Fitting 1080 lines of pixels onto a 42in TV can't be done, they tell us. So, how can the Hitachi 42PD9700 42-inch plasma claim to deliver the full hi-def 1080-line monty?

The answer lies in something called Alternating Lighting of Surfaces, or ALiS to you. AliS ups the phosphor surface area of the plasma display and illuminates the even and odd lines alternately, every 1/60th of a second. This doubles the vertical resolution of a standard VGA electrode to deliver the 1080 line count.

We guess this means there aren't actually 1080 lines of 'hard' cell-based pixels. But Hitachi swears its 'virtual' ones deliver the same result.

The 42PD9700 looks heavenly in its bold take on the 'black and silver' fad. The design is practical, too, with that black desktop stand permitting motorised, couch potato-friendly rotation of the screen via the remote.

Connectivity impresses too, with two HDMI inputs. These are joined by component video, three Scarts, a VGA PC input, a subwoofer line out, and an SD card slot.

As well as HD Ready spec and the 1080-line resolution, we uncover a digital terrestrial TV tuner, complete with support for the Freeview EPG - including an eight-slot timer event memory.

There's a large array of picture adjustments in the onscreen menus, plus the latest generation of Hitachi's Picture Master processing. Now optimised for HD signals,

Picture Master's noise reducing, digital image scaling, automatic brightness/gamma optimizing, motion enhancing activities are a treat too.

With our 1080i HD test tape of Master and Commander, we loved what we saw on the 42PD9700. Particularly telling is the picture's sharpness and freedom from noise during shots of waves lapping on the ocean surface, suggesting that the 'native' mapping of the 1080-line source to this 1080-line panel really does make a difference.

The dark opening shots show the 42PD9700 to have a profound black level response. Dark scenes also appear with enough greyscaling subtlety to give them plenty of depth-inducing shadow details.

Elsewhere, the flora and fauna revel in some seriously vibrant colours. Even better, these colours are natural in tone, overcoming a key flaw in Hitachi's previous plasmas.

Add to all this impeccable fine detailing and excellent handling of traditional plasma noise types, and you really do have a particularly fine HD picture performance.

Switching to a standard definition DVD of Master and Commander uncovers a couple of small hitches. Most things still look impressive, but just occasionally the colour tone loses its way slightly, and pixel fizzing over horizontal motion creeps in.

Still, even with these minor issues the 42PD9700 remains a very fine plasma TV indeed - especially as its speakers back up its pictures with some impressive sonics. In fact, if you mainly feed the 42PD9700 a high definition diet, it's pretty much as good as plasma gets.