Hitachi 57T500 57-inch Rear-Projection HDTV Monitor

Photos by Tony Cordoza

Video enthusiasts know that television sets are preset to be exorbitantly bright in electronics stores, to better catch the eyes of people wandering by under the fluorescent lights. Indeed, research shows that bright screens with loud, intense colors sell TVs, but that doesn't mean you want that sales-floor picture in your living room. The situation has spawned a small industry of professional TV calibrators, as well as Internet discussion boards devoted to the art of TV tweaking. The denizens of these Web forums are intent on adjusting their TVs themselves, leading some manufacturers to put more powerful user adjustments into their higher-end models.

Hitachi's 57T500 is a tweaker's delight. It offers the most extensive user adjustments I've seen on a TV, including two separate color controls, two custom picture presets for each input, and an off position for picture modifiers like scan-velocity modulation and noise reduction. Ironically, this rear-projection TV (RPTV) also comes from the factory with highly accurate settings for color and other parameters. Whether or not it gets the enthusiast treatment, the 57T500 is certainly capable of producing the kind of beautifully detailed images that'll make anybody enthusiastic.

The Hitachi uses tried-and-true cathode-ray tubes (CRTs), so its 25-inch depth isn't as shallow as LCD, DLP (Digital Light Processing), or LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon) models. It's also not as flashy. With a charcoal-gray base, a large silver-gray rectangle of synthetic cloth across the front, and a silver border around the screen, the 57T500 cuts the nondescript figure of a Londoner in the rain. Its only attempt at a high-tech look is a bright blue LED power indicator.

hitachit 57 inch remoteAlthough the large, button-heavy remote control shares the set's utilitarian appearance, I really liked its logical layout and comprehensive functionality. The major keys are backlit, and the little thumb-clickable joystick made navigating the onscreen menus a breeze. Dedicated keys let me quickly select any of the six inputs, 540p (progressive) or 1080i (interlaced) upconversion for standard programs, and closed captions - which can be set to appear when you mute the audio.

The picture formats that became available when I pressed the Aspect button depended on what input source I was viewing. For high-def 1080i sources I was limited to 16:9 Standard, the default for widescreen programs, and 16:9 Zoom, which filled the screen with normal 4:3 material and cropped the top and bottom. Standard-definition 480i and progressive-scan 480p sources allowed a healthy six choices, including one that places black or gray bars to either side of the normal 4:3 image, one that stretches and crops the image just enough to fill the screen, a couple of zooms, and both of the 16:9 modes.

Another button, labeled AV Net, called up a menu system that allows control of other A/V components via the supplied infrared (IR) emitters. An emitter placed near a component's IR sensor sends it instructions from the TV. The 57T500 can command four components in this manner - including cable boxes, DVD players, and even set-top HDTV receivers and hard-disk recorders like TiVo - and it can learn custom codes for devices that aren't part of its code database.