Expert Recommendation

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Best Overall 42-Inch or Smaller HDTV Under $700
Expert (7 Recommendations and 1 Compliment)
Send a ComplimentComplimented (Change)
November 23, 2009 Updated: December 22, 2009
Overview

At a mere $700 these sets are lacking many of the interactive features of their net-capable, step-up brethren, but the feature sets they do offer are superb. Plasmas deliver, without question, the best image quality available in HDTVs today. And for $700 you’d be hard-pressed to find a set that can trump the top two picks here, but the others give them a good run for their money.

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My Best In Class Pick
Samsung PN42B450

Enter the PN42B450: Samsung’s entry into the now-sparse plasma market. The plasma screen means motion-blur and wide-angle viewing are pretty much non-issues, at least when compared to it’s LCD cousins (both of which are issues in all but the highest-end models). Rest assured, this is the TV everyone will want to gather around whether its the next big game or movie night.

The PN42B450 is Samsung’s entry-level plasma screen and as such, it lacks many of the features found in step-up models. Most notably of which is the 1080p resolution that has become a standard and “must-have” feature for HDTVs these days.

But wait!

Before you turn your head and scoff at the PN42B450’s mere 720 lines of vertical resolution, know this: at 42 inches and below, it is nearly impossible to tell the difference between a 1080p and a 720p display. The benefits of 1080p can really only be noticed at higher screen sizes and larger viewing distances.

That said, the PN42B450 goes toe-to-toe with nearly every feature of it’s competition. It has the highly-touted (yet highly-insignificant) “600Hz sub-field motion” of the Panasonic. It has a plethora of burn-in solutions and preventions. And It has the anti-reflective screen.

To top it all off, Cnet.com says the Samsung has “nearly perfect” primary and secondary color accuracy and “excellent color saturation.” As if that wasn’t enough, the Samsung can be found on Amazon.com right now for a mere $674.

NOTE: At the time of this writing, there are no reviews available for the PN42B450 (at least, none that I could find). Thus, this recommendation is based solely on spec sheets, feature sets, and reviews of similar models

Comparison with Panasonic TC-P42S1

Most notably lacking from the Samsung when compared to the Panasonic is the 1080p resolution, but at this size, the omission is easy to overlook. Otherwise, the Samsung delivers a superior image and a comparable feature-set.

Comparison with LG 37LH40

With it’s plasma screen, the Samsung is superior to this LG in just about every respect. Aside from it’s 720p resolution (and, perhaps, picture-adjustment options), the Samsung delivers overall better image quality, screen uniformity, and off-angle viewing.

Pros
  • +
    Great viewing angles
  • +
    Little to no blurring
  • +
    Very accurate color
Cons
  • -
    720p max resolution
Samsung PN42B450 is the Best Overall 42-Inch or Smaller HDTV Under $700
Where to buy
Samsung PN42B450
Specifications
  • Screen Size: 42 in.
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Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
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Samsung PN42B450
2
Panasonic TC-P42S1
3
LG 37LH40
Customer Rating
Price
Screen Size 42 in. 42 in. 37 in.
Display Type Plasma Plasma LCD
Display Format 720p 1080p 1080p
Display Surface Glass Glass Matte
Anti-reflective Coating Yes Yes n/a
HDMI Inputs (Total) 3 3 4
Component Video Inputs (Total) 2 2 2
2
Panasonic TC-P42S1

Priced at just under $800, the Panasonic TC-P42S1 is a great option for anyone looking to buy a quality HDTV on a budget. Because it is a plasma, it won’t suffer nearly as much from the motion-blur and off-angle viewing issues that plague it’s LCD counterparts. TelevisionInfo.com says the P42S1 “had one of the widest viewing angles we’ve seen on a plasma.” So, there will be no fighting for that “sweet-spot” right in the center of the couch.

