LG 42PB4RT (42-inch plasma TV) - Review

LG 42PB4RT (42-inch plasma TV) - Review

LG 42PB4RT (42-inch plasma TV) - ReviewConvergence has always been the buzzword in the electronics industry, but surprisingly this concept is hardly taking off for flat panels in Asia. One of the rare gems with integrated digital video recorder, the LG Time Machine TV offers a unique space-saving, all-in-one design by sporting onboard recording and advanced Time Shift functionalities. Now into the second installment, the new models have addressed some of its predecessors' shortfalls and packed even more value-added features. We brought in the 42-inch plasma equivalent for a closer look and here are our takes on its various propositions.

Design of the LG 42PB4RT (42-inch plasma TV)

Upfront, the 42PB4RT has a rather pleasing facade that is easy on the eyes. A classy black piano frame wraps around its 42-inch screen which seats in a metallic gray chassis. The latter is cast mainly in metal, giving the sleek 83mm and 26.1kg-light perforated shell the necessary rigidity and ventilation. Unlike most TVs we've reviewed, its built-in speakers are spread out in a unique U-shaped layout housed beneath a thin film mesh running on the sides and bottom. This arrangement gives the set a slightly bulkier feel, though the differences are only marginal.

We were delighted to find the auxiliary A/V and USB inputs mounted a lot closer to the side for quick access. This was in stark contrast with the overly recessed jacks in many of its recent offerings. That said, it was back to a similar situation for the set's onboard TV controls. These had an awkward bottom placement that made adjustments a "touch-and-feel" affair. Lastly, cable management was more than adequately catered for by a sizeable bracket integrated right on its curvy pedestal stand. This can be further detached for easier routing.

If you own an LG TV, operating the bundled matching remote controller comes second nature. This ergonomic stick has minimal physical variation beyond a couple of new and reassigned controls. You will still get multifunctional VCR and DVD capability even with non-LG boxes. This has dedicated playback and recording buttons which should also come in handy for its multimedia and DVR functions. Versatility aside, regular cleaning is expected for its stain-prone glossy finish, while video switching is cumbersome with two toggle buttons.

It was another familiar sight when it came to the colorful and intuitive software menu. Here, you can find just about all the necessary basic settings for picture customization, plus more to control the XD post-processing and onboard DVR. For the audio department, there is a seven-band graphic equalizer to fiddle with. If you have little interest over these nitty-gritty, there are three picture and five sound factory presets for hassle-free selection. For those who bother reading the thin 28-page user manual, there is a detailed softcopy version available on a CD.

Features of the LG 42PB4RT (42-inch plasma TV)

At the heart of this Korean plasma TV is an XGA panel with a standard 1,024 x 768-pixel resolution. Though it is strictly HD-compatible by the book, this packs rather impressive tech specs. For starters, it's rated to put out a high 15,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio. This is matched by equally competent 1,500cd/m2 brightness for countering strong lighting. To complement its proprietary XD video-processing engine, there is also an enthusiast-level Faroudja DCDi chip, highly sought after for its jaggy-free HD upscaling and deinterlacing performance.

Most importantly, what makes the 42PB4RT truly unique is its onboard 80GB hard drive. This is handy for digital video recording as well as Time Shift functions. Depending on a choice of High or Quality recording mode, you could capture up to 20 or 33 hours of video from a combination of TV tuner and analog inputs. Time Shift, on the other hand, allows instant pause, rewind and fast-forward of buffered live footages. That's not all. You now have an option to archive all your recordings to an external hard drive via a USB backup utility.

Another application of the inbuilt high-speed USB port is to import multimedia files for direct MP3, JPEG, DivX and XviD playback. This idiot-proof system ranks high in both versatility and user-friendliness, thanks to a wide array of USB media support and intuitive software. We were particular fond of its automated storage detection, simplified user interface and onscreen navigation help. In addition, three specialized submenus are tailored for each group of files. For example, there is a preview window and 3 x 2 thumbnails for videos and photos, respectively.

Despite its high level of integration, there is still quite a selection of sockets for external hookup. At the top of the hierarchy is a pair of well-endowed HDMI terminals with Simplink (HDMI-CEC) and full 1080p24/50/60 compliancy. Taking a step back, there are dual sets of analog component-video sockets which readily accept 1080p but lack the judder-free 24Hz capability. Rounding up the rear connectivity options are a widescreen-ready PC input and the usual composite A/V jacks. Missing is an S-video input which is relegated to the side.

Performance of the LG 42PB4RT (42-inch plasma TV)

We paired the 42PB4RT with a Sony PlayStation 3, Toshiba HD-XE1 and Pioneer DV-S969Avi DVD player using quality HDMI Monster cables, computer color-tuned by a SpyderTV Pro calibrator. The initial impressions were generally positive save for a particularly disturbing observation. Memory retention effect was quite persistent even for non-static videos, while ghost images were visible after each round of evaluation. However, this was offset by an excellent TV broadcast quality, characterized by sharp and clean visuals.

Moving forward, it scored perfect color decoding but exhibited a mild black crush during the challenging grayscale tracking for synthetic Avia test patterns. To give the Faroudja DCDi chip a throughout workout, we supplied a 480i signal into the review unit but was surprisingly greeted with heavy jaggies in our HQV benchmark. That said, rectifying this anomaly was just a matter of switching over to a progressive 480p feed. This was easily verified in the Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence DVD's artifacts-free and detail convenience store shootout scene.

The low pixel count did not stop the panel from putting on a strong showing for film-based 1080p content. Playing back an HD-DVD rendition of The Phantom of the Opera brought the musical alive with a stunning display of elaborate costumes and rich saturated colors. Sadly, its average black level was at play again in Chapter 14 where details of Raoul's black coat were lost in a mushy patch. Togging over to the 24Hz mode via PS3 yielded little improvement, though motion smearing was near non-existent for both HD copies of the Hollywood movie.

As further testaments to its powerful video-processing capabilities, the 42PB4RT did a rather convincing job tackling HD-HQV. Most notably was its effective noise reduction system that suppresses background video grains. The same went for most other benchmarks except for the occasion strobing in the Film Resolution Loss test. If there is another major contention, that must have been the jagged text and graphics in the otherwise silky-smooth Ridge Racer 7--something that cannot be helped with it modest XGA resolution, especially for smaller fonts.

It was a quick turnaround evaluating a native 1,024 x 768-pixel PC output from an HP 6910p laptop, accurately framed and formatted in crisp pixel-to-pixel clarity. Hue reproduction-wise, a color bar chart revealed only mild banding which was well within reasonable tolerance. There was also very little to nitpick for its solid recording quality comparable with standalone DVR. Using DVD-grade sources and through composite input, we were able to capture pretty clean and vibrant pictures with Quality recording mode having a slight edge in sharpness.

Touching on multimedia playback, media detection was almost instantaneous, while it took a respectable 4 and 12 seconds to populate thumbnails and display a full-screen JPEG. The pictures rendered were generally clear but could a bit jagged at times. In the same light, DivX videos and MP3s were flawlessly decoded and piped out in a delightful mix of punchy bass and extended treble. Neither were we disappointed with its focused stereo imaging and reserved power, capable of hitting reference level at a comfortable 22 percent loudness.