Vizio by V, Inc.Plasma bargains in Aisle 18
Take a left turn down Aisle 18 of your local Costco, past the pyramid of paper-towel 12-packs, and you'll encounter a wild sight - a $2,499 plasma HDTV. The Vizio P42HDe comes from V, Inc, a small company that's also responsible for the DVI-equipped Bravo D2 DVD player, another video bargain that has earned respectful nods from the reviewing staff at Sound & Vision (see "DVD Distinctions" from the September 2004 issue). The Vizio's status as a plasma price-buster is undeniable. But does it hold up its end of the bargain with DVD movies and HDTV?
There's nothing fancy about the Vizio's looks. It has a slim, black frame and comes with detachable matching speakers. The TV's streamlined table stand provides sturdy support without adding much apparent bulk. A video-input box protruding from the back gives the set slightly greater depth than the Pioneer or Panasonic TVs reviewed here - a point to consider if you want to hang the Vizio on the wall using its optional $249 mount.
The remote control is similarly basic, with no backlighting. Watching TV in a dark room, I found it difficult to select among its many small buttons without my pocket flashlight. On a positive note, the keypad's six direct-input buttons allowed me to switch easily between video sources.
SETUP The Vizio's minimal picture adjustments made setup easy by default. Colors looked pretty unnatural with the Normal color temperature selected, so I needed to make tweaks in the User setting to get the image up to par (click to see "in the lab" PDF). Watching DVDs using the set's S-video input revealed no 2:3 pulldown - a form of processing that reconciles the different frame rates of video and film to produce smooth pictures with movies on TV or DVD. For this reason, I recommend using either a progressive-scan DVD player or one that offers high-def upconversion via a DVI or HDMI output, like the company's own Bravo D2.
PICTURE QUALITY Watching Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow with a Bravo D2 hooked up to the Vizio, I saw deep, dark blacks and plenty of detail. The film's "vintage" colors also looked reasonably rich and clean. But in a dark scene where Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) meets the scientist Dr. Jennings at a movie theater, I also noted false contours - an effect that shows up as flat bands instead of a fine gradation from dark to light tones. The problem was also visible in a few bright scenes, like one where Sky Captain (Jude Law) zooms his airplane through a patch of fluffy clouds.
The same strengths and weaknesses that I observed with DVDs were also evident with HDTV. Faces looked coarse and grainy in Deadwood on HBO-HD, and the walls of a doctor's dark office had a patchy texture in a scene where a woman gets medical treatment. I was more impressed with the look of a Kansas vs. Oklahoma college basketball game on ESPN-HD. The picture was bright, with good contrast, and the Kansas players' blue uniforms were vivid. I could see fine details like scuff marks on the court and the textures of the coaches' suits as they bellowed from the sidelines.
The Vizio is one of the least expensive plasma HDTVs you can buy. Unfortunately, in this case that means some compromises in picture quality. On the other hand, sports programs like the game I watched on ESPN-HD looked clear as a bell, so depending on what you watch, this TV could still be a bargain.
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