Reviewing the Hitachi 37LD8800TA brought back sweet memories of its capable Alis8 plasma counterpart. Though both sets are based on competing technologies, they represent the pinnacle of the company's flat-panel TVs endowed with just about every desirable feature adored by reviewers and technophiles. The duo are also one of the trendsetters for dual HDMI sockets as the one-cable digital A/V connectivity is increasing its presence in home entertainment products.
The 37LD8800TA is an eye teaser out of the box. Being a member of the elite 8800 series, it ranks high in styling with a skilful blend of curves and colouration. A thin frame draped in lustrous black piano finish borders the LCD panel which, in turn, sits on a warped gun-metal speaker grille perforated with thousands of tiny holes. The complete 657mm tall shell is held upright by a powered swivel stand that draws power from the TV rather than an unsightly power brick.
Built-in cable management to keep the cords and cables tidy.
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Facing its user is a clean-cut facade with a strong minimalist appeal. Other than the shimmering Hitachi logo and a pair of power LEDs, all buttons and jacks are hauled to the flanks. Away from prying eyes, on the left of the chassis is a set of quick-connect A/V sockets, a headphone minijack and a USB port. Symmetrically level on the opposite end is an assortment of TV controls plus an SD/MM-compatible memory card reader. For users looking for a picturesque installation, the company is also offering a wall-mounting kit in place of the motorised stand at no extra cost.
The similar two-tone remote controller of the Alis8 fame is bundled with the 37LD8800TA. Besides its fine aesthetics, the remote is well-decked with a set of tactile buttons supplemented by a large roundish five-way navigation control. The inclusion of dedicated video input keys and built-in multibrand DVD player/set top box support also earned nods of approval from our panel of reviewers. Our only gripe here is the disappointing omission of backlighting which is a bad call for a product of such calibre.
Hitachi has everything sorted out in the 37LD8800TA's comprehensive and intuitive user menu, from customising the picture quality and tailored sound field right down to the environmentally-friendly power management setting. There is also a set of advanced A/V adjustments, such as colour management and a 15-step bass/treble control, which put full control of the TV at your finger tips. Not forgetting the thick and well-illustrated manual which is a helpful guide for the less technically inclined.
At the heart of this 37-inch TV is a High Definition-ready 1,366 x 768-pixel LCD panel which packs some respectable figures with an above-average 800:1 contrast ratio and brightness factor of 500cd/m2. Response time, on the other hand, is at a fast 8ms guaranteeing sharp and jitter-free images for fast-motion pictures. The panel also spots a wide viewing angle of 178 degrees, thanks to its advanced In-Plane Switching LCD technology.
You need a really fat wallet to use up all the A/V sockets.
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Like most of its peers, the Hitachi is outfitted with the company's proprietary Picture Master digital image processor which it claims to boost automated video analysis for enhanced black shading, optimised colouration, and higher image fidelity. Matching the video prowess is a mind-boggling suite of audio-enhancing technologies. You will get SRS WOW, TruBass and a BBE frequency-adjustment system running off a 20W digital amplifier with dedicated subwoofer output for the ultimate in bass reproduction.
The 37LD8800TA is also no slouch when it comes to multimedia capability, second only to the Philips 42PF9830 reviewed recently. Users have a choice of either a USB or SD/MMC slot to play back JPEG and MPEG videos. The former is PictBridge-compatible for no-fuss direct digicam interface and works well with a variety of USB devices ranging from thumbdrives to external media card readers for enhanced flash memory format support.
If you are an A/V junky just like us, Hitachi's rich connectivity will definitely put a smile on your face -- we counted no less than eight sets of shiny jacks of various shapes and sizes. There are four full HD-ready inputs consisting of a pair of digital HDMI terminals and two sets of analogue component-video sockets. This is on top of its earthly counterparts of S-video and composite-A/V origins allocated to AV3, AV4 and AV5 inputs, plus a versatile PC input compatible with a wide variety of video formats.
The Pioneer DV-S969avi-drivened and SpyderTV-calibrated 37LD8800TA was put into a rigorous pace of back-to-back Avia test patterns for the synthetic phase of our evaluation. The set managed to pull off an impressive feat by delivering spot-on geometry, convergent and near-perfect greyscale tracking. The latter is customarily a hard nut to crack for most flat-panel TVs compared with their CRT equivalents. Less flattering was the slightly flawed colour decoder which exhibited a dip in green level. Fortunately, this was no showstopper as it can be easily resolved with the menu's Colour Decoding setting.
You will need to hook up a powered subwoofer for deep bass with the onboard speakers.
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Running our usual suite of upscaled DVD movie clips piped through the high-end Pioneer player was no less exciting. Images rendered onscreen were surprisingly sharp and clean, accompanied by excellent shadow details and pristine whites. We were particularly impressed with the vibrant colours which stood out in animations, as evident in our critique of Finding Nemo. The NASA Montage from Digital Video Essentials also had a distinctively 3D feel which added depth to the video footage.
We thought we'd seen it all from the talented flat panel. That was until we hooked up our HP Media Center PC to the Hitachi via a Monster DVI-to-HDMI cable for WMV-HD playback. What greeted us were razor-sharp pictures with an explosive amount of details, way beyond words to describe. The TV also had little problem downscaling the 1080i variants which were reproduced with the same stunning details and rock-stable presentation.
While the onboard speaker system delivered solid stereo imaging and spatial surround sound, we found the sound quality lacking in the low-end department with its bass-shy audio. Nonetheless, the digital amplifier was able to put out enough juice to hit the reference-level mark at half its peak volume, while maintaining a distortion-free sonic nuance characterised by smooth vocal and crisp treble.
This time round, we got far better luck with the MPEG playback compared with our brush with the 42PD8800TA. Two out of five of our test clips made it onto the big screen though audio still proved to be elusive. In contrast, JPEG playback was a simply plug-and-play affair with a battery of USB devices and memory cards. It worked flawlessly with a Samsung DigiMax i6 and pictures turned out sharp with fine shades of colours and rich details.
With a recent price revision to a lighter AU$4399 price tag, there are more compelling reasons to shortlist the Hitachi 37LD8800TA for your flat-panel upgrade with its fine balance of aesthetics, feature set and performance.