So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Hitachi Australia 50PDP9800TA
- Excellent HD performance, good quality speakers, attractive design
- Vertical pixelation across all modes, noise in low greys, below-average PC mode.
The Hitachi 50PDP9800TA is a mid-range big-screen TV. It was excellent in our high definition tests and produced reasonable results in our standard definition tests.
Price$ 4,199.00 (AUD)
The Hitachi 50PDP9800TA is a 50in Plasma TV with a native resolution of 1280x1080. It's 1080p compatible due to its ALiS panel and it comes with an integrated analogue tuner. While the image quality was quite good, there were some problems with vertical pixelation and some image noise in darker areas of the image.
We tested its 1080p performance using a Playstation 3 and the game Virtua Tennis 3. Colour reproduction and image clarity were both top-notch and we didn't find any ghosting or contrast problems. Since this is an ALiS panel (Alternate Lighting of Surfaces, which is explained in this review) and since the native resolution is not 1920x1080, the image needs to be scaled down to fit. As a result, we discovered a minor level of vertical pixelation, which was noticeable primarily on text and diagonal lines. This pixelation was accompanied by some over-sharpening on edges, but this could be reduced with calibration. It should be made clear that this isn't a 1080p TV; it's only 1080p-compatible via interpolation. That said, its ability to display 1080p signals is quite good. A true 1080p panel would look better, but this unit should satisfy most users.
High definition (720p/1080i)
To test its ability to display HD images, we ran HD gaming, HD-DVD movie playback and HD video tests. Using an Xbox 360 at both 720p and 1080i, we ran the games Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 and Tony Hawk's Project 8. The image quality was excellent. We only noticed a little over-sharpening, which was easily fixed using the on-screen settings. There weren't any problems related to motion, such as ghosting, and we didn't notice any image noise. Overall, we were impressed with this panel's image quality during our gaming tests at 720p and at 1080i.
The HD-DVD test, using the film Peter Jackson's King Kong, revealed a little noise in dark areas and some over-sharpening. Using the on-screen settings to adjust the sharpness didn't help as much as it did during the games tests as the images took on a soft focus. However, the level of detail was excellent and from a comfortable viewing distance, these problems will most likely not affect the viewing experience.
We also ran HD video tests using 720p trailers downloaded from the Xbox Live service. The results in these tests were similar to the results of the HD-DVD tests. Once again, there was a little noise and noticeable over-sharpening, but this was less noticeable than it was in the HD-DVD tests. The noise in the image was also seen in our standard definition greyscale testing, suggesting that it's a fundamental flaw of the unit.
Standard definition (576i/p)
Using the Digital Video Essentials DVD, we ran a series of test patterns to see how well the unit performs at a fundamental level. In the greyscale block test we noticed noise and active pixels in low grey. This was expected considering the noise seen in dark areas in our HD tests. This noise also manifested as white artifacts during the black on white block test. This test has very subtle grey vertical stripes against a black background. The subtlety was lost on this unit and replaced with dancing white artifacts. From a comfortable viewing distance they still looked grey but the stripes seemed to be moving. The colour block tests returned excellent results. We didn't notice any over-saturation or noise. However, the full greyscale test showed noise in the low end of the scale, and there was also green and magenta discolouration at various intervals between low and mid grey levels.
The TV's ability to display DVDs was tested using the lobby scene from The Matrix. Overall, the image quality wasn't too bad considering it was being upscaled to almost twice its resolution. We didn't notice any pixelation, but images were too sharp. We also noticed a magenta discolouration on some of the surface textures. There were noticeable contrast issues, which resulted in stepping on skin tones, in dark areas and during environmental effects such as dust particles. We also noticed active pixels and a little shimmering in areas of the image, but these problems weren't noticeable from a comfortable viewing distance away from the panel.
PC connection (D-Sub)
This unit wasn't made with PC users in mind. While a PC connection is supported, it shouldn't be used for extended periods of time. Normally, we wouldn't recommend using Plasma TVs with PCs anyway, due to problems with potential image retention or burn-in damage, but image retention on this unit was non-existent during our tests.
The TV's poor scaling means it's not well-suited as a PC monitor or for use with a Media Centre PC. The highest stable resolution we were able to obtain when connected via D-Sub was 1024x768. We tested the TV's image quality in PC mode using DisplayMate Video Edition. DisplayMate uses test patterns that are designed to discover any shortcomings in a display device. The Geometry and Distortion tests revealed flicker on all patterns, which we suspected may have been caused by interpolation. Our suspicions were confirmed in the Sharpness and Resolution tests. The vertical line tests were flawless but the horizontal line tests flickered painfully. The focus matrix and all the moire tests also fell victim to this problem. The colour and greyscale tests were superb, however, and didn't suffer from noise or discolouration. Overall, if you're going to run a PC with this unit, it should only be in a limited capacity. It's not designed to be a monitor replacement or to be used with a Media Centre PC.
Tuner, speakers and design
The Hitachi 50PDP9800TA comes with an analogue TV tuner. If you are in an area with excellent free-to-air TV reception, this tuner may suit your needs, but we still recommend that you use a digital set top box. With a smaller TV, you may end up overlooking any image flaws in the analogue signal, but with 50in of screen space, there is very little chance that even the slightest problem will escape your attention.
The TV has speakers that are situated below the bezel. These produced a rich sound in our tests, even at high volume levels. The bass was a little muddy at times, but this was expected as the unit lacks a sub-woofer.
The overall aesthetic of the unit is quite attractive. It has a matte black bezel and gun-metal grey chassis and stand. The majority of the TV's connections can be found at the back. These include two HDMI connectors, two Component connectors, one S-Video connector, two Composite connectors, and one D-Sub PC connector. There is also a side panel, which contains one extra S-Video connector and one extra Composite connector.
The Hitachi 50PDP9800TA is a mid-range unit that produced excellent results in our HD tests and reasonable results in our standard definition tests. It exhibits poor performance when connected to a PC, so those of you looking for a TV to use with a PC should look elsewhere. While it isn't the best Plasma TV on the market, it's primarily suited to displaying HD content.
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