Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.The panel itself looks exceedingly elegant. A glossy-black finish surrounds the screen, accented with thin borders of silver on the top and bottom. The speakers that flank the left and right sides of the screen are nearly invisible, with black grilles against the rest of the black finish.
Every Hitachi 42HDT51 comes equipped with a stand that includes a unique motorized swivel. Press the right or left cursor control on the remote, and the stand will rotate the panel about 40 degrees to either side. If that's not cool enough, you can always put this 76-pound, 26-by-47-by-4-inch (HWD) television on an optional wall bracket ($249, model WM51).
The plasma includes a separate control box that houses all of the A/V connections, so you need to run only one umbilical to the panel itself. The box is about the size of a thick DVD player, and the front faceplate is finished in black. If the included 9-foot umbilical isn't long enough for your installation, you can order a 32-foot cable for $99.
Hitachi's remote is a complete redesign from last year's Ultravision plasma models, such as that for the 42HTD50. We found it both sleek and well laid out, with convenient direct access for aspect-ratio control and the Day and Night modes for each input. Its unique features are the roller wheels for Volume and Channel, which allowed us to zoom quickly up and down those registers. They lend a high-tech cool factor we've not seen from any other remote. The remote can control up to four different components, and the codes for other manufacturers' components are accessible through the control center.The Hitachi 42HDT51's screen employs ALiS technology that results in a native resolution of 1,024x1,024. While that number may seem superior to that of other high-resolution plasmas, such as Pioneer's PDP-4340HD, those technically aren't physical pixels (see Performance for more).
Conveniences abound on the 42HDT51. A CableCard slot is available for receiving cable TV without a set-top box (the set qualifies as digital cable ready), and a built-in ATSC tuner lets you view over-the-air HDTV broadcasts if you connect an antenna. Two-tuner PIP (picture-in-picture) and POP (picture-outside-picture) are on tap for multiple program viewing, and they both work with 1080i sources. There are six aspect-ratio choices for standard-definition sources, and a healthy three choices for HDTV sources. Also, an A/V network feature allows the 42HDT51 to control up to four other devices, such as a cable box or a DVD player, through an onscreen display and IR blasters (one is included). This is a good alternative for people who want to hide their equipment and control everything through the Hitachi's remote control.
This plasma has numerous picture-enhancing features. For starters, there are four color temperature presets: black and white, standard, medium, and high; we recommend standard as it is the closest to the NTSC standard of 6,500K. The color-management and color-decoder features allow someone who knows what they're doing to correct errors in the color decoding. Perhaps the best feature from a picture-enhancing perspective are the Day and Night modes, which allow you to set up two completely different settings for each input: one for optimum viewing of movies with controlled lighting (Night), and one for higher ambient light conditions (Day).
The Hitachi 42HDT51's connectivity is comprehensive enough for even the most sophisticated home-theater setups. All connections are routed from the control box to the panel via a DVI umbilical that carries audio, video, and control information. Two wide-band component-video inputs and two HDMI inputs head up the list of video connections. There are also two FireWire ports and three A/V inputs with S-Video (one on the front of the control box, next to a headphone jack). The CableCard slot is also on tap, alongside a 15-pin VGA-style RGB input for PC hookup. We counted two RF antenna inputs, an optical digital audio output, and a monitor output with S-Video, composite-video, and stereo audio. Finally, there's an RS-232 port for use with touch-panel control systems such as Crestron and AMX.The overall performance of the Hitachi 42HDT51 is pretty good once it's calibrated properly. The grayscale in standard color temperature was so close to 6,500 Kelvins up and down the scale that we suspect Hitachi may have calibrated our review sample in advance. Nonetheless, we were able to improve the grayscale slightly with calibration.