Speaking of the swivel stand, it's one of the television's coolest features. Press the right or left cursor button on the remote, and the power swivel springs into action, turning the set nearly 30 degrees in either direction. While this feature is mostly an impressive gimmick, it's also pretty convenient if you want to get the ideal viewing angle from more than one seating position. Of course, plasmas look good from any position (unlike flat LCDs and projection sets, which look dimmer when you watch from off-angle), but it's always best to view the screen as directly as possible.
The remote is well designed and logically laid out, and it fits well in the hand. We applaud Hitachi for making it almost fully backlit--a feature that's rare with plasma remotes. One extra we'd like to see from more manufacturers--and one this Hitachi also lacks--is direct access to all inputs from the remote. This is not only much more convenient for the owner, who uses the remote every day, but for custom installers who need to configure input switching on touch-panel remote systems such as Crestron and AMX. As one of the upper-crust members in Hitachi's lineup, the 42HDT52 has an extensive list of features. Its screen's ALiS technology gives it a native resolution of 1,024x1,024. That number is superior to that of other high-resolution plasmas, such as Panasonic's TH-42PX50U, but in our experience the tradeoff for higher resolution is lighter blacks (see Performance for details). As with other fixed-pixel displays, the Hitachi 42HDT52 scales all input signals--everything from standard TV to high-def--to fit its pixels. Naturally, this plasma includes a built-in HDTV tuner and a CableCard slot that makes it Digital Cable Ready. The latter feature may appeal to folks who want to scale down their cable bill--if they can live without the cable company's EPG. Like many HDTV manufacturers this year, Hitachi also offers the option to use TV Guide's free EPG. We didn't test this feature, but though we've had mixed results using it in the past, more recent iterations of TV Guide have shown improvement.
The Hitachi 42HDT52 has extensive options that affect picture quality. When turned on, the Auto Movie Mode kicks in the 2:3 pull-down processing necessary to eliminate motion artifacts with film-based material. Even in our day and age, with highly capable progressive-scan DVD players and HD sources, 2:3 pull-down remains important for standard-definition cable, satellite, and antenna sources. After all, 75 to 80 percent of all prime-time TV still originates on film.
We really liked the Hitachi 42HDT52's Day and Night modes, which provide two independent memories per input. In Day mode, you might crank up contrast and brightness to adjust for ambient light; in Night mode, you might calibrate the settings for optimum picture quality in a controlled environment.
The connectivity on this panel is quite generous. Unlike many sets, the Hitachi 42HDT52 offers two HDMI inputs. It also has two component-video inputs, two A/V inputs with S-Video, two RF inputs (one for antenna and one for cable TV), the CableCard slot, a set of monitor A/V outputs with S-Video, and a FireWire port. There's also a subwoofer output and an optical digital audio output on the back panel. Finally, a set of side inputs--including A/V with S-Video, FireWire, and a USB jack for displaying digital photos--provide convenient hookups for video games, camcorders, or USB keychain drives.
The only missing link is a dedicated PC input, and the manual states that the HDMI inputs are not intended for use with computers. That won't stop intrepid home-theater PC buffs, but it does make computer hookup less convenient. The Hitachi 42HDT52's overall image quality leaves a bit to be desired. Perhaps its biggest weakness is an inability to display sufficiently deep blacks. In our experience, all ALiS-based panels have relatively poor black-level performance compared to that of the better traditional 1,024x768 panels. The 42HDT52 is no exception, rendering black as dark gray with significant low-level noise and false-contouring artifacts visible just above black. These issues were clearly revealed in our black-level torture-test DVD, Alien: The Director's Cut, in the opening scene with the Nostromo traveling through space.
The other big image-quality issues are inaccurate color decoding and the fidelity of the actual colors of red and green. The Hitachi 42HDT52 de-emphasizes red and green in the decoding process, leaving the color level slightly undersaturated after calibration. As for the fidelity of primary colors, green looks distinctly yellowish, and red tends a bit toward orange.
Bright material from DVD looked decent. Colors appeared a bit flat, since we had to dial them down to minimize those aforementioned inaccuracies. With our new Sony DVP-NS975V DVD player connected to the HDMI output at 720p, chapters 15 and 16 of the Vertical Limit Superbit DVD came out sharp, with good detail.
On the other hand, HD material from our DirecTV satellite feed looked a little soft. Smallville on HDNet appeared somewhat less detailed than on a 1,024x768 panel, the HP PL4200N, which we ran off the same feed. Again, bright scenes looked pretty good, but darker concert footage on HDNet was a bit noisy, with a distinct lack of shadow detail.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6,300/6,250K||Good|
|After color temp (20/80)||6,575/6,550K||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 250K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 130K||Average|
|DC restoration||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Y||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|