There’s nothing like a front-projection display system in a dedicated home theater to give you a true cinematic experience. The good news is that like all digital display technologies, front projectors are becoming increasingly affordable.
Hitachi’s latest offering, the HDPJ52, is an LCD projector with a native resolution of 1280x720, which means it will natively display 720p HDTV sources. I generally prefer DLP technology because of its superior color accuracy and better black level, but this Hitachi is one of the best LCD projectors I’ve seen to date.
With a very stylish, high-tech visage, the HDPJ52 will easily integrate into just about any decorative scheme in either a dedicated home theater or even a family room. Weighing just over 10 pounds and measuring approximately 13.5x 4.5x11.75 inches, it will occupy a small footprint on any ceiling or coffee table.
The remote is extremely small with like-sized buttons that are a bit tightly spaced, which makes it a little awkward to use. However, it is fully backlit, which made setup in my darkened home theater much easier than if it were not. Custom installers and end users alike will appreciate the direct-access buttons for all inputs, aspect-ratio control, iris control, and user memories. These niceties make everyday use convenient and easy; they also make the custom installer’s job of programming the remote’s functionality into a touchpanel control system from the likes of Crestron or AMX much easier. The internal menu system is well designed and intuitive in its navigation and use.
Front projectors are usually monitors with no speakers or TV tuners and few if any consumer-oriented convenience features like PIP (picture-inpicture), and the HDPJ52 is no exception. Therefore, a projector’s feature package is better measured in terms of setup flexibility and features that help improve out-of-the-box picture quality.
In this regard, the HDPJ52 excels with several picture-enhancing and setup features worthy of discussion. One of the coolest setup features is its horizontal and vertical lens shift, which provides more placement flexibility than most other projectors at this price point. The OVERSCAN feature is useful for eliminating compression lines at the edges of the picture with satellite and/or cable sources, because it gives you the ability to slightly crop the image. This control is a bit confusing, though—the 0 setting is actually about 5 to 7% overscan, and the maximum setting of 10 is, in fact, 0% overscan.
A total of eight GAMMA settings, each with the ability to adjust different areas of the gamma curve (that is, how the projector transitions from dark to light), offers way too much adjustability, and it will likely get many DIYers into trouble. Seven selectable color temperatures include 6500K, 7500K, 9300K, and four custom settings that give you a total of nine grayscale adjustments for calibration. This is more control over grayscale than most projectors offer, which should enable a qualified technician to achieve a really good grayscale.
Motion artifacts in film-based material are addressed by the projector’s 3:2 pulldown circuitry. One unusual and very welcome feature is a choice of color spaces, which include AUTO, RGB, REC709 (for HD) and REC601 (for SD). You can either set this control to AUTO or select the appropriate setting for the source you are watching. Four user memories are available for optimizing different video sources, which should be adequate for most hometheater setups.
As with all fixed-pixel projectors, a keystone feature is available to compensate for off-axis placement, but I highly recommend you mount the unit with its projection axis perpendicular to the screen so you don’t have to use this feature. Manufacturers claim keystone to be a useful setup feature; it actually reduces the projector’s resolution and introduces unwanted artifacts to the picture.
Connectivity options are a bit limited on this projector. There is only one HDMI input; there really should be a minimum of two so you can connect an upconverting DVD player and an HDTV set-top box to separate digital inputs. This is important because it lets you calibrate the projector for these sources individually. In addition, there is only one component- video input, one S-video input, one composite-video input, a 15-pin VGA input for computer use, and an RS232 control port.
The HDPJ52’s overall performance is quite good for an LCD projector, though its black level is a bit lackluster. One of the biggest issues with LCD projectors, and the main reason I prefer DLP, is how well they reproduce black. I must admit that the Hitachi’s black-level performance is pretty good for an LCD; however, it is still not up to par with the 1280x720 DLP projectors, especially those employing the DarkChip3 enhancements.