Until now, Hitachi has seemingly concentrated on making accessible LCD projectors for those users wanting a one-stop solution for all their video, games console and PC needs; the kind of models that spark impulse purchases and offer a nice if never world-beating performance from an unusually wide variety of sources.

But the brand hasn't looked particularly likely to deliver a higher-spec projector really able to satisfy the sort of uncompromising movie fan who cares about image performance above price.

Before me now, though, is Hitachi's PJ-TX200: an LCD projector so darned great with movies that it elevates the brand squarely into the enthusiasts' premiere league.

Right from the off I had the impression I was in the presence of something a bit special. The extravagant curves, grilles, glossy deep grey finish and enormous lens array of the TX200 raise it to an aesthetic level that almost rivals the sumptuous looks of Sim2's projectors.

These positive impressions continue with the TX200's connectivity: there's an HDMI input, component video, a standard PC connector, the usual lesser quality video options, and even a 12V trigger.

The TX200 has a native resolution of 1280 x 720, and all the connectivity required to make it fully HD Ready. There are a surprising number of other tricks up its sleeve, too. Not least among these is a 'Super ED' lens array, comprising four, ultra-low dispersion lenses, and aspherical lenses, that work together to (it's claimed) deliver richer, more natural colours and more accurate high-definition images.

But will this lens arrangement help the projector tackle LCD technology's dreaded problems with the panel structure becoming visible in the picture?

High contrast ratio

Another eye-catching specification is its claimed contrast ratio of 7000:1. This is the highest such figure I've seen on a projector, be it LCD or DLP! And as with its nearest rivals, the 6000:1-quoting Sony VPL-HS50 and the Panasonic PT-AE900, this extravagant contrast range is delivered with the help of a dynamic iris system - in this case, a dual digital iris array.

Colours should be helped along, too, by the projector's 10-bit digital image processing. Indeed, Hitachi says this allows the TX200 to serve up 1.07 billion colours.

Other smaller but still significant bits and bobs include an unusually healthy array of Gamma adjustments, multiple user settings for the iris (which prove handy for optimising contrast/brightness levels for different sources), and a low quoted running noise of just 24dB. Actually, during my evaluation I noticed so little noise emanating from the TX200 that even this lowly noise figure seems pessimistic...

As good as the TX200 appears on paper, it still doesn't prepare you for the excellence of its pictures. The projector succeeds in so many areas during run-throughs of Pirates of the Caribbean on DVD and Terminator 2 on high-definition D-VHS that it's difficult to know what to enthuse about first.

I would advise all readers to take over-inflated contrast ratio claims with a pinch of salt, but there's no doubt that this Hitachi really does go deep black. Its black levels are not comparable with the better DLP projectors available, but they certainly do seem to be class-leading within the sub £2K market.

And in achieving this benchmark performance, they are able to paint dark scenes like the one in T2 where Arnie rides his stolen bike off into the night with enough depth, solidity and background detail to have movie buffs cooing with appreciation.

There's a remarkable sense of scale and three-dimensionality to darker scenes that's down to a combination of two further strengths in the projector: the subtlety of its colour performance, and a surprising level of sharpness.

The action during the night-time attack on the fort in Pirates of The Caribbean looks like it's happening against a three dimensional harbour fort, rather than against a flat, grey blanket as it can appear on lesser models.

Image clarity is outstanding. So much so that I wanted to reach out and steal the booty in Captain Barbossa's treasure cave.

No compromise

What's especially remarkable about the TX200's snap is that it's achieved without being compromised by LCD's characteristic chicken wire effect. The move to a high-resolution panel has benefits beyond the replay of HD material!

The only time there's even the faintest intrusion of grid structure in the image is during extremely tricky, white-ish shots such as those amid the swirling mist at Pirates of the Caribbean's start. But even here I doubt many viewers will notice the problem unless they're sat too near the screen and are particularly looking out for it.

For what it's worth, I would advise against using the projector's Auto2 iris setting, which can cause the image to flicker too regularly for comfort.

Colour performance is vibrant, if a tad over-ripe. Don't be afraid to experiment with the TX200's image settings. You can make some dramatic differences to the image - especially in the area of black level - via a combination of the iris settings, gamma settings, and low-lamp mode.

Just bear in mind, though, that achieving the finest black levels will require you to sacrifice quite a bit of brightness. In other words, you won't find the projector's highest quoted brightness level coexisting with its deepest black levels. This is normal with projectors, but the difference is more pronounced here than with less flexible models.

Outstanding value

Hitachi has delivered a high-value projector. Its black levels are outstanding - although you can find even more profound darkness with one or two of the more accomplished DLP models in this price bracket - and image clarity is scorching.

It's this which I think just edges it ahead of the Sanyo Z4 and pits it head to head with its chief nemesis, the Panasonic PT-AE900. The Panasonic maybe steals a march in terms of its feature bouquet, but if you're after the best visual bang for your buck, then the TX200 is a convincing proposition. John Archer