What sort of RPTV can you expect when an American computer-equipment manufacturer with an eye for accurate images decides to enter the home-theater market? In the case of Hewlett-Packard, it’s a television made with some welcome American planning and attention to detail. This includes an owner’s manual that’s obviously not a poor translation from Japanese or Korean, styling and layout born of careful planning, a simple and intuitive menu system that “feels” like familiar computer operation, and a picture that’s very natural and eyepleasing. These, in fact, were some of the goals HP had when designing its home-video products, and they’re goals that are overdue and certainly welcome in my home-video system.
The 58-inch MD5880n, and its larger 65-inch cousin, is technically much like the other 1080p DLP sets on the market. They all use similar light engines and the same Texas Instruments DLP chip with resolution-doubling wobulation technology (HP invented it and coined the term). Yet HP went further in its execution than others in the quest for a superior product. From the brightest possible lamp to the most durable color-wheel motor to an additional dark-green segment in the color wheel, the HP version of DLP is far more than just an Asian import wearing an HP badge.
This display has some technical design features that set it apart. The lamp is a full 150W DC (instead of the usual AC) type chosen for extended life (6000 hours). In addition, its output boosts the red segment of the color wheel for full brightness even at more natural-looking (that is, lower and less bluish) color temperatures. A brighter lamp also allows the use of a screen with less gain to be used, which means a wider viewing angle, both horizontally and vertically, than typical RPTV screens. The special dark-green segment in the color wheel combats the tendency of DLP sets to display excessive dithering noise in dark scenes.
All connections are made in the front. Open the swing-down door below the screen and you’ll find all of the inputs and outputs in a lighted compartment, making connections far easier than usual. Wiring goes behind the set, of course, but HP has gone to great effort to make routing and hiding all connecting cables easy when using the optional stand.
Many modern computerized products can be updated and improved at home with the latest factory firmware available as an Internet download, but this is the first TV I’ve seen that not only allows this, but even encourages the end user to do it. If you have a problem, HP has 24-hour support available, even if the set is out of warranty.
As you’d expect from a computer company’s video products, the MD5880n is very computer-friendly, with all the necessary controls to make it work nicely with your laptop or HTPC. This includes the ability to accept 1080p signals at all three frame rates (24, 30, and 60fps)—unusual at any price but unheard of at this price point. With Blu-ray being likely to output 1080p, this could be a feature of great interest to many buyers.
HP also went out of its way to make a good sound system for this product. Absolute audio quality wasn’t exceptional (bass was boomy if boosted), but it was more full-sounding than most due to the built-in subwoofer.
The remote control is very unusual in layout and feel, but aside from being dark with no backlighting, it turned out to be intuitive and userfriendly after a short period to get acquainted. Some sort of antenna-tuning button (for digital off-the-air) was the only one I thought should have been included.
Finally, one of the most unusual features is the ability to view an onscreen thumbnail of what’s being fed to each input. Pressing the SOURCE button twice instead of once invokes this feature. Each source has a separate memory and can remember your customized video and audio settings.
The MD5880n’s picture looked impressive right out of the box. HP obviously spent some time tweaking their video presets, as most controls are set quite well in their default positions. The biggest change I made was backing off COLOR by a few clicks.
As far as picture presets are concerned, VIVID gave the brightest, bluest picture (it automatically selects the coolest color temperature). At the other extreme, the MOVIE and STUDIO modes default to the WARM color temperature (said to be D65) with less edge enhancement and a more natural picture.
COLOR TEMPERATURE should have looked best in WARM mode, but I found a grayscale-calibration error that gave it a distinctly greenish look. STUDIO mode, which also defaults to WARM, was slightly less greenish. Other samples may be different. A CUSTOM color-temperature menu is available, allowing you to subjectively pull down the green (and blue) or have a precision ISF calibration done. While the HP’s color temperature wasn’t set accurately as delivered, it was certainly linear from white to black.