About five years ago, computer manufacturers started selling electronics. At first, they started small, with digital cameras, portable audio players, and TVs, but none of these were particularly daring, although the iPod was something of a hit. Now, with big-screen HDTVs selling like roses on Valentine's Day, HP has jumped into the game with an intriguingly different rear-projection HDTV: the 65-inch MD6580n. Like many other top-of-the-line rear-projection sets, this behemoth uses a DLP microdisplay light engine that provides 1080p resolution, but it stands out from the crowd in other ways. The inclusion of a full-fledged input bay on the front panel, as well as the ability to accept 1080p sources via HDMI, are compelling differentiators in the crowded, confusing HDTV landscape. The MD6580n also offers extremely impressive all-around performance, and although it didn't score quite as well during testing as Sony's SXRD-based KDS-R60XBR1, it came close enough to make it our favorite DLP-based HDTV yet. Words such as intelligent and innovative aren't normally associated with television design, but both apply perfectly to the HP MD6580n. The matte-black finish isn't quite elegant, but the smooth curves and extrathin top and bottom bezel will make it an attractive addition to any home theater. The coolest part of the TV, though, is the flip-down panel that spans the full width of the unit's base. It opens to reveal all of the TV's inputs and outputs--illuminated with their own dedicated light--as well as the lamp replacement compartment. A channel runs under the TV from the jacks in front to the back of the set, so you'll never have to see any cables after setup.
As with more and more rear-projection HDTVs these days, HP makes a matching stand for the MD6580n that raises it to eye level and mimics its curvy design. Without the stand, this 65-inch monster measures 66 by 42 by 21 inches (WHD) and weighs in at 138 pounds.
The slick, black remote is comfortable to hold but is not backlit and has no dedicated input-selection buttons. The user menus are intuitive and well organized. For example, all picture-related items are grouped under Picture, instead of separating certain items, such as gamma, in the setup menu. We also appreciated the HP MD6580n's ability to assign a custom name to any input. The HP MD6580n boasts a native resolution of 1,920x1,080. That's enough to deliver full 1080i broadcast HDTV. Like all current 1080p-capable DLP TVs, this HP uses a chip that actually has 960x1,080 physical pixels. A process called wobulation or smooth picture rapidly shifts the pixels to double the horizontal resolution. LCoS-based 1080p HDTVs, such as Sony's KDS-R60XBR1 have chips with all the 2 million-plus pixels needed to serve up true 1080p. That said, wobulated DLP chips have the potential to serve up 1,920 horizontal lines, though that depends largely on the TV's implementation. See the Performance section for more on the MD6580n's resolution.
Tops among convenience features is PIP. Unlike with some TVs, one of the sources must be either the cable or antenna input, and you can't view both the cable and antenna inputs at the same time. Choosing what to watch is made simpler with the HP's thumbnail source selector, another extra we haven't seen before on any HDTV. When you engage the selector, the HP's screen fills with 10 thumbnail images that display what's currently available at each input, refreshed approximately every 15 seconds. All you have to do is highlight the one you want and press Enter. A single ATSC tuner serves up over-the-air HDTV, while one NTSC tuner provides standard-def TV. Like more and more big-screen TVs, this HP is Digital Cable Ready with a CableCard slot. It doesn't have the TV Guide EPG, but given our inconsistent experiences with that system, it might not be much of a loss.
Aspect-ratio controls available for standard-def sources include Normal, which properly displays 4:3 sources; Wide, which properly displays 16:9 sources; Panorama, which stretches the sides of a 4:3 source more than the middle to fill the screen width; Letterbox, which zooms letterboxed 4:3 sources to fill the screen; and Zoom, which zooms the entire picture evenly. Normal, Wide, and Zoom are present with HDTV sources, as well as a Studio choice that's designed to minimize overscan and display as much of the image as possible.
Color-temperature presets include Cool, Neutral, Warm, and Custom. Warm is the most accurate preset out of the box, but the Custom setting lets you create your own color temperature using the RGB gain controls. There are four picture modes: Normal, Movie, Vivid, and Studio. We found the Studio mode to be the best bet. It removes any possibly harmful picture adjustments, such as the sharpness control and the noise-reduction circuit. Independent input memories let you adjust picture controls separately according to source.
As mentioned earlier, all of the HP MD6580n's inputs are accessed through the flip-down panel on the front of the TV, and we found the jack pack to be more than ample. Input choices include two HDMI, two component video, three A/V with S-Video, and one VGA, all with stereo RCA audio, as well as a pair of RF, one FireWire, one stereo minijack, and one CableCard. Outputs include one coaxial 5.1 digital audio and one stereo RCA audio.
The HP MD6580n's HDMI inputs can each accept up to 1080p sources--not a common feature on the current crop of 1080p HDTVs. We verified this capability using the 1080p format setting from our Sencore VP403 HDTV signal generator. Other than test equipment, PCs, and a handful of upconverting DVD players (which just take DVDs and change the resolution but can't increase actual detail) and signal processors, there aren't any video components that output 1080p at the moment. The HP MD6580n delivered a surprisingly solid picture for an HDTV made by a computer company. It can't create a real, deep black as a CRT can, but it still came quite close and managed to serve up plenty of detail in dark scenes. We were able to compare it side by side with a few other 1080p models, and the results were impressive. Watching "Chapter 3: Awakening" from Alien: The Director's Cut, we were able to see more of the crew's bodies in their hibernation chambers on the MD6580n than on the but not quite as much as on the Sony KDS-R60XBR1 or the . Most noticeable was the large amount of detail visible in the forearms of the two crew members in the capsules in the foreground. "Chapter 5: Monstropolis," from Monsters, Inc. highlighted the HP MD6580n's clean picture when using its HDMI inputs with our labs' Sony DVP-NS975V upconverting DVD player at 1080i. The city of monsters was chock-full of color and almost devoid of any noise or video artifacts.
Color decoding was almost spot on, and primary colors weren't as bad as we've seen on many other TVs. That said, reds still appeared a bit orange and greens were slightly yellow when compared to the ATSC standard. In the low setting, the HP's out-of-the-box color temperature was relatively red compared to that of other 1080p HDTVs, but afterward, using the in-menu RGB gain controls, it was close to the 6,500K ideal.
Overall resolution couldn't quite measure up to that of the Sony, but it was better than that of the Mitsubishi. A multiburst test pattern from our Sencore VP403 showed that this HP fell just short of delivering full 1080p, which puts it in line with in this category. We also noticed a slight amount of edge enhancement even with the sharpness control fully reduced, which created faint lines around highly detailed onscreen objects in some situations.
When displaying 1080i HDTV, the HP MD6580n looked great, and we were impressed by the vivid colors and sharp picture. In an appearance by President Jimmy Carter in HDNet's World Report, for example, we were easily able to see the individual threads in his suit jacket.
|Before color temp (20/80)||5,544/5,510K||Average|
|After color temp||6,483/6,489K||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 1,011K||Poor|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 57K||Good|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.648/0.338||Average|
|Color of green||0.279/0.609||Good|
|Color of blue||0.146/0.067||Good|
|DC restoration||No patterns stable||Poor|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Yes||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||No||Poor|