Sony Plasma TV Review

 

 

 

Model: Sony PlasmaPro PFM-42X1 Plasma Television
Description: 42-inch HDTV Plasma Display, Widescreen 16:9 Format
Resolution: 1024 x 768 (WXGA)
Includes: Remote
Color: Matte black or silver bezel with black ribbon around plasma screen
Reviewer: William Becker

INTRODUCTION

The PFM-42X1 is Sony's latest addition to its PlasmaPro line of professional plasma displays. It is the high-resolution replacement for Sony's third-generation AliS panel, the PFM-42B2, and shares the latter's sleek styling.

First and foremost, the PFM-42X1 offers improved contrast ratios. It also offers enhanced image retention protection and an estimated 60,000-hour panel half life (up from the 30,000-hour half life figures of previous Sony plasma display panel offerings). Also new for this line is Sony's optional EBS-N100 network box, which makes the PFM-42X1 network-capable. This plasma display has new option boards, embracing component/RGB active loop-through and 5 BNC-type component inputs. Finally, this unit embraces digital connectivity with its new DVI input, which is also HDCP enabled for viewing copy-protected signals at full resolution.

Sony Plasma TV review

The Sony PFM-42X1 delivers stunning pictures literally saturated with color.

PICTURE: 95/100

Sony has made much of the enhanced contrast ratios of its next-generation line of PlasmaPro displays, and we have good reason to believe them. Sony claims to have boosted the PFM-42X1's contrast ratios by 300%, which would put them at a staggering (and no doubt exaggerated) 3000:1. The plasma display comes with its CONTRAST preset at 70 (on a 0 to 100 scale), which was far too high. But it got the point across: This Sony is an exceptionally bright unit, capable of pumping out brightness levels in excess of 85fL, as gauged by our Sencore CP-5000. The black levels measured around .096fL, fairly dark for a non-CRT display. By our calculations, the Sony had a respectable contrast ratio of about 885:1. All of which makes the Sony PFM-42X1 ideal for its intended application—i.e., data presentation. This is a "working" display, so it has been designed for use in boardroom presentations, as tradeshow signage, and/or as a widescreen computer monitor.

The blacks on the PFM-42X1 are above average, and we noticed that ambient light has little effect on their depth—again, a real plus for presentations delivered in less-than-ideal viewing conditions. This also makes the Sony PFM-42X1 a good candidate for home-theater application where ambient lighting can be an issue (e.g., unevenly-lit living rooms, daytime viewing, etc.). The Sony PFM-42X1 is truly a versatile display insofar as it offers a great-looking picture regardless of environment.

The PFM-42X1 delivers stunning pictures literally saturated with color. But color saturation and color accuracy are altogether different issues, and even the most colorful displays can suffer from a lack of color accuracy. Not so with the Sony PFM-42X1. An above-average color decoder makes color accuracy a definite strength for this unit. Its flesh tones were spot-on, neither too pink nor too green. This Sony unit will make some lesser plasmas look downright unnatural in direct comparisons.

Color primaries were very accurate, except for green, which was slightly oversaturated, though, to our eyes, imperceptibly so. We found the reds on the PFM-42X1 to be deeper and more realistic (read: less orange) than many plasma displays we have tested. Even so, we found no evidence of a red push in the color decoder—hence the natural-looking flesh tones that the PFM-42X displayed right out of the box.

Using our Video Essentials test disk and our eyeballs, we settled on the following picture settings: CONTRAST at 42 (on a 0 to 100 scale); BRIGHTNESS at 24 (on a -50 to 50 scale); and CHROMA at -23 (on a -50 to 50 scale). There is no tint control function on the PFM-42X1, which might be a problem on some lesser units. But not this one: Through our blue film, the tint bars on the pluge pattern looked to match almost perfectly.

When we screened Kill Bill, Vol. 1 on the PFM-42X1, we were literally blown away by the screen's vividness. Perhaps even more impressive was the PFM-42X1's ability to upconvert a 480p signal to its 768p native resolution without skipping so much as a beat. The detailing in the scene where Beatrix Kiddo a k a "The Bride" (Uma Thurman) goes to a sushi bar is an excellent example of the PFM-42X1's ability to retain all the detail of a 480p signal, even when displaying it at 768p. One can clearly make out each wisp of The Bride's up do. Even the individual streamers being blown outward by the air conditioner were clearly visible in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. This fact tells us that, in addition to a stellar scaler, the PFM-42X1 has excellent edge enhancement circuitry.

Our test for false contouring is an African safari scene from our Ultimate DVD. This scene can be torturous even for the best-performing plasma displays, but the PFM-42X1 handled these scenes quite well, showing little in the way of color banding. The Sony PFM-42X1 also demonstrated good dark material detailing—a surprise given the display's exceptional brightness (which tends to blur detail in dark scenes).

