Once the reserve of the wealthy, big-screen plasma TVs are now tumbling in price - but it was Hitachi that made the first move. The big-name maker of luxury 42in and even 55in plasma giants par excellence set the tone with its last 32in plasma, the CL32PD3000, which, at just £3,000, was something of a milestone for a respected brand of plasma.
Although 42in is sometimes seen as the standard size for plasma fans, most lounges could better accommodate 10 inches less, so Hitachi's 32in 32PD5300 is worth a long look - especially as it's about the same price as a top-end CR, around £2,000.
It's not just the price that is attractive. The 32PD5300 is absolutely gorgeous, boasting an elegant, dark grey frame mounted on a space-age silver stand that allows you to swivel the screen to your heart's content.
The 32PD5300 'package' includes the AV3000E AV centre, an external box that handles all socketry - keeping the display free from dangling cables. It boasts three Scarts, two of which can handle high-quality RGB signals, plus component inputs that support PAL and NTSC progressive scan. There are plenty more sockets, allowing you to simultaneously connect VCRs, camcorders, games consoles and even your PC with no trouble. No HDMI or DVI inputs are included, but it would be churlish to really complain at this low price point.
There are an impressive range of advanced picture tweaks, such as contrast boosters and chroma/luma transient improvement, and there are also some basic presets for novices. Sound presets and TruBass comprise the audio features, which count for nothing if you don't attach the included speakers!
Run a DVD through the Hitachi's component video inputs and you're in for a real treat - particularly with progressive sources. Our Alien vs Predator test disc looked radiant, delivering dazzling colours and a wide contrast range, from deep blacks to sharp, pristine whites. Flesh-tones always look natural, as they manage to avoid falling into the trap of making faces look like they've been in the sun too long (as many plasmas are wont to do).
That's not to say that colour rendition is perfect. Colour banding is evident (where different tones don't blend into each other smoothly), revealing a slight deficiency in the image processing. There's a touch of smearing with certain moving objects and camera pans. But these foibles are nothing major, just occasional bugbears - and fairly common with plasma televisions anyway.
Pictures from a VCR or the analogue tuner are understandably average, exhibiting fuzziness and picture noise that the set's processing finds hard to completely deal with. It's no disaster, but we suggest sticking to a digital TV receiver and recorder to give pictures a realistic fighting chance.
The 32PD3000 delivers 2 x 12W of superb stereo sound through its detachable speakers. Movie soundtracks are bold and well balanced, with bass in plentiful supply, clearly rendered dialogue and a competent treble range. The TV can sound a tad boomy at louder volumes, but these slim speakers get the thumbs up overall. However, you should really be adding surround sound.
Despite their impressive size, some plasma screens do disappoint when you get them home - but not this one. Unbelievably at this price, the Hitachi 32PD3000 is a powerhouse of a plasma, capable of delivering decent pictures and sound, with a wealth of features under its stunning bodywork. This is one purchase you certainly won't regret.