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Hitachi's 32HDT20 32-inch, 16:9 aspect-ratio plasma TV is a tour de force of industrial design and a pretty good performer as far as plasma technology is concerned. The set boasts one of the most flexible connectivity suites on the market, thanks to an external A/V control center, and its smaller screen size makes it a good choice for ritzy bedrooms and stylish--albeit space-starved--apartments. The 3.6-inch-deep 32HDT20 is an exceptionally attractive plasma set. Left and right speakers are covered with black grille cloth and flank the silver-finished panel for an even wider wide-screen look. In an unusual design move, the whole panel connects--via a proprietary cable--to a separate, component-sized control center, where all the A/V sources are connected.
Hitachi's fully backlit remote is the same universal model used in the company's rear-projection TV line. It is well laid-out and relatively simple to use, as is the internal menu system.
If you plan to place this Hitachi on a tabletop, you can use the included swivel stand. The company also offers a $299 wall-mount bracket and a 32-foot cord for the A/V control center in case the included proprietary cable isn't long enough.
Like all plasmas, the 32HDT20 has a fixed resolution measured in pixels and a built-in converter that scales all video--regardless of resolution--to fit those pixels. The panel's resolution of 1,024x852 can display the full detail of 720p HDTV but not that of the more common 1080i HDTV.
For a plasma TV, the 32HDT20's features are pretty impressive. A dual-tuner picture-in-picture mode tops the convenience list and surprisingly works with HDTV sources. The A/V Network system with two IR blasters allows the panel's remote to command up to four other components in the system via the aforementioned A/V control center. TruBass, Matrix Surround, and MTS Stereo modes with second audio program give you sonic flexibility.
The panel offers four aspect ratios for sizing material to fit the wide screen. To reduce artifacts in film-based sources, the video processor has 3:2 pull-down, but it's unfortunately found in only the Movie mode. The other modes (Sports, News, and Music) have different picture presets and lack 3:2 pull-down. Here's a tip: If you mate the 32HDT20 with a progressive-scan DVD player, choose a mode other than Movie so that you can reserve the Movie mode for another source--such as satellite or cable TV--and have the benefit of 3:2 pull-down with both.
Although the 32HDT20 lacks true input-specific picture-memory slots, it can do the next best thing. Each of the four modes can be adjusted for contrast, brightness, and so on, and the modes change when you switch inputs. For example, you can adjust the picture for your progressive-scan DVD player via a component-video input in Sports mode. Afterward, when you select the component input, the TV defaults to Sports mode with your settings intact.
Almost all of the connections reside in the external A/V control box, with the exception of a subwoofer input and the proprietary umbilical cord that connects the cord to the panel. The box includes an A/V input with S-Video, which sits behind a flip-down front-panel door. The box's back-panel jack pack puts most other plasmas' connectivity suites to shame. You get two component-video inputs with stereo audio; one 15-pin, VGA-style RGB input; one DVI input with HDCP for connection to next-generation set-top HDTV receivers; two sets of A/V inputs with S-Video; a monitor A/V output with S-Video; three sets of stereo-audio outputs; two RF inputs; an RF output for connection to a cable-TV box; and a set of IR-blaster ports.
In our tests, the 32HDT20's picture looked good but not spectacular. The black-level performance of this panel is superior to that of many sets that we've tested but is still no match for our reference Panasonic PT-42PD3-P. On the other hand, this Hitachi's color decoder pushes red significantly. Unfortunately, there is no fix for this problem in the service menu, which means that we had to back down on the color control after setting color with SMPTE color bars. The net effect was a noticeable loss of color saturation.
From the factory, the 32HDT20's color temperature comes close to the broadcast standard of 6,500 degrees Kelvin, and after calibration, we achieved a nearly perfect grayscale. The panel also holds black at black very well (a.k.a. good DC restoration).
We checked out a couple of DVDs after calibrating the panel. One of our new reference discs, Charlotte Gray, looked quite good, although color saturation was below par due to the red-push problem. Chapter 7 of the U-571 DVD, when the camera approaches the German U-boat at night, revealed some false-contouring artifacts--which look like pixelated pools of color--but blacks were a bit better than on most other panels that we've tested to date.
HDTV from our Dish Network HD feed looked mostly excellent except with very dark scenes, where false-contouring artifacts again reared their ugly heads. In fairness to Hitachi, poor black level and false-contouring artifacts are problems inherent in many plasma panels.