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But you know, it’s really not bad at all. Chief among a healthy roster of positives is the set’s colour handling finesse. Tones across what appears to be a very wide colour spectrum are almost all rendered with complete authenticity – even the rich reds and greens which occasionally look off key with its 42PD9700 sibling. What’s more, colour blends are delivered with outstanding subtlety, helping the image look unusually three-dimensional, clean and realistic. This even applies to dark scenes and picture areas – the Achilles Heel of so many flat TVs.
The 55PD9700’s HD pictures are crisp and detailed, too – but crucially not overly so. In other words, while pictures are easily sharp enough to deliver the extra impact of HD sources, they don’t take things so far as to start looking harsh. Add to this the 55PD9700’s impressive suppression of grain; perfectly rendered and ghost free contouring; plus smear-free motion, and it becomes clear that Hitachi has developed its picture ‘flavour’ here with naturalism rather than exhibitionism in mind – a philosophy that rests very easily with us.
That said, there is still room for improvement. First and worst, the generally impressive attempts at suppressing picture noise have let one old-school plasma problem slip through the cracks. Basically, as objects – especially people - move across the screen they sometimes generate some obvious fizzing noise as the plasma panel struggles to keep up.
Next, although we like the amount of detail and colour subtleties the 55PD9700 reveals in dark picture areas, black levels are undeniably not exactly the deepest around, appearing with a slight grey wash over them.
Third, while PC graphics and Xbox 360 games look very nice indeed for most of the time, just occasionally we detected traces of a vague pixel structure over particularly bright image portions. It also occurred to us that while the Hitachi’s unusually subtle approach to colours can help films look more natural, it can also leave vibrant games feeling a touch muted.
Impressively the 55PD9700 has the audio power to actually do its massive pictures proud. With no less than 10 speakers in its bodywork, it produces one of the widest, deepest, cleanest and richest soundstages we’ve heard from a TV.
Although the 55PD9700’s picture glitches mean we can’t quite give it an absolutely unreserved recommendation, it’s still got more than enough features and quality to register off the scale in value terms. And as such it potentially opens the mega-sized screen door to a whole new army of home cinema devotees.