Top 46- and 47-Inch HDTVs

Prices are plunging on plasma and LCD HDTVs. In our tests, we discovered great deals and terrific image quality on HDTVs from Samsung, Vizio, and Panasonic.

Samsung LN46A650

Samsung's LN46A650 HDTV is a joy to use from the moment you turn it on for the first time. That's when a wizard instructs you to pick a language and asks you whether you'll be using the TV at home or in a store. Then it searches for channels, and you're ready to go.

The long, backlit remote gives you access to a menu that pops up when you press the Source button and lists the ac­­tive inputs at the top and highlights them. But despite being extremely usable, this model has its annoyances. I had to turn off the special Entertainment setting before I could change the sound mode. And though the LN46A650 provides picture-in-picture, its programmable remote lacks a PIP button to make viewing two inputs at once more convenient. The remote doesn't lack much else, however, and it has an iPod-like jog wheel rather than a circle of arrow buttons.

In our PC World Test Center evaluations of the Samsung LN46A650, judges gave the set an average score for image quality. This model's 120-Hz technology is meant to help with fast motion and panning, but two jurors detected pixelation and garbling in scrolling text. Meanwhile, I noticed that the Vatican's brick wall in our "Mission: Impossible III" Blu-ray test vibrated enough to make me think I was watching an interlaced clip.

A side-mounted USB port supports playing back music and photos from any USB storage device, and an ethernet port at the rear works with Samsung's InfoLink RSS service, which delivers news, weather, sports, and financial data to the set.

The LN46A650's stellar design and ease of use make it just the thing for viewers who appreciate both form and function.

For a selection of smaller sets, see "The Top 42-Inch HDTVs."

Samsung LN46A550

This $1699 Samsung LCD model lacks some of the specs and design of its younger sibling, the Samsung LN46A650, but otherwise it holds its own next to that model.

In our PC World Test Center tests, the LN46A550 finished in a statistical tie with the LN46A650 in overall performance. In a scene from "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," images on the LN46A550 looked as though they were coming from a mint 35mm print.

Its audio quality is fine for talk shows and sitcoms, but you'll want to buy a surround-sound unit for movie soundtracks. (For more HDTV gear, see "Essential HDTV Accessories.") The set swivels to support odd-angle viewing and to permit easy access to the back.

The LN46A550's icon-based on-screen menus are clear and easy to read, and a brief note at the bottom of the screen explains what each item does. A separate Tools button on the remote control acts the same way that a right-click of a mouse does in Windows, bringing up a handy selection of options appropriate for the current input.

The backlit remote control's large, color-coded buttons give it the look of a child's toy, but they benefit users of all ages. The remote isn't programmable, though, so you can't use it to operate your DVD player or VCR unless that device works with Samsung's proprietary Anynet technology.

The LN46A550 is a well-rounded HDTV that will do everything you want it to. At its price, it stands out as a winner.

Vizio SV470XVT

The Vizio SV470XVT LCD set produces good (albeit at times dark) images, but it lacks some of the design conveniences of other HDTVs, such as certain LG and Samsung models.

The SV470XVT occasionally struggled to keep moving objects clear. Two jurors noted slight vibrations in the Vatican wall's bricks in our "Mission: Impossible III" Blu-ray test. And though it showed no jaggies in the HD HQV Benchmark test, we saw horrible pixelation in the corners. On the other hand, it outperformed the other new TVs we evaluated on our NASCAR test.

The SV470XVT performed well in my hands-on audio tests. Quiet audio sounded crisp, surround sounds seemed to enfold me, and the soundtrack's organ blast had the requisite oomph. You won't get much better sound unless you invest in a separate surround stereo system.

The SV470XVT was a challenge to set up. Most of the connectors are poorly placed and difficult to reach. But once set up, the TV was easy to use; menu items have on-screen explanations, most of which are simple to understand.

Unfortunately, the set has no abbreviated, quick-access menu for settings that you adjust frequently. Dedicated buttons on the remote provide access to 20 of those options, but collectively they make the remote cumbersome to deal with. The clumsily designed backlighting doesn't help, either.

The SV470XVT comes with picture-in-picture and freeze-frame features, but no multimedia capabilities. The absence of a USB port and of an SD Card slot means that you can't look at your photos or listen to your music through the TV.

Still, this Vizio 47-inch HDTV costs only $1400 and produces images rivaling the best we've seen in this size class.

Vizio VO47LF

This 47-inch LCD Vizio HDTV delivers a fantastic picture, and yet Vizio still manages to undercut the competition on price ($1400). On the other hand, it lacks design elegance and such extras as a swiveling stand, and it's difficult to set up and use.

The hard-to-find Input button on the TV's remote brings up a list of available sources, including sources that have nothing plugged into them. Vizio does provide buttons that jump you directly to particular input types (component, HDMI, and so on), but not to specific inputs. Aside from the Input button issue, the remote isn't bad, and backlighting makes it fairly easy to use in the dark. But you can't program it, and it controls only the set itself.

The VO47LF delivers picture-in-picture, a free HDMI cable--and that's about it. But this model tied the Samsung LN46A550 for top image-performance honors. It even garnered some rare Superior marks. The television's sound was excellent (by HDTV standards), with crisp dialogue and decent punch for loud music. Vizio's top-notch documentation helps ease you into the VO47LF experience.

Its great picture and surprisingly affordable price for a large HDTV make Vizio's VO47LF the ultimate bargain.

Panasonic TH-46PZ800U

Panasonic's stylish TH-46PZ800U nicely balances image quality and features. Our panel of judges rated this plasma set's image quality as Good.

In the PC World Test Center, our panel of judges rated the Panasonic's image quality as Good. Like other plasma HDTVs, it supports a wide viewing angle. I was impressed with the level of detail it preserved, such as folds in a dark cloak in our "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" DVD test. But other jurors complained that some colors looked washed out and dull. Since the TH-46PZ800U doesn't ask you, out of the box, whether you'll be using the set as a store demo or in your home, you'll have to optimize the set yourself.

In my hands-on tests, the Panasonic's audio quality was phenomenal when matched against competing sets' built-in speakers. With the unit at two-thirds of maximum volume, I could hear every quiet detail of a movie's soundtrack, and the music carried me with it as it reached a crescendo.

The set handily positions an SD Card slot up front, which you can use to port digital photos to the TV screen. It has no USB port, though, for MP3 playing and photo viewing.

For more, see our "Top 46- and 47-Inch HDTVs" chart, and also read "How to Buy a Flat-Screen HDTV."

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