Hitachi's 32LD9700 LCD TV has one of the widest viewing angles we've seen, which is great news if you have a small lounge and are planning to put your TV in the corner with the seats at the side.
It's thanks to something called In Plane Switching (IPS), a technology only previously seen on larger plasmas. Not only do you get a wide viewing angle, but a motorised stand allows you adjust the screen direction at the touch of the buttons on the remote.
The future-proof specification includes an HD Ready sticker, dual HDMI ports, integrated Freeview and the ability to view photos via USB keys or memory cards. Image quality isn't the best around, but at least everyone in the room can see what's going on.
The 32LD9700 is deeper and heavier than we've come to expect from a flat screen. The heaviness is down to a cool motorised stand that swivels the TV when you press keys on the remote.
The circular stand is solidly built, but the matte plastic is out of place next to the lustrous design of the screen. The screen's slim surround is finished in glossed black with an oversized, silver grilled speaker system beneath.
At the right side, standard AV inputs are accompanied by a 'Photo Input' -- a USB port that allows you to access JPEG images from digital cameras, storage devices and even your PC.
You can also directly access a variety of digital files from memory cards using an SD slot at the opposite side -- and you can make a slide show with background music if the mood takes you.
High-definition users are gifted two HDMI digital inputs, which means you can simultaneously connect a pair of hi-def sources -- a Sky box and an upscaling DVD player, say -- for the highest quality performance.
There's a supporting cast of analogue inputs including progressive-scan component connections and three Scart terminals, two of which are RGB-enabled for better picture quality.
There's also a PC terminal that allows the screen to be used as a monitor for a computer or media center, and it's supported by a host of PC image adjustments. Unfortunately, there's no dedicated PC audio input, but you can use stereo phonos to input and output sound, while a separate subwoofer output will add more low frequency oomph using an external speaker.
This screen is the first LCD TV to incorporate the latest generation of 'In Plane Switching' (IPS) technology. It's a system that claims to offer the widest viewing angles (178 degrees) on the market, which means you can watch from off-centre positions without seeing the image distort.
The IPS system also provides better control over the panel's backlight, supposedly producing deeper contrast, while a special Overdrive system enhances response times to improve motion.
This technology is supported by Hitachi's Picture Master Engine, an image-processing system that individually analyses over a billion colours to create more realistic tones and gradations.
The WXGA (1,366x768-pixel) panel is HD Ready and will display both 720p and 1080i high-definition formats -- you won't be able to display the latest 1080p format used by Blu-ray and some HD DVD players. 1080i signals will be downscaled to fit, but the difference is negligible.
The future-proof specification is completed by an integrated Freeview tuner with a seven-day electronic programme guide and a CI card slot for receiving subscription channels from Top Up TV.
The concise menu system may not appear elaborate, but there's an exhaustive range of advanced picture and sound settings that let you fine-tune images to your exact preferences.
Typical picture presets and custom settings are supported by secondary adjustments for backlight control, colour management, signal enhancement and noise reduction. Sound options are equally abundant, with the inclusion of a pseudo-surround SRS system and TruBass low-frequency enhancer.
With so many options available, setting up the system can seem overwhelming. But not all adjustments have a great effect on the image, and we found that the default settings only required slight tinkering before we were pleased with the image.
Interactive adjustments are joined by a few useful features such as Picture Freeze and Picture Strobe, which basically shows images frame-by-frame if you want to analyse a sporting technique, for example.
There's also a Multi-Picture Mode that lets you view up to four images at a time using split screens -- so you can keep an eye on what else is on without missing the current programme.
If space is limited or your room has irregular seating positions then Hitachi's 32LD9700 could be for you, as you can watch from almost any angle without a massive drop in quality. Even when you sit to the far side of the screen, images still appear poised and cohesive.
The system may not equal the expansive viewing angles afforded by large-screen plasmas, but it holds the edge against equivalent-sized LCDs, like Toshiba's 32WLT68, and is certainly among the widest we've seen.
With the right adjustments, picture quality is fairly impressive. Playing the colourful Talladega Nights using Denon's DVD-1930 upscaling player produced exceptionally well-balanced images with plenty of vitality and realism, using natural tones and subtle gradations. The adrenaline-fuelled action of the racing cars was rendered smooth and smear-free.
But given the assertions made by Hitachi about the technology, we expected more distinct black levels and deeper contrast.
The picture at the edges isn't as well defined as on leading LCDs such as the Philips 37PF9731D, especially when watching Freeview broadcasts.
Occasional instability can affect backgrounds and same-colour expanses, even using high-definition sources such as Sky HD.
Sound quality seems to echo at times, but the substantial speakers produce a weighty sound that doesn't distort at high volumes -- although like practically all LCDs, the speakers struggle when watching films.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide