All technology has a tipping point - a time when it stops being expensive gadgets for the well-heeled, and becomes affordable for everyone in the high street. Right now, bigscreen LCDs have reached theirs. Just £1,500 will get you Hitachi's 37in LCD: undercutting similar plasmas by a fair margin.
At first glance, quality cutbacks aren't a worry. As with all other HD-ready sets, this one has a digital HDMI link (sadly, just the one) and analogue component video inputs for connecting to high-definition sources (such as the Xbox 360 or the Sky HD receiver). There are two RGB Scarts (three would be preferred), and a PC VGA input for using the display as a computer monitor.
There is a handy, and rarely-seen, addition: a subwoofer line-out. This is useful if you want to give the TV's sonics a boost, without the expense of a surround sound system.
Like the sockets, the screen's specifications are expected, rather than exciting: 1366 x 768 resolution, and (according to Hitachi) 500cd/m2 brightness range and 800:1 contrast ratio.
There are two notable absences here: a digital tuner and Hitachi's Picture Master system. While digital tuners do add to a TV's cost, they aren't expensive, so this set's lack of one isn't understandable. We saw the Picture Master system in smaller Hitachis and were impressed by its performance. As with the tuner, it's probably missing to keep the price down, but it's an odd omission.
Hitachi has included some picture-improvement features, including In-Plane Switching. This is meant to align the display's crystals to increase viewing angles and brightness, minimise greyscale inversion, and make colours life-like.
The colours are rich, without becoming garish and unnatural; skin tones hold up well, compared to other budget models; and black levels are reasonable, giving dark scenes plenty of depth, without greying over or dragging highlights down with them.
We missed Picture Master's enhancement of sharpness and picture stability. When watching Fight Club in standard-definition, and upscaled to high-definition, the picture lacked detail other sets showed. There is also some noise and jerkiness in horizontal scenes, but both problems are far from serious.
The set's speakers and audio are both impressive. The deep bass levels cause Fight Club's explosions to punch out from the set, volume levels can be set high without distortion, yet it doesn't cause problems with the midtones and trebles. Occasionally dialogue sounds too rich, but overall the soundtracks sound superb.
While it's not the greatest LCD around, the 37LD66 delivers a lot for its asking price, visually and sonically.