NEC plasmas have been around for ages, in exhibition halls, boardrooms and on other corporate occasions - but have never really taken off with home cinema fans. This could change with the massive 61XM2, which looks altogether more suited to a living room than previous efforts.

Still, instead of aiming for the 'must have a plasma' end of the market, NEC has gone straight for the high-end of home cinema with a new multimedia range, of which the 61in 61XM2 is clearly the star.

Corporate cuts

A star, yes, but a shining star it isn't. The 61XM2's brutally functional aesthetics are a hangover from its corporate roots, and may alone prevent it competing with some of the truly beautiful plasmas on the market. Its hulking black frame looks like it would be far more at home displaying departures from platform five than this evening's feature presentation.

What's more, the plain, two-footed stand isn't any easier on the eye, and in design terms harks back at least two years. That it is optional and costs a staggering £450 hardly helps, especially if you also wish to 'opt' for the speakers, optimistically priced at £550 for the pair.

To NEC's credit, the back panel does house both DVI and component inputs for progressive and high-definition feeds, as well as S-video and composite inputs. Component and composite jacks are found in both phono and BNC forms, which seems unnecessary, but will appeal to some. But before you think NEC is going soft, note the absence of Scart inputs and the lack of a built-in TV tuner. Not surprisingly, the other sockets are PC-oriented, with a 15-pin D-Sub PC jack and a 5BNC RGB socket heading up the list.

Big-picture people are going to find much to enjoy with the 61XM2. Detail, for a start, is very impressive, with crisp, convincing images - even from some distance. And the high resolution of the panel combines well with some effective scaling to render a precise, involving performance, regardless of source.

Colours are also vibrant and realistic, with NEC's proprietary processing (Gamma-12 greyscale resolution, AccuCrimson red control and Capsulated Colour Filter) for the most part earning their keep. The hues at your disposal are well saturated and vivid (The Incredibles didn't disappoint on this score), while the screen is capable of brilliant whites.

Below par

It's the other end of the spectrum that disappoints, however, with blacks suffering from a listlessness that managed to make The Incredibles look less vibrant than it should. This last minus point means that, for all its laudable qualities, the 61MX2's picture fails to grab you the way that it really should, as it looks a little uninvolving.

Be wary if you intend to marry this monster screen with its add-on 9W stereo speakers. They're faithful and reasonably robust, but are less than a perfect match for the vast pictures between them. This is probably not a major problem, however, as most eyeing up a screen of this size and cost are likely to already have - or about to purchase - a separate surround sound home cinema system.

The scale of images is the most impressive aspect, but the absolute quality of the NEC's performance pales in comparison to the smaller but more capable Hitachi 55PMA550E - and it's a lot more expensive, too.

If 'the bigger the better' is your motto, the 61XM2 is well worth a look. But those looking for the perfect picture and a gorgeous piece of furniture should look elsewhere. NEC needs to up the ante this year if it's to become a real contender.