Some readers may find the idea of an already well established satellite broadcaster like Sky manufacturing plasma screens more than a little odd, however the company doesn't actually make this television, instead letting Hitachi do the hard work and then merely lending its brand name to it. Apart from the shiny black frame and distinctive logo, the SPDP4202 is indistinguishable from Hitachi's 42PD5200 plasma.
The swivelling desktop stand, speakers and remote control share exactly the same design, while the onscreen menus, connections and specifications are equally alike. While some big name manufacturers have been known to source their actual glass plasma panels from other big name manufacturers, it's rare to see two differently branded plasma screens that are so very obviously the same. The prices are similar too, which leaves us wondering what the point is.
Nevertheless, we find it difficult to fault Sky's choice of partner, as Hitachi's existing plasma range is well known for its excellence and value for money. Centre stage is its high resolution ALIS (Alternative Lighting of Surfaces) panel, which is fully compatible with high definition sources. The screen comes with a raft of adjustment options and, despite a notable lack of picture processing features, is adept at creating highly detailed images from good quality sources.
Colours are bright and vivid, gradation is reasonably smooth and quick movements result in only a slight amount of artefacting, usually around the edges of people's faces. The screen's main weakness is its rather low contrast ratio, which means it can't create deep, defined dark areas very capably compared to others. Even taking this into account, it still provides one of the best plasma pictures money can buy.
In addition to the picture quality, another factor in its favour is the fine selection of AV sockets. There's two sets of component video inputs (one of which is compatible with RGB via RCA cables), an analogue PC monitor input and a DVI connection that offers compatibility with HDMI and DVI-outputting DVD gear as well as PCs.
There's also the ubiquitous RGBcapable Scart, although unlike most plasmas the SPDP4202 only has one, which may prove something of a headache for those that plan on having, for instance, a Sky box and a games console connected up at the same time. A Scart switching hub would be the best solution to this kind of problem.
Sound quality is also good, with basic stereo output enlivened by SRS TruBass processing (which, appropriately enough, improves the bass output) and a fairly effective matrix surround mode. The stereo speakers supplied are detachable, so if you have your own home cinema audio setup you can simply leave them off and keep the screen looking that much more leaner and meaner.
Last but not least, the SPDP4202 is user and consumer friendly. It's a snap to get up and running, while at the same time it's got a wealth of tweakable settings and options for the more adventurous user to delve into.
All told, this is a great buy - even though it is essentially a screen that we've seen before. It's extremely well designed, looks fantastic, performs brilliantly and pleasingly offers both future-proofing and reasonable value for money.