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Size never used to matter. At least not once you got up to 32". In the good old days 32" was pretty much all you ever needed - and a good job too because anything bigger weighed near 100kg and would destroy most TV cabinets!
With the advent of flat panel displays and projectors, all that changed. Now size does matter because you can go all the way up to a ridiculous 70" screen or, with a projector, the wall's the limit! But why would anyone want a bigger screen than they might already have?
Well for a start, there are a lot more native widescreen broadcasts than there used to be - films and football matches in particular benefit from this, after all there's not much value in seeing an extra 2 inches of the newsroom at 6 o'clock. Add to that the fact that a standard has been set for "High Definition" TV, which Sky will begin broadcasting this year and things start to look even more interesting. Finally, DVD players are now dirt-cheap, even integrated home cinema systems are coming down to around £150, so with a big, widescreen TV you really can get the cinema experience at home. The curious thing about all these improvements in image quality is that, rather than allowing you to sit further away they actually benefit you sitting slightly closer, so that you can make out more detail!
But bigger isn't necessarily better! When choosing a TV it is important to consider the size of your room, and not just the room, but your seating positions in the room. The reason for this is that, if you sit too far away obviously the screen will appear small and it will be hard to make things out. Equally, if you are sitting too close, it will be like being at the front row of the cinema and you will struggle to take in the whole picture.
As a rough guide, I've found the following ranges useful:
Screen Size Min Distance Max Distance
30" 1.2m 2.3m
34" 1.3m 2.6m
42" 1.6m 3.2m
50" 1.8m 3.8m
60" 2.3m 4.6m
That said, it's time to reveal that my reasonably small lounge means our usual seating positions when watching TV are around 2m and 3m from the screen, so when it came to an upgrade a 42" display was a good balance of size and cost.
The next question was which technology to buy - Plasma or LCD. This is quite a tough choice, until you take cost into consideration, at which point Plasma wins hands down. As a brief description of the differences between the two, Plasma is more like traditional TVs in that each individual pixel on the scree emits light. Consequently Plasma screens tend to be nice and bright. What it dos mean though is that, like traditional TVs, they are prone to the dreaded screen-burn. If there's a part of the picture that doesn't change much, you will eventually end up with a ghostly image of it burned into the display should you ever change channels. Prime culprits of this are the logos that satellite & cable TV channels tend to place in the corners of the screen. LCD displays, on the other hand are based on the same technology as flat-panel PC monitors. They work on a uniform light source behind a layer of polarizing liquid crystal pixels, in which the polarization controls the colour of light passing through the pixel. Because the individual pixels act as more of a "tinted window" for a rear-mounted light source, they don't suffer from screen burn. What they do have problems with though is viewing angle, brightness and speed of response. Each of these problems is improved upon with each generation of LCD display; viewing angle is now at around 170 degrees which means you will only be unable to see the image if you re near horixontal to the screen, while brightness and response times re now getting to the point where they are hardly issues at all.
So on the face of it, LCD is the preferred technology - it offers the benefits of a flat screen, typically with lower power consumption and none of the worries relating to "Sky" logos burning into the top right corner of your screen. Unfortunately, the manufacturing process for LCDs is more expensive and, typically a large LCD screen will cost somewhere near twice as much as the same sized Plasma screen.
There are no surprises then that we bought a Plasma. And, as you will have guessed from the category, we bought a Hitachi 42PD7200, which is a 42" plasma display panel with a few whiz-bang features that, at the price, set it apart from everything else.
Now you already know why we bought a 42" screen. And you know why it was a Plasma rather than an LCD, but there's so much choice in the market these days - why did we buy the Hitachi 7200?
First off, we bought it because it's capable of showing the new standard High Definition (HD) pictures. With a resolution of 1024 x 1024 and support (for those that want to know) for up to 1080i, it has enough pixels to do justice to any of the soon-to-be-broadcast signals. The same holds true for high-definition DVDs (when they finally settle on a standard). So in this regard, the screen is relatively future proof and our investment should last a good few years. Given the cost, this is a "good thing"!
But screen resolution is no use on its own. Unfortunately, the broadcasting industry has decided that HD signals can't be sent over regular SCART cables. Allegedly they don't offer the bandwidth/quality - so the industry invented a new interface, the High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI). What's more, they decided that people shouldn't be able to make copies of stuff they'd paid for. Oh no! HD needed copy protection so Intel came up with High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP). Both HDMI and HDCP got paired up and it's likely to be the case that, to display HD broadcasts you will need at least one HDCP enabled HDMI interface on your TV. It's not by accident then that the 42PD7200 has one of these interfaces. Just one mind, so if you end up with multiple HDMI sources you will till need to buy a external switch.
Not content with wanting to be able to watch HDTV broadcasts (eventually), I also wanted to watch high-quality DVD pictures AND run PC in the lounge. For this, I needed another two interfaces and again the 42PD7200 fits the bill perfectly.
