Sony Plasma TV Review

 

 

 

Model: Sony KE-42M1 Plasma Television
Description: 42-inch EDTV Plasma Display, Widescreen 16:9 Format
Resolution: 852 x 480 (WVGA)
Includes: Built-in NTSC tuner, integrated bottom-mounted speakers (2 x 10W), plasma TV tabletop stand, and universal remote
Color: Silver with black banding around chassis
Reviewer: William Becker

INTRODUCTION

The Sony KE-42M1 WEGA plasma TV is Sony's latest "entry level flat panel TV," making it the lower-resolution counterpart to Sony's other entry-level plasma display, the KE-42TS2. This plasma television boasts sleek styling, and the all-in-one functionality for which Sony's consumer plasma display products are known. The KE-42M1 plasma display has several step-up features, including a totally re-engineered plasma TV panel driver, next-generation Direct Digital Circuitry II, and new picture-enhancing circuitry. Because of such improvements, this Sony plasma display's second-generation digital circuitry actually enhances the analog-to-digital signal conversion, which optimizes the signal for processing in the plasma unit's V1 circuitry. As with the KE-42TS2 Sony Plasma TV, the KE-42M1 plasma television has an all digital, HDCP-enabled HDMI input for viewing high definition, copy protected video signals.

Sony Plasma TV review

The Sony KE-42M1 Plasma TV delivers sharp, crisp pictures with saturated colors.

PICTURE: 91.5/100

Our review sample of the Sony KE-42M1 plasma television was hot off the assembly line, its settings tweaked for retail showrooms, where florescent light crushes contrasts. With its global picture mode set on VIVID (and its contrast maxed-out at 100), the KE-42M1 plasma television looked garish—blindingly bright and obscenely colorful.

What was surprising, given the KE-42M1's initial over-the-top out-of-the-box performance, was has accurate we were able to make this plasma TV by simply changing its picture preset. After using our Video Essentials test disc to calibrate the picture, we realized that our preferred settings were identical to those found on the PRO global picture preset. In PRO mode, picture is very close to the 6500K standard, has excellent DC restoration, and is quite natural looking. In other words, the KE-42M1 (set on PRO mode, where the default color temperature setting is NEUTRAL) is essentially calibrated for normal, home-theater-like viewing circumstances with a simple press of the PICTURE button on its remote! The other global picture setting, besides VIVID and PRO, is STANDARD, which looked a bit oversaturated color-wise, especially in faces, where the warmth (or red-ness) of this setting was obvious.

While Sony does not specify the contrast ratio for the KE-42M1, our tests showed that, on PRO, where PICTURE = 25 (on a 0 to 100 scale) and BRIGHTNESS = 50 (on a 0 to 100 scale), light output was quite high at 64fL. Black levels were about average at 0.124fL. The Sony KE-42M1's real-world contrast ratio was in the neighborhood of 516:1, which puts this plasma TV somewhere in the middle of the pack of 42-inch plasma display panels.

With the KE-42M1's COLOR adjusted to 25 (on a 0 to 50 scale), we marveled at the coloration of the opening scenes of Charlie's Angels, which we viewed from a progressive-scan DVD player. We were blown away by the subtly rich, variegated hues of the Angels' faces, from their just-barely-flushed cheeks to their apple-red lips, all set against the deep black of their jumpsuits or, in Cameron Diaz's case, the gold of her bikini.

One things we did notice, however, was that the edges of the Angels' escape boat looked a bit too sharp—not only unnatural, but also minutely jagged. In order to circumvent unnecessary edge-enhancing technology of the KE-42M1 Sony plasma, I opted to switch the KE-42M1 to its MILD MODE setting, which Sony claims offers "a soft, natural picture," essentially by disabling its edge-enhancement feature. To put your plasma TV in this mode, highlight MILD MODE under PICTURE in the on-screen menu, and then select ON. I also decided to turn the SHARPNESS setting on the KE-42M1 all the way down to 0 (on a 0 to 100 scale). This made the picture look far less linear or "drawn," as it were.

We tested the KE-42M1 with several signal sources at varying resolutions. This plasma TV is capable of displaying every major video format: 480i, 480p, 720p, and 1080i. As expected, with the 480p signal from a Charlie's Angels DVD, the KE-42M1 produced an impeccably crisp, detailed image, free of pixelation. To test the KE-42M1's de-interlacer, we set the DVD player to 480i, and watched for changes in the picture—combing and the like. We saw none. The KE-42M1 was unusually deft at interpolating 480i signals progressively in 480p. Even with 480i signals of varying quality like the ones from broadcast television, this Sony plasma display was unfazed. The pictures produced from de-interlaced 480i broadcast signals were clear and, most importantly, free of any horizontal lineation. If there is one thing the Sony KE-42M1 does better than most other comparable plasma TVs, it is upgrading poorer-quality video signals from cable, satellite, and/or broadcast television. The chipset that upgrades signals for display is superb at turning very average picture signals into rich, colorful, and thoroughly enjoyable images on the screen. This plasma TV is manufactured for the average viewer, for a living room situation rather than a home theater one, and for the content most people watch (70%+ of which is not HD).

Of course, this plasma TV looked its best with D-VHS, an excellent 1080i signal source. We were impressed by the amount of detail visible from high-definition video sources displayed by this unit. With its 852 x 480 resolution, known as enhanced-definition (ED), the Sony KE-42M1 can display an HD video signal, but without the depth of some higher-resolution models. Even so, when we watched the D-VHS version of Terminator 2: Judgment Day re-mastered to 1080i, we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of detail and depth the KE-42M1 was able to convey on its enhanced-definition plasma screen. When the Terminator goes looking for clothes in a biker joint, his subtle, robotic facial contortions—and all the wrinkles on Arnold Schwarzenegger's face—came through with utter clarity and stunning realism.

