While not unattractive for a large RPTV, the S500 doesn't exactly stand out from the crowd. Seen head-on, the big box looks like a 54-by-54-inch square. Its 25.5-inch depth is about twice that of like-size DLP- and LCD-based rear projectors.
The black remote is rather large, but it's intelligently arranged, and using the clickable thumb joystick was a cinch. Almost every key is backlit, and we really appreciated having direct access to all inputs. You can program the remote to control other gear. Using the set's logical and easy-to-understand text-based menu system, we were able to locate even esoteric functions easily.
Other TVs' picture modes, such as Sports and Movie, each have different presets for contrast, brightness, and so on. The S500 does away with that approach, instead equipping all its inputs with Day and Night modes. Hitachi is the first to implement this design, and we love it. It enables you to optimize the set for viewing in both the abundant ambient light of daytime and the dark environment of serious home theater. This feature is extremely convenient when you're dealing with numerous video sources that require different settings.
The S500 offers PIP (picture in picture) and POP (split screen) window options that also work with HDTV sources, color-decoder adjustments in the user menu, six aspect ratios including HD Zoom, and a video-processing scheme that converts regular incoming signals to either 540p or 1080i (see the Performance section for details). A sophisticated 3D-YC comb filter helps reduce artifacts in video from VHS, cable TV, and other composite sources.
The rear-panel connectivity suite is quite generous. Heading up the list are a DVI jack with HDCP copy protection and two broadband component-video inputs that take 480i, 480p, 540p, 720p, and 1080i signals. Another two A/V ins, along with the set of Monitor A/V outs, have S-Video and composite video. The S500 accepts cable and off-air antenna sources on two RF connections. Audio hookups include a center-channel speaker input and a set of fixed/variable outputs. On the front panel, A/V ins with S-Video are available for viewing camcorder footage and playing video games. The nearby PCMCIA slot is compatible with PC Card adapters for CompactFlash, Smart Media, and other memory cards, so you can easily display digital photos on the TV.
The S500 delivers an impressive picture. At the Standard color-temperature setting, the precalibration grayscale was reasonably close to the 6,500K ideal, measuring 7,000K at the bottom and 7,100K at the top. When we calibrated, the grayscale dropped to 6,400K at the bottom and came out perfect at the top. The S500 tracked the grayscale much better than last year's models, which resulted in more-consistent color. The color decoder was quite accurate right out of the box, so we didn't touch its menu settings.
The S500's video processing does have 3:2 pull-down detection to combat motion artifacts in film-based video material (such as DVD movies), but the feature won't work unless you've engaged Auto Movie mode. We also tried feeding the set 480p signals from the Philips DVD963SA and Hitachi DVP735U progressive-scan DVD players. Unfortunately, the TV's upconversion to 540p and 1080i produced an unstable picture with some flicker, especially during still scenes. We recommend that you choose interlaced mode or switch to a standard DVD deck.
To get the best DVD performance, turn off Edge Enhancement, Hitachi's implementation of scan-velocity modulation (SVM). Even at its Low setting, it added significant artifacts to the picture.
Using the DVP735U as a source, we watched most of Ice Age on the calibrated set. Color saturation was excellent, and detail was outstanding. The picture's snap was inspiring, indicating a good contrast ratio. With the 1080i D-Theater version of Joe Kane's Digital Video Essentials and our JVC HM-DH3000U deck, we calibrated one of the component-video inputs for high-definition material. Afterward, the X-Men D-Theater tape looked exceptional.