Face Off: Step-Up DVD Players Hitachi DV-P250U

Hitachi DV-P250U
Hitachi has impressed us lately with some really great HDTV-ready televisions. It seemed only fitting that we take a look at their new DVD players to see if the quality carries over. In many ways, we were pleasantly surprised with this relative newcomer to the DVD arena.

One reason for our delight is the easy user interface. The remote provides simple setup through the "setup" button. Go figure. Other manufacturers have trouble with this. Then again, Hitachi has used some different nomenclature for other functions, such as the "top menu" button that most manufacturers call "title." However, Hitachi wasn't the only company in this Face Off to use creative names, which is interesting because we've never encountered this before. On the plus side, the player's front panel provides a jog/shuttle wheel with frame advance. The menu is also easy to access and navigate, even though we found the graphics a bit clunky. Those who want to use the internally decoded 5.1 signal may be frustrated with the limited control over the 5.1 analog output. Since many Dolby Digital-ready receivers don't offer a lot of control over this input, the Hitachi player won't be much help. There are no level controls or delays, and bass management is minimal.

The Hitachi player fell in the middle of the pack when it came to features. Like all the players, the P250U has a single set of stereo audio, composite video, Y/C or S-video, and component video outputs. S-video and component signals offer a better picture when connected to the corresponding input on many newer televisions. As we mentioned, the player adds internally decoded 5.1-channel outputs for those users who have a Dolby Digital-ready receiver. This output doesn't transmit decoded DTS signals. Most of the players, including the Hitachi, employ both coax and optical digital outputs for taking advantage of DTS, Dolby Digital, and other digital soundtracks when connected to an external processor. DVDs with music recorded at a 96-kilohertz sampling frequency and 24-bit resolution can be internally decoded by this player. The digital signal from these 24/96 discs is sent out of the digital spigot as a 16-bit/ 48-kHz signal so as not to interfere with copyright issues. Another cool feature we like is the detachable power cord.

The P250U allows the user to view the entire PLUGE test pattern, as found on the Video Essentials setup and calibration DVD. This doesn't affect performance directly, but being able to see the entire test pattern makes it easier for you to set the brightness level on your monitor. Another feature that may affect performance is the choice of a 0- or 7.5-IRE black level. The player comes set to 7.5, as it should, since this is the black level used in the United States. Setting the level to 0 IRE, the standard used in Japan, will require readjusting your monitor's brightness level for the DVD input, but it can also provide a small boost in the video's dynamic range.

We did our test with the black level set to the normal 7.5-IRE black level, and, overall, the panelists thought that the Hitachi player performed well. Clint mentioned that the player has no trouble distinguishing between dark-blue and black images, such as the policemen's and school girls' uniforms in the opening of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Other players made these two images appear black. Maureen agreed that the clarity and detail were impressive, while Mark ranked the Hitachi in the top two of the group, citing that it has better detail and shadows than the other players. He preferred the JVC player more, but he admitted that it didn't necessarily look more accurate, just more to his taste.

The P250U fits the bill for a DVD player. The only people who should look elsewhere are those users with 5.1-ready receivers who want to get a player with a 5.1 analog output that can be controlled by the player. Anyone else will find that the wide assortment of outputs, easy setup, and good picture quality of this player make it a good addition to any system.

• Player passes PLUGE and offers a 0- or 7.5-IRE black level
• Convenient jog/shuttle wheel