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Best New 40- to 42-Inch HDTVs

Though a high-definition television with a screen diagonal size of 40 to 42 inches would have sent videophiles over the moon a few years ago, the classification is the smallest of the three we tested recently (the others being 46 to 47 inches and 50 to 55 inches). The sets we tested varied considerably in their strengths and their foibles, so we recommend viewing before you buy.

Image quality: Each model of television is a unique and special flower, with its own distinctive qualities--and nowhere is that phenomenon more noticeable than among HDTVs that fall in the 40- to 42-inch category. The top three sets on our chart earned equal overall performance scores for image quality, but they received those scores for very different reasons.

The Samsung UN40C7000 ($1600) shows off the company's bold image-processing functions; however, that technology can be a double-edged sword. Though the Samsung set often produces an excellent image, it's also more likely than competing sets to produce odd glitches. In scenes from The Dark Knight and Mission: Impossible 3, for example, we noticed that the floors of far-off office buildings appeared to shift and change position; and finely detailed patterns such as those on a man's tie would sometimes pulse as if they were animated GIFs. In addition, our panel of image-quality judges observed that the UN40C7000's colors were slightly oversaturated compared with those on the other HDTVs in the same category, especially in tests of the set's ability to upscale DVDs.

The Sony Bravia KDL-40HX800 ($1600) doesn't attempt to improve the image as much as the Samsung does. Nevertheless, it achieved a high overall ranking by displaying consistently above-average scores in all of our tests. If you're looking for a set that doesn't make any mistakes, opt for the KDL-40HX800 over the UN40C7000. For its part, the Vizio XVT423SV ($1150) earned image scores on a par with both the Samsung and Sony sets on every measure except motion tests. That makes it a nice choice for value-minded consumers, considering that it's 2 inches larger than the Samsung and Sony, and yet costs about $450 less.

The other 40- to 42-inch HDTVs that we tested couldn't hang with the top three. The LG 42LE5500 ($1250) delivered average image quality, marred primarily by some light movement during a panning shot over a brick wall. The Panasonic Viera TC-P42G25 plasma ($850) and the Hitachi UltraVision LE42S704 LCD ($900), meanwhile, demonstrate that you get what you pay for. The Panasonic flunked every motion test: Brick walls seemed to vibrate, and panning shots suggested a seizure. The Hitachi, which missed our chart, received average scores in color and brightness tests but suffered from multiple motion problems.

Features and design: Aside from the Hitachi LE42S704, each of these HDTVs comes with a selection of Internet apps designed chiefly to feed your TV more content. Virtually all of the sets support Amazon Video On Demand, Netflix, Vudu, and YouTube, as well as access to Pandora, Picasa, Twitter, and a collection of mini-apps via Yahoo Widgets. Oddly, though Samsung makes an app store available for its connected TV applications, at this writing the store holds little more than a few paid games.

The TVs' designs were a bit of a mixed bag. The LG, Samsung, and Sony models all had attractive designs, but our judges dinged the latter two for their awkward re­­mote controls. The Vizio featured a cool Bluetooth remote with a slider keyboard (similar to a cell phone's), which is practically necessary if you intend to use the television's extensive Internet connectivity apps. The Sony model supports Qriocity, the company's in-house video rental service, giving users some extra options for (paid) on-demand movies.

If you want fine control over your TV's image, pick up the Samsung UN40C7000 or the LG 42LE5500. Both televisions are equipped with ten-point white balance, so you can tweak the picture to your heart's content. The Sony and the Vizio occupy the middle tier for tweaking options, while the Hitachi and the Panasonic offer rather anemic image options overall. The Panasonic does, however, have a THX Mode preset.

For a head-to-head comparisons of the five highest-ranking 40- to 42-inch HDTVs we tested and evaluated, see our "Top 5 40- and 42-Inch HDTVs" chart.

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