Vizio has taken aggressive pricing to a new level of low. The company's VP422, a 42-inch flat-panel plasma HDTV, can be had for the extremely low price of $799. While this set doesn't have the picture quality to qualify as the centerpiece of a home theater, it certainly could be a reasonable choice for a bedroom set or a secondary set in the family or living room. In the plus column the Vizio demonstrated relatively deep black levels, while on the minus side its overall color fidelity certainly leaves something to be desired. The price is difficult to beat, however, and helps make the VP422 an excellent value in the 42-inch plasma category.
Vizio's VP422 comes finished in a high-gloss black, which seems to be the finish of choice in flat-panel HDTVs these days rather than the silver of a year or two ago. An ego light in the form of Vizio's logo is located directly below the center of the screen, and glows orange when in standby, and changes to white when turned on. Personally I would like to be able to turn it off entirely. The speaker grilles at the very bottom of the chassis below the screen are actually finished in a matte rather than glossy black.
The remote control, as you might expect, is quite basic. The shape is short and squat as opposed to long and slender like most other HDTV clickers, and it too sports a high-gloss black finish to match the panel. Most of the thumb action takes place near the top of the unit, where there's a Menu button at the center of four directional arrows. Direct-access keys to the inputs are located above the menu button at the very top of the remote, and Channel and Volume are just below the arrow keys. The internal menu system is very straightforward and easy to navigate.
Unlike more expensive flat panels, the Vizio VP422 has a native resolution of 1,024x768, not 1080p. We don't consider that difference a big deal, however, because at the 42-inch screen size, the benefits of 1080p are nearly impossible to discern.
In terms of picture-affecting features, the Vizio's list starts with four picture modes: Standard, Movie, Game, and Custom. I chose Movie as it had the most reasonable picture presets of the four. Warm, Normal, Cool, and Custom color temperatures are also on tap. In this case, Normal rather than Warm was actually closer to the broadcast standard color temperature standard, so that is where initial measurements were taken.
All the so-called features under Advanced Video, save for one, should be shut off for the best picture performance. I left the White Peak Limiter on, although I am doubtful that it is limiting peak light output at all. This 42-inch panel may take the award for the single brightest 42-inch plasma ever made. With Contrast set to the default of 50 in the middle of the range, I measured 117 footlamberts, which is brighter than most LCD panels.
Other features are sparse on the Vizio. There's no picture-in-picture function, unlike last year's models, and no power-saver mode is available to curb the set's voracious energy use (see the Juice Box below). Worse, there's no way to change the aspect ratio when you're watching HD sources, so you'll have to depend on your cable box's aspect control if you don't like the default picture shape. Four aspect ratio choices are on tap for standard-definition sources.
Connectivity options are reasonably generous given the TV's low price. On the rear jack pack, there are two HDMI inputs, one component video input, an AV input with a choice of S-Video or composite video, one RF input, and a 15-pin VGA input for PC hookup (1,024x768-pixel maximum resolution). A digital optical audio output and a set of analog audio outputs round out the rear, while a third HDMI input is all alone on the side panel.
Overall picture quality was a little disappointing on the VP422, but you can't expect too much from a panel at this aggressive a price point. We appreciated the set's relatively deep black levels, but its color accuracy was a significant sticking point.