Pros: thin, very good picture quality, low price
Cons: occasional strong pink or green tint to faces
I've wanted a plasma TV for years. Ever since I saw Jodie Foster talking to John Hurt via satellite space station uplink in Contact, I've thought plasma TV is one of the coolest things I've ever seen. Unfortunately, I also remember the initial price tag: $15,000? For a TV? A TV or a car... Cool, but maybe sometime in the future.
Well, the future is now. I've been watching the price tag on 42" plasma TVs for several years. I've watched their price tags drop to $3,000, then $2,000, then under $2,000. The previous best price I'd seen was $1495 for an EDTV plasma. Close, but still not quite there. Fry's Electronics has a yearly sale, where they often have a few items for well below cost to get people in the store. I thought I'd drop by to pick up a barbecue hot dog & Diet Coke for $0.25, and a couple 6 packs of Diet Coke for $0.99/ea. Maybe pickup a DVD burner if they had a good price. This day, they were selling Sylvania's 42" plasma TV monitor, model 6842PEM, for $1,099! This is a few hundred dollars more than what I paid for my 26" Mitsubishi CRT TV back in 1989, which still works perfectly. I looked online, and found a few reader reviews of this TV. Generally, people seemed happy. This price was exceptional compared to other prices I'd seen online, and even the guy at the store said this was a few hundred dollars off regular price. I was pretty impressed even with the floor model, and liked the look of it. I decided to get it, along with a 3 year warranty. I figure if anything happens to it & they can't fix it, maybe I'll end up with an HDTV in a few years. Out the door, with tax & extended warranty, the TV was around $1500.
NOTE: The printing on the box says the model number is 6842PE. A label on the box says "6842PE M" (a large space before the M). Sylvania's own Website calls this monitor 6842PEM. Different retailers will list this monitor under either part number (it's even listed twice on epinions), but as far as I can tell this is the correct part number, and both are talking about the same item.
Box Moving, Weight & Measurements
First thing to know, the box is big & rather heavy. I have an SUV; putting the seat backs down, Fry's employees could easily slide the TV into the back of the car. You will probably lie the box down in your vehicle while driving; smart so it doesn't fall over. Note that the top of the box has an arrow with the word "FRONT" pointing to the front of your new TV. Make sure this side is up; you don't want the whole weight lying on the screen of your beautiful new TV, or you could scratch or damage it. The box is 46" wide x 34" tall x 16" thick; make sure you've got room in your vehicle, or you might have to pay for delivery. Sylvania lists the weight of the TV alone as 95 lbs; with packing material, it's 115 lbs. So make sure you have a friend available to help you move your new TV out of your car & into your house. I bribed a friend with free dinner for coming over; he was happy to help. (He wanted to see it too; novelty is a great motivator.)
TV Weight & Measurements
Make sure to have your friend help you pull your new TV out of its box. 95 lbs doesn't sound like much, but it's large & awkward, and you probably can't lift it by yourself. The monitor has large feet centered under the TV to hold it upright. The feet are removable, if you decide to wall mount the TV (I will be doing this at some point). The TV itself is 41" wide x 26" high x 5" thick. These measurements would be useful if you remove the feet. With the feet on, the TV is elevated 3" above the surface the feet are standing on; this makes the TV approx. 29" high. Each foot is 2-1/2" wide by 13" long. The distance from monitor edge to foot (the right edge of the monitor to the right edge of the right foot) is 7-1/2". The distance between the feet (from the right edge of the left foot to the left edge of the right foot) is 20-3/4". The TV is set back 5" from the front of the feet, and the distance from the back of the TV to the back of the feet is 3". That should give you enough measurements to know if it will fit where you think it will. For now it's sitting on my rather small entertainment center; keep in mind that even if the edges of the TV are wider than your furniture, as long as the feet have a steady place to sit, you'll be fine.
Initial setup & impression
The screen on this monitor looks huge. It has a decent anti-reflective coating on it, to lessen reflections from windows. It is surrounded by dark gray (nearly black) plastic on the left, top & right, and silver at the bottom where the power button & on/standby LEDs are. The sides & top are also silver. The monitor has buttons along the bottom edge for volume up/down for the internal speakers, and input select. Looking at the monitor from the side, you see a large black metal section on the back, a bit smaller than the front bezel, that stores all the electronics. The black metal assembly also has screw holes for a wall mount kit. The majority of the input jacks are along the bottom edge of this area. This hides the connectors for all the cables a bit behind the front bezel, although you would still see the cables peeking out along the bottom of the monitor.
