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A large plasma screen is at the top of most home cinema enthusiast’s wish list but until now they’ve been for rich kids only. That’s starting to change now that the Koreans are getting in on the act so we’ve been taking a close look at two 42-inch panels from LG and Samsung, which if past experience is anything to go by, could herald the start of big changes in the flat screen TV market… 



The thin flat, hang on the wall TV is not exactly a new idea. Back in the 1930s pundits were confidently predicting they’d be all the rage by the nineteen sixties… They also reckoned we’d be taking holidays on the Moon and flying around with jet-packs, but the point is, after a few false starts, flat panel TVs are now a reality.


Over the past twenty years various flat screen technologies have been developed but the only one to have come through in a serious way -- so far --is gas plasma. Plasma display panels or PDPs are made up of a sandwich of glass plates, in between there’s thousands of tiny gas filled ‘cells’ connected to a grid of electrodes. When a current passes through a cell, or picture element (aka pixel), the gas turns into a high-energy plasma causing red green or blue phosphor stripes on the inside of the screen to glow. The glowing stripes are the building blocks for the picture that you see on the other side of the screen and that’s basically all you need to know of the technical front.


It all sounds reasonably straightforward but at the moment only a relatively small number of manufacturing plants around the world are making PDPs in volume, and they’ve got a problem. It only takes a couple of dodgy pixels close to the centre of the screen to render the whole panel unsaleable. Panel makers are naturally cagey about the numbers but there have been reports of rejection rates as high as 75%, which makes them very expensive. Prices are starting to fall as volumes increase, more manufacturing plants come on stream and they get better at making them, but until recently the bottom line was that a basic 42-inch PDP was going to cost you the thick end of four and a half grand.


New technology is always expensive but for those early adopters tempted to take the plunge it helped to know that they were not just buying into a flat pack design statement but a big elegant and technically advanced video monitor with a wide range of inputs for PCs and other devices. It’s been that way for the last couple of years and for anyone into home cinema, high-end DVD and class gadgetry, who wants to see the big picture, it’s still the only way to go!


Deciding to buy a plasma screen is the easy bit; choosing between the various models on offer is where it can get tricky. The good news is that it’s getting easier now that more companies are getting involved and the competition is hotting up. As well as helping to drive down the cost it’s also forcing manufacturers to take the home cinema market more seriously and design products for the living room, rather than the boardroom or railway station platforms.


One of the most significant developments in the past few months has been the arrival of the Koreans and it looks as though history might be repeating itself. It happened with TVs, VCRs, hi-fi and camcorders when for the first few years a handful of Japanese and European brands dominated the market then in sail the Koreans with more keenly priced products and established makers are reluctantly drawn into a price war.


The Korean assault on the plasma screen market has now begun and we’ve been looking at two 42-inch panels from LG and Samsung and if you shop around both models can be found selling for a little over £3000.


The LG MZ42PZ10 ‘Flatron’ is joined by similarly specified 36 and 60-inch models and unlike a lot of other manufacturers LG is fabricating its own panels, in partnership with Philips. This joint operation looks set to become a major force in PDP production over the next few years.


The second panel is the PS-42P2SB and Samsung has also hit the ground running with a range of three very smart-looking screens, the smallest of which is the 42-incher that we are looking at here.



As far as looks are concerned the Samsung panel is a relatively plain workmanlike design that looks little different from many other commercial displays. LG has clearly put a bit more effort into their design with a crisply styled brushed alloy surround, which really enhances the shape and fits in easier with domestic decor.


Apart from the cosmetics the only obvious difference between the two models is that the LG MZ42 is a ‘stand alone’ design and not reliant on a separate tuner/control box to provide the external connections. This also means that without the box the features list is quite sparse. It has a modestly powered built-in audio amp but there are no speakers, just a set of spring terminal outputs, (matching speakers are available as optional extras). It’s quiet, virtually silent in fact, thanks to LG's decision to do away with cooling fans and rely on natural ventilation and heat sinks. It gets quite warm, however, not enough to fry an egg, but you’ll probably be able to turn the central heating down a notch or two in the winter.


An optional tuner box is available for the LG MZ42 but for basic connections to the outside world it’s not necessary. There’s a useful range of input and output sockets on the back panel but only when the panel is fitted with an ‘AV Board’, (be aware that some dealers may class this as an optional extra). This includes a standard composite video input plus a set of component video sockets (all phono). There’s also a 15-pin D-Sub connector for a PC VGA input but no sign of any S-Video or RGB inputs, which seems like a major oversight on a display now being pitched at the home market. Picture settings are controlled from a set of on-screen displays. They are clearly presented and reasonably intuitive.


The Samsung panel is sold with the tuner box or ‘Media Station’ as standard – it’s not much use without it -- but the matching detachable speakers and a table stand may be offered as options. The Media Station box is quite well specified and in addition to tuner functions it also has teletext, NICAM stereo sound, a Dolby Pro Logic surround sound decoder, picture in picture, a 5-mode audio processor and an on-board 2 x 7 watt amplifier, to drive the stereo speakers. There are no cooling fans on this model either, so it’s more or less silent and it gets no more than lukewarm, even after several hours use.


The Media Station connects to the panel by a single thick cable. On the back there’s three SCARTs (composite, S-Video and RGB) plus a bank of phonos for AV inputs and outputs and separate sockets for S-Video and PC/VGA input. There’s also a set of AV inputs on the front. Installation is largely automatic and everything is controlled from an easy to use menu-driven on-screen display.



