared to class leading screens.
Bleached black levels are the main culprit, robbing images of the solid definition and deep contrast, especially in dark scenes, that sets apart rivals from Pioneer or Panasonic. There's also a consistent drizzle of background noise and pixellated gradations, which are most apparent during digital broadcasts, but never totally disappear even when using upscaled high-definition signals. Provided you have enough space between you and the screen the distraction is minimal but the closer you get, the worse it becomes.
Otherwise, colours are rich and diverse with an unbiased balance between natural and artificial shades that appears realistic and unforced. Motion rendering is also particularly impressive and even the unpredictable movement seen in sports programmes like the World Cup appears smooth and smear free.
Audio ability is restricted by the small speakers, which limits bass depth and dynamics, while the surround effects only appear to muddle the sound stage. But a screen of this size deserves to be accompanied by additional speakers and the inclusion of an optical audio outputs means it can be easily connected to a surround sound system.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield