As LCD grows beyond its small-screen beginnings, plasma shrinks. One of very few 32in plasmas available, it's fitting that the 32PD5300 comes from Hitachi, one of the pioneers of the plasma price revolution that left us all thinking that we could afford a flatscreen after all.
The company set the tone with its last 32in plasma, the CL32PD3000, which at just £3,000 was something of a milestone for a respected brand. So at just £2,400 - about the same price as a top-end CRT TV - the 32PD5300 is worth a long look.
It's not just the price that is attractive. This screen is absolutely gorgeous, boasting an elegant dark grey frame mounted on a space-age silver stand, allowing you to swivel the screen to your heart's content.
The 32PD5300 'package' includes the AV3000E AV centre, an external box that handles all socketry - keeping the display free from dangling cables. It boasts three Scarts, two of which can handle high-quality RGB signals, plus component inputs that support PAL and NTSC progressive scan. There are plenty more sockets, allowing you to simultaneously connect VCRs, camcorders, games consoles and even your PC with no trouble. No HDMI or DVI inputs are included, but it would be churlish to complain too much at this price point.
There is an impressive range of advanced picture tweaks, such as contrast boosters and chroma/luma transient improvement, and there are also some basic presets for novices. Sound presets and TruBass are the audio features, which count for nothing if you don't buy the optional speakers.
Run a DVD through the 32PD5300's component video inputs and you're in for a real treat - particularly with progressive sources. We gave our our test disc Bubba Ho-tep a spin, which revealed vibrant colours and a contrast range that does justice to the film's wide range of studio and location shots. The blacks of Mud Creek Shady Rest's spooky corridors looked deep and the white of Elvis' jump-suits were pure. And flesh tones of the ageing Elvis and JFK always looked natural, belying plasma's traditional over-cooking of colours.
That's not to say that colour rendition is perfect. Colour banding is evident (where different tones don't blend into each other smoothly), revealing a slight deficiency in the image processing. What's more, there's a touch of smearing with certain moving objects and camera pans. But these foibles are nothing major, just occasional - and fairly common with plasma anyway.
Pictures from a VCR or the analogue tuner are understandably average, exhibiting fuzziness and image noise that the set's processing finds hard to completely deal with. It's no disaster, but we suggest sticking to a digital TV receiver and recorder to give pictures anything more than a realistic fighting chance.
The 32PD5300's optional bolt-on speakers (not pictured) deliver 2 x 12W of superb stereo sound. Our test movie's soundtrack was bold and well balanced, with bass in plentiful supply, clearly rendered dialogue and a competent treble range. The TV can sound a tad boomy at louder volumes, but these slim speakers get the thumbs up overall.
The 32PD5300 is available at knockdown prices of under £2,000 online (no more than a good CRT) - and this for a powerhouse of a plasma. It has no digital inputs on board, this feature-packed plasma will leave your memories of your old CRT fading fast.