Hitachi has proved repeatedly that it knows its plasma onions. But, by comparison, the brand's debut LCD TV, the 28LD5200, didn't totally convince. So has the company's latest 32in LCD offering, the 32LD7200, have more to say for itself?

The design is generally impressive. The glossy black screen surround, silver trim and slender speakers attached to either side look even nicer on this relatively compact TV than they do on Hitachi's 42in plasma TV, the 42PD7200. What's more, you can even rotate the 32LD7200 on its desktop stand via the remote control - a cool touch.

Connectivity is excellent. There's an HDMI jack, joined by a (PC-only) DVI input, a D-Sub PC connection, a trio of Scarts, and a set of component video inputs for all your analogue HD and progressive scan DVD needs. Plus there are the usual AV fall-backs.

Picture Master

There are nice things going on beneath the surface too, including Hitachi's new Picture Master processing. This is an umbrella term for a whole host of digital enhancements, including (deep breath): Full Digital Signal Processing and Scaling; algorithms for adding extra pixels of picture information; Super Dynamic Contrast for analysing pictures to continually optimise black levels; 10-bit Advanced Digital Colour Management for helping the screen deliver a claimed 1billion colours; and super-fast High Quality Video Motion processing for tackling movement on a pixel-by-pixel basis to prevent blurring.

Also, potentially handy on the 32LD7200 is a little LCD trick called In- Plane Switching (IPS), which is claimed to deliver a 170° viewing angle (horizontally and vertically), minimal gray-scale inversion, increased brightness and more life-like colours. It achieves this through a combination of high-purity colour filters.

But perhaps all you need to know about the 32LD7200 is that, courtesy of a 1,366 x 768 native resolution, it's fully deserving of the new 'HD Ready' logo.

Amid all this front-end finery there's just one bum note: a claimed contrast ratio of only 600:1. But I don't intend to get judgmental, since tucked away in the 32LD7200's well-stocked onscreen menus are a number of little tricks for boosting the perception of black level.

Also hidden away in these menus are all manner of noise reduction options, a backlight adjustment, a film mode for enhanced motion handling with film as opposed to video sources, independent tweaks for six different colour components via a Colour Management tool and, for audio, bass booster and Matrix Surround options.

And so to the big question: have all the efforts of Hitachi's boffins paid off in the 32LD7200's pictures? Damn right they have! There's much to like about the 32LD7200. Colour fidelity, for example, is outstanding. Consider the sumptuous vibrancy of full-on colours like the Sky News logos. Even the most outrageous saturations are achieved without the slightest hint of dot crawl or edge noise. Even subtle, low-lit skin tones during notoriously difficult scenes like the Mines of Moria sequence in The Fellowship of the Ring don't perplex this screen.

Contributing to the set's image depth is a phenomenal fine detail response. Contrary to what I'd expected, Picture Power's extra pixels have even more impact here than on Hitachi's bigger 42PD7200 - perhaps because of the lack of picture noise. I was also impressed by the 32LD7200's suppression of motion smearing, a traditional LCD trait caused by poor screen-refresh rates. Happily, the barrage of picture processing employed by the screen doesn't impact with any digital artefacts. Indeed, the processing seems intelligent enough to adapt to different source demands, working as eloquently with analogue tuner feeds as it does high-definition sources.

But like the majority of LCD screens available, the black level response can only be rated as good rather than great. Blacks are profound enough to deliver good depth, but there is a slight greyness to dark areas that a handful of (generally more expensive) screens avoid.

Also, where there are tight clusters of harsh outlines to contend with, such as a face in a crowd, the set's onboard processing can occasionally overemphasise edges. But you probably won't ever notice either of these little aspects, as you will be so busy devouring all the good stuff. Sonically, the set also pleases. The slimline speakers and 1-bit digital amp are entertaining, and can be considered more than just functional.

This second bite of the LCD cherry for Hitachi is a substantial improvement over the brand's first-generation offering. The design is good, and connectivity is excellent. Picture performance is also top of the tree. Many LCD screens falter with basic, low-bitrate digital TV, but this isn't an issue here. The screen's images look great with all types of sources. Indeed, the model is up there with the best in class. It's finally time for performance hounds to take LCD seriously.