The rating and/or Editors' Choice designation for this product has been altered since the review's original publication. The reason for this is simply the general improvement of technology over time. In order to keep our ratings fair and accurate, it's sometimes necessary to downgrade the ratings of older products relative to those of newer products.
Hitachi's new line of HDTV-capable rear-projection TVs show not only a step up in quality from last year's models, they hold their ground against many of the best sets in their class. The 51SWX20B, which features the company's newly designed, wide-neck, 7-inch CRTs, is Hitachi's current top-of-the-line, 51-inch wide-screen set. Easy to set up and use, the 51SWX20B delivers bright, snappy pictures with lots of detail and rich, saturated color. While the 51SWX20B isn't quite as slick as the rear-projection offerings from a certain rival manufacturer (Hint: rhymes with pony), its design is sleeker and more high-tech than that of last year's model. Black and gray is the color motif; a dark-silver frame surrounds the screen, and graphite-colored fabric covers the bottom half of the set, as well as the speakers below the screen.
The remote, which is of the universal variety and capable of controlling a slew of A/V components, is well laid out and intuitively easy to use. We appreciated that the most commonly used buttons are conveniently backlit. Also earning our admiration were the set's onscreen menus and graphical user interface--no problems there. The 51SWX20B's connectivity options are pretty comprehensive. On the back panel, you'll find two sets of component-video inputs with stereo-audio ins, a DVI port for future HDTV-capable set-top receivers, three S-Video inputs with stereo audio, three composite-video inputs with stereo audio, two RF inputs (Antenna A and B), one RF throughput, and left-, center-, and right-channel audio inputs for routing the sound to an A/V receiver. There are also front-panel A/V and S-Video inputs for convenient hookup of a camcorder or a video game console.
Comprehensive is also the word of the day in the features department. On the video side, highlights include a dual-tuner picture-in-picture mode; autoconvergence to help nontechies optimize picture quality; and a best-of-breed 3D-YC comb filter for cleaning up composite-video sources such as VHS and cable. In addition to the three basic aspect ratios--16:9 Standard (anamorphic), 16:9 Zoom (for nonanamorphic letterboxed material), and 4:3 Standard--Hitachi throws in three others that expand and/or zoom the picture. You also get three color-temperature settings from which to choose so that you can skew color values toward reddish or bluish according to what looks best with your room lighting and the material that you're viewing.
In terms of audio, the set offers BBE Mach3Bass for extra boom. This Hitachi also has an SRS function that enables the set's two 40-watt-stereo, two-way bass-reflex speakers to simulate surround sound. Geometry and convergence out of the box were both excellent. Only a quick touch-up of electronic focus and convergence with the manual point-convergence display was necessary to get a crisp picture.
The 51SWX20B's 540p video processing has 3:2 pull-down, which eliminates jaggy artifacts when you're watching DVDs that were transferred from film. The set produced sharp, clean video with few--if any--up-conversion artifacts. However, it's worth noting that you are probably better off using a good interlaced DVD player with this set rather than a progressive-scan model; the latter will generate some artifacts when converting a 480p signal into its native 540p. This was clearly evident when we popped in one of our standard test scenes, chapter 4 of Jurassic Park III, using Toshiba's SD4700 DVD player. In progressive mode, the picture was marred by distracting artifacts that appeared to crawl along the plane's wings. Conversely, in interlaced mode, the wings remained sharp, and the picture was pristine.
The color decoder is only average, but thankfully, it can be tweaked in the Service menu by a qualified Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) technician. Speaking of the ISF, we salute Hitachi for being the first TV manufacturer to actually build a dedicated ISF mode in its new line of RPTVs. This means that if you have your set professionally calibrated, all the parameters that the ISF technician might have to adjust are accessible in one place.
We performed a full calibration of the 51SWX20B and obtained near-perfect grayscale results. Afterward, we sat back and watched some scenes from one of our more colorful reference DVDs, Shakespeare in Love. The picture was sharp as a razor with good color saturation, and skin tones were reproduced extremely well. Chapter 17 particularly impressed us--the variety of skin tones in the crowd was easily discerned, and the queen's costume, replete with peacock feathers, has rarely looked as good on an RPTV.
To test HD performance, we hooked up JVC's HM-DH30000U D-VHS player/recorder and popped in the D-Theater version of the bankable-stars-in-undersea-peril flick U-571. Suffice to say, the picture quality was mind-blowing.