The HP LC4776N, the company's most expensive flat-panel HDTV to be released so far in 2007, illustrates just how widely performance can vary among televisions today. Given the company's solid track record with plasma and DLP-based rear-projection sets--and the fact that it has borrowed heavily from Sharp for past LCD designs--frankly, we expected its picture quality to be better. This 47-inch 1080p LCD couldn't muster a convincing shade of black, however, and a few additional picture quality woes didn't help. About the best thing we can say about the HP LC4776N is that it has three HDMI inputs, relatively accurate color temperature, and a decent remote.
Compared to many flat-panel HDTVs on the market right now, the HP LC4776N looks as conservative as grandpa's Ford LTD. The all-black exterior is given a coat of gloss around the frame, which adds a touch of tech appeal, but the chrome stripe across the middle, the dull, black speaker bar along the bottom, and the slightly sloped-in edges to either side of the screen all contribute to its somewhat dated appearance. It doesn't seem ugly by any means, but it sure won't turn any heads.
Ever since the sad passing of the laudable MD6580n, we've appreciated the look and feel of HP's HDTV remotes. The remote control packaged with the LC-4776N is a bit less deserving of praise, although still a cut above the norm. It has the same palm-friendly size and shape, and the big cursor control with accompanying Back key makes menu navigation a snap, but actually getting to the correct menu is a bit more cumbersome. That's because the remote lacks the color coding and backlighting found on its predecessors, and the main menu keys are arranged without much differentiation or discernable logic around the cursor control.
The menu system itself is arranged intuitively, with natural progressions along a familiar menu tree. It's quite simplistic, in fact, and so we were surprised to see a menu item labeled "Simple Menu" that, when selected, eliminates a few of the options such as detailed picture controls, apparently to avoid intimidating novice users.
A native resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, aka 1080p, tops the HP's spec sheet. All of those pixels should enable the set to resolve every detail of 1080i and 1080p sources, but its lack of a dot-by-dot aspect ratio mode (see below) makes that technically impossible. All other sources--including 720p HDTV, DVD, computers, and regular TV--are scaled to fit the pixels.
We often take this section of Features to discuss the picture controls available on the HDTV in question, but in the HP LC4776N's case it will be a short discussion. It lacks many of the controls we've come to expect, such as fine-tuning for color temperature and an adjustable backlight. There are three preset picture modes that cannot be adjusted, a fourth User mode that's independent per input and a trio of color temperature presets, but that's about it.
As we alluded above, we were similarly disappointed by the lack of an aspect ratio mode that takes full advantage of 1080i and 1080p sources. Most other 1080p flat-panel displays have such a mode, called "dot-by-dot" for example, that displays such sources without scaling or overscan. Using such a mode with 1080-resolution sources allows you to see more of the picture and get the most benefit from the high resolution. The LC4776N does have four aspect ratio modes for high-definition sources and a fifth mode called "Auto" that detects and resizes the incoming program automatically. Standard-definition sources get the same selection.
The story on conveniences is short and sweet: the LC4776N has no picture-in-picture and no freeze-frame, although it does manage to include the federally mandated ATSC tuner. We did like the ability to relabel inputs, but that's pretty common among HDTVs nowadays.
Potential buyers snooping around the rear of the LC4776N will find a solid array of jacks and connections. There are three HDMI ports--three is fast becoming the 2007 norm--two component video inputs, two AV inputs with composite and S-Video, one optical digital audio output, an RF input, and a VGA-style PC input (see below for notes on resolution). An RS-232 port is available to interface with custom control gear, and there's a USB port labeled "Service" that's reserved for HP technicians.
Against most other flat-panel TVs we've tested recently in the 40-inch range, the HP LC4776N falls short of delivering competitive picture quality. Its main problem is an insufficiently deep shade of black, and although its color is relatively accurate, its other picture quality issues are hard to overlook.
Prior to a real-world evaluation, we adjusted the available controls to get the HP's picture to optimal levels, which involved taming its prodigious light output down to 40 footlamberts for our completely dark home theater. Although we were unable to further calibrate the grayscale using the service menu, the standard Warm preset came commendably close to the 6,500K standard, as detailed in the Geek box below. Unfortunately we had to reduce the color control quite a bit, which negatively impacted saturation, and the set still evinced some red push. For our complete user-menu picture settings, check the Tips & Tricks section.
After completing our adjustments, we sat down to compare the HP against a few like-size displays we had on hand: the Samsung LN-T4665F LCD and a pair of plasma TVs, the Panasonic TH-50PX77U, and our reference Pioneer PRO-FHD1. We chose to watch the Blu-ray version of Flyboys using a Samsung BD-P1200 set to 1080i resolution.