The LGMZ42 screen has a standard 852 x 480 pixel resolution but it’s not especially bright with a rating of just 250cd/M2 and our sample had little or nothing in reserve when set for normal living room lighting conditions. Contrast ratio is also lower than we would have preferred at 500:1, this shows up as a loss of detail and texture in darker scenes and shadows. Changing to a component video input helps puff up the picture a little but it still looks a tad dull, compared with some of its costlier rivals. Things start to look up when it’s connected to a PC though; the image is bright and crisp and close to the flicker-free solidity of a regular computer monitor, which suggests the panel may still be optimised for this sort of application.


The Samsung panel also has a native resolution is 852 x 480 pixels with a claimed contrast ratio of 700:1 and a brightness output of 600cd/m2. This adds up to a mostly good looking picture though in common with a lot of other similarly specified panels its main weakness is an inability to resolve fine detail and colour in darker parts of the picture. Switching to an RGB or component input helps but it’s only really comes alive when connected to a PC, graphic displays are bright and vibrant with an almost 3D quality.



The LGMZ42 looks fantastic, even when it’s switched off, but the on-screen results are a little disappointing, at least when fed with a normal composite video signal. An S-Video or RGB input might have helped, using a component, progressive scan input certainly does but that’s not much use to the majority of DVD player owners. It’s in its element as a PC display though and that’s one area where it should do well but LG still has some work to do before it can become a serious contender in the demanding and increasingly discriminating home entertainment arena.


Samsung’s first serious foray into home plasma shows a great deal of promise. The panel is a quality item and works well moreover the bundled Media Station takes the sting out of installation and setup, particularly when used with high-end components like DVD, giving the user plenty of connection options and a good choice of audio configurations. There are also plenty of extras and features like picture in picture and Dolby Pro Logic surround are a definite bonus.


The Koreans are coming and these two panels should make established companies sit up and take notice, not so much for what they can do now – they’re cheap but performance is mostly average -- but this is only the beginning and we suspect just a tantalising taste of things to come.





Make/Model            LG MZ42PZ10

Price                 £3200

Screen size            42-inches

Resolution            852 x 480 pixels

Contr. ratio             500:1

Brightness             250cd/m2

Features            PAL/SECAM/NTSC operation, VGA, component & composite video inputs, built in speakers, silent fan-free operation,

Dimensions            635 x 105 x 82

Weight  33kg

Contact             LG Electronics 01753 50047, www.lge.co.uk




Price                 £3200

Screen size            42-inches

Resolution            852 x 480 pixels

Contr. ratio             700:1

Brightness             600cd/m2

Features            PAL/SECAM/NTSC operation, VGA, S-Video, component & composite video inputs, component out, detachable speakers, NICAM stereo, Teletext, sleep timer, picture in picture (PIP), audio processor (5-mode), Dolby Pro Logic surround sound, 7 + 7 watts amplifier, silent fan-free operation.

Dimensions            1107 x 660 x 84mm

Weight  36.8kg

Contact             Samsung 0800 521652, www.samsungelectronics.co.uk




Plasma screen technology is still a work in progress, they’re improving all the time but they’re still not as bright as a conventional TV picture tubes, so check the numbers, brightness is shown in the specs as candelas per square metre, aim for at least 250cd/m2, but more is better, especially if its going to be used in a well lit room. Contrast ratio determines how well the screen handles deep blacks and bright whites; the best panels are rated at 3000:1 but anything over 300:1 is acceptable. Check for plenty of video inputs and your budget should allow for a tuner box and mounting hardware/stand, which may not be included in the basic price.



Before PDP the great white hope in flat screen technology was the liquid crystal display or LCD. They’ve been around for years, on laptops and PC monitors, and small ones, under 17-inches, are relatively cheap to manufacture – compared with a plasma panel – but manufacturers have had a lot of trouble scaling up to living-room sized displays. This has a lot to do with the economics of high reject rates but sizes are starting to creep up; 30-inch displays are available now and a joint venture by Philips and LG plans to introduce a 42-inch panel before the end of 2003, but for the time being prices will remain high.




Thanks to a new technique developed by Philips LCD panels might one day become a viable alternative to plasma panels. Photo Enforced Stratification (PES) is a way of making very large scale displays that could in theory be ‘painted’ onto flat surfaces. The coating, containing the blend of liquid crystals, is converted onto a display matrix by exposing it to UV light of various wavelengths, through a series of photographic masks. This causes the exposed areas of the chemical to polymerise and form cells that bond with the underlying surface or ‘substrate’ layer. PES-LCD is still a very long way from being a marketable product but it is possible that one day instead of hanging a flat screen TV on the wall, after a lick of paint the whole wall becomes one giant display screen…




One of the most common complaints about plasma screens is that most models are clearly designed for a corporate or public display environment. The plain boxy utilitarian appearance of a 42-inch plasma panel can be difficult to integrate with modern living room interiors, but maybe not for much longer. Several companies are now making concerted attempts to domesticate the PDP with more imaginative cosmetics and softer or more curvaceous lines. One new British company, Vivadi, has taken the plasma screen concept to a new level with a range of stylish and highly customisable enclosures that can be configured to house a range of home cinema components and speakers. Based around a high-performance 42-inch PDP the console is made from aluminium, glass, steel and wood, the latter available in a choice of finishes.  Modular construction means that it’s effectively future-proof and new or upgraded component can be fitted in just a few minutes.




Ó R. Maybury 2002, 2111






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