Once the most desirable products in the AV world, plasma TVs are now facing some tough competition from LCD -- falling prices and a typically better picture quality are making LCDs the product of choice for the discerning buyer. However Hitachi is fighting back with a massive increase in its production of plasma TVs. It has good reason to be confident, because the company's 42PD5200 was an excellent plasma that was ahead of its time on specification, and was thus able to stay on the market for a long time. It's now due for an upgrade, and this new model looks set to continue Hitachi's reputation for quality.
The plasma is stylish, well featured and has been brought up to date with high-definition compatibility, making this a TV we'd recommend as a long-term investment. It's the performance that's the most impressive facet of this television though, with a solid, detailed picture across all sources thanks to Hitachi's Picture Master processing.
Hitachi's plasmas lack the distinct sophistication of Pioneer and Panasonic's recent efforts, but the 42PD7200 still manages to look modern. It's a classic example of understated design, with only a thin black frame to detract from the main attraction -- the massive screen itself. And despite having Picture Master processing, you won't see Hitachi boasting about it with huge logos on the front -- only the Hitachi badge divides the clean lines of the TV.
Hitachi's remote keeps up this appearance, and while it's too big and could do with grooves to make it easier to hold, clusters of similar buttons are well organised. The nicest feature is that the main buttons -- channel numbers, volume and channel up/down -- are all hard plastic with the labels imbedded into the keys. That means that unlike most other remotes, the buttons won't wear down after a couple of years' use. The back panel on the TV has quite a few connections, so it's good that each one is allocated a separate button on the remote control. It will also control your DVD player and satellite box, and many keys double up for different uses depending on which mode it's in.
Many manufacturers opt for a separate media box to increase connectivity on their flat screens, but Hitachi has managed just fine without. On the PC front, the roster is unchanged from the 42PD5200, with one VGA input and one DVI input, which will suit modern PCs and media centres.
On the AV side there's been a big shakeup. One set of component inputs has been removed (still leaving one set) and replaced with a shiny new HDMI input. Not many TVs have this, but over the coming years expect HDMI to become the digital equivalent of Scart. If you have a new-fangled DVD player such as the Denon DVD-2910, you can send the Hitachi plasma digital video and audio through one cable, resulting in the best possible picture. The DVI input is also HDCP compatible, so you're effectively getting two high-definition-compatible inputs, and there aren't many TVs that can yet boast that. It's not all about catering for the future market though, as there's also been an increase in the number of Scarts, with two RGB and one video Scart taking the total up to three.
Hitachi's menu systems aren't flashy, but they're very easy to use. It helps that there are a number of presets that you can activate from the remote control, so you never have to dip in there if you don't want to. From the box, we found that the Natural picture setting offered the best results for television programmes and movies, whereas the Dynamic mode was useful for some videogames.