Plasma TVs with built-in hard disk drives for making recordings are a rare breed.
To our mind there are only a few other flatscreens TVs in existence that offer the same capabilities – LG's Freeview Playback LT75 LCD TVs and Loewe's rather expensive Individual Compose 40.
Not that Hitachi's first stab at this emerging market, the 50in P50XR01, could be called a bargain. At a cool £2,300 (although we spotted it for as little as £1,600 online), the P50XR01 builds-in a massive 250GB hard drive (around 100 hours) behind a panel that's pixel-packed, all atop a motorised swivel stand.
The TV's 1920 x 1080 resolution ensures that 1080p pictures available on PS3 or Xbox360 games and Blu-ray discs have the best platform.
Superior spec plasma
A matt and acrylic bezel lends some style to proceedings, but the real beauty lies under its hood: a 250GB hard disk drive and three HDMI v1.3 inputs, meaning improved colours. Hitachi's own Picture Master processing engine also ramps up the image.
Other connectivity of note includes a PC input, digital audio output, an SD card reader, and USB slots for getting your digital photos onto the screen – from a PC or direct from a camera – with the minimum of fuss.
There's also a set of component video inputs, which makes it possible to connect four high definition sources to the P50XR01. As most Xbox 360s feed HD games into a TV this way, component video is still an vital feature, despite the ubiquity of HDMI.
But, Hitachi's first Full HD plasma is not all about high definition, though, despite its enormous resolution. The P50XR01's chief boast – and what almost makes it unique, is the combination of hard disk drive and two digital TV tuners.
Five picture quality settings are supplied, but we would advise you use the TS mode – recordings from the built-in digital tuner (though you can record from any source attached) are immaculate.
There's no Freeview Playback compatibility, so series links can't be set, but the ability to pause, rewind and chase live playback will be irresistible to some – as well as recording one channel while you watch another.
All built-in, this kind of capability does comes at an aesthetic cost, however. The P50XR01 is pretty bulky, though it's worth bearing in mind that its special skills do save you the hassle of attaching an external digibox or DVD/HDD recorder.
Disappointing black levels
Using our test disc of Spider-Man 3 on Blu-ray, it's obvious from the outset that the P50XR01 is a smooth operator. Quick pans across NYC are fluid and motion handling in general is superb.
If you are upgrading from a CRT TV, you'll probably notice that this set's blacks are less-than-perfect.
Unfortunately, that's a downside of all but the most expensive plasma TVs, although the problem is much worse on LCD TVs. Spidey's black suit might not look perfect, but blacks are deep enough to allow the fabulous colours of Spider-Man 3 to shine through.
High definition pictures contain a delicious mix of high detail and colour, but the P50XR01 is no slouch when it comes to standard-def either upscaling it to snugly fit the screen without any video nasties creeping into the equation.
There are better picture performers out there, but not many – and certainly none with as much functionality as the P50XR01. Expensive, but just about worth it.