Lately, Plasma displays have been taking a backseat to the latest LCD screens that are coming onto the market. LCD quality has improved dramatically over the past 12 months but unfortunately, the same can't be said for Plasmas. It comes as no surprise to hear that the 42PD8900TA isn't a significant leap over the previous 42PD8800TA model.
Hitachi labels its 42PD8900TA as the world's first 1080 Line 42inch plasma panel. However, the 42PD8900TA uses ALiS technology, which offers a unique resolution of 1024 x 1080 pixels. Sharing much in common with the outgoing model, the 42PD8900TA when run side by side doesn't appear to be dramatically better than its price would suggest.
The screen is fully integrated with a remote controlled swivelling stand, dual analog tuners and 10 built-in speakers. All the ports are positioned neatly on either side for easy access. The 42PD8900TA is encased in a metal frame and features a fanless design meaning quiet moments in movies aren't interrupted by annoying whirring sounds.
Hitachi has done well with the aesthetics. Glossy black piano finishes always look stunning and is complemented superbly by the brushed metal surrounds. The stylish looking remote is capable of supporting multiple brands and sits comfortably in the hand.
When compared directly with most of its competitors, the 42PD8900TA looks to have the lead. Though the unique 1024 x 1080 resolution seems unusual, it's still larger than the 1024 x 768 pixel screens that other manufacturers produce but doesn't support the full HD format. Further, we were disappointed to see that Hitachi has decided to drop the built-in HD tuner for Australia, while other markets receive it as a standard. A decent HD set-top box will cost you around AU$500 so bear this mind.
Instead, the 42PD8900TA comes with dual analog tuners, which allow for picture-in-picture viewing. Other specifications of the screen include the 1400 cd/m2 brightness level and a 4000:1 contrast ratio. The stated viewing angle is quoted as 170 degrees, which is still good but isn't as wide as some competitor models. We didn't receive any complaints from our test audience.
Audio capability is where the 42PD8900TA really excels. The standard built-in speakers are one of the best set-ups you find on a TV. The unit consists of 10 speakers in total, which includes two sub-woofers and features SRS WOW and BBE virtual surround sound technology. A built-in USB port and SD card reader made sharing photos possible while using the slide show function. Other adaptors include VGA-UXGA input for connection with a PC, S-video and composite AV terminals and dual HDMI inputs.
The 42PD8900TA has an excellent menu system and settings that allow for easy setup and tuning. Once we were tuned in using the built in SD tuner, the superb image quality struck us immediately. The picture was very bright, sharp and had a rich depth for colours. We did notice some noise, usually around the outline of people on TV, but this is most likely due to signal strength. When we received a picture using a HD set-top box, the difference between SD and HD became blatantly obvious. These images were sharp and crisp, while dark scenes had depth, which didn't appear washed out or faded. Watching the movie, The Mummy Returns through the video component was enjoyable. Images seemed lifelike with realistic looking skin tones.
The experience was enhanced by the superb audio effects. Audio quality is where the 42PD8900TA stands out as a market leader. Speakers were powerful providing loud, undistorted sounds even when turned way up. Virtual surround sound effects were excellent and are a good compromise for a dedicated home theatre set. Service and support provided at the Hitachi website include downloadable manuals and contact details. A limited one year warranty is provided, but considering that many buyers still opt for the extended warranty Hitachi should lengthen the period.