What's a monitor, anyway?
One of the first things to know about this TV, is that it isn't exactly a TV at all. It's a monitor, like your computer monitor. The difference between a monitor & a television is that monitors don't have television tuners in them, meaning they can't actually tune in a television station. This means you must plug the screen into some other device that has a tuner to watch TV, or some other video source like a DVD player or VCR. Fortunately, chances are you already have other devices with tuners. Anything from a VCR, to a cable decoder box, to a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) such as TiVo or ReplayTV can act as a tuner for your new monitor. You let those devices tune the station you're watching, and plug the video output cables from that box into your monitor. You will see beautiful color, and you're not paying for something you probably don't need.
Tuners / CableCard 1.0 / 2.0 / DCAS
Major changes are coming over the next few years in the way broadcast TV will get to you, that would probably make any tuner included with this TV obsolete. So, why pay for something you probably won't use? The slow move to digital TV will mean that eventually, some VHF channels (2-13) and some UHF channels (14 and above) will disappear; their radio wave spectrum will be used for other uses. Digital TV will move us away from the analog method of transmitting TV signals to a fully digital method. HDTV (High Definition Television), a subset of digital TV, will offer us much better looking television, because the resolution of images will be so much higher.
Does this mean that old TVs won't work anymore after the switch to digital TV? No. But it does mean that you would have to have cable television service, or buy an over-the-air digital tuner box that would connect to your TV the way a cable decoder box does.
There will be lots of choices on how to get your digital TV. You might watch digital signals over-the-air with an antenna or via cable TV, in which case you would be able to watch TV without an additional tuner box if you had a more expensive TV with a built in digital tuner. But if you wanted to watch any subscription channels like HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, etc., you would need a cable tuner/decoder box for those channels. Or maybe you want a DVR from your cable company; that's a box with a tuner inside too. If you have satellite TV via Dish Network or DirectTV, you would have a tuner box that can decode the signal from the satellite dish on your roof. If you get new TV service from your phone company, you will have a decoder/tuner box that will receive the signal from fiber optic cable or the copper cables already in your home, possibly over a TCP/IP network like the Internet.
So you can see why I believe the tuner is a waste of money, since so many choices available to you will require a different tuner than the one in your TV anyway.
What if you don't want a big box around your beautiful TV? Maybe you just want the TV mounted on the wall, floating there with nothing around it. Various standards have come along, such as CableCard, which places all the functions of a cable decoder box on a card. Unfortunately, there are various problems with CableCard 1 & 2 which will likely keep it from entering the market in a big way. So the fact that this Sylvania monitor is missing that feature probably isn't a big deal.
DCAS (basically, CableCard in software that runs in a computer in a TV) may eventually make CableCard obsolete anyway. DCAS is years off. This is yet another future standard that will come along at some point and be useful, but it's not a deal breaker for buying a TV today.
Keep in mind that you'll probably have other boxes near your TV at this point anyway -- DVD player, VCR, DVR, receiver or separate amplifier, and speakers. The vision you have in your head of your plasma TV hanging on the wall with no boxes or wires anywhere around it is pretty unreasonable. There are going to be wires, and lots of them.
Types of TVs: CRT, projection, LCD, plasma. Future: OLED, SED.
CRT TVs are your parents' TV. They are big & heavy. They use a large tube to display an image. An electron gun at the narrow rear end of the TV picture tube fires electrons at the wide front of the tube (face of the screen). Powerful magnets steer the electron to hit a specific phosphor; phosphors glow when hit by electrons. This paints the image on the screen, line by line. By the time the phosphor stops glowing, the line-by-line drawing process has started over. It happens so fast, your eye can't see it. You think you see a continuous image. CRT TVs are inexpensive & have high quality pictures. They can be viewed at any angle. But they're large & heavy, and certainly can't be hung on a wall unless they're fairly small.
Projection TVs shine light at the backside of a white screen within the TV "box" to make a picture. They often aren't as bright as CRT TVs, and can't be viewed off-axis; as you get further away from directly in front of the TV, the image often will get dimmer. They are also often large & heavy. An alternative is to get an actual projector, and shine it at a screen you hang on the wall. Some people like this for home theater systems.
