Hitachi P50-XR01

22nd Feb 2008 | 09:45

Hitachi P50-XR01

By far the best plasma from Hitachi to date

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Its built-in recorder is the highlight of this good all-round Full HD plasma

Like:

Built in recorder; Impressive picture quality; Good standard-def upscaling; Looks good

Dislike:

Pricey; Lacklustre black levels

TVs with built-in hard disk recorders are like buses: you wait an absolute eternity for one to arrive and then loads turn up at once. Hot on the heels of Loewe's Individual Compose 40 comes Hitachi's new giant, the P50-XR01, complete with 250GB hard-disk drive (HDD).

Features

The P50-XR01's 50in screen employs plasma technology wrapped in a black bezel that combines matt and acrylic gloss finishes to passably appealing effect.

Connectivity is nothing short of outstanding. Getting the ball rolling nicely are three HDMIs, all built to the v1.3 specification that permits compatibility with such features as automatic lip synchronisation and Deep Color.

Also noteworthy are an optical digital audio output, a D-Sub PC port and SD card reader/USB slots that, usefully, offer direct playback of JPEG image files.

Aside from that 250GB HDD, the P50-XR01's main feature is a full HD pixel count of 1,920 x 1,080 - the first time we've seen this on a Hitachi plasma - driven by the company's Picture Master HD system in conjunction with the new ingredient: Movie FRC processing.

Picture Master HD includes a 16-bit colour recognition engine to create truer skin tones and more definition on surfaces, a so-called 'twin dynamic enhancer' that apparently improves the reproduction of glossy and shiny items and noise reduction to filter out background fuzz.

Movie FRC, (Frame Rate Conversion) is a device intended to smooth the appearance of motion when showing film footage. Most TVs simply use a repeat frame process to convert film footage (traditionally shot in 24fps) into a format suitable for home viewing, but this results in judder during horizontal pans. Frame Rate Conversion, however, calculates the content of 'missing' frames, rather than just repeating existing ones, resulting in smoother movements and scene transitions.

Turning our attention to the HDD recording properties, you get five picture quality settings. One of these, TS, records the digital Freeview stream itself for completely lossless images.

The set carries twin digital tuners for recording one digital channel while watching another, plus you can pause live TV or chase live playback. But take note, however, that the screen doesn't carry Freeview Playback certification, so there's no series link feature.

Ease of use

The Hitachi's remote control is neatly designed, and the onscreen menus organise the immense amount of features at your disposal pretty well - though some more obscure picture features might have been better left out altogether.

Performance

The P50-XR01 delivers the best picture performance that we've seen from a Hitachi plasma to date, with a couple of really outstanding elements. But there are also, sadly, a couple of quite fundamental weaknesses that mar our enjoyment of this screen.

Starting with the good bits, the Movie FRC system is mostly very impressive. Camera pans really do enjoy a fluidity and clarity rarely seen, with the set even handling 'parallax' scrolling, where objects in the background pass across the screen at a different rate to objects in the foreground.

The P50-XR01's pictures are also exceptionally noiseless, as Picture Master HD suppresses just about every type of unwanted picture artefact known to man.

High-definition material looks exceptionally clean, meanwhile, thanks to the reduction in scaling caused by the screen's full HD pixel count. But the set is unusually clean with standard definition, too. This leaves you free to appreciate the impressively subtle detailing and colour tones portrayed in (even dark) backgrounds.

The P50-XR01 puts its full HD nature to good use, too, in producing all the lovely extra detail intensity that makes HD such an exciting thing to behold.

The two things that let the side down, though, are black levels and colour toning. Regarding the former, there's an unmistakable pall of slight greyness over dark scenes that reduces their dynamism and depth. It's not disastrous by any means, but the latest screens from Panasonic, Samsung and especially Pioneer certainly achieve even deeper black levels still.

As for the colour palette, the P50-XR01's overall tone feels slightly dominated by oranges and greens and leaves some colours looking slightly unnatural every now and then.

One more minor issue finds the usually solid Movie FRC system sporadically causing shimmering glitches over fast action within the frame, such as actors running across the screen.

The television is a very capable recording device, meanwhile. Recordings from the digital tuner in the TD mode are practically indistinguishable from the original broadcasts.

XP recordings of a Sky Digital receiver, meanwhile, are also excellent, with practically no extra noise and only a little extra softness. The SP mode, too, is eminently watchable (and lets you record up to 100 hours), although the picture does fuzz quite severely with the two lowest quality options.

Sound

Aside from a tendency to leave dialogue sounding overwhelmed during action scenes, the screen's sound is solid, combining a wide soundstage with an unusual amount of bass. Just ensure you avoid the god-awful SRS Wide mode.

Value

Getting 50in of likeable, if not classic, full HD picture quality, plus a huge and very effective HDD recording facility for £2,300 seems a fair deal to us.


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