DVD players tend to support SCART, but SCART isn't the best. Better is "Component" video, where the primary colours (Red, Green and Blue) that make up the picture are sent separately and recombined by the display. Component output is increasing common on mid-range DVD players, it's invariably 3 colour-coded phono-type plugs. The 42PD7200 has a single set of component inputs, but this should be enough for most uses.
For my PC connection, the 42PD7200 provides either DVI (as found on flatscreen computer monitors) or RGB (as found on older, CRT computer monitors). So I could actually have two PCs connected to it!
Finally, for the array of "other" devices like PS2s, cable-TV boxes, cam-corders and VCRs there are 3 SCART sockets and a composite socket (with accompanying stereo sound inputs).
In the connectivity stakes it's fair to say that you will be hard-pushed to find set better connected. A staggering 6 AV sockets are provided; 3 SCART (two of which are RGB), one Component, one Composite and one HDMI, with an additional two RGB sockets (one of which is DVI) for a total of 8 devices that could be connected at any one time (although not all being displayed, obviously). There's also a built-in TV tuner (although it can't pick up digital TV), with the obligatory connector for your co-axial TV aerial. Finally, they have even include a composite out terminal so that you can hoot the set up to a VCR and record what you're seeing on a second VCR or similar (should you want to).
But regardless of how well connected it is, LegendaryMrsDude wouldn't have it in the house if it didn't look half decent. Thankfully, the simple styling pays dividends there too. The scree has a pearlescent black border, about 2" thick all the way around with a slim, brushed-aluminium trim top and bottom. It comes with bolt-on speakers that increase the width of the set by around 7" - 8" in total but they are finished in brushed aluminium and don't look out of place. It sits atop a swivel base that allows you to adjust the angle of the screen (from the remote control!!!). All things considered, it looks a very tidy package. Not overly flash, nor purely functional.
At about 40Kg it's way lighter than our previous widescreen 32" but still heavy enough that, because of it's size you will need two people to lift it. Once in place, the connections on the back are clearly labelled and setup shouldn't take long at all. There are cable ties and routing guides on the back to make sure that everything routes behind the thick swivel base so that there aren't any unsightly spaghetti messes of cables in sight - but given the number of connections it supports it just means that you can't see the mess there are still a LOT of wires involved!
Once wired up and plugged in, you turn it on and it does the usual trick of auto-setting up. Scanning through all the channels it can find on it's built-in tuner and sorting them into the familiar order (which you can change using the remote and menu system later if you prefer). That done, you're pretty much good to go.
The remote is a classy looking thing, and certainly not to be found wanting for buttons. From the remote you can control every aspect of the TV, including the angle that it is swivelled on the stand (a great gimmick that you only use once or twice, but it always amuses the nephews). It's sensibly laid out and clearly labelled. My only gripe is that it doesn't have a backlight or any glow-in-the-dark buttons, so mid-film you may find yourself squinting and holding the remote at odd angles to the screen to try and throw a bit of light on the subject. One nice feature of the remote, especially given the 8 possible inputs, is that each source has it's own button so there's no more pressing the AV button and cycling through all the options, you just press the button for the one you want. If you've get a lot of sources connected this does take some getting used to before you remember which source is connected to which AV port, but you get the hang of it eventually. I'll include a photo of the remote, so won't spend any more time on it here as a picture paints a thousand words
And speaking of pictures, what is the picture on the 42PD7200 like? After all, it could be the nicest looking, best connected TV in the world but if the picture is useless it's as much use as a chocolate teapot. Fortunately, this isn't the case and the picture easily matches up to the looks and connectivity. I haven't been able to try it out with a HD source yet but when watching DVDs via the component interface (which is the highest-quality image source I have available) the clarity of the image is remarkable. Yes, if you sit too close, you will see pixilation and artefacts in the image, but sit at the right distance and the experience is truly cinematic. The graduation of colour is excellent and the contrast very good. This is probably thanks to all the technical processing wizardry that's going on behind the scenes, all of which is adjustable using the remote to drive the vast array of image processing options. Here it becomes impossible to do justice to the "tweakability" of the image in a review - the options are incredible. All I can suggest is that you visit the Hitachi website and download a copy of either the product brochure or the manual. Also useful is a search of websites like the AVreview Forum, where you will find settings that other people have used to get the picture they consider to be the best. From my experience though, the default presets (of which there are three; Natural, Dynamic and Movie, selectable through a button on the remote) are perfectly adequate.
The signal from a PC is remarkably crisp when connected by DVI and makes maximum use of the resolution of the screen. Far better than a CRT display, it is now entirely possible to browse the web, do email and even play games on the PC in the lounge, mainly because of the improved resolution but also because of the digital nature of the display. I even use the PC as a personal video recorder, thanks to a built-in DVB receiver card ad it displays recorded programmes in full-screen mode that are at least as good as they would have been watching them live.