LCD TVs use screens like those you see in laptop computers. There is a white backlight. In front of the backlight, there are cells of liquid crystal with red, green & blue filters. Liquid crystal has an odd property. Apply electricity to it, and the molecules line up in a spiral staircase pattern. More electricity means more cells line up, the pattern blocks more light, and you see a darker color. LCD screens are light, and are often bright. But they often can't be viewed at angles. Get too far off to the sides, or too far above or below the screen, and you will see distorted color.
Plasma TVs have arrays of red, green & blue tiny florescent lamps. The lamps give off ultraviolet photons when electricity is applied; when they hit colored phosphors, the phosphors glow red, green, or blue. Plasma TVs are high quality, bright, thin, and not so heavy that they can't be hung on a wall with a strong wall mount. They can be viewed at virtually any angle and maintain their brightness & color fidelity. They are wonderful screens to behold.
In the future, OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) will be yet another technology to look at. The big benefits with OLED are that the display requires no backlight (the surface glows itself when power is applied), so less power is used, and the displays can be quite flexible (they could even be rolled up when not in use). Check out some pictures of these displays at Universal Display.
It's probably still a few years off before we'll see TVs using the technology. Today, some small screens on car stereos & digital cameras are starting to use these displays. In another couple years, we should start seeing them used in laptop computers. Large size TVs are probably a ways off.
Another future technology is SED, Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Display. A CRT has a single electron gun at the back of the set. SED TV has a flat panel with thousands of electron emitters that are so physically close to the phosphors, they can fire their electrons without a large distance & large magnets. So, they have most of the benefits of CRTs (long life, high quality, bright picture) with none of the drawbacks (heavy, large, can't be wall mounted). They will physically look a lot like plasma, but may have longer life and lower power consumption. Right now, nobody knows when we'll actually see one.
I figure it's good for you to know what you're not buying.
Resolutions: SDTV, EDTV, HDTV; connectors; progressive scan.
This Sylvania plasma TV is an EDTV. It has 2 component video inputs on the back, 1 S-Video & composite video input on the back (choose 1; you can use one or the other, but not both at the same time), and 1 S-Video & composite video input on the right side (again, choose 1); useful for connecting a camcorder. Instead of explaining all these terms, read this article at projectorcentral.com to better understand these connectors.
Note that this TV does not have VGA, DVI, or HDMI inputs. Component video is the highest quality input you have on the Sylvania.
Why EDTV over HDTV?
Why EDTV, and not HDTV? Well, the price of EDTV plasma TVs is quite a bit less than HDTV at this point. Today's DVDs are 480p, so I wouldn't see much (if any) difference with my current collection. It's going to take awhile before a single next generation DVD format is chosen (HD-DVD or Blu-Ray) that will support 1080p, so I don't see the point in spending any money on it right now. But most importantly, I don't have HDTV service from my cable company. For expanded basic cable (includes CNBC, MTV, CNN, etc. as well as the local channels) plus cable Internet costs about $100/month in San Francisco, CA, which IMO is totally out of line. I won't spend more than that on cable per month. HDTV service would cost an additional $10/mo for digital cable service, plus another $5/mo for HDTV. I just can't justify the extra expense. It's not that $15 is too much, it's simply that I can't justify >$100/mo for cable. I actually want that price to come down to around $50-75. Plus, I own a ReplayTV, which works with standard analog signals, and I need to get a couple more years use out of it before it makes financial sense to replace it with something else. So, I'm pretty set with my technology.
Setup & usage
First, just to quickly get a look at the picture quality, I connected my DVD player via S-Video. What did I play? The dojo scene from The Matrix, of course! The first thing you notice is, WOW is that picture bright! It looks incredible next to an older CRT TV. The quality & sharpness was decent, but nothing amazing. Then I connected my DVD player via component cables. A little better. Then I put the DVD player in 16:9 mode, and switched the screen to its wide mode. Better. Finally, I put the DVD player in progressive mode (480p). Now the picture was very nice to look at. So far, I've watched the entire Lord Of The Rings Extended Edition movies; they look incredible on this TV. It's as close to watching the movie on a theater screen as you can get at your home. Details are sharp, colors are saturated & accurate, you can clearly see individual strands of hair blow in the wind; you can clearly see Frodo's palm print with specs of dirt within the grooves when he's holding the ring & the camera zooms in on his hand. So, my first recommendations: put your DVD player in 16:9 mode. If you have component output, use it, and put your DVD player in progressive scan mode. Even the cheapest DVD players at the store now come with component out & progressive scan, so buy a new one if you need to.
