The HP LC4776N, the company's most expensive flat-panel HDTV to be released so far in 2007, illustrates just how widely performance can vary among televisions today. Given the company's solid track record with plasma and DLP-based rear-projection sets--and the fact that it has borrowed heavily from Sharp for past LCD designs--frankly, we expected its picture quality to be better. This 47-inch 1080p LCD couldn't muster a convincing shade of black, however, and a few additional picture quality woes didn't help. About the best thing we can say about the HP LC4776N is that it has three HDMI inputs, relatively accurate color temperature, and a decent remote.
Compared to many flat-panel HDTVs on the market right now, the HP LC4776N looks as conservative as grandpa's Ford LTD. The all-black exterior is given a coat of gloss around the frame, which adds a touch of tech appeal, but the chrome stripe across the middle, the dull, black speaker bar along the bottom, and the slightly sloped-in edges to either side of the screen all contribute to its somewhat dated appearance. It doesn't seem ugly by any means, but it sure won't turn any heads.
Ever since the sad passing of the laudable MD6580n, we've appreciated the look and feel of HP's HDTV remotes. The remote control packaged with the LC-4776N is a bit less deserving of praise, although still a cut above the norm. It has the same palm-friendly size and shape, and the big cursor control with accompanying Back key makes menu navigation a snap, but actually getting to the correct menu is a bit more cumbersome. That's because the remote lacks the color coding and backlighting found on its predecessors, and the main menu keys are arranged without much differentiation or discernable logic around the cursor control.
The menu system itself is arranged intuitively, with natural progressions along a familiar menu tree. It's quite simplistic, in fact, and so we were surprised to see a menu item labeled "Simple Menu" that, when selected, eliminates a few of the options such as detailed picture controls, apparently to avoid intimidating novice users.
A native resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, aka 1080p, tops the HP's spec sheet. All of those pixels should enable the set to resolve every detail of 1080i and 1080p sources, but its lack of a dot-by-dot aspect ratio mode (see below) makes that technically impossible. All other sources--including 720p HDTV, DVD, computers, and regular TV--are scaled to fit the pixels.
We often take this section of Features to discuss the picture controls available on the HDTV in question, but in the HP LC4776N's case it will be a short discussion. It lacks many of the controls we've come to expect, such as fine-tuning for color temperature and an adjustable backlight. There are three preset picture modes that cannot be adjusted, a fourth User mode that's independent per input and a trio of color temperature presets, but that's about it.
As we alluded above, we were similarly disappointed by the lack of an aspect ratio mode that takes full advantage of 1080i and 1080p sources. Most other 1080p flat-panel displays have such a mode, called "dot-by-dot" for example, that displays such sources without scaling or overscan. Using such a mode with 1080-resolution sources allows you to see more of the picture and get the most benefit from the high resolution. The LC4776N does have four aspect ratio modes for high-definition sources and a fifth mode called "Auto" that detects and resizes the incoming program automatically. Standard-definition sources get the same selection.
The story on conveniences is short and sweet: the LC4776N has no picture-in-picture and no freeze-frame, although it does manage to include the federally mandated ATSC tuner. We did like the ability to relabel inputs, but that's pretty common among HDTVs nowadays.
Potential buyers snooping around the rear of the LC4776N will find a solid array of jacks and connections. There are three HDMI ports--three is fast becoming the 2007 norm--two component video inputs, two AV inputs with composite and S-Video, one optical digital audio output, an RF input, and a VGA-style PC input (see below for notes on resolution). An RS-232 port is available to interface with custom control gear, and there's a USB port labeled "Service" that's reserved for HP technicians.
Against most other flat-panel TVs we've tested recently in the 40-inch range, the HP LC4776N falls short of delivering competitive picture quality. Its main problem is an insufficiently deep shade of black, and although its color is relatively accurate, its other picture quality issues are hard to overlook.
Prior to a real-world evaluation, we adjusted the available controls to get the HP's picture to optimal levels, which involved taming its prodigious light output down to 40 footlamberts for our completely dark home theater. Although we were unable to further calibrate the grayscale using the service menu, the standard Warm preset came commendably close to the 6,500K standard, as detailed in the Geek box below. Unfortunately we had to reduce the color control quite a bit, which negatively impacted saturation, and the set still evinced some red push. For our complete user-menu picture settings, check the Tips & Tricks section.
After completing our adjustments, we sat down to compare the HP against a few like-size displays we had on hand: the Samsung LN-T4665F LCD and a pair of plasma TVs, the Panasonic TH-50PX77U, and our reference Pioneer PRO-FHD1. We chose to watch the Blu-ray version of Flyboys using a Samsung BD-P1200 set to 1080i resolution.