Hitachi 37LD8600 £1000

31st Aug 2006 | 23:00

Hitachi 37LD8600

Surprisingly good picture quality from a budget-end LCD

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

This is a great buy if you want LCD TV without bankruptcy


<p>Good sound and crisp dialogue</p><p>Sharp images</p>


<p>Very few features</p><p>No digital tuner</p>

With prices of big-screen LCD TVs in general falling at lightning speed, dedicated 'budget' sets are having to make increasingly unhappy feature and performance compromises to keep their pricing ahead of the chasing pack. So we really hope Hitachi's wallet-friendly offering will buck this trend.

'Wallet friendly' in this instance means a high-street price of just £999 for a 37-inch LCD TV, and this is a cost-to-screen-size ratio that wouldn't disgrace supposedly hardcore budget brands such as Goodmans and Bush.

Happily, though, the 37LD8600 doesn't follow the usual 'bargain basement' design approach of looking über-bland, plasticky, grey and featureless. Instead the 37LD8600 feels quite robust, and the combination of a protruding black screen frame set against a deep grey outer chassis/speaker section looks passably elegant.

Connectivity is perhaps more obviously 'affordable' in tone, since there is only a single HDMI when many rival LCD screens these days offer at least two This means, for example, you won't be able to simultaneously digitally attach a SkyHD box and a Blu-ray/HD-DVD next-gen DVD player. Unless you invest in a costly external HDMI switcher, of course.

Still, the single HDMI is enough, in conjunction with a component video jack and a native resolution of 1,366x768, to earn the TV the essential HD Ready badge no self respecting LCD TV can be seen without these days.

Feature lacked

The set also provides a PC input, two Scarts, and a subwoofer line out, if you're not happy with the bass delivered by the built-in speakers. The only remaining bum note is the absence of any CI slot that indicates that there is no built-in digital tuner.

So with no digital tuner to report, what features does the set have? Only a few trivialities, really, beyond the already-covered HD Ready status: a multi-level noise reduction circuit, a film mode for tidying up motion during movie viewing, a 3D comb filter for improving colour transitions, and a 3DS pseudo surround audio system.

Inevitably, there's no sign on this price-conscious set of Hitachi's Picture Master HD image processing engine, and its specifications are pretty bog-standard too. We've already covered the must-have 1,366 x 768 native resolution, and contrast is rated at an unpromising 800:1, while brightness is reckoned to be a standard 500cd/m2.

The pictures of some of Hitachi's previous 'stripped down', price obsessed LCD TVs have left us feeling underwhelmed, truth be told. So we fired the 37LD8600 up with some trepidation. Thankfully, though, our fears proved largely unfounded.

Try a variety of standard-definition broadcast fare from a SkyHD box and the results are really quite impressive. Particularly surprising, compared with most budget boys, is the picture's sharpness. With strong standard-def sources such as Sky News, the picture looks as crisp as some HD pictures we've seen on LCD.

This is because the impressive levels of fine detailing on show aren't fouled by significant amounts of the common budget set ailments of grain or smearing noise. Even when Sky News heads to an outside broadcast, for example, which inevitably looks rougher than the pristine in-studio image, the picture slips into smearing and develops sudden colour issues far less readily than you expect for this money.

Also clearly superior to standard budget fare is the general tone of the 37LD8600's colours. Skin tones on many LCDs tend to start looking rather unnatural with standard-definition viewing, but here they hold up surprisingly well, even to the extent of retaining the subtle colour gradations that make faces seem three-dimensional rather than flat.

Richer tones, meanwhile, enjoy impressive vibrancy, and are radiant enough to suggest that the 500cd/m2 brightness figure is actually erring on the side of pessimism.

Switch to some standard-definition programming such as football and tennis coverage via an HDMI-connected Sky box, and the 37LD8600's performance continues to impress by handling the fast motion on the screen really quite well, with little sign of the overt smearing usually witnessed on most budget LCDs and even on some not so-terribly-budget models.

The high-def stuff

Head over to some HD material via the Sky box and the Hitachi does a grand job of delivering the extra quality inherent to the HD feed. The picture becomes even crisper and more detailed, edges look more pristine, colours sparkle even brighter, and the sense of scale ramps up. We have perhaps seen more expensive TVs look even sharper with HD, but for the money the 37LD8600 does better than fine.

There are two factors that stop the 37LD8600's pictures from attaining a best buy status, though. First and worst, black levels are only fair. They're profound enough to give routine, bright daytime TV fodder a good foundation for all the rich colours and bright lights to stand out against.

Take a dark movie, though, full of shadows, such as Alien, and signs of greying over in dark areas are revealed, which leads to a slight reduction in visible background details during dark scenes.

Problem two concerns the pictures from the 37LD8600's analogue tuner. For while the 37LD8600 manages to stay largely immune to drastic performance drops with a standard-def feed from a Sky box, push it that bit further with the iffy standards inherent to an analogue tuner broadcast, and it comes off the rails quite spectacularly. Suddenly motion suffers loads more smearing, colours look much less vibrant and natural, and the level of sharpness plummets.

If you're going to use this set with a Sky box, of course, its analogue tuner difficulties needn't substantially affect you. However, people still mainly relying on an analogue tuner are best advised to look at some other options, instead of this one.

The 37LD8600's sound is perfectly respectable. Sure, it lacks the extreme range and clarity of the audio stars of the LCD world, but there's enough bass depth, treble clarity and mid-range breathing room to allow it to handle a decent action scene without distorting or sounding unbalanced.

Overall, provided you can rely on a source of TV pictures better than the set's own analogue tuner, the 37LD8600 can be considered good value and well worth considering if your budget's tight. John Archer

High definitionSkyTVHitachiDigital homeHome cinemaHDTV
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