Hitachi has an excellent reputation when it comes to large plasma TVs, but the Japanese company also caters for the smaller end of the flat-screen market with a range of LCD televisions. This 37-inch model sits at the top of this range, and totes a dizzying number of features, but is nonetheless available to the eagle-eyed Internet shopper for as little as £900.
This is a reassuringly well built television with a weighty metal base, which sets it a class above the rather plasticky TVs in the current Samsung, Toshiba and LG ranges. The frame around the screen is narrow, and the speakers are placed underneath, which helps keep the size down. Obviously the quality of the styling is a subjective point, but we think Hitachi has succeeded in making it look reasonably elegant.
The stand is motorised, which means you can swivel it from the comfort of your sofa by using the remote control. To be honest, it isn't a feature most people will get much use out of, but we did manage to wow several of our simpler friends by 'magically' moving the screen from afar -- so it gets a partial thumbs-up for that.
Hitachi has included a decent range of connections, including two HDMIs, a component video input, three Scarts (two of which are RGB capable) and a VGA connector for PCs. A cable management loop at the back lets you rein in the spaghetti and keep things tidy.
The TV's side panel includes a USB port and SD card slot, which can only be used to view photos. You can plug in a camera or card reader to the USB and view photos from that, but memory devices such as keys and external hard drives will not work.
Setting up is a breeze. The built-in digital tuner will automatically search for and store all channel info at the touch of a button (just make sure you plug your aerial in first), and while the menu system is fairly extensive and detailed, getting to grips with it is simpler than beating a professional footballer at Scrabble.
There's a wealth of picture settings on offer. You get the usual stuff like contrast, brightness and colour, but you can also adjust the strength of the backlight, the contrast mode, picture and colour sharpness, picture and colour noise reduction and indulge in some ultra-precise tweaking of the colour temperature and balance.
Sound can also be adjusted in several ways, and features include an SRS 3D surround mode, SRS TruBass and a 'perfect volume' feature that adjusts the volume automatically when you flip channels.
Hitachi claims this TV has the widest viewing angle of any LCD on the market, and while we haven't lined them all up to check, it's certainly impressive. Unlike many LCDs, you can sit way off to the side of the screen and still see a well defined, high-contrast picture with convincing blacks -- you don't have to be sat in a narrow 'sweet spot' directly in front of the screen.
One last feature worth noting is the seven-day electronic programme guide, which works with the Freeview tuner and provides you with information of the next week's worth of programmes.
Colours are brilliantly vibrant and well saturated on this screen, and at the same time transitions from light to dark are handled smoothly and gradually, rather than in off-putting, eye-catching contours. There's a little of this colour-banding in evidence, but we've yet to see a flat screen that can completely eliminate it.
Watching a high-definition version of the Bill Murray movie Broken Flowers on Sky HD, we did notice the screen wasn't able to kill off all the noise caused by Sky's compression techniques, and there was some blockiness in the backgrounds. Cranking up the noise reduction didn't help much, as it softened the picture too much and seemed to create odd lingering trails behind moving objects. A shame, but to be honest we didn't find the noise too annoying anyway.
The response time of the screen is fast enough for it to be used with games too. Even the fastest moving content, such as Pro Evolution Soccer 6 on Xbox 360, zips along without the slightest hint of a blur, and the powerful colour reproduction tends to suit games well too.
Sound quality is of the level you'd expect from a TV in this price range. The under-mounted speakers produce reasonably crisp, clear audio and a satisfactory level of bass when required, but are still no match for a half-decent external sound system. You can actually hook a subwoofer straight up to solve the bass deficiency, as there's a dedicated output at the back.
Both audio and visual performance is strong and this level of performance, along with neat touches like the ultra-wide viewing angle, remotely controlled motorised stand and elegant design, places the 37LD9700 in the top tier of mid-sized flat-panel TVs. You can't go far wrong for the money.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide