At 55 inches, Hitachi's 55HDT52 plasma has a somewhat unusual screen size. The plasma HDTV market abounds with 50-inch models that cost as little as $2,500, whereas truly massive 60-inch and larger plasmas still cost around $7,500 and up. The 55HDT52 ($5,800 list) splits the difference in size and price. Aside from screen size, this plasma exhibits many of the same characteristics as its little brother, the 42-inch Hitachi 42HDT52, scoring high marks for its extremely attractive design and excellent feature package but falling a bit short of the competition in image quality, especially when displaying darker material. That said, if the size and the price are both in your range, you'll find a lot to like about this massive plasma. Sleek and high-tech-looking, the Hitachi 55HDT52 has a minimalist all-black finish, which simultaneously lends to the panel's good looks and helps increase its perceived contrast ratio. The speakers that flank the screen on the left and right add to its overall width, making it a truly imposing display. With the stand included, the 55HDT52 measures 59.5 by 36.75 by 17.75 inches. Without the stand, it weighs 139 pounds.
Speaking of the stand, it mechanically swivels the panel back and forth up to about 30 degrees to either side. The coolest part is that the remote controls the swivel action, allowing you to move the Hitachi 55HDT52 into position from your seat on the couch.
Hitachi's universal remote has a familiar design, with most of the important buttons backlit. Uniquely, it uses thumbwheels for the volume and channel controls so that you can swing the sound from loud to quiet or rocket through tens of channels at a time. These thumbwheels, along with the main cursor pad and menu control, are easily accessible when you have the remote in your hand. We also appreciated the direct-access keys for aspect-ratio control and the Day and Night picture modes. The internal menu system, or GUI (graphical user interface), is a model of simplicity, both logical and intuitive in its navigation and use. Hitachi outfitted the 55-inch 55HDT52 with the same native resolution found on most 50-inch plasmas: 1,366x768. That's plenty of pixels to resolve every detail of 720p HDTV sources. Like all other fixed-pixel displays, the 55HDT52 scales every source, including HDTV, DVD, and standard TV, to fit the pixels.
Conveniences abound on this high-end plasma, but the electronic swivel we mentioned in the Design section is arguably the coolest feature. The two-tuner PIP (picture-in-picture) will especially appeal to sports fans who want to keep tabs on two games at once. The PIP also has a surf mode and several freeze modes. A built-in ATSC tuner gives you the ability to receive off-air HDTV broadcasts with an antenna, and a CableCard slot lets you receive digital and high-def cable without the cable box. The TV Guide onscreen EPG is available for use with the CableCard to help make up for the loss of your cable company's EPG.
The Hitachi offers a good selection of six aspect-ratio choices for standard-def sources and three for high-def. It also has a setting that can automatically adjust the aspect ratio. A couple of the modes let you adjust the position of the image vertically on the screen.
Among the numerous picture-enhancing features is Auto Movie mode, which engages 2:3 pull-down in the video processing for interlaced film-based material, such as prime-time TV from cable, satellite, or antenna sources. The four selectable color temperatures include Standard (which came the closest to the 6,500K standard), Black and White, Medium, and Cool. We commend Hitachi for also including two independent input memories, named Day and Night, per input slot. This provides a level of picture customization that should satisfy even the most hard-core picture perfectionist.
The 55HDT52 has quite generous connectivity options, although we were disappointed that Hitachi didn't include a dedicated computer input, as many plasmas do. The manual warns against connecting PCs to the HDMI inputs.
The two HDMI inputs head the list of the most important connections. The panel also has two component-video inputs, two A/V inputs with S-Video and composite-video ins, two RF inputs (one for cable and one for antenna sources), and a set of monitor outs with S-Video and composite-video connectors. A FireWire port and a CableCard slot are also onboard, as is an RS-232 control port for programming touch-panel remotes. A subwoofer output and an optical digital audio output are also included.
On the left side of the panel, you'll find another set of A/V inputs with S-Video, as well as a FireWire port for connecting to digital camcorders. There's also a side-panel USB connection, intended to accept digital cameras and USB keychain drives and display their contents on the big screen. Overall, the Hitachi 55HDT52 has its strengths, but they're outweighed by a couple of image-quality issues that make this panel less suitable than many for home-theater use. One of the principal requirements for producing a good home-theater image--one that looks good in a darkened theater--is the ability to render darker scenes convincingly. Dark areas are the 55HDT52's biggest weakness; black regions of the screen appear muddy dark gray at best. Moreover, false-contouring artifacts and low-level video noise, which sometimes appears as tiny moving motes, abound in dark material.
The opening chapters of the DVD Alien: The Director's Cut, depicting a ship in deep space and its darkened interior, revealed these problems in spades. Poor DC restoration or floating blacks also showed up in the darkest material as a kind of pulsing or pumping in the image. For example, the black bars on the top and bottom of this 2.35:1-aspect-ratio DVD flashed from dark to milky gray and back again. Combined with the aforementioned artifacts, these black-level problems made watching very dark movies quite distracting.
We tested the performance of the panel using the Night mode and the Standard color temperature. In the Hitachi's favor, its grayscale prior to calibration came closer to the broadcast standard of 6,500K than that of most panels we've tested. After calibration, the grayscale was extremely linear and very close to the standard.
The Hitachi's color decoding pushes red pretty severely, forcing you to bring the color control down from where it should be to get accurate color. You have to look higher in Hitachi's lineup, to the Director's Series 55HDX62, to get color-management features that allow you to fix this problem.
On the upside, the Hitachi 55HDT52's video processing is quite good, with an Auto Movie mode that engages 2:3 pull-down to eliminate motion artifacts from film-based material. The processing also appears to handle 1080i deinterlacing quite well, preserving the resolution of the incoming 1080i source as much as the panel's native resolution allows.
Bright scenes from the excellent Superbit version of the Vertical Limit DVD looked much better than the darker scenes we described above. Detail in scenes of the bright, snowy mountaintop looked impressive and had the necessary snap to really excite the eye.
High-def material from our DirecTV HD satellite feed looked mostly excellent. The HDMI inputs deliver slightly more resolution than the component-video inputs, and dark scenes in HD at the HDMI input had less low-level noise and fewer contouring artifacts than the component-video inputs exhibited.
Due to poor black-level performance, pumping blacks, and severe false-contouring artifacts in dark material, the performance of this panel leaves something to be desired for true home-theater applications. However, it will work well for installations in bright environments, such as family rooms or living rooms.
|Before color temp (20/80)||7,025/7,100K||Average|
|After color temp||6,500/6,600K||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 558K||Average|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 53K||Good|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.651/0.336||Average|
|Color of green||0.231/0.688||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.150/0.072||Good|
|DC restoration||No stable patterns||Poor|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Yes||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||No||Poor|