|The scene is a
hospital room at Loyola University in Chicago. My wife has just come out of recovery from
an operation to repair an injury sustained in a car accident last fall. The good news is
that the operation was a success. The bad news is that shell be mostly bedridden for
at least a month. Its going to be hard for her to sit up and read, much less play
around on the computer or work. Before she went in for the operation, I was asking myself
what I could do to make the recovery a little less painful. That was when my eyes landed
on the 27" TV across the room.
Price: $1995 USD
Dimensions: 44.5"W x 39.75"H x 24.5"D
Weight: 160 pounds
Warranty: One year parts and labor; 30
days screen; two years CRT; lifetime on lens
- Inputs: two antenna, four composite, three S-video, two
wideband component, one DVI-HDTV
- Outputs: one composite, one variable audio
- 1080i compatible
- 16:9 aspect ratio
- Four-element lens
- High-contrast protective shield
- First-surface mirror
- Magic Focus auto digital convergence
- VirtualHD video processor
- 3:2 film correction
- 26-point motion-adaptive video processing
- Six aspect modes plus HD zoom
- Adjustable black-level expansion
- Digital 3D Y/C comb filter
- SRS surround sound
- BBE sound enhancement
Wed been talking about a bigger TV for the bedroom.
What better time than now? Within a few days, we had a delivery crew reluctantly hauling a
46" Hitachi 46F500 TV ($1995) up the stairs to our second-floor bedroom. Im
betting they were glad I didnt choose the 65" model.
Of course, I checked all the usual suspects before I bought
-- two big-box stores, a large department store, and our one specialty audio retailer --
but nothing I saw stood out as a clear winner. On a whim, I checked out a small
furniture-and-appliance chain that Ive done business with over the years, and found
they carried Hitachi televisions. The picture was noticeably cleaner and richer than a
similar Sony a few TVs down the display. The Hitachi 46F500 looked like a good bet. When I
started running down the features, the Hitachi listed a DVI input -- one of my primary
requirements, and something that several other TVs in this price class lacked.
The 46F500 is Hitachis no-frills, HD-ready RPTV
model. This means its missing some additional stretch modes, a handful of
questionably useful features, and Hitachis best lens systems. The 46" version
reviewed here is a "tabletop" model, meaning youll need some kind of a
stand to put it on. Hitachi makes a custom stand that integrates nicely with the look of
the TV and has a couple of glass shelves. Its OK, but dont expect to use it
for much; I could just barely cram a small receiver and DVD player into the two shelves.
Most people will want a different stand or a separate equipment rack.
The array of inputs on the 46F500s rear panel
doesnt look like that of a budget model. A single DVI input shares space with one of
the two HD component inputs, and three S-video/composite inputs. I wonder how long it will
be before we consider a single DVI input inadequate. For the answer -- not long -- I have
only to look at my old 35" ProScan, with its single S-video connection. After all,
some manufacturers have already released DVI-capable DVD players. When HD-DVD hits the
shelves, a second DVI connection will surely be highly sought after. One input option
Hitachis F-series sets lack that their more expensive sets have is a FireWire
interface. This may become an issue at some point in the future, but other than a few
digital VCRs and HD receivers, it doesnt look as if FireWire is making much progress
in the video market.
The 46F500 has six aspect-ratio modes: four for 4:3, two
for 16:9. You can select black or gray sidebars for 4:3 viewing. Some find the gray bars
distracting, but they help prevent screen burn-in if you watch a lot of 4:3 programming
without using the stretch or zoom modes. I found that I quickly grew accustomed to the
gray bars; I recommend that option for most people. As far as the 4:3 stretch mode goes, I
use it when the program material allows, but find that many standard-definition sources
are too grainy to blow up that large. At other times, the distortion at the edges of the
picture is too distracting.
Hitachi uses what it calls VirtualHD to upconvert
standard-definition signals to a 540-line progressive-scan or 1080-line interlaced image.
They state that they provide this option because some people prefer the crisper picture of
the 540p, while others like the smoother 1080i picture. I didnt see all that much
difference between the two modes. There are also four picture-in-picture (PIP) modes,
though the user is limited in the sources usable with this feature. The main caveat here
is that the PIP features work between the two antenna inputs or one of the antenna inputs
and a video input, but not between two video inputs. If, like me, you use a cable box or
satellite receiver for regular TV, you wont be able to use most of the PIP features.
The picture-in-picture mode is also crude, with lots of gray space around two relatively
Out of the box, the 46F500 needed calibration. I suggest
doing so immediately -- some of my samples settings were high enough to risk
permanent damage to the set. Once the brightness and contrast are set to reasonable
levels, let the set warm up thoroughly, then use a setup disc such as Avia to
properly calibrate the set. Also, do a full 64-point manual convergence. This will help
the picture immensely. Other parameters can be tweaked as well, but most of these are best
left in the hands of a professional. A good ISF technician can make a number of
improvements and correct minor aberrations, in addition to a basic gray-scale adjustment.
While this can be relatively expensive, its worth it; the 46F500 will really sing if
given a few hours of attention by a skilled professional.
There are a few ISF-trained technicians in my area, but
none of them knows Hitachi sets well. If you plan to have your set professionally
calibrated, I strongly advise finding somebody who knows the ins and outs of your
particular brand. This review was delayed by a few months, until I finally found someone
who happened to be traveling through my little corner of the world as he attended to
several other Hitachi sets in the area. He quickly corrected a mild case of red push, and
was able to bring blue tracking at 20 IRE back from the dead. He also performed a full
geometry adjustment, corrected the gray scale, cleaned and manually focused the lenses,
and corrected a side-to-side color shift. The end result was a TV that accurately tracked
gray scale and color, albeit with a virtually indistinguishable hump in the blue tracking.
