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February
2004

Reviewed by
Jeff Van Dyne

 


Hitachi
46F500 Rear-Projection
High-Definition Television

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: Hitachi 46F500

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

Features

  • Inputs: two antenna, four composite, three S-video, two wideband component, one DVI-HDTV
  • Outputs: one composite, one variable audio

Features (cont'd)
  • 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

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 she’ll be mostly bedridden for at least a month. It’s 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.

We’d 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. I’m betting they were glad I didn’t choose the 65" model.

Opening credits

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 I’ve 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 plot

The 46F500 is Hitachi’s no-frills, HD-ready RPTV model. This means it’s missing some additional stretch modes, a handful of questionably useful features, and Hitachi’s best lens systems. The 46" version reviewed here is a "tabletop" model, meaning you’ll 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. It’s OK, but don’t 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 46F500’s rear panel doesn’t 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 Hitachi’s 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 doesn’t 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 didn’t 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 won’t 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 small windows.

The performance

Out of the box, the 46F500 needed calibration. I suggest doing so immediately -- some of my sample’s 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, it’s 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 wasn’t 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 46F500’s 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 I’ve 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 Hitachi’s DVI.

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 didn’t see it all the time, and even when it was apparent, it wasn’t 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 Jovovich’s 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, I’ve found that picture limitations are due not to the television but are usually products of the source material, whether it’s 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 46F500’s 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 I’m 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 wasn’t 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 doesn’t 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 beginning.

When I did finally get the new dish installed and everything was working properly, I was lucky -- Discovery HD’s Insectia was one of the first shows I saw off the dish. While I’m 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.

The end

Right out of the box, the Hitachi 46F500 is a good RPTV that’s 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 you’ll 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.

Review System
Speakers - Silverline Sonatinas (mains), PSB Stratus C5 (center), PSB Alpha AV Mites (surrounds), ACI SV12-based 200W subwoofer
Processor - Anthem AVM 20
Amplifiers - Chiro C-300 (front channels), Rotel RB-976 (surrounds)
Sources - 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
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Hitachi America, Ltd.
Home Electronics Division
1855 Dornoch Court
San Diego, CA 92154
Phone: (800) 448-2244

Website: www.hitachi.com

 


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