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Gateway Plasma TV Review

Model: Gateway GTW-P42M303 Ultrabright Plasma Television
Description: 42-inch EDTV Plasma Display, Widescreen 16:9 Format
Resolution: 854 x 480 (WVGA)
Includes: Built-in NTSC tuner with universal remote and plasma tabletop stand
Color: Silver chassis with black framing element around plasma screen
Reviewer: Robert Wiley
Date: 03-15-04

INTRODUCTION

The ultimate test of all plasma TV's is how well they show when they are actually tested for video quality. Forget the native pixel resolution , the built in progressive scan converter/scalar, the sometimes unrealistic contrast ratio listed by the manufacturer. These specifications are provided by the manufacturers, who want to promote their product offerings. Comparing TV's of any kind side by side with the same input signal playing the same material at the same moment is the way to truly understand how the signal information is received, converted and shown to the naked eye. With plasma display monitors the differences are sometimes much more pronounced than with other types of televisions.

Extensive testing is required to thoroughly review a plasma display TV. If testing is to occur side-by-side then we use independent video sources at the same moment or a switching device that accomplishes the same. We use Sencore VSB players for HDTV material, Extron video switchers, and HDTV decoder boxes by Sony, Panasonic or Samsung, and a Sencore VP402 video generator for calibration testing. We color analyze the units with progressive scan DVD players with both progressive 480p and 480i signals. And we test lowly signals of cable and VCRs for clarity and scaling, before lastly moving to PC computer assessment.

gateway plasma tv

Gateway GTW-P42M303


Left to Right: Panasonic TH-42PWD6UY, Gateway GTW-P42M303, Samsung PPM42S3 on the review rack.

This is a second-generation Gateway EDTV plasma TV. We reviewed Gateway's first plasma offering in November of 2002. That review was also branded for the Taiwanese manufactured Sampo PME42S6, which was essentially the maker of the plasma TV. The same is true for this Gateway offering. This plasma offering is also a Sampo and is very similar to the previous model. The remote control was bit different in layout and quality, but the menu was is unchanged, as was the bezel/frame, the input connections, and the functionality such as the 3 zoom modes remains exactly the same. In my best estimation, this unit is definitely made by Sampo as well - with very few substantial changes from the previous model.

PICTURE - 77

One of the biggest detractions of this plasma offering was a problem with flicker. Certain signals, such as progressive scan DVD and computer had a lot of horizontal flickering that was annoying. The issue became less apparent with interlaced signals from cable, and DVD but it was an overall negative that needs notice compared to others. The amount of consistent radiant flitter diffused from this plasma is unusual for today's plasma quality - especially with DVD and TV source.

While watching the new DVD release of Old School I was annoyed by two elements that characterize other problems with the picture image: 1) Lack of good black levels causing poor contrast and a washed out appearance, and 2) A greenish tint to picture images which was perceivable even in flesh tones of the characters.

Gateway's claim on contrast for this unit was 1000:1. However, the accompanying manual for the unit had contrast listed at 600:1. Either way, it was weak and unimpressive. The black banding showing top and bottom of the image when watching DVD was faded into a charcoal gray. Where other manufacturers have been improving black levels, and thus contrast - Sampo/Gateway is not keeping pace. It doesn't appear to be much of a concern to them.

Color integrity and rendition was off from the start. Even with professional calibration, my chromaticity measurements never closed in on preferred color coordinates D6500 kelvin, instead leaning forever to greenish tints. While watching Will Farell in hilarious scenes from the Mitch-a-palooza party in Old School, I was doubly preoccupied between laughs with the lack of definition in dark scenes and the inconsistent color feedback from images. My final adjustments for the unit in our showroom were: Tint decreased to 44%, Sharpness decreased to 30 to get rid of some of the false edge enhancement, Brightness increased to 55% to attempt being able to make out some definition in dark scenes, and finally I decreased contrast to a reasonable 50% from the preset 100%.



Back of the Gateway GTW-P42M303

Images with HDTV appeared relatively clean and with good depth. HDTV is fantastic on most any plasma - even with only EDTV resolution.

Cable, satellite and broadcast upgrading was pretty decent considering the lack of contrast and black levels. Visible flicker remained an issue for me. Edge enhancement was apparent in our dark test room, but overall the brightness of the unit should stand the test of ambient lighting although the plasma will likely suffer phosphor burnout much quicker than plasma displays, which are properly calibrated for contrast. Gateway is shooting for initial pop.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS - 85

The aesthetic design of the Gateway/Sampo 42" offering is unchanged from 2 years ago. The plasma has an interesting tricolor appearance with silver 1 inch wide trim around ½ inch charcoal and then black ribbon. Not for everyone, but intriguing.

There are two improvements that I noticed over the previous Gateway/Sampo plasma. The remote control is much improved on this plasma. The layout is a little better with important control buttons in accessible position on the remote. The RC is backlit as well when depressing any button, always a plus. Strangely, there are some remote buttons, which are still somewhat hidden - such as the frequently used wide button, which will allow the user to change the aspect ratios. The tiny control is mysteriously hidden upper right side of the center control arrows. The menu for the unit is complete, with a special parental control function.

The second and most important improvement of this plasma TV over the previous model is the reduction in audible noise. The previous Sampo/Gateway had a terrible high-pitched whine. This unit is reasonable quiet - with a slight whirring sound - but not distracting from 12 feet with the audio on. The fan less plasma does suck up the power and is very warm to the touch.

Speakers amplification is still a weak 5 watts per speaker - same as last offering.

As with the previous Gateway plasma there is much flicker visible from a computer signal input through the 15 pin RGB terminal. It seems poorly calibrated for computer use.

VALUE - 80

My comments are nearly the same on the value of this plasma offering as the last Gateway which was also then at $2999 (and is now at $2799). The reduction in rating value-wise comes from the fact that there is very little improvement in this unit than the first offering 2 years ago. So while this unit is slightly better than the previous Gateway/Sampo 42" EDTV, it's valuation is declining compared to its competition in the plasma market. This is not a plasma television that is going to fair well in side-by-side comparison with Japanese brands. It will compete with other Taiwan made brands and Korean branded products. The plasma is acceptable at these prices, though I personally would pay a few hundred dollars more for a Japanese made Pioneer, Panasonic, NEC, Sony or Hitachi. Japanese manufactured models will not only last longer, they will provide a better experience now and over time due in part to the fact that they have had more generations of plasma fabrication to work out the kinks, and secondly because they have higher quality standards for the products they introduce to the market.

OVERALL RATING (picture double weighted) - 79.75

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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