For most of us, the idea of a 55 inch television majestically dominating our lounge room is mostly a fantasy. However, the 55 inch 55PD8800TA plasma television from Hitachi keeps the dream alive with a price point that is actually within the realm of possibility. Sure, you may still have to forgo a few luxuries like food and showers, but some dreams are worth the sacrifice - we threw every image test in our arsenal at the Hitachi in both standard and high definition and it consistently produced excellent results. The feature set is extensive, the calibration options exhaustive, and every connection option you could ever need is included. Aside from some minor quibbles, this is easily the best plasma TV we have reviewed to date.
- Excellent image quality, Long list of features, SD-Card and Pictbridge support, Swivel base!
- Minor image quality issues.
With a great price, superior picture quality and extensive feature set, the 55PD8800TA is easily the best plasma TV we have reviewed thus far.
Price$ 7,699.00 (AUD)
Standard Definition (SD)
Our DVD playback test using the "Fall of Carthage" scene from Gladiator showed no problems whatsoever. There were no discolourations, the colour was excellent and the skin tones and level of detail was exceptional. No image noise was present other than the expected film grain and there were no pixilation or interpolation side effects. Motion was handled beautifully with no ghosting, there was no over-sharpening, and the level of detail between high and low contrast areas was exquisite with no bleeding or stepping. Very few flat panel televisions have the scaling ability to display a DVD this well and kudos must be extended to Hitachi.
On a more technical note, we ran the Philips CE2006 and Digital Video Essentials DVDs to give the panel a more thorough and difficult workout in standard definition. A series of still test images and purpose-built videos, these two test discs can reveal panel problems at a fundamental level.
Hitachi reports that this television can render 4,093 individual steps per colour (Red. Green, Blue) allowing it to support a whopping 68.6 billion colours. This was clearly evident in our testing as the colour levels and separation were perfect and blending in gradients was remarkably subtle. Our sharpness tests showed a high level of detail with no pixilation and highlights drawn well. The only problem we discovered was a slight amount of motion jitter in our video tests but this was expected since, as yet, we have not reviewed a flat panel television that has convincingly passed this test.
Some slight pixel fluctuation occurred in dark grey areas during the Digital Video Essentials tests but the rest of the tests performed flawlessly. Even the greyscale gradient test, notorious for producing discolourations and stepping, was rendered perfectly.
In standard definition this television is near-perfect, with exceptional image quality for watching standard definition TV or DVDs.
High Definition (HD)
We tested the Hitachi in HD using an Xbox360 gaming console at both 720p and 1080i resolutions with impeccable results. There was no image noise, no aliasing problems and the picture was bright and crisp throughout all our testing. The sharpness, with close attention on text, was clear with no fringing or discolourations. We thought that the standard definition performance was superb but the high definition performance is even better. The native resolution of this panel is only 1366 x 768 so, from experience, we expected the dot pitch to become a problem or to at least create some sort of pixilation - but there was no fly screen effect and no aliasing.
Free-to-air and PC input
The built-in analogue tuner performed poorly. Many channels wouldn't tune properly or experienced ghosting or interference. Channels that did tune looked blurry and inadequately defined, as though looking at the television through Glad Wrap. While we acknowledge that many who could afford a television in this price bracket probably already have or intend to buy a digital set top box, we still would have preferred a built-in digital tuner.
Featuring a D-Sub connection, we decided to connect a notebook computer and run our diagnostic program DisplayMate Video Edition. For this The 55PD8800TA easily worked its way through the geometry, distortion, sharpness and resolution tests without breaking a sweat. The series of greyscale tests were displayed with no problems whatsoever and we are quite impressed by just how well those four-thousand odd steps of color managed to blend the greyscale. We also ran SMPTE test patterns with colour and greyscale tests with mixed results - the SMPTE pattern was drawn accurately with no problems, but in our colour block tests we found fluctuating noise in bright blue and dim magenta, although this could be corrected with proper calibration.
Form and function
The 55PD8800TA is an incredibly sexy television with a gloss black bezel and charcoal grey side-mounted speakers. The remote control is one of the best we have seen in a long while, clearly labeled and, more importantly, a button for each signal input. On the rear there is a candy land of inputs with two HDMI, two component, a 15 pin D-Sub connector and three composite sockets. The left side of the unit has a further composite connection as well as the USB PictBridge input and headphone jack, while the right side has function controls and an SD-Card slot.
Normally, the only time we mention a stand is when it is a nightmare to set up. We had no problems with this stand at all, in fact, we are entranced by it. Like the 37LD8800TA, this unit has an awesome remote-controlled electronic swivel stand. However, this model can swivel further than the 37LD8800TA achieving 30 degrees of horizontal movement.
The sound quality of the speakers is fairly reasonable but not exceptional, which is to be expected. At high volumes we detected some case resonance and a lack of treble. At mid-range volume levels, the sound performed well with clear separation between audio elements and strong mid-tones. The bass and treble levels were slightly lacking but thankfully, with the fully customisable audio settings and SRS-WOW these issues melt away.
Tweak to your heart's content
There is nothing worse than looking at an obvious flaw in image quality and not being able to correct it. The Hitachi 55PD8800TA has some of the most extensive calibration tools that we have seen in a plasma TV to date - in addition to the regular brightness, contrast, sharpness, colour and tint controls, there is a plethora or advanced tools that allow you to customise even the minutest of image elements.
While the six axis colour control can tweak the red, green, blue, magenta, cyan and yellow there are also tools to manage the incoming RGB signal and tailor the colour decoder to your needs. By combining all these tools, visual purists can attain the most realistic image possible. There are also options to enhance blacks or apply automatic contrast, film and edge definition correction filters. Even though the image quality of this panel is exceptional, the calibration tools alone impress - far exceeding anything else on the market.
Slide shows for the 21st century
Finally, a nifty feature for the camera jockey in us all - the 55PD8800TA sports playback of JPEG images via SD-Card or PictBridge directly from a camera. The on-screen photo browser displays your collection as tiles and you can either select individual images or watch them all in a slideshow. The slideshow option is hilarious as it has its own built-in background tunes that bear a remarkable resemblance to elevator music. While a handy addition, the image quality of the displayed photos is poor, and only the JPEG image format is supported.
In the end, there isn't much the Hitachi 55PD8800TA can't do. The picture quality is sublime, and it has enough inputs and calibration options to make an AV geek blush. We would have liked a built-in digital tuner to complete the package but when you consider the price tag and the sheer size of the unit, needing a separate set stop box isn't an issue. If you have the cash or a way to get it that doesn't involve selling the kids, we heartily recommend this unit.
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