Hitachi 42PD9700 £3500

31st May 2006 | 23:00

Hitachi 42PD9700

They said it couldn't be done - but Hitachi has done it

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

A good all-round mix of value, performance and features make the Hitachi well worth considering

Like:

<p>Attractive</p><p>Fantastic audio</p><p>Decent price</p>

Dislike:

<p>Some problems with standard def footage</p>

According to just about everyone in the plasma world right now, it's not currently possible to fit 1,080 lines of pixels onto a 42in plasma screen. Yeah? Well somebody really ought to tell Hitachi that. For perched on our test bench right this very second is the company's 42PD9700, and written in bold black and white in the press notes beside it are the magic words 'native 1,080-line resolution'.

So how has Hitachi succeeded where everyone else has failed? The clue lies in the full claimed resolution of 1,024 x 1,080. On paper this implies that the 42PD9700 is taller than it is wide. But actually the TV retains a widescreen shape thanks to Hitachi's Alternating Lighting of Surfaces (AliS) technology. AliS, if you're not familiar with it, extends the surface area of the phosphor inside the plasma display, and then lights the gaps between the pixels as well as the pixels themselves, alternating between the two every 1/60th of a second. This effectively doubles the resolution to deliver that 1,080 figure.

Now we've sussed all that out, let's focus on something simpler: the 42PD9700's looks. Which are very nice indeed in its striking combination of black screen frame, black stand, and silver speakers. What's more, the screen can be electronically rotated on the stand via the remote control. Groovy.

Connectivity continues to press all the right buttons. Topping the bill are two HDMI sockets for all your digital high-definition needs, joined by the necessary (for HD Ready approval, that is) component video inputs for analogue HD sources like the Xbox 360. Also significant, though, are the triumvirate of Scarts, PC interface and SD card slot for direct screening of digital photographs, alongside a subwoofer line out.

Hitachi's previous generation of top-line plasma and LCD TVs introduced a new proprietary picture processing technology modestly dubbed Picture Master. And that technology makes a welcome return on the 42PD9700 - only this time it's got 'HD' tacked on the end.

This reflects the fact that the system has been tweaked so that it's now fully geared up for high-definition as well as standard-definition sources. We haven't got the space - or energy! - to cover all of Picture Master's fancy tricks in full, however we can reveal that selected highlights include: automatic gamma and brightness optimisation based on a pixel-level assessment of the incoming picture; a facility for upping contrast and brightness without adding noise; 12-bit colour processing; smoother motion handling; and full digital image scaling.

Next to catch our eye on the 42PD9700 is a digital tuner. What's more, this is serviced by Freeview's 7- day Electronic Programme Guide, from which you can directly set up to eight timer events for timeshift recording. There's also a CI slot where you can insert a conditional access card for subscription-only terrestrial digital services.

If you're the sort of person who loves to pass their time tinkering around with your TV's various picture settings, you'll really be in your element with the 42PD9700. Its onscreen menus host one of the most comprehensive tweak lists in the business, covering everything from optional 3D comb filtering and line/colour transient improvement adjustments to chroma and luminance noise reduction... To put it simply, if there's a fancy adjustment that you've never heard of before, the 42PD9700 probably has it.

If this all sounds a touch daunting, fear not; the set's more genuinely useful features, such as its picture in picture facilities and Screen Wipe system for tackling screen burn, are all exceptionally easy to find and activate.

The only feature missing from this set that we might have liked to see given its 1,080-line structure is 1080p support. But then Hitachi is hardly alone in not covering this upcoming niche format.

Unable to resist immediately putting the 42PD9700's 1,080-line resolution to the test, we fed it a 1080i DVHS tape of Alien and a little Ghost Recon: Advance Warfare from an Xbox 360. And the results in both cases blew us away.

The most striking thing is the 1,080i image's clarity. There's no softness or processing noise; fine detail levels are sensational; and edges look crisp, sharp and free of jaggedness or haloing. How much all this is down to the fact that the TV doesn't need to scale horizontally the 1080i image we couldn't say; but we know it looks ruddy marvellous.

It's only once the full impact of the 42PD9700's clarity has subsided that you start to notice other, subtler strengths. Like its black levels, which combine impressive depth with exceptional greyscale finesse to introduce a genuine sense of scale and depth to proceedings.

Colours are very good during HD viewing too, combining the sort of vivid saturations at least in the same ballpark as recent plasma heroes like Panasonic's TH-42PX60 and Pioneer's more expensive PDP-436XDE with an effortlessly natural tone. Furthermore, the set's colour processing is sophisticated enough to largely sidestep that classic plasma phenomenon of colour banding.

Stepping down to a 720p source perhaps reveals the tiniest trace of extra softness, as more image scaling has to take place. But the difference is minuscule.

The only cloud blighting the 42PD9700's otherwise uniformly sunny disposition occurs when you feed it a standard-definition picture. Or, to be more precise, a low-quality standard-definition picture, with which the set suffers a sudden shift toward less natural colour tones; a hefty increase in softness; and a quite sizable leap in the various types of image noise, including tizzing over motion.

These problems will probably only affect around 5 per cent of your viewing - less if you use the TV exclusively as a home cinema screen. But we feel that we should mention them nonetheless.

It's back to the (very) good stuff with the 42PD9700's audio. The subwoofer line out had made us suspicious about the TV's bass capabilities, but in fact they're excellent, underpinning a good action scene with plenty of rumble without muffling the clear, natural vocal range or overwhelming the crisp, harshness-free trebles.

Before the 42PD9700 arrived we had our concerns about whether Hitachi, last year's budget master, could really mix it with this year's big boys. But we needn't have worried; the 42PD9700 keeps up with the very best of the plasma Joneses. And in doing so it's a seriously tantalising partner for the HD age. John Archer

HitachiTVHome cinemaHigh definitionHDTV
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