The catchily-titled Hitachi UT32MH70 is remarkably slim.
At only 35mm thick, this 32incher is in danger of gliding away on the faintest of breezes.
I exaggerate, of course, but it's still as thin a production screen I've ever seen up close. It's impressive. Yet once the 'wow' factor has worn off, you have to wonder whether its girth, or lack of, is simply a gimmick. And is there a performance compromise to be paid?
Slim at the expense of features
The biggest trade-off of an attenuated footprint is the absence of a TV tuner. This Hitachi is, for all intents and purposes, a monitor. It has speakers, granted, but few connections. One HDMI v1.3 input and a VGA port are it.
No Scart, component or any other analogue trickery. In fact, I've never had an easier time listing equipment specifications. It's as devoid of bells and whistles as a freshly-mugged Morris dancer.
Furthermore, when attached to the included desktop stand rather than wall-mounted, the footprint of this super-slim TV is clearly engorged. These are caveats that will put off a large majority of normal folk.
Few would consider wall-mounting a 32in screen. Most would need more than a solitary HDMI socket for connectivity with other kit, especially considering its lack of a tuner.
A Scart for a Freeview box or PVR, perhaps? Component can be served via a VGA adaptor, but it's hardly an ideal solution, and few external content delivery systems offer this
as an alternative. In short, while undoubtedly beautiful, this is a niche product.
All is not lost, however, because the MH70's pictures (almost) make up for any shortfalls, and Hitachi has promised the UK release of a separate media box - containing a digital TV tuner - for later this year (it's already available in Japan).
Naturally, this will come at further cost, but those who are initially willing to pay a little extra for a little taken off will surely be happy to financially oblige. Especially if the company also brings over the optional wireless connector that allows you to transmit signals using Ultra Wide Band technology.
The panel is HD Ready, with a 1366 x 768 resolution, and although other manufacturers have 1080p 32in LCDs on the market, that's really an overindulgence for such a screen size.
With substrate real estate of such dimensions, 720p is ample - the monitor can accept signals up to 1080p, but downscaling images to fit the native resolution can cause all manner of foibles, so it's advisable you output images to fit. There are even some who advocate upscaling DVDs, via their player, to 1080p and then feeding the result to a 720p panel, which is subsequently downscaling the picture again. Lunacy!
Weighing the scalers
There's actually something to be said for driving this screen without upscaling standard-definition content at all. If your upscaling player uses an old or regular processing chip, you will be better served with coughing out 576p or 480p images. I did, and was dazzled by the results. SD video, from DVD or a set-top-box, is rich in detail and depth. One person who spied the set during testing actually thought SD DVD was high-definition footage, it's that involving. While lacking in the kind of absolute detail HD encodes can offer, this screen is assured in its standard-def control.
Of course, it's even better with high-def. In Cinema mode (in preference to Dynamic or Normal) there's a visual beef about the imagery, but achieved without overcooking the colour fidelity. Sitting a mere four or five feet back (closer than ideal, but a good test position to see artefacts), it's still a delight in detail rendering. The mode cleverly increases the backlight and brightness enough to bring even dingy scenes to life, but not so much to hamper contrast levels.
This mode is also the best for gaming. When stalking prey in the dark, on a game such as Viking: Battle for Asgard on Xbox 360, it really helps if you can actually see the detail in the murkiest areas.
The brightness, in this case, is lifted just enough for complete visibility, but not so much as to ruin the mood.
I've got one gripe about this TV's picture, though. In ambient light it looks fantastic, but switch the lights off entirely and there's a distinct greying of blacks (as evidenced on the bars top and bottom of a true widescreen presentation). It's worth bearing in mind if you intend to use this 32in set as the main focus of your movie viewing. Dimming the house lights might not be the best way to watch. That said, the integrated Cinema mode copes admirably with panning shots. Although there's no 100Hz picture processing on this model (unlike its prospective 37 and 42in relatives), fast movement reveals little juddering. Indeed, I discovered more problems with my DVD player's processing than with the screen's.
Considering the lack of room, the stereo (2 x 6W) speakers do a half-decent job, just don't expect to fill the Albert Hall with the cacophonous rumblings from Albert Square. There's simply not enough room in the super-slim bezel to push appreciable air. Despite this, there are more adjustable options for audio than there is for video - so you can fiddle about with the settings to your heart's content. Not that there's a lack of picture functions to tweak your way through - it's just that you're probably likely to be satisfied enough by the Cinema mode to stick with that.
Overall, I'd rate picture quality as spectacular, and if it was only the width that's been slimmed down, rather than connectivity and content delivery, it would be a shoo-in for 32in of the year so far. As it is, this super-thin beauty is for the super-trendy only. But we're liking the new shape of LCD quite a lot