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Hitachi 50VS810 review: Hitachi 50VS810

Hitachi 50VS810

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
7 min read
Hitachi 50VS810
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 42HDT51). 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 50VS810

The Good

Plasmalike look from the front; accurate out-of-the-box presets; custom day and night modes for each input; excellent feature package, including two HDMI inputs.

The Bad

Black levels not up to DLP standards; nonremovable screen collects ambient light; screen-door effect from close viewing distances.

The Bottom Line

This is a gorgeous HDTV with lots of features and a highly accurate picture.

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 KDF-50WE655 and Hitachi's own 50V500 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.

This is one of the few HDTVs we've seen that includes not one but two HDMI inputs. The back panel also includes two broadband component-video inputs, but unfortunately you can't use them at the same time as the HDMI inputs. In short, you have to choose between component and HDMI (we recommend HDMI if available; see Performance for more). The rest of the input bay includes two A/V inputs with S-Video and composite video, two RF inputs, and a CableCard slot. A monitor A/V output with S-Video is also onboard along with an optical digital output for HDTV's surround-sound audio.

On the side panel, the set has A/V inputs with S-Video plus a USB port that's strictly for displaying digital photos onscreen. We tried it with a camera and a USB keychain drive, and the TV found and displayed the JPEG images without problem.

The Hitachi 50VS810 offers similar performance to that of the 50V500 from last year, although the new reflective screen does hamper image fidelity when the lights are on. The VS810's main strengths are excellent out-of the-box settings (its precalibration picture is much more accurate than that of the Sony KDF-50WE655, for example) and plenty of control over the picture. Its weaknesses, especially compared to competing DLP-based sets such as the Samsung HL-P5085W, are lighter blacks and the screen-door effect. DLP technology, in particular, has improved since last year, so we gave the VS810 a lower performance mark than we did its predecessor.

Before we calibrated the set for color temperature, the Medium preset was extremely close to the standard of 6,500K. The Standard and Black And White color-temperature presets were quite red; in fact, for black-and-white movies, you should use the Standard preset, since it comes closest to the black-and-white standard of 5,400K. After calibration, the grayscale improved somewhat (see the geek box for more). The set's color decoding was extremely accurate out of the box, with just a bit of red push. Still, we couldn't resist using the excellent color-decoder controls to make it as close to dead-on as we could. The result was deep, rich colors and natural-looking skin tones.

When we watched the opening sequence of Alien, a torturous combination of very dark images, a couple of things immediately became clear. First, the black of space appeared deeper on Samsung's HL-P5085W DLP (which we viewed side by side with the Hitachi). But space also appeared slightly noisier on the DLP, with faint-green "snow" visible in the black from our seating distance of about eight feet. We also saw the rainbow effect on the Samsung. It showed up, for example, as flashes of red, green, and blue that followed the letters of the credits when we swept our eyes across the screen. We saw nothing of the sort on the Hitachi.

When sitting closer than about eight feet to the 50VS810, we noticed signs of a screen-door effect--the result of being able to discern the spaces between pixels. For example, when the crew was exploring the planet's surface, what looked like a very faint grid appeared over the flashlight-lit background behind Captain Dallas. We didn't notice the grid from further back, and neither the JVC HD-52Z525 nor the Samsung evinced this effect.

A couple of other differences emerged when we compared the Hitachi to the JVC and the Samsung. The 50VS810 displayed less color uniformity across the screen. For example, we saw very faint discolorations in shots of cloudy skies. And while the Hitachi's geometry and convergence were excellent, with straighter lines than the other sets' and none of the fringing that marred the JVC's picture--we noticed that the entire image shrank and expanded as the picture content changed from light to dark and back. Bright areas left curious afterimages; for example, the cloudy ball from the THX intro left a reddish spot against the black background after it exploded.

HDTV looked excellent overall, with great detail and color saturation. When we watched the montage of images from the Digital Video Essentials DVD via 720p, we enjoyed superb color in the garish clothes of some frolicking kids and could see every link in a chain on a ferry across New York Harbor. With both HDMI and component video, our Accupel signal generator indicated that the set resolved more detail than the Samsung at 720p and 1080i and about as much as the JVC. We did most of our tests via component video, but when we checked out the HDMI input, we definitely saw an improvement. With Sony's DVP-NS975V DVD player displaying Alien at 720p resolution, the blackness of space appeared even cleaner, with very little visible noise.

Before color temp (20/80) 6,259/6,438K Good
After color temp (20/80) 6,487/6,495K Good
Before grayscale variation +/- 144K Good
After grayscale variation +/- 111K Average
Overscan 3.50% Average
Color decoder error: red +5% (0%) Good
Color decoder error: green 0% Good
DC restoration All patterns visible Good
2:3 pull-down, 24fps Y Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Y Good

Hitachi 50VS810

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 7