Plasma technology is currently doing very well with the mass market, thanks to companies like Tiny selling 42-inch models for under £1,000. However, they've had a bad reputation, particularly with consumers who've found that the screen shatters and the picture quality is generally poor. It's for this reason that we'd always recommend you go with someone with more experience in this area, particularly as there's acres of difference between a good plasma and a bad one.
The 42PD5200 comes without a media box (unlike its 42PD5300 brother), but its connection roster is mostly unaffected. It offers full high-definition compatibility thanks to a HDCP-compliant DVI input, and the only thing lacking is Scart sockets -- there's only one available. While picture quality through analogue sources may be a horrible mess, it actually does very well with FreeView, and shines brightly when you use a high-definition source, as many people might be hoping to do over the coming years.
Pioneer's plasmas may look the business, but Hitachi's understated design is our personal favourite. As opposed to having the standard silver frame that every other manufacturer uses, Hitachi has employed a graphite finish that's unbelievably classy. With only the Hitachi logo at the bottom, understatement is the order of the day, and we'd feel extremely proud to have one hanging on our wall.
The package comes with a desktop stand and stereo speakers. The latter can clip on to the side of the screen itself or sit freely on their own bases. The included remote is just as nice as the screen itself -- it's easy to use. It can control your Hitachi DVD player, which is a nice bonus, and it has direct selections for each of the inputs to save you flicking through them in order. Note to other manufacturers: include this feature as standard.
Hitachi was one of the first manufacturers to start including HDCP-compliant DVI sockets on its plasmas, pre-empting Sky's decision that the input protocol would be used as standard. So, you can be assured that the display will be ready to accept whatever the AV world can throw at it over the coming years.
But it's not only forward thinking that Hitachi has been worried about. You'll also find all the other important connections here. Unfortunately, there's only one Scart input, and while it's RGB, it won't be enough for the majority of users, who are likely to have a DVD player and VCR or games console. At least there's an attempt to combat this particular predicament with the inclusion of two sets of progressive scan component inputs. If you've any sense, you'll connect your DVD player to one of these. All this fancy progressive and high-definition connectivity also means you'll be ready for the next set of games consoles too, which will be high-definition compatible.
The more standard connections are also there in abundance -- two composite inputs and one S-video input, in addition to four analogue stereo inputs to accompany all the video inputs. While you might only want to use this plasma as a presentation display as opposed to an everyday computer monitor, there's a standard PC audio input to cover all bases.
The menu options are presented in an extremely sensible manner, which is a bonus because Hitachi has included a wealth of tweaks that you can make to both the picture and audio. First, the picture: before you change all the contrast and brightness settings, you can make the image considerably brighter by changing the picture mode to Dynamic from Natural. After you think you've found the optimum settings, you might be daunted to find another page and a half of changes you can make, including the colour tone, contrast mode, a mode for films, black enhancement, colour temperature and recoding... the list goes on. The default settings work fine, but more experienced users can tweak them to the material you're watching and save them as a favourite.
Audio options are no less comprehensive. The stereo speakers feature both SRS Trubass and Matrix Surround, while presets are available for Movie, Music and Speech scenarios. You can also equalise your own preferred settings under Favourite.