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In an AV world where it's getting ever harder to stand out from the crowd, Hitachi's latest solution, the P50XR01, is as simple as it is innovative. Just build a hard disk recorder into a TV.
This isn't the very first time this has happened. Loewe has been doing it for a while and LG and Humax both have similar systems waiting in the wings. But at the time this is being written, it's fair to say that the P50XR01 is the first TV/HDD recorder combi from a mainstream brand. At a pretty reasonable £2,000 for a 50-inch 'Full HD' plasma screen, it's just about a mainstream price, too.
Having a hard disk drive built into your TV really is a great idea. As well as cutting down on clutter, it also makes the whole HDD recording process impressively intuitive. The interface is so simple that even if you've never used an HDD recorder before, the process should feel second nature in no time.
We like the size of the HDD, too. At 250GB, the drive really is a generous provision on a debut product, and allows you to record many dozens of hours of programmes before you even start to run out of space. What's more, you can record one Freeview digital channel while recording another and those recordings are of a very decent quality indeed.
The TV can actually record the digital stream of a Freeview broadcast, so those recordings are indistinguishable from the original broadcasts. The best three of five quality settings provided for analogue channels and standard definition AV inputs are all perfectly enjoyable to watch, too.
Another thing about the P50XR01 we're rather fond of are its three HDMI sockets, especially as these sockets are v1.3 affairs able to handle the Deep Colour enhanced picture quality system from HD discs -- should any Deep Colour discs ever actually appear.
The HDMIs can also take in pure 1080p/24fps from suitably featured high definition disc players, while raising a smile elsewhere are a PC jack and both SD card and USB ports for the direct playback of JPEG photos.
In performance terms, the star of the show is the way Hitachi's Picture Master HD processing removes pretty much every trace of video noise from standard and high definition sources alike. Almost everything you watch looks polished to within an inch of its life.
The P50XR01's motion handling is also unusually good. A 'Movie FRC' system works out how extra frames of picture should look and inserts them between the 'real' frames supplied by a source, resulting in markedly crisper, smoother motion. Finally, the P50XR01's HD pictures look extremely sharp and detailed thanks, we presume, to the Picture Master HD processing and Full HD resolution.
Although the HDD recording system in the P50XR01 works very well, it lacks one or two functions -- most notably Series Link -- found on the new breed of so-called Freeview Playback TVs, complete with HDD recording, set to appear from LG and Humax pre-Christmas.
We also have three concerns about the TV's picture quality. Black levels, for instance, are rather average by plasma standards, showing dark scenes like pretty much the whole of Poseidon on HD DVD with a slight pall of tell-tale grey over them. Colours occasionally look slightly unnatural too, with oranges and greens over-dominant, and although it's good for 90 per cent of the time, the Movie FRC system does occasionally glitch slightly, causing shimmering over particularly fast moving objects like a full-tilt Michael Owen.
The P50XR01 is a startlingly simple and convenient all-in-one TV and recording solution at a fair price, considering its screen size and level of functionality.
In an ideal world all these strengths would have been allied to a slightly better picture quality. There's no denying that the set isn't really worth considering if you're a Sky user -- since you might as well get Sky+ or, even better, Sky HD. For everyone else, there's enough unique functionality on offer to make the set worth considering.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday