Hitachi 42HDT20 16:9 plasma television Page 3
Finally, I watched some DVDs, feeding the AVC20 both 480i and 480p signals. Inputting 480p skips the internal deinterlacing process on the way to 1080i upconversion. To engage 3:2 pulldown for film-based sources, you must select Movies from among the viewing modes (the others are News, Sports, and Music). These presets affect color temperature, contrast, and even sound. (With some of these modes, the contrast shoots up to 100%—irresponsible, given the issue of phosphor burn.) Few SGHT readers will use anything but Movies, and the built-in 3:2 pulldown function will be overridden by the superior deinterlacing circuitry of the better progressive-scan DVD players, which produce clearer, sharper pictures.
I watched many movies during the time I had the 42HDT20. The inherent black-level limitations of plasma displays caused dark scenes to gray out slightly, and some details I can make out on CRT displays were obscured, but these problems were more than compensated for by what plasmas do provide: flicker-free images, uniform brightness, perfect geometry, focus uniformity, and cabinet depth. Dark City is tough for any video display, and this DVD once again demonstrated the plasma technology's inability to achieve the absolute states of the art in black level and contrast: Details visible in dimly lit scenes via CRT were obscured. But overall, the Hitachi's black-level performance was outstanding, and needed no excuses. For most of my two months of viewing, black levels were simply not an issue.
Occasionally, I saw false contouring, a problem common in plasmas: transitions from light to dark and from dark to light don't appear smooth, and are sometimes accompanied by visible video noise. But this, too, was rare, and no more an issue than screen flicker in a CRT display.
For most DVD material I watched, I felt that "film-like" would be a fair assessment of what I saw. And when there was fast movement, I was never aware of the smearing I've often seen at CES demos of plasmas. The only unexpected problem was an occasional and noticeable shift in black level just after scene changes. I suspect that this was a glitch in the review sample and not a design fault, because I spoke with other people who have the set, and they didn't see this problem. Hi-bit movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Fifth Element looked more film-like and less "electronic" than most plasma nay-sayers, myself among them, might have imagined.
Having the Hitachi 42HDT20 in-house produced more than just a pleasant surprise. Its performance far surpassed my low expectations, and convinced me that plasmas—this one, at least—can be capable of producing an outstanding picture under any viewing conditions. The 42HDT20 didn't need pampering to perform adequately—a critical factor if the technology is to appeal to mainstream users. In bright daylight in my white-walled, many-windowed family room, the Hitachi delivered a bright, sharp, high-contrast picture that was the equal of my 32-inch CRT in some ways, and better in others. It did so for broadcast TV, for DVDs, and, especially, for HDTV, where it produced the best high-definition images I've seen from a 42-inch plasma, and probably as good as I've seen from a plasma of any size.
Couple this performance with exceptional good looks and an ergonomically excellent operating system filled with useful real-world features, and you have a plasma product bound to attract hardcore video enthusiasts, hi-tech showoffs, and just plain folks. Still, the 42HDT20's $8999 list price is out of reach of most, and Hitachi must do something about the disorganized instruction manual. Knowing that prices will only come down and performance only improve tells you that flat-screen technology, whether plasma or LCD, will, sooner than later, replace CRT for both mainstream viewers and videophiles.
While some of Hitachi's competitors have cried foul, claiming that ALIS's "interlaced" display technology is not really HDTV, the proof is in the viewing. Those folks should find a better way than bellyaching to counter what FHP has achieved. I just glanced over at where the 42HDT20 used to sit, and I'm sad to say that ALIS doesn't live here anymore. When the price drops a bit, she probably will.