Hitachi 36SDX88B HD-Ready Multimedia Television

How to embrace convergence technology.

Computer sales are climbing as Internet traffic doubles every 100 days. With progressive-scan DVD players finally hitting the market, DVD-player sales are expected to reach $3 million or more by year's end. Regularly broadcast HDTV programming is up from last year's one hour a week to almost 30 hours a week of prime-time programming. How do you find a display that can take advantage of these technologies without breaking the bank? Look for a multimedia display. This growing segment of the television market makes the most of your imaging resources. With products like Hitachi's 36SDX88B, your house doesn't have to look like NASA's control room.

The Hitachi display is more than just a TV. It's an SVGA (800 by 600) computer monitor and an HD-ready (or HD-upgradeable) display. Common NTSC signals from your VCR, DSS receiver, or DVD player are line-doubled before being presented on the screen, and the set can even accept progressive-scan DVD signals in their anamorphic form. There doesn't seem to be much that this TV can't do. The question is, can it do all of these things well?

The answer to that question partly depends on how the set integrates with your existing system. As a TV, the 36-inch display has two A/V inputs on back that accept stereo audio and both composite and S-video signals. One of the inputs also accepts wideband component video connectors that take advantage of the higher quality output found on both regular and progressive-scan DVD players, as well as those from HDTV sources. You'll have to perform composite and S-video switching externally due to the lack of a third input. The video input on front is great for connecting temporary devices like camcorders and video-game controllers. The monitor output is handy for recording, while audio outputs allow you to send the sound to your home theater receiver or preamp. In most cases, the lone RF input should do fine, but it doesn't provide much flexibility when dealing with cable boxes and VCRs. The display may not be loaded with as many inputs and outputs as we'd like, but it has more than enough connections to handle most home theater systems.

The 36SDX88B accepts more than just home theater gear, however. Those who want to include a PC with their system will find dual VGA inputs and something called a PC control. The VGA inputs, one on front and one on back, don't switch like the other inputs. In other words, when you press the input button on the remote, you'll only find one PC source. From within the PC menu, you'll be able to switch to the other PC source. This seems rather cumbersome—I'd rather just have both inputs appear on the input list. Fortunately, the two inputs retain different size settings. Only the rear PC input has an audio input, which is a stereo mini-plug connector. Computers often use this type of connection, but DTV tuners don't—so you should route all audio signals through a separate surround system. Hitachi makes up for some of this confusion with the PC control. This feature helps eliminate coffee-table clutter by allowing you to use the TV's remote control as the computer mouse.

While the 36SDX88B doesn't include some traditional TV features, it does include some nontraditional ones. For example, you won't find a picture-in-picture function, but you will find picture-in-PC, which allows you to watch any video source in a small window while the PC image is onscreen. The display also has an aspect-ratio control for the DVD and DTV inputs, allowing you to get the best performance from anamorphically recorded movies while helping (to some extent) deal with the various shapes of DTV broadcasts. The display can present 16:9 DTV images with the full vertical resolution in the center of the screen, with blank space above and below the active picture. Unfortunately, this can expose some of the video "junk" that appears as a thin line above or below the image. Until things get cleaned up, Hitachi should have allowed the user to customize two or three aspect ratios and added some blanking controls to cut out edges of the picture. But at least this TV has some control where others don't, and its ability to play anamorphic DVDs is excellent.

36SDX88B HD-Ready Multimedia Television