Sony is the most prolific electronics manufacturer in the world, but the company hasn't made a huge impact in plasma TVs -- yet. The Japanese giant has been backing the technology, but it has let Panasonic and Pioneer woo the early adopters, before swooping in for the drop on the mass market.
The KE-P42M1 is the company's cheapest plasma television yet. While the combination of a Sony badge and a bargain price might be enough to tempt many potential buyers, we found its limited range of features offputting. It has a remarkably low resolution of 852x480 pixels, omits a PC input, and is very poorly designed by Sony's standards. With high-definition TV now imminent and a raft of competitors taking up the format as standard, this Sony plasma represents very poor value for money.
To be blunt, the KE-P42M1 looks like it was designed by Fisher-Price. It should come with a sticker saying 'My First Plasma TV'. Sure, it's aimed at the budget market, but the huge plastic frame makes it look far too big, which isn't necessary when you've got a 42-inch screen to begin with. It looks very cheap compared to the sophisticated styling of Panasonic or Pioneer plasmas.
Connectivity is satisfactory if you're an AV user, but not if you want to connect a computer. A VGA or DVI socket should be considered a necessity for any digital display, especially with high-definition TV and DVD due in 2006. Without DVI, the KE-P42M1 is good for neither PCs nor high definition.
Three Scarts (two of which are RGB) should be enough to satisfy most home users, plus a set of component inputs offer the best picture quality from the display. That's your lot on the rear panel, apart from a centre channel speaker input and L/R stereo audio output. We think the former is pretty useless (it turns the stereo speakers into one combined centre channel for use in a home cinema setup), but the latter will output audio to a surround-sound system, so that it can be amplified or mixed into a Pro Logic II surround soundtrack.
The rest of the connections are housed on a panel that folds down on the front of the television. Although the design of the TV itself is lacklustre, the front panel is pure Sony -- hidden away so that others won't know it's there. In the down position, it will accept composite and S-video connections along with one L/R audio input for both. It's really easy to connect a camcorder to the TV. Sony has also included a headphone socket and a selection of control buttons on this panel.
It might seem like a small point, but Sony remotes always feel 'right'. From the pressing of the buttons to the smooth finish of the body itself (we know, we should get out more), Sony remotes feel perfect. This model can also control other devices such as a Sony DVD player or VCR, and when you change between devices, the remote lights up like KITT from Knight Rider.
With the KE-P42M1 lacking a high-definition video input, we scanned the manual to find out the resolution of the screen. Sadly, 852x480 pixels isn't a typo: Sony's plasma has one of the lowest resolutions we've seen. No wonder it's lacking a PC input -- can you imagine browsing the Internet in lowly WVGA resolution?
If you're only going to be using the Sony for DVD and TV viewing, you might be able to put up with it. Sony has implemented its acclaimed Wega Engine processing technology to improve the quality of all picture sources. Instead of using a variety of analogue to digital conversions between the source and the final picture, Wega Engine processes everything in the digital domain. This is common sense for a digital display, and the results are certainly very clean. It also offers a contrast boost and more vibrant colours.