Hitachi's LCD screens have been garnering plaudits in some amazing reviews of late by loyally sticking by its range of gas giants so that it can take a two-pronged approach towards the flatscreen TV market.

To this end, the 42-inch model you see before you here has retained Hitachi's clever blend of attractive styling with a more than useful selection of features. And the 42PD8700 is certainly a looker, albeit with a style that doesn't exactly leap out at you - more merging into the background than screaming out 'look at me'.

The unique selling point that makes this TV stand out from the vast majority of the other affordable plasma screens on the market is the panel: it's actually a 1024 x 1080 screen, rather than the more usual 768 horizontal line models.

Apart from that, the features on offer are pretty standard, with a single HDMI input on hand for connectivity, which will possibly cause issues for owners of both SkyHD boxes and upscaling HDMI equipped DVD players. And ifyou've got an Xbox 360 or plan on adding a PS3 to the mix, things could become very difficult indeed.

It also has a rather useful Freeview tuner, if that's what you are after. Apart from that, there's not too much to write home about.

You'd expect most manufacturers to be past masters when it comes to making a simple, user-friendly interface by now. However, reading through our reviews will tell you a different story, and so it's to Hitachi's credit that the Japanese company has really got the hang of designing a simple to use plasma screen.

The secret really involves no more than a combination of well placed sockets for when you are wiring it up, clear and easy to follow menu screens and a well-styled remote control where the feature you want seems to immediately be under your thumb without you having to think about it too much. It also helps if the instruction manual is clear and simple to follow, which this one is.

Simple but effective

Whatever the relative merits and shortcomings of plasma compared to LCD, when you find an exceptionally good panel like this one it gets you wondering what all the fuss is about. We'll accept a little bit of screen burn as a trade-off if it means we can have a 42-inch TV for around a grand that provides us with cracking image quality, no matter what we watch on it.

Starting off with the internal Freeview tuner: the Hitachi performs considerably better than most of the competitively priced plasmas we have encountered. Grain and smearing are kept to a minimum with the likes of CSI, where even the darker recesses of the Las Vegas night scenes are delivered smartly and with plenty of detail.

Switching up to an upscaled DVD source and you find the Hitachi really starts comes into its element, offering more high-level detail than a lively train-spotter at a trainspotters' convention. Consequently, the excellent Children of Men comes across with a gritty realism you'll be hard pressed to replicate in any other model with this sort of pocket money price tag.

Move up to proper high definition, courtesy of SkyHD, and the genuine quality of this set really become noticeable. With the amazing hi-def thrill ride that is 24, the 42PD8700 is capable of reproducing stunning colours on pictures that display no unsightly jagged edges or blurring, while switching channel to the Beeb's Planet Earth gets you thinking that if all TV was this good you'd never need to go out again.

Sonically, this Hitachi does a decent job of providing satisfying sound with bog-standard broadcast material. But you can also listen to the hectic and tune-heavy score of CSI: Miami without constantly adjusting the volume as you occasionally must do on some sets, raising it for quiet dialogue, and then turning it down again when the more dynamic musical score kicks in. There's decent stereo separation too, which makes for well placed voices and dialogue that's just busting with clarity.

However, it's worth mentioning that if you are planning on using this screen as your main movie viewing source (and the picture quality certainly deserves it), then we'd seriously consider partnering it with either a high-end, all-in-one surround system or a full-on home cinema receiver. Without these sound supports, if you push it too loud it starts cracking up and ruins an otherwise faultless performance.

The price of plasma televisions is dropping all the time and the price of this set seems to be in a free-fall all on its own. The street price of the excellent 42PD8700 fell by a couple of hundred pounds during the time we had it on our test bench, and may have come down even further by the time you read this.