Reviewer: Thomas Bartlett
A few weeks ago we reviewed on this siteÃ‚Â a rather decent little 80 cm Hitachi LCD TV. That unit cost $2,199, so when we got in its big 127 cm plasma sibling, I expected it to also provide decent performance at a good price. But I was to be startled. This huge plasma TV, with a built-in high definition tuner, delivers two-and-a-half-times the picture size for less than twice the price.
But that isn’t all. This is not a true high definition plasma TV, in the sense of providing a resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels, but it comes remarkably close.
What it delivers is 1,280 pixels across – the same as the majority of high resolution front projectors – but a full 1,080 lines counting down from the top. That means that it offers a little over thirty per cent more resolution than most 127 cm plasma TVs. More importantly, the 1,080 lines is a perfect match for HDTV, Blu-ray and HD DVD.
The HDTV can be sourced from the excellent built-in HDTV tuner, while Blu-ray and HD DVD can be connected via the two HDMI sockets on the back of the unit.
The plasma panel technology is a little different from that used in some other brands. It is called ALiS (for ‘Alternate Lighting of Surfaces’). Instead of every single pixel being individually fed with a signal, half of the 1,080 lines alternate with the other half. This was specifically designed for high performance with 1080i signals. In addition, the horizontal rows of pixels are not separated above and below by the usual thin black lines, so there is a somewhat smoother, more LCD-like, quality to the image when viewed close.
There was one feature missing, though: there is no digital audio output. This is important if you are watching a HDTV program with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, since a digital audio output can feed this signal to a home theatre receiver for full surround decoding. With this TV you are stuck with an analogue audio connection.
The tuning in of the TV to my local stations went smoothly enough, once I determined that the ‘Quick Scan’ feature didn’t work for my local retransmitter. The digital TV reception was very solid, with not the slightest hint of breakup or other misbehaviour during my time with the TV.
But it was in viewing HDTV that this TV came into its own. Okay, so the horizontal resolution of the panel is ‘only’ 1,280 pixels, which is only two thirds of the notional 1,920 of HDTV. But in fact the two 1,080i HDTV channels only broadcast at 1,440 by 1,080 pixels, so there is only a slight downscaling of horizontal resolution to fit the panel. The picture with HDTV was, in a word, brilliant.
I was also able to give it a run with HD DVD, which really does offer a full 1,920 pixels of horizontal resolution. The black levels were great, and the colour as good as any panel on the market. The TV was just the slightest bit softer than the full HD Pioneer panel, but at a third of the price, what could you possibly expect?
With 1,080 lines, excellent overall performance, and a very low price for a 127 cm plasma TV, the Hitachi 50PD960TA plasma TV is a superb buy.