We're often banging on about how Hitachi produces some of the best-performing screens available. So imagine how excited we were when the brand's new beautifully framed 55in screen arrived. Sure, we were excited, but the thing that really wowed us was the price. Screens this size are few, but at just £6,000 (or even cheaper online) the 55PMA550E is unique.
So what's inside the 55in frame? A free video board ensures that the socket count is more than respectable, with an RGB-capable Scart and a brace of component video inputs alongside the lower-quality composite and S-video options.
You won't find an RF input, however, which means no TV tuner - although considering the Hitachi's price you probably won't mind shelling out the hundred or so quid it'll take to put that right. You'll also find a 15-pin D-Sub PC input, but the icing on the cake is the HDCP-compatible DVI jack, opening the door for all-digital, high-definition pictures - even Sky's planned HD broadcasts.
Plain and simple
The remote control is plain, but easy to use, and the system it operates is pleasingly comprehensive. Picture tweaks come in the form of a couple of presets, in addition to a whole host of contrast, noise reduction and colour modes. The final feature of note is that the 55PMA550 manages to keep itself cool without fans, thereby banishing the dreaded buzz entirely.
Screens that seem perfect straight from the box seldom disappoint, and the 55PMA550 lives up to our expectations. For starters, image colour is natural, arguably outdoing even the company's smaller LCDs. Hues are well saturated and vivid when they need to be, but the screen also benefits from tremendous subtlety, and freedom from banding between shades. Moreover, our The Incredibles test disc helped the 55PMA550 show off some some superb blacks, helped along by a claimed contrast of 900:1. Check out the scenes when Mr Incredible is imprisoned on the island. This may be animation, but the Hitachi adds a serious dollop of realism - helped by the cutting-edge SFX (perfect for live-action movies, let alone animation!)
The bright side
Sticking with stats, the Hitachi's 1,000cd/m2 brightness creates one of the most lustrous pictures we've seen on such a large screen. Detail is also superb, perhaps due to the employment of e-ALiS (Extended Alternate Lighting of Surfaces) - a progressive technology that illuminates every pixel in the panel simultaneously. The combination of this and the superior contrast ability makes for incredible fine detail, without the grain that frequently compromises plasma pictures.
High-definition pictures are nothing short of stunning, really getting the most from this display. And while things do deteriorate in proportion to the quality of your source material, even composite feeds can be cleaned up a treat with some careful setup adjustment. On a 'regular' sized plasma this would be laudable; on this football pitch-sized screen it's almost miraculous, and puts smaller models to shame.
The optional (£250-£300) speakers also easily out-perform our expectations, combining mid-range and well-rounded treble to good effect. The presets work well, particularly SRS TruBass, and Matrix Surround does a serviceable job for those of you without 5.1.
The 55PMA550E isn't about shelling out extra cash for added inches. It represents a leap forwards that assures us that plasmas can just keep on getting bigger without sacrificing performance. A great plasma.