While it's tempting to compare Hitachi's well-earned reputation for producing top-draw plasmas to the fearsome reputation of football champions Chelsea, it's the relatively low price of the brand's 42PD7200 that's really attractive - not something we'd ever associate with West London's richest.

The reasonable price doesn't mean that corners have been cut, however. Despite a simple outward appearance, the set boasts both HDMI and DVI inputs capable of taking high-def material - making Sky's HDTV footie plans well within reach.

What's more, these appear alongside component video inputs, for progressive scan images from a DVD player and for hooking up to the Blu-ray or HD DVD players of the near future.

PC, S-video, composite, audio and headphone sockets complete an impressive roster, all appearing on a clip-on 'floating' cluster.

Hitachi has also packed in some advanced picture processing. At the centre is its 'Picture Master' processing system, which gives all-digital image scaling, eschewing the need for the messy analogue-to-digital conversions that can affect pictures. It also adjusts brightness and contrast for individual sections of a picture to produce optimum results, as well as sorting out image noise, colours and motion.

Then there's the Alternate Lighting of Surfaces panel, which has a native resolution of 1,042 x 1,024 pixels. This means it will play both the forms of high-definition that Sky plan to broadcast - 720p 'progressive' (that's 720 lines all in one go compared to the present 540) and 1080i 'interlaced' (two sets of 540 lines flashed onto the screen simultaneously).

Bright as a button

Another boon is this set's user-friendliness. The remote control is laid out in such a way that you don't have to spend ages looking for the right button. It also looks good, with stylish transparent keys and no-nonsense labelling.

As for the on-screen menus, they are clearly laid out and intuitive, so installation is nice and easy. Simple as they might seem, however, they do allow for plenty of fine-tuning, so the fussy user has plenty to play with - a great combination.

As for the picture quality, the 42PD7200 turns out to be a superb performer. When viewing our test football footage, colours looked vibrant and well saturated, while the brightly-lit surroundings of Richard Keys' Sky studio came out sparkling. Detail in close-ups was also awesomely good, with little trace of blocking in any part of the picture, and quick camera pans across the pitch were clean.

Even if you have to resort to watching via the analogue tuner you shouldn't be too disappointed - we found that broadcast pictures had a level of solidity that many lesser screens fail to produce.

But where the 42PD7200 falls down is with contrast.

While greyscale is good, deep blacks aren't rendered quite so well, which has obvious consequences for night scenes in movies and such like. There's also the occasional case of colour banding, but nothing serious.

With regard to the built-in speakers, we did notice some distortion at high volumes - particularly when the TV was set to Matrix surround mode - but they behaved very well with dialogue and background detail. The 42PD7200's minor problems are by no means serious enough to detract from its overall appeal. It's a real performer, especially with fast-moving, bright footage, and has a purse-friendly price as well.