Hitachi 57T500 57-inch Rear-Projection HDTV Monitor Page 2

FAST FACTS

KEY FEATURES • 57-inch (diagonal) 16:9 screen • 1080i/540p native display • AV Net system control

INPUTS/OUTPUTS front inputs composite/S-video with stereo audio; PC Card slot for flash-memory cards rear inputs DVI, two wideband component video, and two composite/S-video, all with stereo audio; line-level center-channel; two analog antenna/cable rear outputs composite/S-video with stereo audio; analog antenna/cable

DIMENSIONS 54 inches wide, 54 1/4 inches high, 25 1/2 inches deep

WEIGHT 265 pounds

PRICE $3,500

MANUFACTURER Hitachi, P.O. Box 3900, Peoria, IL 61612; www.hitachi.com/tv; 800-448-2244

I set up AV Net to control my cable box, and it worked as advertised, but changing channels using the number keys was next to impossible - I couldn't select the numbers from AV Net's onscreen virtual keypad fast enough to keep up with the actual box. I wished that the system could use the Hitachi remote's own numeric keys as opposed to the virtual ones onscreen.

The 57T500 doesn't include a built-in HDTV tuner, so you'll need a separate off-air, cable, or satellite high-definition source. In my opinion that's no hardship since most satellite and cable systems deliver more high-definition channels - and are more reliable - than off-air tuners. On the other hand, Hitachi is one of two TV makers (the other being Panasonic) that plans to deliver plug-and-play cable-compatible HDTVs in time for this year's holiday season. The 57T500's digital cable-ready equivalent will be the 57T750 ($3,999). Owners of that set will presumably be able to plug their cables directly into the back - without an external cable box - and watch digital and high-def cable programs.

The jack selection includes everything I expected, namely, a copy-protected DVI (Digital Visual Interface) port for high-def tuners and some new DVD players, a pair of wideband component-video inputs, and two A/V inputs with S-video. The second component input also accepts standard composite-video signals. Unfortunately, Hitachi designated both the DVI and the first component jack as Input 1, so you can't hook up both at the same time. A hatch on the front panel opens to reveal an A/V input with S-video, a few control buttons, and a slot for a PC Card. The slot can take an adapter that accepts SD, Memory Stick, and other flash-memory formats, so you can watch a digital-photo slide show.

hitachi 57 inch backBut my favorite feature is one I can't believe hasn't been included on TVs before. In place of the nearly useless picture presets like Sports and Multimedia found on most other sets, each of the inputs has separate presets labeled Day and Night. I was actually able to adjust contrast, brightness, and other key controls for both low and high ambient light on each of the numerous inputs! This arrangement makes it extremely convenient to compensate for real-world lighting situations and can dramatically improve the viewing experience.

Viewers who use a setup DVD - like Sound & Vision's Home Theater Tune-Up - will also enjoy the 57T500's extensive color controls. The settings for the internal color decoder are excellent right out of the box (see "in the lab" for details), but if you have a setup disc you can use the set's color-decoding menu to achieve near perfection. You don't even need to use filters since you can control the red, green, and blue tubes individually.

HIGH POINTS Great color reproduction. Day and Night custom picture presets for all inputs. Numerous user setup options.

LOW POINT A bit pricey.

Having checked out all of the set's many features, I spun The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers to put the Hitachi through its paces. The amazing scene where Gandalf battles the Balrog as they both plunge through the heart of a mountain quickly demonstrated the 57T500's sharp, vibrant picture. The faces of the wizard's companions looked suitably pale with fright, not ruddy as they would on a set with less accurate color. The pommel of Gandalf's sword was revealed in rich detail as he plummeted down and snagged it midair. I caught detailed glimpses of rock walls as they flew by, and the Balrog itself was a stunning combination of pitch-black hide riddled with lava-colored veins. Thanks to the TV's excellent contrast, I could make out the ridges and curves of the monster's teeth as its shadowy head swung into the foreground.

The remainder of the flick looked equally impressive, but shadows of lines appeared along the spears as Saruman's army of Orcs advanced upon Helm's Deep, so I turned off the edge enhancement and reduced sharpness to zero. The lines persisted but were much fainter.

When I switched to the local PBS affiliate's HDTV loop on Time Warner Cable, the picture looked even more breathtaking. The crowd scenes and race cars from the Darlington Speedway sequences came alive with sharp details, without a hint of softness. The color on HDTV programs was even richer than with DVD (as it should be), and the decals on the sunlit stock cars looked brilliant. The 57T500 cranks out a good deal of light without obscuring any picture detail.

Although it costs more than your typical 57-inch CRT-based RPTV, the Hitachi 57T500 outperformed most of those I've seen, especially in terms of color. Whether you're a dyed-in-the-wool video tweaker or just want sparkling DVD and HDTV images, the Hitachi's user-friendly, flexible control options make it a top choice among HDTV-capable big screens.


In the Lab

Color temperature (Standard color temperature and Night setting before/after calibration) Low window (20-IRE): 5,117/6,426 K High window (80-IRE): 6,356/6,511 K

Brightness (Standard color temperature before/ after calibration, 100-IRE): 97.7/39.5 ftL

Before calibration, the Hitachi 57T500 measured well below the NTSC standard color temperature of 6,500 K at the low end of the grayscale, but it was much closer at 50 IRE and above. After calibration it varied by less than 200 K from 30 to 80 IRE. (Calibration needs to be performed by a qualified technician with specialized equipment, so discuss it with your dealer before purchase, or call the Imaging Science Foundation at 561-997-9073.)

Both before and after calibration, light output was excellent, so I was able to maintain good contrast without losing detail in the whites. The set's NTSC color decoder was refreshingly free of "red push," varying by no more than 5%. After adjustment, the decoder was spot-on. DC restoration was only average - the level of black varied visibly with changes in the average brightness level. The automatic convergence system worked fairly well to align the three CRTs, but I did notice some blue and red fringing. The user-accessible 117-point manual convergence let me get it nearly perfect.

Geometry was extremely good for a large CRT-based display - I noticed only minor distortion along the extreme upper left of the screen. Overscan patterns indicated a 5% picture loss on the sides and 3% on top and bottom, which is about average.

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