As expected, the PFM-42X1 performed exceedingly well with a high-definition broadcast signal. Even with a 1080i signal re-scaled to 768p, the picture looked almost real—as though it actually had depth. Moreover, we could tell no difference between NBC's 1080i HD signal as displayed on the PFM-42X1 and ABC's 720p HD signal as displayed thereon.

Sony Plasma TV review

The PFM-42X1 performed as expected with HDTV signals

There was a pronounced difference, however, with 480i or SDTV signals as displayed on the PFM-42X1's plasma screen. A 480i signal displayed at 768p by the PFM-42X1 looked quite pixelated and unnaturally stretched (which it was, to a widescreen, 16:9 format that Sony euphemistically calls "expanded 4:3"). Yet even when we returned the picture to its original 4:3 format, we still found the obvious pixelation on the screen distracting. The reception and interpolation of lower-quality, 480i signals is not this Sony professional model's forte. But, if one intends to utilize this display to watch DVDs and other high-quality source signals, the PFM-42X1 is a solid plasma panel display option.

The PFM-42X1's performance with computer signals was also very good, especially with a higher resolution signal like XGA. At 1024 x 768, the XGA signal is closest to the PFM-42X1's native resolution, so this signal required the least amount of scaling to be displayed. With an XGA signal, both graphics-intensive applications like AutoCAD and data-heavy applications like MS Excel looked sharp—and imminently viewable. The PFM-42X1 also performed well with lower resolution signals like SVGA (800 x 600), showing no evidence of "step-up" distortion. Sony has designed this unit to accept graphics signals all the way up to UXGA (1600 x 1200), but we preferred text and graphics as they appeared via an XGA signal.

The Sony PFM-42X1 is loaded with useful features. It can be viewed horizontally as well as vertically. It has an excellent zoom function, which allows users to zoom in on a part of the screen 2, 3, or 4 times. It has the usual display aspect ratio options: 4:3 (with gray bars), EXPANDED 4:3, TRUE 16:9, LETTERBOX, and SUBTITLE. The SUBTITLE setting enlarges the picture all the way to the left and right edges of the screen, and compresses only the area where the captions are displayed. The PFM-42X1 also has a number of screen-saving-type features, such as picture inversion and adjustable background (side-bar) settings, in addition to an orbiting picture feature.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS: 89/100


Aesthetically, the Sony PFM-42X1 has a sleek, 3.3-inch deep cabinet, which comes in either black or silver. We received the unit in black for evaluation, and we were quite pleased with the looks of this Sony PlasmaPro professional model, which outclassed most other professional models in the looks department. This unit comes equipped with passable digital amps (14W total) and sockets for connecting its optional speakers. We mounted our unit on a Peerless tabletop stand, though it can just as easily be hung on a wall, vertically as well as horizontally.

The Sony PFM-42X1 proved fairly easy to move around with a pair of handles recessed in the back of the unit. Its remote is quite functional, with large buttons that glow in the dark. The PFM-42X1's menu proved a bit clumsy to use. To adjust the PICTURE settings, one has to scroll down the USER1, USER2, or USER3 and then tweak the picture. (One can use an on-screen "keyboard" to name those USER settings something other than "user1," etc.) Though Sony makes up for this by placing separate "shortcut" buttons, which allow one to set the BRIGHTNESS and CHROMA without going into the menu.

This plasma display is virtually silent, as it has no cooling fan. And it is long-lived: Sony estimates the half-life of its next-generation plasma display at 60,000 hours! According to Sony spokespeople, the extended lifespan owes to improved blue phosphors, the most susceptible to damage, and to changes in the material composition of the electrode protection layer behind those phosphors. (We cannot verify Sony's claims here, though any extension in the lifespan of a plasma display panel is a welcome one.)

The Sony PFM-42X1 includes a composite video input (BNC type), an S-video input, a VGA/RGB input, a DVI input (HDCP-enabled), and a 9-pin mini d-Sub serial control. On negative, here, is the absence of component video inputs. If one's set-top box, for example, only has component outputs, then one will be left using an adapter-type cord (component on one end, DVI on the other) to hook up one's HD tuner.

Sony Plasma TV review

PFM42X1 Connection panel

VALUE: 95/100


With new lower prices coming out in January 05, Sony has now positioned the Sony PFM-42X1 as one of the best high resolution plasma deals in the market. Street prices from an authorized dealer start at around $3500 for the monitor. It competes very well with units such as the Panasonic TH-42PHD7UY and the NEC 42XM3. The Sony PFM-42X1 is a solid option and very good buy in the 42-inch high-resolution professional plasma display category.

OVERALL RATING (with Picture double-weighted): 93.5/100





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