And so to the key question: does the supposed native 1080i resolution really make a difference? And the answer is… maybe.
There’s certainly no doubt that the 42PD9700’s high definition pictures are outstanding. And their sharpness is definitely their strongest feature, painting a wonderfully textured, utterly crisp picture from high def movies and Xbox 360 games alike. Plus we would say that 1080i feeds look marginally sharper and more detailed on the 42PD9700 than 720p ones. What we’re not sure we could say with complete confidence, however, is that 1080i feeds on the 42PD9700 look markedly better than they do on top quality 720-line 42in plasmas like Pioneer’s PDP-43XDE.
Its clarity and sharpness isn’t the 42PD9700’s only strength, however. Colours, for starters, are mostly excellent, combining unusual vibrancy for a plasma TV with tightly contained edges, and much more natural tones than we’ve seen with other screens using the ALIS system.
The 42PD9700 also knows how to make dark scenes look good, avoiding the greyness seen over dark areas of many flat TV pictures, and the tendency for dark areas to look hollow and devoid of details.
In fact, we really don’t have a bad word to say about the 42PD9700’s HD pictures – quite an achievement for such a reasonably priced set. Strong standard definition sources look good too, surviving their upscaling to the screen’s 1080-line resolution surprisingly cleanly so that they still look sharp, colour-rich and believable.
The only time the 42PD9700’s pictures break down is with low-quality standard definition feeds, like a low bit-rate digital broadcast or even a poor-quality DVD. Here the image quality drops off more than we’d like/expect, with noise levels increasing exponentially (to include grain and dot crawl over moving objects), the picture’s clarity and crispness reducing markedly, and colours starting to look much less natural.
It’s back to the good stuff with the 42PD9700’s audio, though, as its sound mixes outstanding quantities of bass with rich, well-rounded trebles and a potent mid-range that can handle the bulk of the audio duties without overwhelming dialogue.
Does the 42PD9700’s native 1080-line approach really deliver a new level of HD picture performance? Perhaps not. But at the same time there’s no denying that it’s still one of the very best HD performers we’ve seen – as well as being beautifully designed and attractively priced to boot.