Sony Plasma TV review

The Sony plasma TV also performed well with HDTV sources.

If there was one area where the KE-42M1 Sony plasma TV failed to live up to our by now lofty expectations, this was in its dark-material detailing department. Generally, we found the KE-42M1 passable with respect to revealing details within and near black, but there were times when such detailing lacked fullness and clarity. During our screening of Terminator 2, we noticed scenes where dark-material detailing might have been lost to overzealous blacks. Both instances were admittedly difficult dark and shadowy scenes in T2, notably the opening montage of the future war between humans and robots. As the camera pans a battlefield, for example, a number of human skulls are visible in the foreground, but are partly obscured or "blacked out" by too-black shadows. Details like these should never been entirely "erased" from a scene. The subtlety of the KE-42M1's dark matter detailing was not quite there, though one would probably never notice this outside a direct-comparison test of the monitor.

The Sony KE-42HM1 plasma television has a number of viewing modes: WIDE ZOOM, NORMAL, FULL, and ZOOM. Use WIDE ZOOM to enlarge the picture to fill the screen with the least distortion possible. NORMAL displays 4:3 pictures with gray bars. FULL enlarges the original picture horizontally to fit 4:3 pictures to 16:9 proportions. When the original source is 16:9, select this mode to display 16:9 pictures in their original sizes. ZOOM enlarges the picture without distorting the aspect ratio. I preferred watching DVDs on FULL, which delivers them in their original 16:9 format, as the algorithmic scaling on both ZOOM and WIDE ZOOM tended to clip the outer edges of the picture slightly, thus obscuring some content on its fringes. We also noticed that WIDE ZOOM tended to compress the picture vertically. The ZOOM display mode did a good job fitting the picture for the full screen, as we hardly detected any vertical stretching therein.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS: 91/100

Aesthetically, the Sony KE-42M1 is definitely haute: The gorgeous curves of this unit distinguish it from the rest of the plasma TV pack. The styling is standout futurism à la The Jetsons. At 4-3/8" deep, the Sony KE-42M1 would fit right in on the set of The Jetsons. The substantial plastic alloy chassis is silver and lacks any noticeable angularity. This makes it less like most plasma displays and more like the newest iMacs. The Sony plasma KE-42M1 definitely does not take itself too seriously, nor does it come off as particularly flashy bit of cutting-edge technology (which it is). In short, this is an understated, love-it-or-hate-it kind of design—the sort of thing a VW Beetle lover will take to whole-heartedly.

The face of the KE-42M1 is devoid of all instrumentation, save for a main power button with a small LED signal light in the center, which changes color according to the unit's state (green = in use, red = on standby). The buttons typically found on front or side panels have been relocated to a Bond-like recessed compartment located beneath the bottom-mounted speakers. Press on it to release the panel, which reveals all the usual controls, plus a handy audio output and composite video input, for video games and the like.

Sony Plasma TV Remote

Sony's on-screen menu is easy to use and uncomplicated by needless graphics. My ease-of-use index, here, was how many button pushes it took to change the contrast on the KE-42M1. It took exactly four (the average is about 7).

The KE-42M1 comes equipped with a number of life-extending features for its display element. This plasma unit has a handy "picture off" function, which is activated by the PIC OFF button on the remote. This allows one to listen to music from satellite TV music channels without having the plasma display element turned on needlessly. This is a useful feature for people who like having the TV on for background noise, but do not want to deplete their plasma display's useful lifespan or risk burn-in.

The screen-saving functions available on the KE-42M1 are basic, though quite functional. The Sony plasma TV comes with an undetectable picture-orbiting feature already enabled.

The Sony KE-42M1 has an adequate audio system for a plasma display of its size. The two 10W speakers located below the plasma TV screen are sufficient and handled dialogue clearly. The bass output on this unit was surprisingly good for a 20W sound system. With the BASS set at 2 (on a -3 to 3 scale), we got the gist of all the explosions in Terminator 2—though not a bone jarring effect. I also appreciated the STEADY SOUND feature on the KE-42M1, which counteracts extreme increases in volume, as happens with some commercials.


Sony Plasma TV review

Sony KE-42M1 is well-equipped with input jacks.

Sony has equipped its newest consumer plasma display with a plentiful array of inputs: 2 composite video inputs, 2 S-video inputs, 1 component video input, 3 audio inputs, and an audio output. The KE-42M1 is also equipped with an HDMI digital interface. I was pleased to see the HDCP-enabled digital input, which is a forward-looking move on Sony's part. We were less enthused with the dearth of component inputs on this plasma displays—one hardly seems sufficient even with the HDMI input.

VALUE: 89/100

The MSRP for the Sony KE-42M1 is about $4999, though the street price is around $3400. That puts the Sony's price in line with 42-inch plasma TV models from JVC (PD-42V476) and somewhat less so with the Panasonic (TH-42PD25UP). Although Sony calls it an "entry level" plasma display, the KE-42M1 is not truly a "bargain basement" plasma TV. In fact, the KE-42M1 is a logical step up from the cheaper (EDTV) plasmas currently invading the market. Hence, the real selling points of the KE-42M1 is its impeccable stylishness, well-thought-out and easy-to-use functionality, and "average" signal (e.g., cable, satellite, over-the-air) upgrading technology—the very things that differentiate it from the pack of budget flat panel displays.

OVERALL RATING (with Picture double-weighted): 90.75/100





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