For a number of reasons, "microdisplay" DLP and LCD chips are rapidly replacing tried-and-true tubes behind the big screens of the newest HDTVs. Like competing models from Sony and Samsung, Hitachi's least-expensive entry in the microdisplay sweepstakes, the 50V500, is smaller and lighter than traditional tube-based sets--and significantly more expensive. Along with full HDTV-capable resolution; very good out-of-the-box performance; and a sleek, understated look, this set also offers customization options that far outstrip the competition. And while the 50V500 may cost a little more than those competing LCD and DLP models, it's hard to beat this Hitachi's picture. Though not up to the standards of the , the 50V500's exterior has an understated, high-tech look, with a smart silver finish to the cabinet. The screen itself is surrounded by a thin half-inch black border, which we'd prefer to be thicker, since that extra bit of black would lend the picture more impact. We appreciated the set's small footprint--36 by 55 by 16 inches (H, W, D)--and light weight (114 pounds), especially when lifting it onto the stand. The 50V500 is a tabletop model that's too short to stand on its own, but Hitachi does offer an optional matching stand (SPX50W, $499 list), complete with glass shelves for A/V components.
A flip-down door below the center of the screen reveals a set of A/V inputs, a PCMIA card slot that accepts adapters for all kinds of digital photo memory cards, and a few function buttons such as Input, Menu, and volume and channel controls. Hitachi's remote remains one of our favorites, with full backlighting and the capability to control other A/V devices. Its keys, along with the set's internal menu system, are well laid out and easy to navigate.
Like all microdisplay TVs we've seen, the 50V500 takes a while to warm up. We measured an average of about 20 seconds from turning it on to full brightness. Since producing that brightness requires a lamp, you'll eventually (after 6,000 to 10,000 hours, according to Hitachi) have to replace the bulb. The one included with the TV is covered by a 90-day warranty, and replacement bulbs cost $200 apiece.
Hitachi also sells the slightly more expensive , which has a high-gloss titanium-colored cabinet (as opposed to silver); an antireflective screen shield; and an extra, simpler remote. Otherwise the two are identical. The three LCD chips that create the 50V500's image each have a native resolution of 1,280x720 pixels. That's a perfect match for 720p HDTV sources and qualifies this set as an HDTV-capable display. By the way, Hitachi's "Virtual 1080p" video-processor terminology is a bit misleading, since all incoming sources--from standard TV to DVD to 1080i HDTV--must be scaled to fit the available pixels (which amount to 720p, not 1080p).
Sure, this set includes four selectable color temperature slots; six aspect ratios (only two work with HD sources); and a sophisticated dual-tuner PIP function with split screen, POP, and a strobe mode. But in our book, the coolest feature is the Day and Night picture memories. They essentially provide two separate, fully customizable memory slots for each input, so you can optimize the picture for both daytime viewing with lots of ambient light and serious home-theater action when there is little or no light in the room.
Picture-enhancing features include 2:3 pull-down in video processing--but only if the Auto Movie mode is engaged. We also appreciated the adjustable color decoder, although the set's out-of-the-box color is accurate enough for most folks (see for more).
Connectivity on the 50V500 is quite generous. There're one DVI input for HDTV set-top boxes and DVD players with DVI outputs. We also counted two sets of component-video inputs with stereo audio, two sets of A/V inputs with S-Video, two RF inputs, and a center-channel input that allows the set's stereo speakers to be used as the center channel with an external A/V receiver. An A/V monitor output with S-Video and a front-panel A/V input with S-Video round out the jack pack. Even before calibration--that is, out of the box--we were impressed by the 50V500's performance in the Night mode and Standard color-temperature settings. Our only complaint, and it's minor, is that the color decoder pushes red a bit, so you may notice a reddish tinge to skin tones, for example. That can be fixed, as long as you know what you're doing and have a good calibration disc with color filters.
After calibration, we sat back to watch some scenes from our newest reference DVD, Seabiscuit. Blacks looked good for an LCD-based display, although their depth still wasn't up to the level of CRT-based sets such as Hitachi's own . In consequence, we did notice a loss of shadow detail in some areas, and blacks weren't quite black. On the other hand, the big final race from Chapter 25 looked impressive, with excellent color saturation, natural-looking skin tones, and all the fine detail we expect from a high-def set.
Indeed, True HD from our DirecTV satellite feed looked mostly excellent. Yes, dark scenes from We're No Angels, an HDNET Movie channel flick starring Robert De Niro and Demi Moore, did reveal the set's less-than-perfect black-level performance. However, it's obvious that Hitachi has made real improvement in this key area. As we expected, bright scenes looked quite good, conveying real impact and pop.
The 50V500 is one of the best performers we've seen to date in the rear-projection LCD category. Its ability to deliver deep blacks rivals that of DLP HDTVs, and we noticed less low-level video noise with this Hitachi than we've seen on Samsung DLP TV's such as the HLN467W--enough for us to give the video-quality nod to the Hitachi. The 50V500's out-of-the-box picture smokes that of Sony's Grand WEGA, including the and even higher-end XBR versions such as the --although after calibration, the Sonys narrow the gap considerably.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6,675/6,150K||Good|
|After color temp (20/80)||6,550/6,500K||Good|
|Before grayscale variation 20 to 100 IRE||+/- 341.6K||Good|
|After grayscale variation 20 to 100 IRE||+/- 83.3K||Good|
|Color decoder error: red||+5% (0%)||Good|
|Color decoder error: green||0%||Good|
|DC restoration||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Y||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Average|