Plasma screens are always 42in and above, right? Wrong! Admittedly, aside from a novel 32in effort from Hitachi last year, we've not come across many below that giant size - but this 37in offering from French manufacturer Thomson seems like a great solution for a normal-sized living room.
It looks the bees knees, sliding onto our test benches all sleek in silver and black. And as well as whatever you watch on it being deliciously framed, you'll also be able to subscribe to Sky's planned HDTV service next year thanks to a DVI input, which is happily HDCP compatible.
While Sky has just announced that its initial HDTV receiver will come equipped with both HDMI and component video outputs, the latter will disappear on the second batch of receivers. This means you simply must buy a plasma or LCD with a digital input that is HDCPcompatible. That way, your TV will definitely be able to show all copyright-protected high-definition footage - and that means Hollywood movies.
So, the DVI input means a £20 adaptor will bring the joys of HD to your lounge next summer, and the screen also comes with the usual home cinema connections - such as RGB Scarts and component video.
Features-wise, the 37PB220S4 boasts Thomson's Hi-Pix HDTV picture processing - which aims to boost colours and detail - while the panel itself comes from Fujitsu's stable of ALiS plasma screens (few manufacturers actually make their own plasma panels). The set is also endowed with measures to reduce picture noise and better reproduce skin tones, so we were expecting hot things from the 1,024 x 1,024 native resolution screen.
Hitting the right notes
Initially at least, we weren't disappointed. A run-through of our test disc, Ray, showed the Thomson to produce superbly bright, vibrant and natural colours. Moreover, the picture was mostly - though not completely - clean, and close-ups and even dark areas of the image were filled with detail.
The same goes for high-definition footage, which, as expected, showed more clarity and detail. Sadly however, there is a big, unpleasant price to pay for this: picture noise. Close-ups in particular - something that really should be high-definition's bread and butter - were dominated by dot crawl to a distracting extent. There were also some problems with horizontal motion (rare for a plasma these days), and edges were hardly as well defined as we expect of HD.
Still, pictures from the built-in TV tuner are okay, so it's just high-definition where this plasma falls down. This is more than a little odd, because while we can understand that a manufacturer might come up with a TV so focused on HD that DVD is overlooked, why would someone create a specifically HD-ready TV that wasn't up to HD?
At least the speakers are up to the job, providing a bass-heavy, detailed soundstage with both movie soundtracks and music. This isn't the first HD-ready plasma to disappoint with the footage it is designed to master, but that doesn't make it any less disappointing. Hi-Pix HDTV better shape up if HD is going to catch on as its should.