As LCD and plasma compete for your hard-earned dollars, every difference between the two flat-panel HDTV types takes on more significance. This year, with the availability of 1080p resolution in both, 120Hz processing has emerged as the big spec-sheet differentiator: LCD has it, while plasma does not. Those extra hertz--60 is the standard--ostensibly reduce blurring in fast motion, although the most noticeable benefit we've seen has more to do with smoothing out the stuttering effect seen on film-based sources. Mitsubishi's LT-46144 is another example of the high-end, 120Hz LCD breed, but unlike others we've reviewed so far, including Toshiba's 52LX177 and Sony's KDL-46XBR4, it doesn't appreciably smooth out anything. The set does a fine job in some areas of picture quality, delivering relatively deep black levels, but its inaccurate color temperature doesn't help its cause. All in all, the Mitsubishi LT-46144 delivered a solid, if unspectacular performance, and its main appeal can be found not in its picture but in the compact size of its cabinet.
In person, Mitsubishi's LT-144 series looks strikingly compact and almost all-picture, a marked departure from the design of the Sony KDL-XBR4 series, for example. That Spartan look, which we really like, is carried though by the LT-46144's dark-matte-gray color, unadorned face, and vanishingly small speaker slit. The only hint of indulgent styling comes from the glossy ring around the base of the black swivel stand. Our only external design complaint is leveled squarely at the bright blue LED on the lower left that remains lit during operation.
The frame around the Mitsubishi's screen itself is narrower than any LCD (or plasma) we know about, except for Toshiba's RF350U series, which beats it by a fraction of an inch. Along the top and sides the LT-46144's bezel measures just 1 inch wide, and the area below the screen is commendably compact as well, stretching about 3 inches from the bottom of the screen to the bottom of the panel itself. Overall, the 46-inch LT-46144 measures just 42.3 by 29 by 12.6 inches including the stand, and 42.3 by 26.9 by 5.6 inches without it, and it weighs 71.7 and 63.3 pounds respectively.
Mitsubishi's clicker has been redesigned from the flyswatter of yore. We liked the more manageable size and the red backlight behind most of the important keys, but we wish the new remote offered a few differently placed, strategically located keys. We found the staid grid of buttons difficult to get to know by feel.
The company has redesigned its menu system for this model as well, and although the new layout is a bit less attractive than in previous years, we like that it packs more information onto the screen at once. The main picture menu gives way to a submenu for PerfectColor, and while common picture parameters such as contrast and brightness drop obediently to the bottom of the screen while being adjusted, the color submenu annoyingly obscures the screen. The menu system also includes a very intimidating-looking setup screen for the set's Net Command remote interface (see Features for details).
Like a few other high-end LCD TVs this year, the Mitsubishi LT-46144 offers 120Hz processing, which, as we mentioned earlier, is supposed to reduce motion blur. When we asked the company why the set doesn't offer a feature that provides an additional smoothing effect, sometimes called "de-judder," like Sony, Toshiba, and Samsung do, the rep claimed that current solutions produce artifacts that make film start to look more like video. Point taken, but we found the smoothing effect appealing on some material, and having it as an option, so the viewer can decide for himself, is always a good thing. We also think it's unnecessarily confusing that Mitsubishi uses the "Smooth 120Hz" moniker on this TV when it lacks a de-judder feature.
Mitsubishi is also touting support for xvColor, a wider color gamut that allows the TV to show more colors, but it's not all that useful because it requires xvColor-enabled content to function properly, and such content isn't available at the moment, outside of a few camcorders. Mitsubishi expects the first xvColor content to become available in video games, but as for Hollywood movies and HDTV shows, we're not holding our breath. In case you're keeping track, the set also supports another HDMI 1.3 feature that depends on currently nonexistent content, Deep Color.
Naturally, the LT-46144 sports a native resolution of 1080p, meaning that it has 1,920x1,080 pixels, the highest generally available today. That number perfectly matches the pixel count of the highest-resolution HDTV sources, although unlike most 1080p HDTVs, the LT-46144's cannot completely resolve those sources. All sources, whether HDTV, DVD, standard-definition TV, or computers, are scaled to fit the pixels.
The major reason why the LT-46144 can't fully resolve 1080i and 1080p sources is because it lacks a "dot-by-dot"-style aspect ratio mode. Nearly every other 1080p TV we've reviewed lately has such a mode, which displays those sources without scaling or overscan. The Mitsubishi, on the other hand, has just two aspect ratio modes available with 1080i and 720p sources, both of which scale the incoming sources and introduce overscan (you can't change aspect ratio at all with 1080p sources; they're stuck in the non-dot-by-dot "standard" mode). It's worth mentioning that it's nearly impossible to spot the loss of resolution in normal program material, and that the overscan is not obnoxiously evident, but purists will probably want a dot-by-dot mode anyway. With standard-def sources, the LT-46144 allows a healthy choice of six aspect-ratio modes.
Mitsubishi offers a decent number of picture adjustment options on the LT-46144. They start with three preset picture modes, all of which can be adjusted independently for each input. That's three independent picture setting groups per input, offering plenty of flexibility for inveterate tweakers who want to set up, say, one mode for daylight, another for early evening, and another for pitch darkness. The Mitsubishi also has a set of picture parameters called "global" that includes a film mode that engages 2:3 pull-down and four levels of noise reduction. There's also a "120Hz demo" setting that scrolls a preset picture across the screen, most likely so stores can show off the benefits of 120Hz. To actual owners, this mode is useless since it doesn't affect normal program material and those benefits, from what we can see, are greatly exaggerated by the demo.
The LT-46144 has the ability to fine-tune color balance via its PerfectColor controls, although it lacks the PerfectTint controls found on some other Mitsubishi models. The set also offers a pair of color temperature presets, of which Low came closest to the D6500 standard. Unfortunately, it wasn't close enough that we didn't miss having the ability to fine-tune color temperature as well.
Another feature unique to Mitsubishi is the NetCommand system, which enables the TV to control other AV devices using an included two-unit IR emitter--generally, you'll set it up to command a cable or satellite box and an AV receiver. This system can learn the commands of various clickers and the learning process is quite painless.
(Editors' Note: We did not test NetCommand with the LT-46144, trusting it to behave the same as it did during our earlier test of the Mitsubishi WD-65734, which follows).
We set up our DirecTV HR20 as the "satellite" device in about five minutes, and afterward were able to control it almost seamlessly via the Mitsubishi's remote. There was a slight delay between each button-press and the HR20's response (less than a second but still noticeable) and, inconveniently, we couldn't repeatedly press a key in succession to move more quickly. Some keys, such as the forward and reverse skip for the DVR, had to be assigned to smaller function keys on the Mitsubishi's remote, and calling up the HR20's menu was an inconvenient process that involved getting to the input screen first, then pressing Menu (you can instead dedicate a function key to the device menu, but that's less than intuitive). So the system could use some refinement and wasn't quite as satisfying to use as a good universal remote, but it does allow you to stash your gear out of sight and still control it.
While the LT-46144 lacks a power-save mode designed to conserve energy while the TV is turned on, it can be set to consume less power when turned off, aka standby mode. According to our tests, it uses about 11 watts less power with standby energy saver engaged, which works out to just about $6 per year. As a trade-off, the set takes about three seconds longer to warm up and turn on. See the Juice Box below for more power consumption details.