HP md5880n 1080p HDTV Page 2
It has been said that there's no benefit to high definition on a small set, but that argument becomes laughable on larger designs, at least when it comes to broadcast television programming. We haven't yet determined the size at which the breaking point sits, but it's certainly smaller than the 58-inch, 1080p HP 5880n. High definition on this set can be strikingly good. While not all HD program material is equally crisp and realistic, I found plenty of good stuff to enjoy on the 5880n. A DVR recording of the 2004 Academy Awards ceremony made on that Zenith HDR230 was startling in its realism, as was a PBS documentary on Japan.
With the Super Bowl, the Winter Olympics, and March Madness just around the bend, it's getting to be that time of year when a sports fan starts looking for excuses for a new big screen television. Preferably a high definition television, of course.
As I write this, I just finished watching the NFL playoff rumble between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts. If you saw this game on anything but a high definition set, you might just as well have listened to it on the radio. On the HP, the images were sharp—any sharper and it might have looked unnaturally enhanced. You could almost count the blades of artificial grass in the RCA Dome. Even on medium shots you could see the ventilation holes in the player's jerseys. This was close to the proverbial "looking out the window," an achievement much more likely with well-produced live sports than with many other types of programming.
And as the fortunes of the game swung back and forth in the final three minutes, you could read the expressions on the faces of fans and players alike in a way that made this more than just a football game, but high drama as well. Even a non-sports fan could appreciate this; it's a reality that just can't be captured in standard definition on a smaller, run-of-the-mill television.
My cable box provides only a component HD output, but properly set up, the HP's colors were natural and believable (see "Tests and Calibration"). The green of the artificial turf under the relatively subdued lighting of the enclosed stadium in Indianapolis looked natural and not overblown, though that didn't necessarily apply to the faces of Indianapolis fans after the game (one of those photo finishes that could easily have gone either way after a rousing Colts comeback that didn't pay off in the end).
When I switched over to the standard definition feed of the game, through both my cable box and directly into the cable input of the HP, my smile turned into a frown. I want my HDTV! The game looked entirely different on the 4:3 SD feed. Indy still lost, but technically there was simply no comparison. An ordinary analog station was hard to watch after the glories of high definition. There was simply no comparison.
And while it may not necessarily reflect on the SD tuner capabilities of the HP set (SD cable and satellite sources being as variable as they are), the standard definition output from my set-top box to the set looked noticeably sharper than the direct feed from a cable connection into the HP's own tuner. Many owners have complained that SD programming looks worse on their new sets than on their old ones. There are a number of reasons for this that aren't the fault of the sets themselves. Most of the complainers are looking at a far larger set than they had before. Many don't have the sets anywhere near properly set up. And many are merely reacting to the difference in quality between SD and HD broadcasts.
But there is also some truth to this reaction, and manufacturers are beginning to respond to it. The HP does offer three steps of relatively subtle noise reduction, and while this doesn't tame the SD beast, it does help a little. Nevertheless, you will almost certainly find yourself gravitating to HD programming on any new HD set, including the 5880n, and only watching SD when you simply must see the program.
The Movie setup provided both the most natural-looking image and the best black levels. In fact, the HP produced the best (lowest) black levels I've yet seen on a rear projection set. Since the DynamicBlack feature can't be turned off, it's not possible to know for certain what it's doing, but I saw no negative effects from its use. If it is, as I suspect, a dynamic iris, its operation is transparent. I never saw any adverse effects from it, such as a slow response time causing the brightness level to pump or hunt for the right setting.
I was in Costco a couple of weeks ago, haunting the TV section. While looking a 32-inch ProVision LCD that was looking particularly nice on the usual in-store high definition demo material (like those dark scenes of skiing at Aspen under clear, blue skies at High Noon), a man next to me remarked to his wife that, "DVD is high definition, too." Like a good little critic, I immediately disabused him of that notion, but quickly added that DVD can still look very good.
DVD can perform magnificently on a good video display, and that was the case with the 5880n. Charlotte Gray is a DVD I know backwards and forwards. It looked every bit as good on the HP as I could ask for—as good on this smaller screen as on many of the separate projectors I've reviewed.
No, the DVD was not as pin sharp as I would expect from the best HD transfers (I have not yet seen this movie in high definition), but there was more than sufficient detail and the images were not in any way soft. Some video noise was visible in large bright areas, like the sky, but most of it appeared to be in the transfer (it was not consistently visible on other DVDs I sampled). Blacks were good, flesh tones (post calibration) were true, and other colors realistic, apart from somewhat too vivid greens.
