Having found a lot to like about Sony’s new and much improved KDF- 55XS955 LCD RPTV (Issue 59), I was excited about testing Hitachi’s version of the same technology, since I have yet to see anything from Hitachi in the past few years that wasn’t notable. To make things even more interesting, the 55" Sony review sample was still around for direct comparison. LCD projection sets are “leaping” off the dealer floors these days, so there must be something impressive-looking about them. At the same time, some diehard CRT lovers believe that LCD technology isn’t suitable for high-end video displays. Resolving this question will be one of the goals of this review.
As a reviewer, it’s a welcome relief when a manufacturer standardizes operational controls and features on its sets, regardless of display technology. The 50VX915 works just like Hitachi’s 42HDX61 plasma set, which I reviewed in Issue 60. Menus are the same; the remote is identical, as are most features.
Before I go into performance details, you first need to know about Hitachi’s new “Cineform” styling. While some tastes will differ from mine, I was highly impressed with the appearance of this set and its accompanying floor stand. The Hitachi’s allblack exterior and clean lines made the other TVs in my room with silver or gray styling simply look cheap.
The 50VX915 is one of three sets in Hitachi’s high-end “Director’s Series” of LCD TVs (60" and 70" models are also available). From a technology standpoint, these high-end sets differ from less expensive models primarily in using two deep-black anti-reflective shields on either side of the screen, which is said to improve blacks and greatly reduce the effects of room lighting. They also employ a different gamma curve, selected for increased accuracy in dark scenes. Thanks to superior optics, their “Dual-Focus Light Engine” is claimed to provide a razorsharp picture, while at the same time allowing for a remarkably thin cabinet (16 3/8"—two inches shallower than the Sony’s). The lamp (backlight) that powers this TV is easily replaced by the user. Like Hitachi’s 42HDX61 plasma, the 50VX915 interfaces with every new technology currently available. Twin HDMI inputs, a CableCARD slot, FireWire, and a photo input (for digital cameras) allow it to mate up with just about everything out there. In addition, Hitachi’s AV NETWORK feature allows you to control all your equipment with convenient on-screen menus and two remotes.
Two memories (DAY and NIGHT) allow you to customize (twice) the video settings of each source—a Hitachi standard feature that would be worth paying extra for, if you had to. (Without it, you’ll find yourself tweaking settings every time you change sources.) Even audio can be customized for each source.
Right out of the box, the Hitachi 50VX915 looked okay, but a few minor tweaks from the remote control (reducing COLOR to 25–30 and SHARPNESS to 25, then setting color temperature to MEDIUM) really made it shine. On typical HD programming, the Sony 55XS955 sitting nearby could compete only after its terrible factory grayscale calibration was corrected. The ultrasharp Hitachi HD picture constantly impressed me, though I noticed that edge enhancement (present even with SHARPNESS set at zero) was responsible for at least some of it. Nevertheless, HD usually looked quite good, except for the lime color of certain greens and the still-far-short-of-CRT-like blacks. Compared to the Sony LCD, the Hitachi didn’t have as much “impact” on Monday Night Football in HD, due to significantly less light output, but it did always look a bit better defined.
I found that the Superbit version of Spider-Man 2 was a good torture DVD for these LCD sets, since much of it is very dark. With a 480p component input, the Hitachi looked unusually crisp, with surprisingly good shadow detail for an LCD set, while the Sony again looked less sharp (even with enhancements on) and often a bit more washed out. Neither set, however, makes a great dark-room dedicated home theater. As long as SHARPNESS on the Hitachi was kept very low (under 25), edge-enhancement artifacts weren’t objectionable. Switching to the HDMI connection and setting the DVD player to output 720p gave a slightly better picture—a touch more detail with even less visible enhancement. Clearly, HDMI is the preferred connection method whenever it’s an option.
With a 480i DVD player, the Hitachi’s internal scaler did an outstanding job of deinterlacing, providing remarkable freedom from jaggies and superb bandwidth and resolution. Its 3-2 pulldown worked well, too, but edge enhancement with the factory setup was just too high, even with SHARPNESS set at zero. Close-ups looked fine, but small things at a distance had that unmistakable digitized ugliness that edge enhancement always adds when it is overdone. Turning NOISE REDUCTION on dramatically reduced edge enhancement but gave too soft a picture. Recommendation: Use a progressive-scan player or one with a DVI or HDMI output.