By Cliff Edwards
The Good Clean design and killer price
The Bad Analog pictures look lousy, and HD images appear slightly off-color out of the box
The Bottom Line A nice entry-level plasma or solid second HD display for the home
Do you get what you pay for with Dell's W4200HD plasma television? That depends on what you think you're paying for. At prices that range from $3,000 to $3,500, depending on promotion, the set packs a lot of goodness into an eye-pleasing package. But image details at times lacked the crispness of even cheaper-priced enhanced-definition sets from Panasonic and Sony (SNE).
Still, at a recent party where I had several plasmas on display, the Dell (DELL) set attracted the most interest. The set provides a lot to like. Its unobtrusive thin silver bezel with black highlights manages to look sophisticated in an understated way.
Buttons on the bottom right side of the panel are easy to find, and a matching stand makes out-of-the-box setup a snap for consumers not looking to wall-mount the display. Attachable black speakers sound O.K., although I'd recommend hooking up the unit to home theater receivers or speakers with more power and bass.
PLUG AWAY. Gadget freaks might just fall in love with Dell's many input selections -- 13 in all. The right side sports a composite and S-video input for quickly hooking up a video camera or game console. And the set's rear panel offers both an HDMI and DVI input for carrying digital signals from a similarly equipped DVD player or set-top box, two component video and two composite video inputs, and two S-video inputs.
The model has RF inputs to connect antennae for both analog and digital local and over-the-air broadcasts, as well as optical and coaxial digital audio outputs. My only quibble was that the crowded rear panel makes it hard to connect devices in a tight space, particularly with the W4200's reach-up design for plugging in cables and cords.
Another gripe: When turned on, the set takes an unusually long time for a picture to show. In one case, I clocked it at close to 45 seconds for an HDMI feed from my DirecTV-TiVo (TIVO) satellite receiver.
ANALOG ANTICLIMAX. Once you get it going, the 4200D turns into an able performer. A well-thought-out remote offers access to many of the most-used functions in just one step. To scroll through the many inputs, however, the manufacturer provides only a single key that brings up an on-screen menu. The number keys light up blue, which helps in a darkened room. (It would have suited me better if the entire remote had been equipped this way.)
The unit comes with four preset color "temperatures": normal, natural, red, and blue. A fifth setting lets you program a single user-adjusted tuning of red, green, and blue. Out of the box, the set had a picture a shade too green. Blacks appeared less defined than normal. It took several adjustments to get a more palatable picture.
As with most HD sets, the high-definition content looks great. The monitor features a 1,024-by-768 native resolution. It has 450 nits of brightness (a nit is a measure of luminance). It also features a contrast ratio of 2700-to-1. Onboard software did an able job with progressive-scan DVD movies like Hellboy. It handled an HD showing of the dark, moody TV drama Lost just fine. Unlike other high-end sets, however, the Dell offers no image adjustment of standard-definition programming, resulting in pictures that look slightly washed-out and blurry.
All in all, Dell's entry into the plasma set market is a good one. Its budget price hides a wealth of features and decent performance. It would make a fine addition to any home theater.
Edwards covers technology from BusinessWeek's Silicon Valley bureau