Hitachi 51SWX20B HD-ready CRT projection television Page 2
You can also defeat all those "features" that manufacturers love to trumpet in press releases but that knowledgeable videophiles avoid like the plague: Dimmer (changes picture contrast and brightness as room lighting changes), Auto Color, Noise Reduction, Black Level Expansion, and Scan Velocity Modulation.
There are also two ways to converge the 51SWX20B. Magic Focus Auto automatically aligns the colors in about 20 seconds. It does a good job for those in a hurry, or whose VCRs still flash "12:00." But I preferred the more precise Manual mode, which provides convergence adjustments at 117 points on the screen. You do have to use the built-in crosshatch test pattern provided in the set to make these adjustments; if I were king, I would proclaim that manual convergence can also be performed with a user-selectable external pattern. But it can't. Nevertheless, this sort of convergence flexibility, selectable from the user menu, is so rare in commercial televisions that I won't complain too loudly.
Finally, three cheers to the designers who made the top of the set deep enough to hold most center-channel speakers. The currently popular trend in skinny-top design sported by many competing sets was clearly started by someone who forgot about home theater.
Firing it Up
I began by spending several hours watching ordinary NTSC on the Hitachi 51SWX20B via cable, getting the feel of the various features and controls. The set was not yet fully calibrated, and, as is usually the case, the factory presets for the video controls were far from optimum, including ridiculously high contrast levels. I immediately reset them.
Individual channels varied considerably in quality (a common cable problem), but a TNT broadcast of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, despite being panned&scanned, provided a surprisingly sharp, crisp image. So did The Tuskegee Airmen on the History Channel. The color quality was acceptable, though there was a clearly visible red push in the Standard and Medium color-temperature settings, which otherwise looked better than the Cool option. Even after I'd backed off the color control to compensate for the excess red, flesh tones did not look quite right, but were at least believable. (Red push is an excess of red often designed into a set to compensate for the fact that most factory color-temperature settings are too blue. Without red push, this excess of blue would produce very unnatural-looking flesh tones. You can't correct for red push by calibrating the gray scale; it's built into the color decoder that separates out the red, green, and blue elements of the picture prior to display.)
Properly converged and calibrated, however (see "Calibration" sidebar), the 51SWX20B knocked me out. I had just finished reviewing the Reference Imaging CinePro 9x projector (with 9-inch CRTs), and you might expect that moving down from a six-figure display (the CinePro combined with a Teranex video processor) to a modest rear-projection TV would be a huge letdown. In scope, it was. Even on my relatively small projection screen, the image from the 9-inch setup was three times the size of the image on the Hitachi. But in other important respects—color, sharpness, blacks, geometry, and gray scale—it was a lot closer than you might imagine, at least with the best DVDs.
Nothing showed this more strikingly than the two-disc release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I had seen this film theatrically on a big screen in Hollywood's Grauman's Chinese Theater. The DVD hit the streets about three weeks after I'd parted with the Reference Imaging projector, and with the Hitachi the biggest and best display I then had on hand, I was feeling a little down. An epic like this, I thought, deserves a mega-size display. But I popped the disc in my player anyway, for what I expected would be a quick look. It was 11pm. Before I knew it, it was 2am.
I won't for a minute suggest that a 1100-square-inch image can equal the impact of the roughly 2200-square-foot theatrical experience. I will say that the smaller picture impressed me far more in every respect but size. The effects were more believable, the colors richer, and the picture more 3-dimensional (thanks to far better blacks than you can ever get in a theater). Video noise was insignificant even in the most difficult scenes, and I was never aware of video scaling artifacts. The result was something of an epiphany. I have to admit that I hadn't been that big a fan of the movie when I first saw it, even on that big screen. But with the DVD, I became absorbed in the film and story in a way that I simply had not in the theater. If that isn't the definition of a successful video presentation, then I don't know what is.
I could say the same about other reference-quality DVDs. Muppets from Space was vividly 3-dimensional; those cosmic fish looked ready to swim into my lap. I rediscovered the vivid color and production values in Shakespeare in Love. The Superbit version of Gattaca was sharply detailed. And the computer animation of Shrek and Monsters, Inc. popped off the screen.
Criticisms? Not many. I'd like to see a little less overscan in all aspect-ratio settings. The geometry was slightly nonlinear (a 2.5-3% vertical squish). This should be correctable in a calibration, but because I discovered this anomaly only through measurements (it was not noticeable in normal viewing) and the picture was otherwise so good, I decided to leave well enough alone and not attempt to adjust it out. I'd prefer that there be separate video settings for each input, rather than the four current transportable setup modes. Reds often looked a little orange—common in commercial CRT-based TVs—though not always (the red uniforms in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan were clearly a rich crimson). As delivered, the color was subjectively believable (neither too green nor, with the Color control dialed back to compensate for the red push, too red). But measurements showed it to be completely wrong in all color-temperature settings. More than any other set we've tested in recent memory, the Hitachi cried out for a full calibration, and didn't show its full capabilities until it got one. And the calibration itself—thanks to a quirky service-menu setup—was more difficult than usual. The latter, however, should concern mainly the calibration technician, not the user.
Everything I've said above about the Hitachi's picture on standard-definition material applies also to its high-definition performance, but in the case of resolution and detail, even more so. The HD material I watched on the 51SWX20B almost, but not quite, reached that elusive looking-through-a-window threshold. The resolution of HD was excellent overall, and held up reasonably well out to the edges and corners of the picture (though not quite as well as the best plasmas and 9-inch-CRT projectors).
I did not have a comparably sized competitive set on hand for a direct comparison, but the Hitachi was clearly a step ahead of the resolution I recall from the 2001 Toshiba 50H81 reviewed in our May 2001 issue. Compared with the best plasma I've seen, the 50-inch Fujitsu PDS-5002, the Hitachi had more realistic greens and otherwise comparable subjective color (though the calibration of the Fujitsu resulted in more impressive numbers). The CRT had better blacks—more specifically, better detail in very dark areas. The Fujitsu (which was not on hand for a direct comparison) had exhibited incredible subjective sharpness, detail, and 3-dimensionality; the Hitachi was clearly less impressive, though not seriously lacking, in those departments. The differences showed up most clearly with hi-def material, where the plasma clearly passed the "window" test and the Hitachi fell just a little short. But with DVDs, the Hitachi left little to be desired.
The Hitachi 51SWX20B is the best rear-projection set I've reviewed to date. Its sharpness, color, black-level detail, lack of video noise, and—not to belabor a cliché—"filmlike" qualities won me over. This is an RPTV that, properly set up and calibrated, will likely please even the pickiest videophile. Highly recommended.