I then connected my ReplayTV to the Sylvania. First, via S-Video. The quality was... Fuzzy. The picture quality didn't look very crisp, and the color wasn't very saturated. I think this is less a problem with the TV, and more a problem of hitting the limits of S-Video with this large size screen. I then connected the ReplayTV via component cables. This was better. I then switched the ReplayTV to progressive scan. This made an obvious difference over S-Video. Color in progressive mode is very saturated, and the picture is more crisp. Details stick out more clearly. When I'm physically close to the screen, I can see that black pixels remain black; they don't shimmer or look gray. I see a bit of shimmer around edges of high contrast objects (white text against black background, for example). On shows with letterboxing, the black area is completely black. One problem I've noticed is that occasionally, faces look too pink or have sections of green in them. It's more pronounced with S-Video than it is with progressive scan over component cables. My brother saw something similar with his LG EDTV plasma. I can't tell if this is a problem with the technology, or perhaps these shades were always there, but they just don't show up on smaller TVs. I'm using high-quality Monster cables, so I don't think it's bad cables. What I do know is that most of the time, the color is really bright & spectacular. Generally, face colors look accurate. Watching the TV from regular TV-watching distance is very impressive. If you have a tuner device with component video & progressive output (like my ReplayTV), you'll get the best TV quality from this monitor.
The specifications for this monitor are 852x480 pixel resolution. It can accept 480i, 480p, 720p, and 1080i signals. Screen modes are:
1) Normal: 4:3 standard aspect ratio, square picture within the larger plasma screen, with large black letterbox on left & right sides. 1080i or 720p video signal will display picture at 16:9 size (full screen); this would happen if you were getting HDTV service and were watching an HDTV program.
2) Full: displays a 4:3 picture at 16:9 aspect ratio, with horizontal elongation to fill screen; good for watching many wide-screen DVDs. Watching regular TV in this mode causes people's heads to look squatty.
3) Wide: display a 4:3 picture at 16:9 aspect ratio, with less horizontal elongation to fill screen; a bit of the top & bottom is cut off. I've found this is the best mode for most TV viewing; distortion to size & shape of people's heads is minimal, and the screen is filled. The CNBC top & bottom tickers cover the top & bottom of the screen in this mode. Some widescreen DVDs look better in this mode, but most look better in Full.
4) Zoom: Magnify the 4:3 picture to fill screen, with no horizontal elongation to fill the screen. More of the top and bottom are cut off. Use this mode to view letterboxed 4:3 picture content to get a widescreen picture. For non-letterboxed TV, this mode cuts off enough of the top & bottom of the picture to be annoying.
The monitor also has built-in speakers, 5 watts to the left, 5 watts to the right. Each of the video inputs listed above has left & right RCA inputs. But chances are, you've got better speakers to listen to. The back panel also has RCA left & right audio outputs. This can be useful: if your receiver or amplifier only has a single auxiliary input available, you can plug cables from audio out on the monitor to audio in on your sound system. Whatever input you happen to be watching, whatever sound would be played to the internal speakers, is also sent to this audio out jack; the volume control does not affect the volume of these outputs. So, you can turn the monitor's internal speaker volume all the way down, and listen to your sound system.
The monitor comes with a remote control. The remote is beige & looks a bit odd, but you won't be using it often, other than to change the color settings, aspect ratio, or input you wish to view. The remote doesn't have very many buttons, but since there's no tuner, it doesn't need any numbers. The remote takes 2 AA batteries, included.
Power consumption on this TV is 350 watts (0.8 watts in standby mode). Although this is high in comparison to today's CRT TVs, this is quite competitive if you have an older CRT TV that used more power.
Overall, I'm very impressed with my purchase. The Sylvania is thin, has a bright, sharp picture, looks good with TV, and looks fantastic with widescreen DVDs. The value for the money paid is excellent.