Okay, so how did it look? In short: mostly quite impressive, at least with HD material and darker movies. The picture was a bit greenish or bluish, unless some tweaking of color temp was done. And it was a bit soft, especially compared to the more expensive Sony SXRD recently tested (see Issue 64). But the HP’s blacks were quite good and clearly put it well ahead of most current plasma and LCD sets.
This dark level of black is due, in part, to an automatic iris that opens up on bright scenes and closes down for dark scenes, dropping the level of residual light from the light engine in the process. I never noticed the iris “working” except when watching credits scroll against a black background. Black level rose when the screen was full of bright text and dropped as the amount of text on the screen decreased. Moving text also was shown less cleanly than other technologies, probably due to artifacts inherent in wobulation. Still text, like that in my resolution test pattern, looked much better.
With the darkest scenes, like many found in the live concerts on the VOOM HD Rave channel (now carried by Dish Network), detail, lack of video noise and artifacts, and color saturation were as good as I’ve seen on any modern (non-CRT) set. In addition, black and near black had no bluish tint, which plagues several competitors, including the Sony. When it comes to requirements for a truly outstanding picture, black level and dark detail are high on the list.
As for artifacts, false contouring was rare and dark-scene posterization was pretty much non-existent, and I only saw slight rainbow artifacts occasionally. On brighter scenes, noise was higher than some competitors, especially the JVC HD-56FH96 recently tested (see Issue 67).
The excellent built-in HD tuner, by far the fastest channel surfer I’ve seen, was my source for viewing the Winter Olympics on NBC, and the snow scenes had far greater dynamic range than my reference Hitachi 55-inch plasma running next to it. The plasma also suffered in comparison when it came to color accuracy. The HP had far better reds (though still not superb), more saturated blues, and more natural greens.
Color differences, even with both sets adjusted alike, were sometimes striking, and nearly always favored the HP. The only “lie” the HP clearly told was in the color of one man’s darkblue suit. I’m certain that no suit has ever been made in that unusual shade.
DVDs looked the same whether 480i or 480p was selected on my reference player. Again, the overall impression was a bit soft in detail and with a distinct greenish tint, but stunning enough in the dark scenes to pretty much make up for it, especially since the greenish look can be fixed. The Mystic River DVD has many dark scenes with detail that was clearly evident on the HP yet not shown at all on the plasma. Try watching a few side-by-side comparisons like this for yourself and you’ll be just as sold as I am on the value of black level and shadow detail for any high-quality display.
This HP offering has a lot going for it at a relatively low price. On dark scenes, this set takes a back seat to very few. Plus, the whole package is well thought out and user-friendly.
I didn’t think I would like this set so much based on some test patterns I threw at it early on, but with a real picture and a bit of grayscale tweaking, the irregularities just didn’t amount to very much.
Stunning contrast, good color, and freedom from most artifacts all go a long way toward erasing the slight handicap of a softer picture. You might not appreciate this when watching and comparing at your local MicroCenter or Sprawl-Mart, but just take one home and watch a movie or two.