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Like NEC, Fujitsu has traditionally counted on the upper end of the plasma market to buy its wares. In the past, the company would simultaneously target the hardcore consumer as well as the business sector, and despite plasma prices seriously eroding over time, the company has still maintained its high price policy. Nonetheless, it still sees that elusive high-end buyer as its perfect market and it has recently forged some high-perfomance plasmas aimed at the home user, with plenty of AV connectivity and, perhaps more importantly, high-definition compatibility.
The P42HTS40 arrives on the back of this ethos, proudly wearing the 'HD Ready' badge, and the plasma's separate media box means it can handle masses of connectivity. In this respect, it's a benchmark plasma, despite Fujitsu leaving a nasty taste in the mouth by omitting speakers and not having an internal digital TV tuner. The P42HTS40's picture quality is excellent, the design is contemporary and the media box is one of the best we've seen.
Our Fujitsu plasma arrived in two separate boxes, one with the main display and one with the separate media box. If you looked at the television alone, you'd be disappointed -- there's only one DVI input and outputs for speakers on the main unit. This allows the main unit to have as few cables going to it as possible, as the media box can handle the spider's web of cables that we've found often gathers around a shiny, high-definition plasma.
And when Fujitsu does a media box, it really does a media box. Think of the biggest home AV setup imaginable, and this baby will cope with it without breaking a sweat. Even someone with Freeview and Sky boxes, a DVD player, a VCR and every single games console on the market would struggle to fill all the AV connections on the rear. And if you're planning on upgrading to Sky HD and a Blu-ray/HD DVD player next year, there's still a healthy allocation of sockets to allow you to do so. This is the most comprehensively specified TV on the market in terms of connectivity.
On the lower end of the scale, you have three Scart sockets, which is still a passable solution if you have a decent DVD player. This is especially true as all three of these are are RGB-compatible, which means that the image is better defined and has more natural colours than normal Scart. Then there are the two sets of component inputs, both of which are progressive-scan compatible (for a much better picture quality from a compatible DVD player or games console). Looking further from this generous allocation, there are two VGA inputs, which is enough for two separate computers. Excessive, perhaps, but the Xbox 360 will ship with a VGA high-definition accessory cable, so it's more than welcome. There's also S-video and composite inputs on the front of the media box, which result in poor picture quality, but are useful if you want to connect a camcorder without any hassle.
We've not even talked about the audio -- there's PC-style inputs on the rear that accompany the two VGA sockets, while stereo inputs do the same for the component video feeds. Then there are two optical audio inputs, so if your DVD player or games console features Dolby Digital/DTS, you can preserve this audio quality digitally. The media box even lets you send any of these audio feeds back out of the box to a separate amp via an optical output, which is something buyers of this TV really should consider. If you choose to buy the accompanying speakers, then the media box is ready to provide either via optical or stereo audio outputs. Like we said, it's a perfect television, connectivity-wise.
The main unit itself is very simply designed, with two logos -- one for Fujitsu itself, and one on the corner advertising its Advanced Video Movement II (AVMII) technology. Bonus points to Fujitsu for keeping the frame so thin, but an own goal for placing the buttons along the front of the frame instead of tucked away down the side. It's a matter of taste -- having them on the front right of the TV means that anyone can operate it in a moment, but it compromises the sleek lines of the otherwise clean exterior.
The outstanding point to make here is that this set has both DVI and HDMI connectivity on the rear -- we've only seen promises of dual digital video connections from TV manufacturers so far, not actual deliveries. Both are compatible with high-definition content protection (HDCP) compatibility (i.e. Sky HD-ready), and HDMI also transmits digital audio down the same cable.
We couldn't have asked for more when it comes to connectivity on the Fujitsu, but we've seen enough televisions to know the rules of television manufacturing dictate you must make a mistake somewhere. We found the TV to be a real pain to use, no thanks to the cheap remote. The battery compartment is at the front, meaning the balance feels awkward. But the worst mistake is that there hasn't been any accomodation for the sheer number of inputs -- Fujitsu instead preferring to stick to the standard rules. The worst-case scenario is if you want to change from playing your PS2 through the Scart ('Video 1') to Sky HD through HDMI (Video 7'). There's only one button that will let you cycle through on the remote, instead of there being individual buttons for each AV channel. It's annoying, to say the least.
Perhaps the biggest crime for a high-end plasma TV with a media box is not including a digital TV tuner inside. Okay, so digiboxes are as little as £30 these days and the Fujitsu has plenty of space for you to plug one in, but the integrated approach is always more elegant as it cuts out an extra remote. Never mind, we expect buyers of this screen will have something like a Philips Pronto Pro all-in-one remote control anyway.
So what does this Fujitsu offer to the picture fetishist? Well, the panel itself is based on the ALIS system, which is similar to Hitachi (indeed, the two companies have been co-producing panels for some time). Fujitsu's individual take on the technology comes in the form of the AVMII picture engine, now into its second generation. Like most other advanced picture processing engines, AVMII makes video look less noisy round the edges, as well as boosting contrast and colour levels. It's necessary, because the panel's resolution is much higher than that of DVD-Video and digital TV sources. The AVMII technology is one of the better engines we've seen. Up close, a DVD movie can still look incredibly noisy, but in normal conditions and at a proper viewing distance it looks particularly well defined.
Should you wish to do any tinkering, the menu system is logical and well laid out. It's easy to switch between picture modes, change the aspect ratio to fit the video source, as well as do some advanced (read: pointless) stuff like capture individual frames of video.
There's no denying that the near-£3,000 price tag will put many people off the Fujitsu, but if you can afford it, you'll be rewarded by an extremely solid picture. The Fujitsu meets a very strange market at the moment -- it's a high-end TV that's aimed at the picture purist with a potentially huge collection of AV components. But these people are likely to be well informed, insofar as they'll know LCD technology offers a much better picture than plasma. And at this point in time, there are models available from Samsung and Philips at similar sizes for much less than the Fujitsu.
Judged against other plasma TVs, the Fujitsu is a strong contender for reference model -- the picture shares many similar qualities to Hitachi's plasmas. High definition is a real treat whether you're using component or HDMI inputs, with only a tiny amount of noise over darker areas. The AVMII picture engine is particularly strong when dealing with motion, and we were left in no doubt -- pictures are wonderfully solid from our PAL test DVDs right through to images fed through a computer at higher refresh rates.
It's a shame that speakers aren't included as standard, and we weren't able to test them, because Fujitsu didn't supply them. We suspect that many people interested in the TV will own home cinema systems, but it seems stingy not to include any at the price.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide