Hitachi P50T01U

31st May 2007 | 23:00

Hitachi P50T01U

Hitachi plays the price-cutting game with its latest plasma

TechRadar rating:

3 stars

Plenty of inches for your buck, but the picture quality leaves a little to be desired

Like:

<p>Well detailed pictures</p><p>Very natural tones</p>

Dislike:

<p>Poor menus</p><p>Disappointing black levels</p><p>Motion blurring</p>

You might think that a 50in plasma TV costing just £1,500 would be a seriously bare-bones affair. But apparently not. For fresh out of our test rooms today is Hitachi's P50T01U: a 50in gas flatscreen that's anything but basic.

For starters it's a neat looking set that manages to combine a pleasingly svelte form with a serious black finish available in matt or gloss black. Dedicated couch potatoes will doubtless appreciate the fact that you can rotate the P50T01U on its stand simply by using the remote control.

The P50T01U's connections are good for the money, including as they do twin HDMIs (for PC and video use), a component video input, three Scarts, a digital audio output for shipping on multichannel audio tracks received via the HDMIs, plus an SD card slot and, for your digital photos, a USB port.

HD ultra-enthusiasts may rue the fact that the HDMIs 'only' take 1080p in its 50 and 60Hz configurations, not the movie-friendly 24fps rate now offered by some high-end Blu-ray and HD DVD players. But 1080p/24 support is still rare in general, and Hitachi argues that even screens that take 1080p/24fps have to process it in some way, as the image would look unwatchably jerky otherwise.

While we're mired in 1080p technicalities, we might as well add that the screen shows images in 1080i, not 1080p, even converting the latter to the former. But since most UK HD sources are actually 1080i not 1080p, the P50T01U's approach is arguably better suited to the majority of HD viewing.

Moving on to something thankfully a little bit more straightforward, we find a native resolution of 1,280 x 1,080 pixels. Which, um, is actually anything but straightforward, since it corresponds to a squarish aspect ratio unlike anything we've seen before, even though the TV is definitely widescreen. The solution to this apparent conundrum is that the TV's pixels have been stretched horizontally. So now you know.

Not full

The Hitachi's count of 1,080 lines is unusually high for a plasma TV, and perfectly suits the UK's dominant 1920 x 1080 HD format. The screen can't call itself 'full HD', though, since its vertical rows of pixels only number 1,280, not 1,920.

Definitely easier to get your head round is the P50T01U's Picture Master HD processing. This has impressed us in previous incarnations with its work on improving colour saturations/tones, fine detailing and reducing noise, so we're certainly pleased to find it on a TV as affordable as this one.

Wrapping the key features up are a digital tuner, and an unusually long list of quite subtle, and arguably unnecessary tweaks tucked away in the onscreen menus. Things start solidly enough here with an ergonomic if rather unglamorous remote control. But the onscreen menus are a royal pain to use thanks to their almost bizarre sluggishness. Not good.

Hitachi's Picture Master HD processing immediately makes its presence felt in a couple of key areas. HD pictures, for instance, look terrifically sharp and detailed.However, the P50T01U's appreciation of the smaller things in life can be seen, too, in its shadow detailing, as it shows up unusually subtle levels of background detail during dark scenes.

Colour tones are generally pleasingly natural, too, especially where skin tones are concerned. And as usual when coming back to plasma after seeing a few LCD screens it's impossible not to be struck by how crisp moving objects look on the P50T01U.

But the P50T01U isn't all sweetness and light, with a quartet of problems rather denting our overall enthusiasm.

First and possibly most surprising, the set's black level response is rather limited when compared to the best plasmas around these days, as dark scenes suffer a definite residual greyness.

Second, while HD images look pristine, standard-definition images look slightly noisy - a surprise given the presence of the Picture Master processing, but there you go. Third, we're disappointed to note that as people move across the screen their faces are often affected by the sort of fizzing dot noise that was common on plasmas a while back, but which we really don't like to see so obviously these days. Finally the picture just doesn't look particularly vibrant compared to some other plasma screens.

The P50T01U's unusually slender speakers aren't bad performers at all, producing an open mid-range and lots of engaging and natural trebles. A bit more bass would have been nice, but that can be said of 90 per cent of the flat TV world.

On any other day the P50T01U might have scored top marks. But the plasma market has moved on a bit, and no amount of price-cutting can change this.

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