Product Review

NEC 42XR4 42" Flat Panel Plasma TV

Part II

April, 2006

Ofer LaOr


I measured the color gamut of the display, and the color range corresponds quite similarly to other PDPs, with the usual lack of blues and a wider range of greens than necessary.

Gamma measured quite accurately. When the plasma is set to gamma 2.2, the graph measured 2.25 and was very clean and precise (none of the typical S-curve bumps). At its 2.4 setting, the display produced a 2.6 measurement (quite surprising, as most displays overestimate the real graph!).

The default color temperature values come up short on reds (ideal setting is "Low"), which cause the temperature to average out at slightly above 6500K (6800K 7000K). Since this lack of reds is quite uniform across the entire IRE range, the red bias setting fixes this quite easily. I did not fully calibrate the unit, but a few small tweaks on red bias (not shown here) did stabilize the display at around 6500K.

The remote is the typical impractical elongated NEC remote, but with discrete access to almost all of the important functions. This allows a macro based remote (like Nevo SL or Pronto) to easily control it in a smart HT environment.

The display supports several picture memories that can be toggled. This allows for several calibrations to be used, including day/night modes and support for different input devices. I find this feature quite useful when doing calibrations, but I believe most owners will never know it's there.

NEC dedicated quite a lot of thought to the anti-burn features of the screen, including orbiting, inverse, wiper, and soft focus. This is quite similar to most PDPs these days.

The aspect ratio control supports many aspect ratios and zoom options (like Letterbox, Anamorphic, 4:3, and Stadium). The Stadium aspect ratio is intended to allow 4:3 content to be shown on the 16:9 screen without losing too much information on the top or bottom of the image. This is done by slightly trimming the image and then slightly warping the rest of the image. It's accomplished quite gently and prevents the usual sea sickness one can get from such features during horizontal camera pans. CNN-style tickers make this feature more pronounced and gain a slight "fisheye" aspect to them, but normal TV content is usually OK.

In terms of picture quality, except for the grain one gets up-close, the display does a magnificent job. An outboard scaler (an iScan HD+) did improve the picture quality with SD content (particularly NTSC), but the inherent film mode support in the display worked quite nicely, and details were maintained in the DVE test and demonstration sequences.

The DVE test sequence with the sun rising across dark mountains is a great test for showing ANSI contrast issues the average brightness of the scene changes dramatically, and the dark mountains need to stay detailed and uniform through the sequence. This is done fantastically well with the 42XR4, which handles the scene beautifully. The test sequence was performed using an Oppo 971H DVD player upscaling to 720p as well as through its analog component inputs (for de-interlacing tests).

HD content appeared amazing on the 42XR4, and a 1080i version of The Fifth Element brought out amazing details. My usual test sequence, of Lilu running across the tunnel (an adjacent scene to the infamous red button sequence) shows both detail in the tunnel, and works equally as well when she is finally faced with the modern city in all its detail and highlights. Of course, the display image is not 1080, or even full 720 (1280x720), but the down conversion results in a very good picture.

NEC invested quite a bit of an effort in the PIP features on the 42XR4. The usual PIP and side-by-side are, of course, supported here. However, a real treat comes in the shape of transparent PIP. This allows you to control not only where the PIP block appears on the image and how big it will be, but also how transparent it will be (in 10% increments). It is also possible for the display to turn off PIP when it sees no signal at all in the PIP input. This allows you to do tricks like hooking up an outdoor camera that shows up on the screen when someone walks across the yard or rings your downstairs doorbell.


Overall, this is an impressive display by NEC. The two main faults I found with it were the lack of native resolution (dot by dot) support at rates other than 60 Hz (72 Hz, 50 Hz, and 75 Hz would have been a pleasant surprise), and the high amount of grain that appears due to the pixel modulation technique that NEC is using on this particular panel.

- Ofer LaOr -

Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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