Hitachi 42PD8600 £1200

1st Nov 2006 | 00:00

Hitachi 42PD8600

Can a two grand 42-inch plasma do the job?

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Even its average performance is arguably better than you'd expect for so little money

Like:

<p>Price</p><p>Sharpness</p><p>Colours</p><p>Black levels</p>

Dislike:

<p>Picture can look harsh</p><p>Various video noise issues</p>

A 42-inch plasma TV boasting 1,080 lines of resolution for just £1,200? That'll do nicely. Assuming, of course, that said TV hasn't suffered too many compromises to achieve that price tag. At least it doesn't look overly compromised. The grey speaker section under the screen is perhaps a bit drab, but the gloss black of the rest of the fascia is classy enough.

Connectivity gets the job done, too. There's only one HDMI where we'd prefer two, but it is at least supported by the component input demanded by the HD Ready specification a trio of Scarts, a D-Sub PC jack, and all the usual S-video and composite video backups.

If we've not yet mentioned any digital tuner-related connections such as a digital audio output or CI slot, it's because the TV doesn't have a digital tuner. Notch up one in the budget compromise column.

Closer scrutiny of that claimed 1,080-line resolution also reveals a hitch. For rather than actually squeezing 1,080 lines of real, hard pixels into its 42in screen, the 42PD8600 actually uses a technology called Alternate Lighting of Surfaces (ALIS) to turn 540 lines of pixels into 1,080 by sharing an electrode between two pixel lines and filling the usually blank areas between them with extra phosphors.

The resulting 1024 x 1080-pixel resolution is a far cry from that delivered by 'true' 1080i panels, and will need considerable amounts of upscaling to adapt 1920 x 1080 HD sources to fit it.

What a performer

In many ways, though, the 42PD8600 performs better than anticipated. Especially striking are the phenomenally sharp pictures that deliver the full impact of HD with as much precision and clarity as a top-spec LCD TV - something plasma traditionally struggles to achieve. Even SD sources look extra sharp.

Black levels too, while not immaculate, comfortably outperform most other flatscreen big boys at this price point. And the 42PD8600's colours are also a notch above the rivals, combining plenty of vibrancy with a surprisingly consistent tone. These strengths alone add up to moments of picture brilliance that wouldn't disgrace tellies costing twice as much.

Inevitably, though, there are some 'buts' to consider. For instance, as people move across the screen, their faces can be affected by quite noticeable fizzing noise. Next, colour blends sometimes appear as ugly stripes rather than smooth transitions, and contoured or diagonal edges look rather jagged.

Finally, dark scenes struggle with green/grey dot crawl, and the net result of these noise issues can become quite distracting, causing HD scenes to tip over into harshness.

Audio is hit and miss. Bass sounds slightly subdued during action scenes, even with the Dynamic bass function called in. However, voices are clear and reasonably authentic. Overall Hitachi's 42PD8600 is defined by its low price, because even its average performance is arguably better than you'd expect for so little money.

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