Robots was as colorful and three-dimensional as I expect from a first-class transfer of a computer animated film. I have seen clips from this movie in high definition on other displays at trade shows. It looks a bit sharper in HD, but I don't think that anyone seeing this DVD on the HP would feel as if he or she were missing anything.
And while Dark City was just a little grainy and enhanced-looking in spots, the black level of the HP set is more than sufficient to present this film's dark and gloomy landscapes without looking either washed out or lacking in sufficient shadow detail.
So how much do you loose on DVD in comparison to the same program in high definition? I was fortunate to have on hand both HD (courtesy of HDNet Movies and the DVR in my cable box) and DVD versions of Shakespeare in Love. My set-top box/DVR is component only, but I nevertheless elected to compare the signals at the maximum quality available to me for each: HDMI from the DVD player, and component from the HD DVR.
How did they differ? At first, I actually thought that the DVD was crisper and punchier. But a closer look revealed the DVD to be subtly edge enhanced in a way that gave it that initial, ah, edge in the comparison. But the more subtle look of the HD transfer won out in the end, even if it sometimes looked a bit softer.
I later determined, however, that while DVDs did look a little softer through the HP's component input than via HDMI—not an unexpected result—that the HP was not as consistently detailed as at least one other set I had on hand for direct comparison via a component input. The JVC HD-61FH96 HD-ILA did a noticeably better job of reproducing all the subtle details in that Shakespeare in Love DVR recording, and making the superiority of the HD version over the DVD crystal clear. (To be fair, the JVC, at $5500, is considerably more expensive than the HP.) Nevertheless, this added detail only jumped out at me in a direct comparison. The HP always produced very satisfying, subjectively sharp images with high quality program material, either HD or DVD.
- While this 58-inch set would appear to be too large for a small 13' x 17' space, I sat about 10' away from it without any apparent degradation in the image. The pixel structure wasn't visible, and I didn't see any significant artifacts with either DVD or high definition sources.
- There was no severe hot-spotting on the screen. It was visible, but not as obvious as on many rear projection sets.
- Off-axis viewing was no problem up to about 30 degrees in either direction, and while vertical brightness loss wasn't as severe as with some sets, I do recommend an eye-height relatively close to the center of the screen.
- The fan, which is needed by all microdisplays to cool the lamp, was barely audible in my room from the seating position with no sound playing, and completely unobtrusive with program material at normal listening levels.
- The multi-device remote is one of the best I've seen for a video display. There are enough buttons, but not so many as to force you to search for the one you need. The layout is intelligent, the shape just right, and the buttons have a solid, tactile quality. Its only negatives are that it lacks backlighting (except for the device indicator) and learning capability. Programming is by code-input only.
- The 5880n's sound system claims 85 watts of peak power divided between the two-way left and right channels and an on-board "subwoofer." The sizes of the drivers is not specified, but I suspect that the term subwoofer is a bit of an exaggeration. Nevertheless, the sound is surprisingly listenable and certainly more than adequate for the average user, and even for occasional use by a picky audiophile. It also has enough adjustments to keep the obsessive tweaker occupied. The (selectable) volume leveling feature—which uses compression to keep those incessantly loud commercials in line—is also a welcome plus for non-critical listening.
- The image had a very slight vertical stretch in all normal and widescreen modes, together with some mild pincushioning (see "Tests and Calibration").
- There was a narrow, lighter band across the top of the screen visible on very dark scenes, perhaps an inch or so wide and grayer than the black on the rest of the screen. I'm tempted to call it an internal reflection, but it was only visible on some sources, mainly component. The same sources did not have this anomaly on other displays.
- While the HP has no manual controls to select film or video deinterlacing modes (relying instead, it would seem, on an automatic sensing circuit), its scaling and deinterlacing never produced distracting artifacts. The processing wasn't perfect (nothing is—see "Tests and Calibration" for more detail), which suggests that there are DVDs and other program material out there that will trip the HP up. But the material I used never caused a hiccup.
You can expect other reviews of 1080p sets on this site very soon (with models from JVC and Mitsubishi in progress). But in the here and now I am immensely impressed with this model from HP. This is a great debut for a company previously known mainly for its computer products; HP hit the target from almost every direction. I could live happily with this set—if not ever after, at least until the next big jump in video display devices, whatever and whenever that may be.
Highs and Lows
Detailed, natural-looking image
Satisfying contrast and black level
Specified to accept direct 1080p input (not tested)
None of the pre-programmed color temperatures (Cool, Neutral, and Warm) are close to accurate
Rare, but occasional, color wheel rainbows
Slight pincushioning and vertical stretch