So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Hitachi Australia 42PDP960DTA
- Built-in HD TV Tuner, Excellent SD performance, Good Connection options.
- Pixilation and noise on all image modes, sub-par PC mode
The 42PD960DTA is a good all round mid-range television but has its problems across all modes and is far from brilliant.
Price$ 3,599.00 (AUD)
The 42 inch Hitachi 42PD960DTA uses a different display technology than conventional plasma panels to achieve a native resolution of 1024 x 1080. While it is technically not a 1080p panel (1920 x 1080), it is able to display the fledgling format and does so reasonably well. At 720p and 1080i High Definition, there were a handful of issues but at the standard DVD resolution of 576i, the image quality greatly improved. Overall, we found the unit to be a mid-range, jack-of-all-trades as it can handle every signal format on the market but is the master of none.
This television uses an ALiS panel which stands for "Alternative Lighting of Surfaces". ALiS is a technology which was created in a joint venture between Hitachi and Fujitsu and uses two interlaced panels and half the electrodes of conventional plasma displays.
A regular plasma panel is a progressive display device, which means that to display images it has to show each frame of the content 30 times per second. An ALiS panel however is an interlaced device, which means that it shows half of each frame 60 times per second. Since there are two panels in an ALiS display, the first panel displays lines 1,3,5,7 etc of the image and then the other panel displays lines 2,4,6,8 etc much like the fields in an interlaced video signal. This occurs 60 times a second which is so fast that to the naked eye it appears the same as a progressive image.
However, the fact that an ALiS panel is interlaced means that any progressive content sources need to be converted by the video processors. The best image quality you can get on any television, no matter the technology, will always occur when the video processors don't have to do any interpolation at all. In the case of the 42PD960DTA, the processors have to work very hard to get the image to display properly. Not only because of the ALiS panel but also because the native resolution is 1024 x 1080 pixels. This is problematic because no matter what you connect to this panel, be it a 1080p (1920 x 1080), 720p (1280 x 720) or 576i (720 x 576) source, it will need to be processed and scaled in some way. Unfortunately, the video processors in this model don't do the best job, especially on the vertical axis, which often results in undue pixilation and varying degrees of image noise or contrast stepping.
To test the 1080p capabilities we connected both the Playstation 3 video game console and the Panasonic BMP-BD10 Blu-Ray Player via HDMI. We attempted to connect the Xbox 360, but as it only outputs via component and the panel only accepts 1080p content via HDMI, we were out of luck.
Our 1080p movie tests consisted of the Blu-Ray film Into the Blue as well as the Panasonic BluRay test disc. The panel displayed the footage reasonably well, though there were a few problems. There was noticeable image noise in low contrast areas as well as minor stepping in light to dark gradient textures. This was evident in the underwater scenes of Into the Blue and looked like dancing pixels where light and dark areas blended. However, the colour reproduction was excellent and the black levels were superb. The level of detail in the film was exceptional and there was no over-sharpening to speak of. The only other problem we encountered was pixilation along most edges and curves. This pixilation was always vertically aligned and clearly due to the large vertical dot pitch. The pixilation issue was a common theme in all our test results.
We also played Marvel Ultimate Alliance on the PlayStation 3 at 1080p and noticed the same problems with pixilation but no image noise and excellent detail and clarity. There was some over-sharpening, particularly on text, but this was easily removed via calibration. If you are looking to run 1080p content, this unit will definitely handle it but you should keep in mind that due to the interlaced signal, it won't be "true" 1080p.
High Definition 720p
To test the 720p capabilities of the panel we connected the Xbox 360 video game console and played Tony Hawk's Project 8 and Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. Once again the pixilation was evident and caused the finer details in the image to be lost. However, there was no noise and the colour reproduction was quite good. Overall the image quality was acceptable, but not brilliant. Running 720p HD footage from the Xbox 360 hard drive didn't offer any new results that the PS3 hadn't already revealed. It did, however, reinforce the pixilation problem and highlight how well the unit handles motion without ghosting.
Standard Definition 576i
We were most impressed with how well the 42PD960DTA displayed Standard Definition movies (DVDs). We viewed the lobby Scene from The Matrix and found that it looked very good. There was no discolouration or image noise, the pixilation was greatly reduced (to the point were it was barely noticeable) and there were no sharpness issues whatsoever. The only problem we found during this test was a little stepping but this was sporadic at best.
We also ran the Philips CE2006 Demo DVD to check the capabilities of the unit at a fundamental level. The colour test showed a slight over-saturation of red but this was easily corrected in calibration. The contrast tests showed stepping in shades of blue but there were no sharpness issues at all.
The Digital Video Essentials test showed noise in low grey at about 20% amplitude, which explains why we were seeing noise in dark areas in the other tests. The gray in an image dictates the tonal changes, black intensity and brightness of each colour so if a panel has issues with displaying gray, those problems will always carry over into other aspects of the display as well. As such, there was noise on yellow and even white in the colour block test and noise in green and mid to low grey during the SMPTE test pattern. Finally, the greyscale test showed discolouration, stepping and noise along the gradient from light to dark, which once again, explains the noise seen in the other tests.
Connecting to a PC
Unfortunately, the PC mode on the 42PD960DTA is the panels biggest disappointment. We connected the test PC via VGA DSub and immediately had image quality issues. We decided to use the best notebook available to us at the time of testing and ran the HP Compaq nw9440 at a resolution of 1024 x 768. We attempted to set the screen resolution to 1024 x 1050 but the panel wouldn't accept the signal at all.
The colour was excellent, just like in other display modes but the large vertical dot pitch made viewing text and graphics frustrating as it was fraught with pixilation. We also noticed a halo of discolouration around some text which looked as though it were related to over-sharpening but even with the sharpness calibrated, the discolouration remained.
We ran DisplayMate Video Edition and discovered quite a bit of distortion on the horizontal axis. Also, the bottom and right side of the image has been slightly cropped with about a centimetre of the image missing. The sharpness and resolution tests showed an excessive amount of pixel fluctuation and pulsing on all horizontal lines. It is obvious that this is a problem with the interpolation occurring as the 768 lines being outputted were being scaled up to 1080, but since this was the highest PC resolution the panel would support, it won't get any better. There was also magenta and green discolouration along the greyscale from mid-grey to black.
If you are looking for a panel to use as a monitor for your PC or you want to connect to a Media Centre PC, we cannot recommend this unit as its PC features are sub-par.
Design, Sound and HDTV
The 42PD960DTA is certainly an attractive unit with a piano black bezel and silver trim along the bottom and top. The available connections are impressive and are comprised of two HDMI ports, two component, two S-Video, three composite, an RGB PC connection and both USB and SD card slots for viewing images. The speakers are mounted on the side of the unit and produce high quality sound with no real problems and no major distortion at high volume.
The built-in High Definition TV tuner is easy to use and picked up a wide range of channels during our testing. The image quality was very good (depending on the broadcast) and the only real problems with it came when watching 1080i HD channels due to a minor level of pixilation. Overall, this unit is more than capable when used for viewing free-to-air television broadcasts.
The Hitachi 42PD960DTA is a mid-range unit and has a price to match, especially considering the fact that it has a built-in HD tuner which works quite well. It has some image quality issues when displaying High Definition content and is sub-par when connected to a PC but can display standard definition content brilliantly. It will be suitable for those on a budget who want to watch HDTV broadcasts and DVDs with the option to connect HD sources as well. However, if perfect image quality across all modes is your concern, this unit may not be right for you.
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