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Gateway Plasma TV & Display Review

Model: Gateway 42" / Sampo PFM-42S6 Plasma Television
Description: 42-inch HDTV Plasma Display, Widescreen 16:9 Format
Resolution: 1024 x 1024 (WXGA)
Includes: Integrated NTSC tuner, plasma tabletop stand, and universal remote
Color: Silver casing with black border around plasma screen
Reviewer: Robert Wiley
Date: August 2004


Sampo introduced the new PFM-42S6 as the follow up to its PME-42S6, which received a good reception in the spring of 2002 by winning a couple of design/performance competition awards at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Indeed the PFM-42S6 has exceptional brightness (listed at 600:1) and is a leap from the earliest offerings by Sampo (which were produced by Fujitsu). The engineering of the unit is impressively superior to Korean brands of plasma monitor displays (with the possible exception of the new Samsung models); however Taiwan-based Sampo still has a lot of work to do before catching up, quality-wise, to the Japanese.

Gateway has rebadged the Sampo PFM- 42S6 plasma TV and put it up for sale on the Gateway website. This is Gateway's second foray into the burgeoning plasma market. (It markets a 42" Ultrabright plasma display, which retails for about $800 more than the regular 42" model -- for more on this model, see my review of it.)

Gateway claims that the actual plasma display element is made by LG, which is aa Korean manufacturer. Whether that is the case or not is hard to say, but the Gateway does not appear to have the brightness or color saturation of the Sampo. This may be because of the LG screen implementation into the Sampo plasma format. But there are no other changes in the product. Extended specifications show power consumption for both units to be 340 +/- 10%, weight 31.2 kg, dimensions 40.9inX27.2inX11.3in. The Sampo (and, hence, the Gateway) is about 3 inches slimmer than its predecessor, the PME-42S6. The deep chart shows exactly the same specifications, even down to the very strangely humorous description, "Digital Zoom Mode: Get rid of black bars." We understand what they are attempting to say though. Further, the menu design and set up, remote control, bezel, input selection, scaling, and conversion are exactly the same.

Gateway Plasma TV

Sampo, with the PFM-42S6, cannot be accused of bashful following with this innovative model. Below are some of the salient points, pros and cons, about the model.

PICTURE: Sampo - 86/100 / Gateway - 81/100

The image quality from streaming video sources (NTSC, DVD, HDTV) and graphics displayed by computer input are really the primary concerns when considering plasma TV's for purchase. All else falls under "Other Considerations" for this reviewer's purposes. Color saturation and brightness are the two categories in which the Sampo plasma TV most excels. It is the brightest unit that I have tested and the power required to run the unit is considerable. Due to the bright throughput of the pixel transmitters, colors are extremely vibrant - jumping off the screen. As with most new plasma TV models - colorful video content is just stunning. One difference between the two units here is that the Gateway did not appear nearly as bright or to have the color richness of the Sampo. (Again, this seems to lend credence to the idea that the Gateway model utilizes a different plasma screen component than does the Sampo.)

HDTV and DVD progressive scan signals shine on the Sampo as with most plasma displays. Brilliant vibrant depth and realism characterize the picture from such outstanding signals. The PFM-42S6 is HDTV ready but does not display true HDTV since it has only 852X480 native pixel resolutions and must down-convert to 480p. Again, the Gateway did not appear as brilliant.

I was not impressed with the PFM-42S6's ability to up-convert 250i to 480i lines of horizontal resolution (cable, satellite) to the unit's native 480p. Sampo's 42"plasma TV experienced difficulty in holding color with lower end signals and displayed a good bit of graininess. Wide Panorama Mode is the correct aspect ratio setting when converting a 4:3 image to the entire screen size. The Sampo/Gateway technology struggled to handle this conversion, as the picture appeared to jump and flicker sporadically.

Black levels are average on both plasma displays, but there is a good bit of visual pixelation in dark background scenes, which is caused in part by the excessive light throughput of the unit's power intake engineering. Another problem with driving the unit so hard is visible motion artifacts, particularly when displaying poorer signal sources such as satellite or cable. The unit tends to flicker somewhat and pixelation could be distracting if watching this plasma display from a distance of 10 feet or less. White levels are extremely bright and require so much power that the unit emits a humming noise (which will be discussed more under "Other Considerations").