It didn't take long to notice the HP's inability to produce a deep shade of black. Compared to the other displays, its letterbox bars were quite a bit lighter, as were the shadows and dark areas in the film. When Jean Reno lectures the 'boys at night inside the tent, for instance, the shadows in the background and the night sky itself appeared lighter, an effect that made the whole scene appear more washed out than on the other displays. We were also disappointed with the LC4776N's detail in shadows--the equipment stacked along the edges of the tent and the folds in the fabric, for example, looked muddier than on the other displays, and we didn't see as much definition in dark sections close to black.
Color was a somewhat better story with the HP LC4776N, mainly due to its relatively accurate grayscale. When Jennifer Decker talks to one of the 'boys, for example, her pale skin looked relatively realistic, although it was still a tad too ruddy when compared to the other displays. That's a symptom of the set's inaccurate color decoding, which tended to push red. Colors like the gold of her dress and the green of the turf appeared a bit less saturated than on the other displays, partly a result of the light-black levels and partly because we reduced the color control to achieve more-accurate skin tones. We did appreciate the HP's solid primary-color accuracy, although its green was a bit bluish, which made trees and grass appear a bit too dark in some cases.
Screen uniformity was another area where the HP fell short of most LCDs we've tested, including the Samsung, to which we compared it directly. The LC4776N shared that display's lighter sides compared to the middle, although the brightness difference was more drastic, and thus more noticeable, on the HP. We also noticed narrow vertical sections that appeared very slightly brighter than the background in all but the brightest flat fields. We saw evidence of these brightness variations, among other places, in pans and camera movement, such as when the camera pushes over the steely-gray fuselage of a biplane. They weren't as noticeable as the worst backlight uniformity problems we've seen, but still relatively severe.
We also noticed that the HP introduced its share of false contouring. During the scene in the movie theater, for example, the flashing light cast by the projector evinced distinct lines on the HP, while the other sets showed a more natural gradation in brightness.
The HP LC4776N can handle 1080p sources, both at 24 frames per second and 60 fps. As we mentioned above, its lack of a dot-by-dot aspect ratio mode means it can't display 1080i and 1080p sources without scaling, which also means it can't display every line of a 1,920x1,080 test pattern. The image did look as sharp as the Samsung's, however, and for that matter it was almost impossible to discern extra detail between the 1080p HP and the 1,366x768 Panasonic from our 7-feet seating distance. The HP failed both of the HQV tests on HD DVD for proper deinterlacing of 1080i content, but again we had a hard time noticing any adverse effect on detail during the film.
We did notice some strange flicker in other content, namely Jorge Posada's horizontally striped shirt in a special Yankees-centric episode of American Chopper on DiscoveryHD, however. Although we didn't see this flicker elsewhere outside of test patterns, we believe it's the fault of the HP's video processing (it didn't appear at all on the other displays), and suspect it would appear on other content as well.
To test standard-definion performance we turned to our trusty HQV test suite on DVD, and the HP turned in a mediocre performance. It had no trouble passing the full resolution of DVD, but when faced with moving diagonal lines it did little to smooth out their jagged edges. It was able to pass the 2:3 pull-down detection test, eliminating moire from the grandstand relatively quickly. Its biggest failing, however, was during the many noisy, low-quality shots of sunsets, skies, and flowers meant to test noise reduction. The HP has no noise reduction control, and it really could have used one; compared to the other displays, even when their NR controls were turned off, the image on the HP crawled with more motes of noise.
With PC sources, the LC4776N turned in a disappointing performance, especially considering that HP is the No. 1 PC maker on Earth. While our computer desktop did appear when we gave its VGA input a 1,920x1,080 signal, it didn't fill the screen--there were black bars to either side, as if we were watching 4:3 video, no matter which aspect ratio selection we chose. It was also scaled incorrectly: text looked soft, and the desktop was horizontally squished and didn't fit on the screen in either dimension. (Update 05/16/07): After speaking with HP's resresentatives, we discovered that the set is not designed to accept 1920x1080 progressive sources via VGA, despite that resolution being listed in the user menual under a table called "PC compatibility chart." The company told us that 1360x768 is the recommended resolution via VGA, and when we tested it that resolution did fill the screen properly. Since that resolution is much lower than the panel's native resolution, text and other fine details didn't look perfect. We did not test the PC compatibility of the panel's HDMI inputs, although HP claims their performance is better than VGA.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6,473/6,146K||Good|
|After color temp||N/A|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 285K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||N/A|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.643/0.326||Good|
|Color of green||0.266/0.584||Average|
|Color of blue||0.146/0.057||Good|
|Black-level retention||All patterns stable||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Y||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Fail||Poor|
|1080i film resolution||Fail||Poor|
|HP LC4776N||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||273.65||274.34||N/A|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.29||0.29||N/A|
|Cost per year||$83.67||$83.88||N/A|
|Score (considering size)||Average|