The P42T01 is the latest in a long line of Hitachi plasmas to offer a wealth of features for a low price, and at around £750 online it's the company's most affordable set to date.

Even more remarkable is the fact that it's equipped with an Alternate Lighting of Surfaces (ALiS) panel with a resolution of 1024 x 1080 pixels.

While this doesn't make it a full HD TV - ALiS uses technical trickery to increase a 540-line display to a 1,080 lines of pixels - it means that the P42T01 can show 1080i and 1080p pictures line-for-line. The panel's rectangular pixels are also closer together than on regular plasmas, which boosts the perceived resolution.

Connectivity is generous. Pop open the front panel under the screen and you'll find a USB port for hooking up a digital camera to view digital photos in a slideshow, alongside an SD memory card slot.

The inclusion of two HDMIs is a bonus with so many hi-def sources around, but we have to question why Hitachi placed one on the front panel. Permanently connecting a device to this socket means having an ugly wire sticking out of the front of the TV, which severely ruins the aesthetic.

Aside from that, the set looks gorgeous. Our sample sports a matt black bezel surrounded by a tasteful dark grey trim, but for a little extra cash it's also available in a shiny finish. The speakers are tucked underneath the screen to reduce the overall width, but the cherry on the cake is the remote-controlled motorised swivel stand.

At the heart of the set is Hitachi's Picture Master FHD, which optimises colour and detail for 720p, 1080i and 1080p signals.

The feature list also has a digital tuner, bringing with it all the standard Freeview goodies like digital text and an EPG, plus BBE, SRS, and Focus audio modes.

Just not perfect

The P42T01 turns in a decent performance for the money, but if you're looking for the ultimate in picture quality look elsewhere.

With bright standard-def material such as Big Brother from the built-in digital tuner, images are hugely enjoyable. The BB house's migraine-inducing colour schemes are delivered with force and vibrancy, while noise is competently suppressed by the excellent Picture Master FHD circuitry.

Switching to hi-def TV broadcasts such as Planet Earth on BBC HD, the jump in quality is astonishing. The fine detail reproduction is superb, lending images a pin-sharp clarity that's nothing short of mesmerising.

There are two words to explain why we're not enamoured by the P42T01's pictures: black levels. During movie playback, dark areas of the image are plagued by greyness that prevents it from reaching the depths needed to be truly cinematic. And during some dimly lit scenes, it can be hard to distinguish between different levels of blackness. This is not the worst we've ever encountered but it's far from the best.

As far as flatpanel TVs go, sound quality is impressive. Speech is sharp, direct and audible over loud action sequences, plus the various pseudo-surround modes do a great job of spreading out sound to provide a sense of width. More bass wouldn't have gone amiss, but overall this is an admirable audio performance.

Good bargain feel

Despite the P42T01's flawed picture quality, it's still a bargain, as £900 for a plasma TV with this many features is not to be sniffed at. Especially one as easy to use and attractive as this.