One of the problems that older generation Plasma screens had was with the reproduction of black as a colour. Because Plasmas work by emitting light and because there's no such thing as "black light", they have typically struggled. While maybe not class-leading (an honour that has long rested with Panasonic displays), the Hitachi does a fine job - certainly the ring-wraiths in "Fellowship of The Ring" were suitably black but still retained the detail in their tattered cloaks.
The other problem with Plasmas (and pretty much all TVs that do image processing, including the 100Hz CRT sets) is image artefacts. The perfect example of this is found when watching a football match and the camera pans quickly to follow a long ball down the field. The pitch can often break up into a series of large green squares and, for a brief moment, things become decidedly cubist. Alas, this is still a problem on the Hitachi but not as big a problem as it was on my old 32" 100Hz CRT set. What's more I've found that, by tweaking with some of the image processing options, you can reduce the effect further. At the end of the day though, it's something you get used to and, it seems to be worst on broadcast images - I can't recall seeing this problem when watching a DVD. One advantage of the image processing are the tricks that Hitachi have built in to try and stop screen burn from the dreaded sky logos - deep in the image setup menus are options tat will subtly move the picture around - not enough to notice, but enough that, in theory at least, the chances of screen burn should be significantly reduced.
If it all sounds pretty wonderful, that's probably because it is. There are a few things that I can't comment on because I haven't used them yet. For example, I haven't attached the supplied speakers, I think the set looks better without them plus our sound comes out of an amplifier with it's own speakers. The least I can do then is to tell you of what the manual claims is possible. Similar to the 3 modes to optimize the picture, there are 3 modes to optimize the sound covering Movies, Music and Speech, with a 4th setting to save personal preferences in. As you would expect, each of the basic aspects of the sound is tweakable, trebls, bass and balance are all user-tunable with the addition of Bass-Boost. Finally, there's the option to enable "matrix" sound and "perfect volume". The former tries to simulate the effect of listening to the TV in a stadium - probably intended for the football fans, while the latter averages out the volume across channels so that you're not forever turning te sound up and down (although I doubt it will help with the sound compression they use on adverts!).
So not only can I not tell you about how it sounds, nor can I vouch for the quality of a picture over the HDMI interface as I don't have any HDMI-capable sources yet. All thing digital being relatively equal though, I would suspect tat it's just as good as the DVI connection - after all they're basically the same protocol for the image it's just that HDMI includes audio as wel.
Some other neat but never-used features include:
The ability to have multiple pictures on the screen so you could view two, four or twelve(!) sources, either side-by-side or picture-in-picture, at the same time. In this case you would probably want the supplied speakers to be attached so that you could better control which sound was playing.
The ability to change the aspect ration and zoom level of the picture - handy but not frequently.
Picture freeze - think of it as a single frame pause button for the TV. Unfortunately it doesn't do anything more than take a single-frame snapshot from whichever source you happen to be viewing. It will also let you take 12 freeze-frames in quick succession. Again nice, but I've not found a use for it yet.
So are there any bad points to it? If I had to pick any, then it would have to be the ever-so-slight delay in sound/video synchronisation that arises when watching a DVD. Apparently it's because the display has to perform some complex image processing before it actually shows a picture. As there's no synchronisation link between the display and the DVD player, this means that you can end up with a fraction of a second lag between the image and the sound. In most DVDs this isn't noticeable, but in scenes where there's an extended piece of dialogue it does become noticeable. Apparently it's an inherent problem in setups with Plasma (and LCD) screens where the sound is handled by a different processor - there are options to overcome it such as signal delay devices (for about £150) or the more expensive amplifiers can add delay to the sound themselves so be aware of it before you buy, whichever scree you end up with.
More specific to the 42PD7200, the complexity of setup is probably my main gripe. There is menu after sub-menu to trawl through and the manual, which comprehensive in terms of the options it covers, doesn't do a particularly good job of explaining the effect that each setting change is likely to have. So trial and error plus a good memory is about the only way you will get it set up exactly to your liking (should you be unhappy with the defaults). The tuner also seems a bit poor although this is just as likely to be our shoddy aerial as anything. Another point to re-emphasize is that the tuner is analogue only - soon after I bought this, Hitachi released the PDP7500 which came with a DVB tuner built in (although for a couple of hundred pounds more). But other than that, I can't really fault it.
In terms of price, it was launched with a MRRP of £2500 which was good value considering it's HD spec and the amount of connectivity. This soon fell and I picked up mine back in September for £1900 from Currys with free delivery (which is important because, unless you've got a van, it won't fit in the back of your car!). The latest prices on Ciao would indicate that it's now available for as low as £1750. Considering I thought it a bargain at £1900, a further £150 off makes it a steal.
If you're in the market for a large screen TV that's HD ready with excellent connectivity and a strong picture, for the money you will be extremely hard-pushed to find anything better,
Would I recommend it?