Among the most respected plasmas are those from Hitachi. Their most recent 42-inch model is touted as having better blacks than its predecessors. Let’s have a look and see.
The 42HDX62’s gloss black frame surrounds a 16:9 screen and is flanked by narrow, permanently attached speakers with black grilles. It also comes with a motorized swivel base that can be operated remotely.
Like many Hitachi plasmas, the 42HDX62 uses a panel with 1024x1024 resolution—obviously, the pixels are not square— and ALiS (Alternate Lighting of Surfaces) technology. ALiS activates alternate rows of pixels in each sixtieth of a second, somewhat like CRT interlacing. Each adjacent pair of rows share one horizontal electrode, which addresses the two rows alternately. This is said to reduce the vertical spacing between pixels, resulting in a smoother picture.
Connections are plentiful; see the specs for a list. The analog video inputs are joined by L/R analog audio inputs. Along with one S-video, composite, and FireWire input on the side panel is a USB port for connecting a digital camera. An optical digital audio output is provided, along with a subwoofer out.
As with many digital TVs today, this one has integrated ATSC and NTSC tuners as well as a CableCARD slot. And because current CableCARD technology does not support onscreen program guides directly, the Hitachi includes TV Guide On Screen, a free program guide that gets around this limitation nicely. More unusual is an MMC slot that lets you install future upgrades from Hitachi.
This set offers more video controls than most in the user menu. In addition to the normal picture settings, there are complete controls for grayscale, color points (primary and secondary), and color decoding, all of which make a calibration technician’s job much easier. Happily, all user controls are available for all inputs, including HDMI.
Of less interest are the AUTO COLOR, CONTRAST MODE (dynamic contrast), and BLACK ENHANCEMENT controls. A well-adjusted display normally looks its best without all these chazerai. I just kept them off.
Plasmas have a reputation for burn-in, which occurs when a static image stays on the screen too long or only a part of the screen is used to display the picture, as with a 4:3 image. To combat this, the Hitachi offers a “screen-wipe” function that displays a full-screen white field. It also puts up gray sidebars when displaying a 4:3 image. I hate gray sidebars, and the 42HDX62 lets you turn them off, leaving black sidebars around a 4:3 image, but you must do this every time you turn the set on or switch inputs, which is a pain in the tuchus. I will admit that after even a short while with black sidebars, the 4:3 window is visible on a full black screen, but a quick zap from the screen wiper is all it takes to fix it. The only thing I would wish for here is a dedicated screen-wipe button on the remote; as it is, you have to drill down into the menu system to access it.
The 42HDX62 comes with two remotes: comprehensive and simple. The comprehensive remote is a long, well-balanced, universal type that can control up to six different devices, and it’s fully illuminated. The design is uncluttered and well-organized, and although it does not provide direct access to the inputs or aspect ratios, it does offer buttons that call up these menus.
As usual, CONTRAST and BRIGHTNESS were way too high out of the box; COLOR was too saturated as well, and Color Temperature was set to HIGH, which I measured at over 10,000 kelvins! The STANDARD setting was much closer to 6500K, so that’s where I set it.
As I was setting the white and black levels, I discovered that this display does not clip whites, even when CONTRAST is set to 100%. I decided to set CONTRAST at the value that yielded the best white point (the point in the Grayscale Tracking graphic that represents the color of white produced by the display, which should be as close as possible to the point labeled D65). This value turned out to be 30%. As a result, the measured contrast ratio was lower than it would be with CONTRAST at 100%, but the grayscale was more accurate, which I deem more important than sheer light output.
With the CONTRAST and BRIGHTNESS set, I measured a black level of 0.04 foot-lamberts, which is quite good for a plasma and better than Hitachi’s previous models. The last two reviewed in TPV measured right around 0.10fL.
The grayscale was fairly linear, but it tended toward greenish-yellow, especially in the lower half of the brightness range, so I went ahead and calibrated it, which brought it closer to the ideal. The red and blue points were pretty close to where they should be, but green was way off, so I adjusted them to be as close as possible to the targets.