Hitachi's 42HDT51, a 42-inch plasma television, combines a swanky design, great connectivity, and reasonably good performance with an excellent feature package that includes a built-in HDTV tuner and a CableCard slot. And while it has a higher resolution than so-called EDTV plasmas, allowing you to see more detail with high-def and computer sources (see more info here), it comes at a premium price compared to many other high-resolution 42-inch plasmas. If you're taken by its good looks and you don't mind the set's somewhat disappointing black-level performance, the 42HDT51 has a lot to recommend it.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.The panel itself looks exceedingly elegant. A glossy-black finish surrounds the screen, accented with thin borders of silver on the top and bottom. The speakers that flank the left and right sides of the screen are nearly invisible, with black grilles against the rest of the black finish.
Every Hitachi 42HDT51 comes equipped with a stand that includes a unique motorized swivel. Press the right or left cursor control on the remote, and the stand will rotate the panel about 40 degrees to either side. If that's not cool enough, you can always put this 76-pound, 26-by-47-by-4-inch (HWD) television on an optional wall bracket ($249, model WM51).
The plasma includes a separate control box that houses all of the A/V connections, so you need to run only one umbilical to the panel itself. The box is about the size of a thick DVD player, and the front faceplate is finished in black. If the included 9-foot umbilical isn't long enough for your installation, you can order a 32-foot cable for $99.
Hitachi's remote is a complete redesign from last year's Ultravision plasma models, such as that for the 42HTD50. We found it both sleek and well laid out, with convenient direct access for aspect-ratio control and the Day and Night modes for each input. Its unique features are the roller wheels for Volume and Channel, which allowed us to zoom quickly up and down those registers. They lend a high-tech cool factor we've not seen from any other remote. The remote can control up to four different components, and the codes for other manufacturers' components are accessible through the control center.The Hitachi 42HDT51's screen employs ALiS technology that results in a native resolution of 1,024x1,024. While that number may seem superior to that of other high-resolution plasmas, such as Pioneer's PDP-4340HD, those technically aren't physical pixels (see Performance for more).
Conveniences abound on the 42HDT51. A CableCard slot is available for receiving cable TV without a set-top box (the set qualifies as digital cable ready), and a built-in ATSC tuner lets you view over-the-air HDTV broadcasts if you connect an antenna. Two-tuner PIP (picture-in-picture) and POP (picture-outside-picture) are on tap for multiple program viewing, and they both work with 1080i sources. There are six aspect-ratio choices for standard-definition sources, and a healthy three choices for HDTV sources. Also, an A/V network feature allows the 42HDT51 to control up to four other devices, such as a cable box or a DVD player, through an onscreen display and IR blasters (one is included). This is a good alternative for people who want to hide their equipment and control everything through the Hitachi's remote control.
This plasma has numerous picture-enhancing features. For starters, there are four color temperature presets: black and white, standard, medium, and high; we recommend standard as it is the closest to the NTSC standard of 6,500K. The color-management and color-decoder features allow someone who knows what they're doing to correct errors in the color decoding. Perhaps the best feature from a picture-enhancing perspective are the Day and Night modes, which allow you to set up two completely different settings for each input: one for optimum viewing of movies with controlled lighting (Night), and one for higher ambient light conditions (Day).
The Hitachi 42HDT51's connectivity is comprehensive enough for even the most sophisticated home-theater setups. All connections are routed from the control box to the panel via a DVI umbilical that carries audio, video, and control information. Two wide-band component-video inputs and two HDMI inputs head up the list of video connections. There are also two FireWire ports and three A/V inputs with S-Video (one on the front of the control box, next to a headphone jack). The CableCard slot is also on tap, alongside a 15-pin VGA-style RGB input for PC hookup. We counted two RF antenna inputs, an optical digital audio output, and a monitor output with S-Video, composite-video, and stereo audio. Finally, there's an RS-232 port for use with touch-panel control systems such as Crestron and AMX.The overall performance of the Hitachi 42HDT51 is pretty good once it's calibrated properly. The grayscale in standard color temperature was so close to 6,500 Kelvins up and down the scale that we suspect Hitachi may have calibrated our review sample in advance. Nonetheless, we were able to improve the grayscale slightly with calibration.
Color decoding out of the box was not accurate, displaying some red push and serious problems with green. Fortunately, Hitachi gives you the ability to fix this in the user menu via the Color Management and Color Decoding features--if you know what you are doing. We were able to eliminate the red push entirely and minimize the problems with green. This, combined with the excellent grayscale tracking, yielded superb color saturation and accurate color reproduction. As an example, chapter 12 of Seabiscuit looked very good, with natural skin tones and excellent color saturation.
Black-level performance is where the 42HDT51 falls somewhat short, as have all of the ALiS-based panels we've tested. Blacks were really dark gray, and there was some visible false contouring, or dancing-pixel artifacts, in very dark scenes. A good example occurred during the opening scenes of Alien, which are exceptionally dark. We saw blotches of darker color in space, as opposed to the smooth near-black of the void. Once scenes get even a little brighter than shots in deep space, these artifacts become much less annoying. Of course, bright material looked quite good, with awesome contrast ratio and snap to the picture.
HDTV from our DirecTV HD feed looked mostly excellent. Colors really popped off the screen, and detail was quite impressive, especially with bright material on HDNet and the HDNet Movie Channel.
We also compared the 42HDT51 to a non-ALiS panel, Samsung's HP-P4261, using resolution patterns from our Accupel signal generator and the 1080i version of Digital Video Essentials. The two panels resolved similar amounts of detail in vertical lines (in fact, the Hitachi seemed to have a slight advantage), but we saw flicker and crawl in horizontal lines. We chalk that up to the Hitachi's ALiS display element, and the flicker was much less visible on moving program material than static test patterns.
Overall, this Hitachi 42-inch panel has a lot going for it. For use in high ambient light conditions such as living rooms and family rooms, or as a bedroom set, it would be ideal. If you plan to use it in a dedicated home-theater environment, beware of its issues with black-level performance for dark material.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6,450/6,250K||Good|
|After color temp (20/80)||6,450/6,375K||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 150K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 36K||Good|
|Color decoder error: red||5% (0%)||Good|
|Color decoder error: green||10% (+5%)||Average|
|DC restoration||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Y||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|