Sanyo's 42-inch plasma offering is decked out in what's becoming a pretty stock-standard design for flat screen televisions. The 16:9 format screen is surrounded by a black bezel, which in turn is surrounded by a metallic silver case. Silver speakers are mounted on either side of the screen, and are removable should you decide to rely on a pre-existing home theatre system for your sound. As with other flat screen designs, the front of the Sanyo is clean and clutter free - there are no buttons whatsoever on the front face of the unit. The television's main control buttons - on/off, source, menu, volume and channel - are located along the underside of the panel. This makes these buttons nice and discreet, but it also makes them difficult to use, as you may find yourself pressing the wrong buttons on occasion.
All of the Sanyo's connectors are arrayed at the back of the unit, which in itself is unusual as most other televisions have at least one set of connectors on the side or front of the television for easy access. The rear connectors are arrayed logically, and face downwards (meaning input cables are plugged in vertically instead of jutting out horizontally from the set). This makes it easier to wall mount the set, although on the flip side it does make it more difficult to switch cables around as you'll have to crane your head on the underside of the television to see which input is which.
While the Sanyo does have a relatively discreet profile (being under 8cm thick, without the stand), the overall impression one receives is that the set looks rather large for a 42-inch television. There's a thick 6cm gap between the screen edge and top and bottom of the television, while there's 16cm between the screen edge and the set's sides (with the speakers attached). The Sanyo's remote control is also rather bulky, as well as looking decidedly more plastic than the television itself. The remote's buttons are not backlit, although it does feature a nifty four way joystick in its bottom half for easy navigation through menus.
At only 850x480 resolution, there are several other sets out there that offer more pixels on the screen (at a similar price). 850x480 won't give you HD pictures at anything close to native resolution (that is, being able to display an image pixel for pixel without significant video upscaling or downscaling), but it will nonetheless display any source image up to 1080i. But the Sanyo is probably best at displaying SD-quality images and DVDs - bottom line is there's no real need to pair this set up with a HD-capable set top box, as the difference in picture quality won't be dramatic. But the Sanyo does boast some other impressive panel specifications, including a high 10,000:1 contrast ratio and 1500 cd/m2 brightness. It also comes with twin analog tuners, allowing you picture-in-picture capabilities with a normal TV signal.
The Sanyo's list of inputs is a mixed bag. At the back you'll find one component, one S-Video, one composite, a VGA, two Scarts and one HDMI. The HDMI is a plus, particularly for a set at this price level, but we would have preferred to see one of those Scarts turned into the more commonly found component input instead. The Sanyo also lacks something several new flat screen televisions feature - a memory card slot of some sort to be able to display pictures and video directly on screen.
The Sanyo plasma's detachable speakers have to manually be plugged into the set - consumers are given two lengths of ugly copper speaker cable to do this. The lengths of cable supplied is quite long, so if you plan of having the speakers connected to the television itself you'll have to find some way to hide the cables discreetly behind the television.
The Sanyo PDP42XS1 plasma television, once we calibrated it using our Digital Video Essentials test disc, produced generally pleasing images that showed plenty of detail (and in an added plus, the Sanyo's contrast levels were particularly good - viewing the bug creature attack scene from the Keanu Reeves film Constantine (via a component connection to a non-progressive scan DVD player) produced lots of detail in the generally dark, fast moving scene. The folds of Keanu's wet jacket were discernable, as were the many droplets of water on the black cloth. It may not be to the same level as the more impressive Hitachi 42PD8800TA plasma (which we reviewed last year), but it is good to look at none the less.
Television is also well reproduced. We plugged in a HD tuner into the Sanyo and found the images to be clear, particularly when it came to presenting natural looking flesh-tones. As we mentioned earlier, however, switching from SD to HD signals produced little visual improvement. Sure, the image quality at HD was slightly improved, but it wasn't enough to make us recommend a HD tuner as an accessory with this Sanyo.
We did, however, encounter some minor problems with the picture. Image sharpness could be a little indistinct at times, with some noticeable jaggedness to lines and edges (particularly on diagonal shapes, which could be put down to the Sanyo's relatively low pixel count). Colour at times could also appear oversaturated and splotchy. The Papa Midnight nightclub scene in Constantine - which contains plenty of deep reds - showed up with plenty of noise.
But for a sub AU$3000 set, the Sanyo delivers decent overall performance that only serious videophiles will find fault with. It's in a tough position, however, as there are plenty of other plasmas that offer better specifications which, despite their officially higher RRPs, can be found discounted at around the AU$3000 mark at many retail outlets.