In the specifications, compatibility with the 720p and 1080i HD formats combines with a native resolution of 1024x768 pixels to earn the 42XR4 the AV industry's HD Ready badge of honour. If, incidentally, you're puzzled by how a widescreen TV like this NEC can boast an apparently square, 4:3-ratio 1024x768 native pixel count, it's because the set's pixels are stretched horizontally to fill the widescreen shape -- a process that's reckoned to make it easier for plasma screens to deliver more natural colour balances.
The 42XR4's video pictures are much better than we'd expected from something not designed to be a fully functioning TV. In fact, they're also better than we'd expect given our experience of most previous NEC plasmas.
Especially impressive is the lack of most types of noise in the picture. For instance, objects move across the screen without suffering plasma's common fizzing dot noise, edges look crisp without shimmering, and colour blends look smooth and believable rather than striped and blocky as they still can on some plasmas. The screen also does a surprisingly clean job of upscaling standard-definition sources to fit its high-definition resolution.
The 42XR4's colour tone is more natural, and the black levels are deeper and richer than anything NEC has managed before. Fine detail levels, meanwhile, are exemplary by any standards.
However, while colours look natural they also lack vibrancy compared with our favourite plasmas. Black levels, too, while groundbreaking for NEC and deep enough to ensure that most viewing is never less than enjoyable, are still bettered by some recent rivals. This impression isn't helped by the fact that one plasma noise type the NEC doesn't handle well is green dot crawl over dark areas.
If you invest in NEC's own speakers for this screen, you'll be rewarded with a generally high performance standard, with plenty of bass, an open mid-range and natural, clear trebles. Whether even this performance justifies the high cost of these additional speakers is another matter.
The cost of the 42XR4 is an important factor in our tests. While as a sub-£2k screen it might have tickled our fancy, at £2,450 minimum it struggles to be truly competitive in today's cut-throat marketplace.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield