The Hitachi 42PD8800TA is an impressive looking unit straight out of the box, with its front a mixture of metal and glass that is immediately pleasing to the eye. The shiny screen and its surrounding black panel is flanked by grey speakers on either side, while the top and bottom of the unit is finished in a brushed black metal. Too much clutter would have ruined this set's sleek looks, so Hitachi rightly designed it with no buttons at all on the front of the unit, not even a power switch. All this visual finery does have one major drawback, however. It is insanely easy to leave smudges or fingerprints on the reflective screen, and they're not easy to wipe off. You'll need a static free cloth to be able to do the job properly. But of course, with this Hitachi set coming with a motorised swivel base, there should be only a few times when you'll need to physically touch the screen.
The television's main controls can be found on the unit's right side, and includes the power switch, channel buttons, volume and an SD/MMC slot. Also on the right is an easy access AV input (S-Video or composite), headphone slot and a USB connector for use with digital cameras. The rest of the Hitachi's connectors can be found at the back, and are arrayed with plenty of space in between to ensure ease of connection.
The Hitachi 42PD8800TA boasts a screen resolution of 1024x1024 pixels, which is on the high end of things for plasma sets of this size (the 55-inch upgrade model has a resolution of 1366x768 pixels). That means high definition signals shouldn't be a problem for this Hitachi, which is a pity since the Hitachi 42PD8800TA only comes with a built-in analog tuner. Its other panel specifications are equally high -- 3000:1 contrast ratio and 1400 cd/m2 brightness.
But the Hitachi more than makes up for that shortfall of the analog tuner by including one of the best arrays of inputs we've seen. This set has two component inputs, three composites, one RGB and an S-Video/composite. But best of all, it has not one, but two HDMI inputs. While HDMI-enabled source units are a bit thin on the ground at the moment, this is sure to change in the next few years. Having two HDMI inputs (plus two components) makes this Hitachi almost future-proof in the coming all-digital age in a way that many of its competing plasmas aren't.
This multitude of sources is put to good use by the Hitachi. As well as the normal two-picture mode available on many other high-end sets, the Hitachi can display up to four pictures at once from four different sources (although we can't think of too many occasions where we need to see four things at the same time). The Hitachi also allows you to freeze an image should something take your interest on screen.
As is becoming standard now with most flatscreens, the Hitachi comes with photo slideshow functionality via its USB photo input terminal or SD/MMC card slot. Users can plug in cameras or a card reader into the USB slot for instant access to their digital photos, or alternatively they can slip in their SD or MMC cards.
One of the major pluses of this Hitachi plasma is that it comes with a motorised stand, which allows you to swivel the television 30 degrees either left or right using the remote. Swivelling the unit is as easy as pressing a button on the remote, allowing you to easily move the screen to an ideal viewing position without having to get off the couch (or put your hands on the smudge-magnet screen).
As you'd expect from such a feature packed television, the included remote is pretty large. Button layout is quite sensible, however. We particularly liked how the remote had separate buttons for all of its various input sources, which means no more tedious pressing of the one AV button until you get to your chosen source.
This Hitachi produces generally pleasing pictures, scoring high on contrast and colour but slightly lower on sharpness. As you'd expect from a high-end plasma, the Hitachi can reproduce blacks with aplomb, providing plenty of details in dark scenes. We watched the recent Keanu Reeves film Constantine on the Hitachi and were quite impressed at its handling of the many low light scenes in the movie. The bug monster attack on Keanu was particularly well displayed, with the Hitachi able to pick up many fine details on Keanu's wet jacket, such as droplets of water. The fast movement in that scene was also handled well, with no trace of blurring or smearing. When it comes to colour, the Hitachi doesn't disappoint, although some may find the default settings a little warm for their liking (although that can be easily fixed using the set's picture menus). Back in the Constantine DVD, and the Hitachi performed exceptionally well when it came to the dark red and black hues prominent in the nightclub scene, reproducing a picture free of pixilation. Skin tones also appear natural and detailed.
Perhaps the only downside of this Hitachi set is a slight lack in picture sharpness. The lines this set reproduced when we took it through the AVI Video Essentials test DVD weren't as sharp and detailed as we'd like, exhibiting some jaggedness. That said, the sharpness generally doesn't diminish from the overall picture, which still remains detailed and distinct.