For the last couple of years, manufacturers have been striving to make their TVs look wider, flatter, and slimmer--in short, more like plasmas. The all-picture style is alive and well with the Hitachi 50VS810, which looks, from the front at least, almost exactly the same as the company's plasma sets (such as the ). Go around to the side, however, and you'll see it's not exactly ready for wall mounting. While we loved its classy look and boatloads of features, its image quality, while very good, doesn't quite match that of competing microdisplays. That said, its excellent out-of-the-box settings will definitely appeal to people who don't want to spring for professional calibration, especially those who see rainbows with DLP sets. Finished in minimal black, with angular cutouts for the speakers on the sides, when viewed straight on the Hitachi 50VS810 looks almost like a frame of wide film--which, judging from Hitachi's TV commercials, is the effect the designers were going for. A single pane of acrylic fronts the entire cabinet, with the exception of the speakers, which get nice black-metal grilles. The acrylic looks good and protects the screen, but we wish it were removable, since it collects a lot of ambient room light.
A newly designed light engine allows the part of the cabinet below the screen to be remarkably thin--just 2.5 inches, compared to the typical microdisplay's 8 inches or so--a move that considerably reduces the height of the TV. This television measures about 29 inches tall, 55 inches wide, and 16 inches deep, and it weighs 110 pounds. It doesn't include a stand, so most buyers will probably opt to buy the matching stand from Hitachi, model SPF50 ($399 list), or stick the set into a custom entertainment center.
Hitachi stashed a few controls and auxiliary inputs on the side of the set, leaving the front clean but for a couple of logos and indicator lights. One of these glows during the approximately 40 seconds it takes for the set to warm up. As with all bulb-driven microdisplays, the 50VS810's user-replaceable lamp ($199) will eventually expire; Hitachi estimates this will take 6,000 to 10,000 hours, depending on usage.
The company redesigned its high-end remote controls this year, and they now include scrollwheels for volume and channel. We're big fans of this innovation--the wheel works great for quickly reducing the volume of commercials. The blue-backlit universal wand is otherwise well laid out, although we would like to see more differentiation between the six important buttons surrounding the big cursor control. The onscreen menus are simple enough and include thoughtful numeric indicators for picture parameters.Like Sony's homelier and Hitachi's own from last year, the Hitachi 50VS810 uses LCD projection technology as opposed to the DLP and LCoS chips found in competing microdisplays. Unlike the Sony, this Hitachi has a trio of LCD chips with a native resolution of 1,280x720, which exactly matches that of 720p HDTV sources. Of course, in addition to standard-def resolutions, the set can accept and display 1080i HDTV. You can't easily connect a computer, however.
Equipped with a CableCard slot, the Digital Cable Ready 50VS810 can tune digital and HDTV cable channels without an external box. It also has a built-in HDTV tuner to grab over-the-air digital channels.
A few other unique features distinguish the VS810 from the competition. Videophiles will enjoy the adjustable color decoder, which lets you precisely balance the color, and they'll also love the black-and-white color-temperature preset--one of four. Also onboard is our custom-picture favorite: separate day and night independent memories for each input. This year, Hitachi even added a timer that automatically switches from one to the other depending on the time of day.
Conveniences abound on the 50VS810, including a comparatively flexible PIP/POP feature that in most situations allows you to watch two 1080i or 480i sources simultaneously. The main restriction is that you can't watch 480p, 720p, or digital channels in the second window in POP mode (which places three windows next to the main one) or when the main window is 1080i. The selection of aspect-ratio controls is similarly comprehensive. You can choose from six modes for standard-def sources, while high-def and HDMI sources allow three modes, and the Zoom modes allow you to adjust the image up or down.