It wasnt cheap, but it was worth every penny.
I first hooked up the Hitachi to an old second-generation
RCA DirecTV box and a Toshiba SD-1800 DVD player. It has since graduated to a Sony
SAT-HD200 hi-def DirecTV receiver, and was at various times fed by Panasonic CP-72, Sony
DVP-755, and Pioneer DV-563A DVD players.
The first thing I can tell you about the 46F500s
performance is a complaint common to pretty much all high-definition RPTVs: Their
upconversion of standard-definition cable, satellite, and over-the-air signals stinks. I
rate the Hitachi about average among what Ive seen from similar TVs; that is, it
produced noticeable artifacts with standard-definition images but was still generally
watchable. It was, however, significantly worse than standard-def on an analog TV of
comparable size. Once I replaced the old RCA box with the new Sony, the DirecTV picture
cleared up noticeably. I suspect that part of the change has to do with the Sony doing the
upconversion while still in the digital domain, and passing that along straight to the
Watching DVDs through the component-video input was a
universally enjoyable experience. The picture from Pearl Harbor was extraordinarily
sharp during the bombing scene. Everything, from the rough texture of the painted iron
hatchways on the ships, to the wood grain on the tailfin of the Japanese torpedo, to the
rivets on the airplanes, was shown in sharp relief. There was a hint of edge enhancement
in some scenes, even with Velocity Scan Modulation turned off. This could be an artifact
from the DVD itself, but I saw it with enough other discs to suspect that it might be
partly due to the Hitachi. Still, I didnt see it all the time, and even when it was
apparent, it wasnt generally intrusive.
On Cast Away, the shadow detail in the night scene
in which Tom Hanks spots the ship on the horizon was excellent. Before calibration, the
blue gun was running extremely hot, giving a pronounced blue cast to the entire scene.
After calibration, the scene looked more natural. Initially, I thought the gray scale was
way off; the real culprit turned out to be the overall blue voltage level, which must have
been out of the park.
The Hitachi really began to show its capabilities during
the Superbit edition of The Fifth Element. With this DVD, the picture quality was
similar to but not quite as detailed as that of hi-def images from HBO or Showtime HD.
Details were extremely crisp, and textures -- such as the sheen of sweat on the forehead
of the ship commander as it becomes apparent that the sphere is about to destroy them --
became more believable. Every little detail, such as the pores visible in the close-up of
Mila Jovovichs face just before she jumps off the ledge of the building, was clearly
visible. Even the backdrop of the city became less a backdrop and more of a palette on
which the movie is painted. Since bringing the Hitachi into the house, Ive found
that picture limitations are due not to the television but are usually products of the
source material, whether its focus or grain in the original film, or the mastering
of the DVD itself.
The defining moment was when I plugged the Sony SAT-HD200
into the 46F500s DVI input. I had to wait a week before I could get a new dish
installed for the DirecTV HD content, but was immediately able to check out some hi-def
content from the two local channels Im able to receive. Most of what they were
showing was poorly converted standard-def material, and while it certainly looked better
than the analog signal did after traveling over 40 miles from their tower, it wasnt
much to write home about. Then The Tonight Show with Jay Leno came on. This is
filmed in HD, and it showed. Every detail was crystal-clear and lifelike -- except for Jay
Leno, who I suspect doesnt look very lifelike even in person. If you think DVD looks
good, HD is an order of magnitude better. The good news is that this was just the
When I did finally get the new dish installed and
everything was working properly, I was lucky -- Discovery HDs Insectia was
one of the first shows I saw off the dish. While Im not exactly crazy about the host
and the overall tone of the show, this is demo material you absolutely must experience if
you want to see what HD is capable of. The insects were unbelievably crisp, lifelike, and
three-dimensional, with all of the smallest details, such as hairs and eyes, clearly
visible, and with unbelievably sharp focus and rich color.
Right out of the box, the Hitachi 46F500 is a good RPTV
thats capable of a far better picture. If you buy one, you can improve its
performance dramatically with some simple and a few not-so-simple tweaks, but if you want
the color temperature right youll need to spend a few bucks to have the set properly
adjusted by a qualified ISF technician.
The 46" model is the perfect size for my room, but the
other sets in the line should perform equally well. My brother-in-law bought the 57"
model, and I can unequivocally state that his picture looks every bit as good as mine. The
decision of what size to buy will depend mostly on how far away you sit from the TV and
how tolerant you are of standard-definition material on such a large screen. I have a
fairly low tolerance for grain, so the 46" model was the best choice for me. Your
mileage may vary. Kudos to Hitachi for building such an incredibly capable set for $1995.
|Speakers - Silverline
Sonatinas (mains), PSB Stratus C5 (center), PSB Alpha AV Mites (surrounds), ACI SV12-based
- Anthem AVM 20
|Amplifiers - Chiro C-300 (front
channels), Rotel RB-976 (surrounds)
- Sony DVP-NS755V, Panasonic CP-72, Pioneer DV-563A DVD players; RCA DirecTV receiver,
Sony SAT-HD200 high-definition DirecTV receiver
|Cables - Analysis Plus, Audio Magic,
Straight Wire, Monster Cable, Blue Jeans Cables