At it’s cheaper price-point, it should be noted that the P42S1 doesn’t come quite as feature-packed as it’s more expensive brethren. Due to it’s lack of an ethernet port, both Yahoo! widgets and Vieracast, for instance, are missing from this model as is any home network connectivity options. There are 3 HDMI and 2 component ports available, however, which should provide plenty of connectivity for most users.

Cnet.com found the P42S1 to have “excellent picture quality, with deep black levels and shadow detail” in their review. There were a couple of color accuracy issues, however, mostly due to the fact that Panasonic includes notoriously few picture-adjustment options, so the tweakers amongst you should beware.

It should also be noted, for those of you worried about running up your electric bill, that the P42S1 features Panasonic’s “Neo-PDP” display which uses less energy than other plasmas, but still not as little as an LCD.

Comparison with LG 37LH40

The comparison here is very similar to that of the LG and the Samsung: the Panasonic’s plasma screen has inherently betting image quality overall, but the LG matches the Panasonic in terms of screen resolution.

Pros
  • +
    Excellent viewing angles
  • +
    Eco-friendly
  • +
    Deep black levels
Cons
  • -
    Few picture tweaking options
  • -
    A couple of color accuracy issues
Panasonic TC-P42S1 is one of the Best Overall 42-Inch or Smaller HDTVs Under $700
Where to buy
Panasonic TC-P42S1
Specifications
  • Screen Size: 42 in.
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Website Reviews (1 review)
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com
3
LG 37LH40

Currently priced at just over the $700 mark on Amazon.com, this LG is the most expensive set on this list. And although it may not be the best, it certainly is among the best. There are no qualms about it, the LG 37LH40 is worth every penny.

Most notably, the LH40 is among the few at this price-point to employ a full 1080p picture resolution and 120Hz image processing. At this size, however, the 1080p resolution is arbitrary (for the same reasons as it was for the Samsung above) and really only serves to please the HD purists amongst you. The 120Hz image processing, on the other hand, is a rarity for a $700 set and will ensure little to no image blurring.

Somewhat of a staple of LG’s sets, the LH40 comes packed with a myriad of picture-adjustment options that allowed Cnet.com to achieve “excellent color accuracy.”

It should also be noted that Cnet experienced some glitches when testing the set with 1080p/24 sources (i.e Blu-rays) and recommends disabling the set’s “Real Cinema” feature to correct the issue.

That said, the LH40 provides an excellent value that should inot/i be passed up if you’re in the market for a cheap, feature-packed, entry-level HDTV.

Comparison with Sony KDL-37L5000

The LG offers higher screen resolution and superior (although a bit glitchy) image processing than the Sony, making the LG the obvious choice here unless you are on a tight budget, in which case the Sony is nearly $100 cheaper and may win out.

Pros
  • +
    120Hz image processing
  • +
    1080p resolution
  • +
    Excellent picture controls
Cons
  • -
    Somewhat inferior black levels
  • -
    Some glitches when handling 1080p/24 sources
LG 37LH40 is one of the Best Overall 42-Inch or Smaller HDTVs Under $700
Where to buy
LG 37LH40
Specifications
  • Screen Size: 37 in.
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4
Sony KDL-37L5000

At the bottom of the list is Sony’s KDL-37L5000. This entry-level set provides a sleek design that is complimented by excellent black levels. To round things out the set offers plenty of connectivity options and several energy-saving features.

The L5000 brings a smallish 720p resolution to the table, but at 37”, this is easily negligible. That aside, the L5000 does just about everything just fine and for just over 600 smackers, you really can’t ask for much more.

Pros
  • +
    Deep shades of black
  • +
    Relatively good off-angle performance
  • +
    Many energy-saving options
Cons
  • -
    Lacking color accuracy
  • -
    720p resolution
Sony KDL-37L5000 is one of the Best Overall 42-Inch or Smaller HDTVs Under $700
Where to buy
Sony KDL-37L5000
Specifications
  • Screen Size: 37 in.
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