I recommend lowering the tint setting down to 40 to even out the color information -- primarily bringing more realism to flesh tones (i.e., getting the excessive red out). Aside from that, I found the factory settings to be on top of SMPTE color guidelines.

One note on the Gateway here: When I viewed the Gateway in the Gateway retailer's location nearest me, the plasma was set at a contrast ratio of 100 - peak contrast for the unit. Black levels were suffering and I needed to decrease brightness by toning down that setting to 40 to improve the appearance of black. The highest possible contrast setting is a major warning to me here. If in fact the actual screen is an LG and all other components the Sampo system, then it appears that the unit's internal component conversion is not tuned well to the plasma display element (screen). When reducing the contrast, the white and light levels dropped off severely.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS: Sampo - 79/100 / Gateway - 79/100

Because the Sampo runs so unalterably bright, I was reminded of a catch phrase in the movie Blade Runner, "The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very, very brightly Roy." My analogy here is that the Sampo is Roy and because the unit's brightness levels are tweaked to run hard, the unit will likely experience phosphor fading and burnout long before less power hungry models. By comparison the Sampo/Gateway has a power consumption rating of 340 watts compared with 280 watts for the Panasonic 42" plasma and 298 watts for a Pioneer 43" plasma TV with twice the number of pixels to ignite.

When viewing the PFM-42S6, the noise level increases as displayed scenes increase in brightness. During scenes with a lot of white the humming is intensified to noticeable auditory levels, even with the volume turned up.

The Sampo PFM-42S6 (Gateway) has three zoom levels. The zoom levels are very average in scaling capability. When displaying DVD material in Zoom 1 or Zoom 2 mode the picture displayed is not centered - but instead leaves a large black band at the bottom of the picture (less so for Zoom 2 than Zoom 1 as the picture is expanded). I could not find a way on either the Sampo or Gateway to remedy this strange scaling error. The unit has a full board of input capability with two sets of component video inputs, a DVI input, 1 x composite, 1 x s-video, and 1 x 15 pin VGA input

There was visible pixelation again when displaying an SVGA 800X600 computer signal on the monitor. This is normally the optimum signal input for most plasma monitors to display a computer signal, but the Sampo/Gateway exhibited a good bit of flicker. SVGA is the highest resolution signal acceptable for input on the Sampo/Gateway.

The large, oddly laid out remote control has enough buttons to operate an air traffic control center. Some of the frequently used buttons are unexposed, under the slide top. Of important note is the cryptically title "Wide" button, which is critical to control the 6 aspect ratios offered: 4:3, 16:9, Panorama, Zoom 1,2, and 3.

Sampo has done a nice job of engineering some looks into the plasma. A person will either love it or not like it at all. It has a one-inch thick silver frame/bezel, which surrounds a charcoal interior bezel and black ribbon banding around the picture screen. Overall, it's aesthetically pleasing.

VALUE: Sampo - 88/100 / Gateway - 89/100

The MRSP on the Sampo PFM-42S6 is around $4999, though one can find it online for less -- something like $3400. Which makes it acceptable, price-wise, though I would certainly pony up a couple hundred dollars more for a Japanese made plasma TV, like a Pioneer, Panasonic, NEC, or a Sony. Gateway, on the other hand, has slashed the price of its 42-in plasma display to $1999, making it a decent value, one tempered, though, by the fact that, like the Sampo PFM-42S6, this model is not likely to last as long and provide as good a picture as a slightly more expensive, Japanese one would.

OVERALL RATING (picture double weighted): Sampo - 84.75/100 / Gateway - 82.5/100

Rating scale from 70 (denoting poorest quality) to 100 (signifying the very best quality). A rating in the 60s for any particular category of a product review indicates a serious defect which causes the product not to operate properly. Picture quality is double-weighted in the Overall Rating Score calculation.

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