Colors were oversaturated at first, but pulling COLOR way back (from “50” to below “15”) fixed that. Certain shades of green had a considerable amount of that “glowing lime” look that I detest, but you can pull green back in the color management section of the user menu if you’re overwhelmed. If you pull COLOR down to zero (color temp set to NEUTRAL) and watch the picture in black and white, you should see absolutely no color tint (especially no red or green) to the overall gray tone. This set didn’t pass this test. I noticed a general greenish tint to the overall picture when using NATURAL color temperature—the one closest to the industry standard D6500. Sets often vary in factory calibrated color temperature from sample to sample. This one was obviously greenish and benefited considerably from an ISF calibration.
Black level continues to be the weakest feature of Hitachi’s plasmas, though it’s still better than LCD flat panel and projection sets. While blacks that are “less dark” are probably preferable to darker blacks accompanied by lots of ugly false contouring in dark scenes (common with bargain plasmas these days), the handicap continues to make these sets work best in a lighted room or with brighter program material. A properly colored fluorescent “bias” light (www.cinemaquestinc.com) behind the display helped increase perceived contrast, but darker program material could still look a bit washed out and lacking in color saturation. Speaking of false contouring, it was never a serious problem, but did appear from time to time (fairly subtly) in brighter shots of blue sky and in certain darker scenes.
I preferred a 480p source for DVD playback primarily because Hitachi’s edge enhancement was less noticeable than with 480i. Aside from that, 480i sources were processed quite well with minimal artifacts. DVD performance at 480p, in general, was superbly detailed and more natural-looking than 480i. Although the detail was excellent, the dark scene performance wasn’t. I compared the 55HDX61’s analog and digital tuner reception with my reference Zenith set-top box. Analog off-theair and cable looked a bit sharper with the Zenith, while digital channels looked a bit better using the Hitachi’s built-in tuner. Reception capability was nearly identical, which is to say very typical of today’s sets but short of the capability of a few digital tuners with the newest chipsets. I didn’t find channel-surfing particularly fast, and I’m not a fan of the vague-feeling scroll wheel for changing channels. Thanks to Hitachi’s excellent video processing, regular low-rez cable and satellite channels looked quite good, especially for such a big screen.
I’ve liked and recommended two 42" Hitachi plasma sets before this one, but the 55" version tested here looked even better. While I did find a few warts, the overall quality of this set is way beyond the bargain plasmas that seem to excite people these days. There is a difference, and, at least in this case, you do get what you pay for. You might not get the black level required for superb dark scene performance, but aside from that and the potential for a greenish factory grayscale calibration, this set pretty much holds its own with anything out there. It lacks nothing in the features and connectivity areas, and its ability to make you think you’re there is as good as I’ve seen on a plasma display. Sure, it’s got a steep price tag, but look around and you’ll probably find you can buy one way cheaper than you think.