CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. How we test TVs

Vizio P42 review: Vizio P42

Vizio P42

Kevin Miller
4 min read
Review summary
Vizio has hit the new magic price point among high-resolution 42-inch plasmas with its P42HDTV. Despite the rock-bottom price, this plasma offers exactly what most people want in a flat-panel HDTV: a big picture and a 4-inch depth. For critical viewers who like to watch movies with the lights turned low, however, its image quality will be a disappointment, especially compared to that of the company's 50-inch P50HDM. The less-expensive, smaller P42HDTV will serve well as a secondary casual-viewing display in a living room, a family room, or a bedroom, and even with its performance issues, there's no question that it packs a lot of bang for your dollar. The Vizio P42HDTV's two-tone silver and black motif looks very similar to that of Samsung's plasma models. All four sides of the screen are surrounded by a high-gloss black finish, and the bottom of the chassis where the speakers are housed is finished in all silver. The television, unlike many low-buck panels we've seen, doesn't look especially cheap.
Vizio includes a silver stand; when connected, it brings the plasma's overall dimensions to 43 by 31 by 11.4 inches and weight to 85 pounds. The panel itself measures 4.3 inches deep.
The remote, a universal model capable of controlling a wide variety of A/V components, is oddly shaped, yet it fits comfortably in the hand. Unfortunately, it isn't backlit or illuminated for use in a darkened room. We also found ourselves frequently searching for functions among the many similarly shaped buttons. The menu system is basic in the extreme--one of the hallmarks of budget vs. name-brand televisions--but overall, it shouldn't confuse most users. Like most of today's 42-inch plasmas, the Vizio P42HDTV has a native resolution of 1,024x768, which surpasses that of similarly priced EDTV models (more info). Most sources, including HDTV, DVD and standard TV, are scaled to fit that native resolution.
The rest of the P42HDTV's feature pack isn't what we would consider comprehensive, but at the same time, there are no glaring omissions. It includes a built-in ATSC tuner for receiving over-the-air HDTV signals--a notable addition since the Vizio is priced lower than many tuner-free plasmas. The set offers PIP (picture-in-picture) with inset and side-by-side modes, although you can't watch one HD or computer source along with a second HD source.
We were surprised to find that the Vizio P42HDTV lacks selectable color temperatures, which is offered by virtually every digital display on the market today. Picture modes include Vivid 1, Vivid 2, Vivid 3, and User. User is the only mode that actually allows you to change the picture controls to optimize picture quality, but we appreciated that the User modes are different for each input.
Connection options on the P42HDTV are fairly generous, considering its price. A single HDMI input heads the list as the most important video connection. The television also has two component-video inputs, one S-Video input, two composite-video inputs, and two RF inputs--one being for DTV signal reception by the built-in ATSC tuner. A 15-pin VGA input is on tap for PC connections (1,024x768 is the recommended resolution). Lastly, there's an optical digital audio output for the over-the-air HD tuner's Dolby Digital soundtrack, along with a set of stereo audio outputs. Compared to better plasmas, the Vizio P42HDTV turns in overall picture quality that leaves something to be desired and certainly doesn't match up well against the company's P50HDM. In darker scenes especially, the P42HDTV exhibited some of the worst gamma characteristics we've seen on any display in a while, with wild shifts in color and intensity from one light level to another. The grayscale also seesawed mightily, exhibiting too much green at different levels of gray. Calibration didn't do much to address these concerns, and we don't expect many buyers who purchase a $1,500 plasma to invest in the process anyway.
Color decoding on the panel is fairly good, with red being slightly underpushed, rather than the norm on most displays of pushing red to accentuate it. Green was off but not to the extent we see on many displays these days. The red and blue primary colors were fairly close to the spec, but green, as is typical of plasma panels, was way too yellowish (see the Geek box for more).
Strictly speaking, the video processing has 2:3 pull-down, according to the opening sequence of the DVD Star Trek: Insurrection. However, looking at the Film Detail Test on the Silicon Optix HQV test DVD, it was clear that 2:3 pull-down is very slow to kick in, as moiré and jagged edges in the bleachers were rampant for the first second or two of the sequence.
Blacks on the P42HDTV were also a bit muddy and lacking shadow detail, and we saw significant false-contouring artifacts in dark material. A good example of this could be seen in the first two chapters of the E.T. DVD. The very opening scene of the night sky was riddled with artifacts, visible contours between different light levels, and low-level noise. The gamma problems were readily visible in the distinct magenta cast of the dark sky. On the other hand, brighter scenes looked pretty good. Scenes from the excellent Seabiscuit DVD had commendable color saturation and relatively natural-looking skin-tone rendition.
High-definition material looked pretty good from CNET's DirecTV HD satellite feed, although we noticed a bit of visible noise even in bright scenes. Color saturation and detail were both good, especially so on HDNet, our reference HD channel on DirecTV.
Before color temp (20/80)6,600/5,850KGood
After color temp6,600/6,400KGood
Before grayscale variation+/- 414KGood
After grayscale variation+/- 153KAverage
Color of red (x/y)0.645/0.336Good
Color of green0.270/0.652Poor
Color of blue0.150/0.058Good
Overscan3 percentGood
DC restorationGray patterns stableAverage
2:3 pull-down, 24fpsYesGood
Defeatable edge enhancementYesGood

Vizio P42

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 5