Vizio has taken aggressive pricing to a new level of low. The company's VP422, a 42-inch flat-panel plasma HDTV, can be had for the extremely low price of $799. While this set doesn't have the picture quality to qualify as the centerpiece of a home theater, it certainly could be a reasonable choice for a bedroom set or a secondary set in the family or living room. In the plus column the Vizio demonstrated relatively deep black levels, while on the minus side its overall color fidelity certainly leaves something to be desired. The price is difficult to beat, however, and helps make the VP422 an excellent value in the 42-inch plasma category.
Vizio's VP422 comes finished in a high-gloss black, which seems to be the finish of choice in flat-panel HDTVs these days rather than the silver of a year or two ago. An ego light in the form of Vizio's logo is located directly below the center of the screen, and glows orange when in standby, and changes to white when turned on. Personally I would like to be able to turn it off entirely. The speaker grilles at the very bottom of the chassis below the screen are actually finished in a matte rather than glossy black.
The remote control, as you might expect, is quite basic. The shape is short and squat as opposed to long and slender like most other HDTV clickers, and it too sports a high-gloss black finish to match the panel. Most of the thumb action takes place near the top of the unit, where there's a Menu button at the center of four directional arrows. Direct-access keys to the inputs are located above the menu button at the very top of the remote, and Channel and Volume are just below the arrow keys. The internal menu system is very straightforward and easy to navigate.
Unlike more expensive flat panels, the Vizio VP422 has a native resolution of 1,024x768, not 1080p. We don't consider that difference a big deal, however, because at the 42-inch screen size, the benefits of 1080p are nearly impossible to discern.
In terms of picture-affecting features, the Vizio's list starts with four picture modes: Standard, Movie, Game, and Custom. I chose Movie as it had the most reasonable picture presets of the four. Warm, Normal, Cool, and Custom color temperatures are also on tap. In this case, Normal rather than Warm was actually closer to the broadcast standard color temperature standard, so that is where initial measurements were taken.
All the so-called features under Advanced Video, save for one, should be shut off for the best picture performance. I left the White Peak Limiter on, although I am doubtful that it is limiting peak light output at all. This 42-inch panel may take the award for the single brightest 42-inch plasma ever made. With Contrast set to the default of 50 in the middle of the range, I measured 117 footlamberts, which is brighter than most LCD panels.
Other features are sparse on the Vizio. There's no picture-in-picture function, unlike last year's models, and no power-saver mode is available to curb the set's voracious energy use (see the Juice Box below). Worse, there's no way to change the aspect ratio when you're watching HD sources, so you'll have to depend on your cable box's aspect control if you don't like the default picture shape. Four aspect ratio choices are on tap for standard-definition sources.
Connectivity options are reasonably generous given the TV's low price. On the rear jack pack, there are two HDMI inputs, one component video input, an AV input with a choice of S-Video or composite video, one RF input, and a 15-pin VGA input for PC hookup (1,024x768-pixel maximum resolution). A digital optical audio output and a set of analog audio outputs round out the rear, while a third HDMI input is all alone on the side panel.
Overall picture quality was a little disappointing on the VP422, but you can't expect too much from a panel at this aggressive a price point. We appreciated the set's relatively deep black levels, but its color accuracy was a significant sticking point.
Prior to my user-menu calibration, the preset grayscales were problematic. Warm was extremely warm or red and therefore unusable. As you will see from the numbers in the Geek box, Normal was closer to the broadcast standard of 6,500 Kelvins, but still extremely red or minus blue at the bottom or darker end of the spectrum. Cool was blue as you would expect. I settled on Normal for precalibration measurements, and then tweaked it to the best of my capability with the limited grayscale controls in the User menu. Color decoding is good, but the primary colors, green especially, are way off the mark. Red isn't as far from the HDTV specification as green is, but it should be closer, and blue is actually acceptable. You can check out my full picture settings for more info.
For comparison we set up the Vizio next to a pair of inexpensive LCDs, the 40-inch Westinghouse VK40F580D and the 42-inch Toshiba 42RV530U, as well as the Insignia NSPDP42, a cheap 42-inch plasma, and watched the a couple of Blu-ray movies using the Sony PlayStation 3.
Black level: Blacks on the Vizio were decent, although not in the same league as the newer Panasonic models, such as the TH-42PX80U, for example. Chapter 11 of Rescue Dawn, which begins with POWs sleeping outside with only a single lamp lighting the background, showed off the VP422's good inky deep blacks, and good shadow detail. Chapter 3 of Mr. Brooks also on Blu-ray is quite dark, and again the Vizio reproduced this scene very well. The depth of black easily outclassed the Insignia and beat the Toshiba as well, although the Westinghouse was a bit darker.
Color accuracy: This is somewhat of a mixed bag with the VP422, but in fairness to Vizio this is the norm rather than the exception with many plasma panels regardless of cost. In the Vizio's favor, the color decoding is on the mark, so images were well saturated. The primary color of red is a bit off, but not too bad, and blue is also quite close. However, green is way off the mark, which causes some color issues. In particular, even after correcting an extremely plus-red grayscale, skin tones were an odd ruddy orangish color compared with either the Westinghouse or the Toshiba.
Video processing: Deinterlacing of both 480i SD and 1080i HD material was good. It also passed both the Video and Film Resolution Loss tests on the Silicon Optix HQV Blu-ray test DVD. Another testament to its video processing was the utter lack of low-level noise in dark scenes. Dark material on both Blu-ray and HD Satellite was nice and quiet the way it should be.
Uniformity: White field uniformity was quite good as I would have expected given the fact that it is a plasma panel. Plasma has the potential for nearly perfect white field uniformity where as LCD has inherent problems with this area of performance because of the display technology and how it works.
Standard-definition: The VP422 performed a bit below average in these tests, although it passed almost every line of the DVD format and looked quite crisp on the detail pattern including the grass and the stone bridge. The jaggies tests, however, looked jagged indeed, revealing its inability to smooth out diagonal edges, such as the stripes on a waving American flag. The highest noise reduction setting did the best job of cleaning up low-level noise in mostly still shots of skies and sunsets, but it could have been done a lot better. When we looked at shots that included significant movement, however, all of the NR settings were more effective. The TV engaged 2:3 pull-down quickly and effectively.
PC: Via both HDMI and VGA the Vizio performed perfectly, delivering crisp text and every detail of a 1,024x768-pixel signal, according to DisplayMate. Of course, PC nuts will probably prefer a higher-resolution display.
|Before color temp (20/80)
|After color temp
|Before grayscale variation
|After grayscale variation
|Color of red (x/y)
|Color of green
|Color of blue
|Defeatable edge enhancement
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps
|1080i video resolution
|1080i film resolution
|Picture on (watts)
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)
|Cost per year
|Score (considering size)