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If there's one company that should know its way round a plasma TV by now, it's Fujitsu -- the first commercially launched plasma TV in the UK, way back in 1997, was Fujitsu's PDS4201E-H, which was yours for a mere £11,500. Yet Fujitsu has consistently proved strangely reluctant to throw itself wholeheartedly into the UK's 'domestic' plasma market, tending to favour screens targeted at business users over proper tuner-bearing TVs targeted at home users.
Cue the new P42HTA51, a new Fujitsu 42-inch plasma that's arguably the brand's most home-focussed model yet. It comes complete with a built-in TV tuner and actual European Scart sockets -- wonders will never cease.
Even better, at under £2,000 this new set carries the sort of price tag a domestic rather than corporate consumer might be expected to swallow. So all that remains now is for the P42HTA51 to deliver a fine home cinema performance, and Fujitsu might finally have the ammunition it needs to get more living room action.
Although it's not a radical departure from the designs of Fujitsu's more businessy models, the slenderness of the P42HTA51ES's silver bezel, the gentle rounding of its edges and the subtle sheen of its finish help it cut a stylish but subtle dash in your living room.
It's worth noting, too, that although speakers for the screen are included in the price (by no means a given with Fujitsu generally), they are detachable, giving you the flexibility of either attaching them to the screen, fixing them to the wall away from the screen, or not using them at all if you've got a separate sound system. The TV also comes with a rather attractive desktop stand, useful if wall-mounting the screen is not on your agenda.
Fujitsu's home focus for this screen really becomes apparent when looking at its connections -- our eyes are immediately drawn to both a standard tuner input and a pair of Scarts. At the same time, though, it becomes clear that this Fujitsu doesn't carry those normal TV stalwarts of 4-pin S-Video or phono composite video inputs. Plus we have to say that two Scarts seems a bit stingy for a TV today, but at least both Scarts can handle premium-quality RGB signals.
Other key connections include an HDMI jack for digital high-definition duties, component video inputs for analogue HD and progressive scan feeds, and a PC socket for anyone who wants either to write king-sized Word documents or, more likely, play Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion on a whole new scale.
The bad news is that the P42HTA51 doesn't have a built-in digital tuner -- only an analogue one. Perhaps the apparent complexities of the digital route were too heavy for Fujitsu, given its relative lack of experience with the UK's home TV market. Either that or it would have pushed the TV's cost too high.
The TV is, though, fully HD Ready according to the AV industry's definition -- its HDMI and component jacks are joined by a sufficiently high native resolution of 1024x1024i, and its compatibility with the key 720p and 1080i HD formats.
The set uses Fujitsu's Alternate Lighting of Surfaces (AliS) technology, which explains the apparently square nature of the screen's native resolution. While conventional plasma panels have a strip of electrodes for each horizontal line of plasma cells, AliS panels share an electrode strip between two lines of cells, and expand the area covered by the screen's phosphors. These lines switch on and off thousands of times a second, so that at any given instant only half the panel's pixels are active. This approach gives the visual effect of 1024 horizontal lines, even though there are only around half as many 'actual' lines.
The TV's AVMII image processor also displays some smart technology. This umbrella term takes in a suite of picture-boosting operations tackling such nasties as MPEG blocking noise, mosquito noise and jagged and ghosted edges. There's also a colour tuning element designed to make tones more natural, however this latter aspect of AVMII doesn't seem to deliver on its promise.
Rather intimidating onscreen menus, meanwhile, play host to less interesting features than you might initially expect. For pictures, it's only worth mentioning the ambient light sensor that can adjust the picture in response to the amount of light in your room, a White wash feature that floods the screen with white to counter plasma technology's screenburn problems, and individual 'signal' and 'drive' contrast settings.
Fujitsu quotes a so-so contrast ratio for the P42HTA51 of 3000:1 and a pretty high brightness of 1400cd/m2.
Tragically Fujitsu's home-oriented ambitions come crashing down around its ears as soon as you switch the P42HTA51 on -- its pictures are plain poor by today's standards. Making this worse is the fact that the poor quality is down to a single cause: colours. They simply don't look natural at all, with both red and green tones looking way out of sync with anything in the real world. Reds look orangey and insipid, and greens look sickly and almost radioactive at times.
These problems are particularly obvious when you're looking at 'pure' red or green subject matter, but they also filter through subtly into everything you watch. You find pictures looking muted, while skin tones take on a bizarre hue that makes everyone look like they're suffering from some incurable disease.
As suggested earlier, many other aspects of the P42HTA51's performance are actually pretty sound. Dark parts of the picture look enjoyably black, the picture is generally free of most types of video noise, fine details are abundant and colour blends are smooth rather than striped as they can be on some rival models. But all this goodness is rendered more or less redundant by the colour problems.
Those detachable speakers also do their best to add some respectability to the Fujitsu's cause, combining power with finesse and natural tones to impressive effect. But the bottom line is that nobody in their right mind would buy a TV just for its audio capabilities. Pictures are what really matter, and in this respect the P42HTA51 is sadly lacking.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield