Hitachi 42HDT20 16:9 plasma television Page 2
With its glossy black bezel and silver trim, the 42HDT20 is particularly handsome. The 86-pound display comes out of the box already mounted on an equally attractive two-column stand. The platform's footprint fit the top surface of my Mission M-Time receiver/speaker unit as if made for it. Hooking up the panel and the AVC20 was simple, as was connecting all my source components. Unlike the bulky, gray CRT that usually sits on the M-Time, the elegant-looking 42HDT20 made a handsome addition to my family room. "These things look so good turned off; too bad they always disappoint when you turn them on," I sighed.
The instructions were reasonably complete but disorganized. An experienced videophile might not have trouble connecting and setting up the display, but less knowledgeable buyers will find themselves flipping through the manual to find basic information that should be supplied in a more logical fashion. For instance, you'll find the setup instructions on p.55, where it says "Select setup when setting up your TV for the first time." That should be at the beginning of the manual.
The intuitive and easy-to-use onscreen setup menu is where you select the inputs (e.g., RGB or component), menu language, NTSC tuner channel-scan function, and clock. It's also where you'll find the screen-saver option, which is critical for preventing permanent screen burn-in from fixed graphic material. If you watch a lot of NBC, do you want the NBC peacock permanently burned into the corner of your screen? No. Selecting the screen saver shifts the entire picture by two pixels every 20, 40, or 60 minutes. If you do get a burned-in pattern, the 10-minute Screen Wipe can help.
Before doing any serious viewing, I tweaked the 42HDT20 using service-menu settings supplied by an ISF-certified technician who had calibrated another sample. He specified only two minor changes to the factory settings. Given the nature of plasma displays, I suspect these changes would probably be dead on, or close enough for the purposes of this review, but I didn't have the equipment necessary to do the calibration myself or verify the accuracy of the settings I was given. [See the sidebar for more calibration details.—TJN] In any case, the picture looked good enough before I made the adjustments, and better afterward.
Using the remote's joystick, setting Contrast, Brightness, Color, Tint, Sharpness, and the Advanced Settings was fast and easy. You can choose among three color-temperature settings; Standard corresponds to 6500K. Being a purist, I deactivated all such extras as Auto Contrast, Noise Reduction, and Black Expansion—and especially Black Side Panel, which can only help to burn in a permanent record of your 4:3 viewing time. Leave it gray. Once I had all the settings where I wanted them, using the Video Essentials DVD, I fired up the DTC-100 and tuned to HDNet.
During the day, in a fairly brightly lit room, the picture was absolutely surprising—stunning, actually. It was worlds beyond my low expectations of plasmas in terms of brightness, contrast, and, especially, apparent resolution, sharpness, and lack of scaling artifacts. That's because the 42HDT20's panel doesn't vertically scale 1080i HD images, as most other plasma sets must in order to fit the image into their lower vertical resolution. Instead, it simply displays 1024 out of the 1080 lines. Yes, you lose some vertical information, but all sets, including this one, "overscan" anyway, so it's not really a problem. (Of course, plasma displays don't scan at all, but they do extend the picture slightly beyond the borders of the screen, just like CRT overscanning.)
From normal viewing distances, over-the-air and DirecTV 1080i HD signals were razor-sharp, but not unnaturally so, with near window-on-the-event resolution—a first for me with a 42-inch plasma display (though the 42HDT20 was the first plasma set I've had in-house for review). Colors were natural and well-saturated, with excellent reds and just a bit of a yellow tinge to greens, which is normal for plasma. I first used a 15-pin RGB cable to patch the RCA DTC-100 directly into the AVC20, and the picture was impressive. But when I switched to a component-video input using Audio Authority's handy RGB-to-component box, for some reason the clarity and sharpness increased even more.
With any input, I saw a number of artifacts when I got close to the 42HDT20's screen, including a fine, grain-like structure that Hitachi mentions under "Important Notes" in the manual. But harping on artifacts visible only with my nose almost touching the glass is like the woman who picks up a chicken at the butcher's and, after smelling it all over, tells him, "Mister, this chicken stinks!" "Lady," the butcher replies, "could you pass a test like that?" From normal viewing distances—greater than about 5 feet—the HD picture looked far better than I'm used to seeing from plasmas of this size.