Pros: Excellent video quality, features, connectivity, viewing angle, lack of glare, price, warranty
Cons: Black level, some usability issues (slow menus, etc.)
I could not resist the pre-Black Friday deal that Best Buy had. A 50-inch Hitachi plasma TV with 1080p-compliant inputs for $996? Yes, please.
So, credit card in hand, I walked to the closest Best Buy store on the day it was available at $1,000 off regular price (it currently sells at Best Buy and BestBuy.com for $1,999) and performed the transaction within 35 minutes of the store opening. For the total of a little under $1,150 (delivery included) and with no waiting in lines, I became an owner of the Hitachi P50H401.
The P50H401 is a 50-inch plasma HDTV with 1080p-compliant inputs (even though BestBuy.com lists it as 1080i). It features 3 HDMI inputs, 1 S-video, 2 component video and 4 composite video inputs.
The screen has a widescreen aspect ratio of 16:9 and a maximum native resolution of 1280x1080 (not quite full 1920x1080, but at least the vertical resolution is the same as 1080i/p signal’s).
The TV has a 3D Y/C digital comb filter, a built-in HD tuner. It has an optical digital audio out, 2-channel stereo sound with 10 W per channel and simulated surround, comes with a preprogrammed remote control.
The TV weighs 107 lbs with stand (92 lbs without). The stand (which I use) has a couple of holes for screws to bolt it down.
The TV has no PC input (unless your PC has DVI), no memory card reader slot (the SD slot it has is for upgrades only). Be advised that the TV has a power switch on the back/lower panel that has to be turned on initially, otherwise the TV will (obviously) not work. Delivery guys complained that they get returns for the sole reason buyers forget or do not know that the switch is there and is off by default.
The TV comes with a full 1-year in-home warranty from Hitachi (parts and labor) despite the sales person in the store trying to tell me that it is only 90 days for labor and that I have to ship it for warranty service. He repeated that he is non-commisioned several times. Sure.
I think he tried to sell me a warranty extension for $250. Since there is a full warranty for 1 year and I was buying with a credit card (which extends warranty), I declined.
I was considering hanging the TV on the wall, but decided against it the TV stand I have provides excellent viewing distance and perfect height. The supplied stand raises the TV enough for me to put my Athena C.5 center speaker directly in front of the TV and still be able to see the screen and even HITACHI logo directly below it.
The rear panel has most of the inputs with some in front, including one HDMI. I connected the Toshiba HD-A3 HD-DVD player to one of the HDMI inputs and the Pioneer DV-400V upconverting DVD player to another using 1080p setting.
I also used component video connection before the HDMI cables I ordered online arrived and the image quality was almost as good.
I use the optical digital audio out to feed audio from the off the air broadcasts to my Panasonic XR57 receiver. The sound from DVD players comes to the TV through the HDMI connection, but I also connected both of the DVD players to the receiver using their digital audio connections (optical and coaxial).
The TV is rated to consume 240W typical/480 W maximum, which is not bad for a 50-inch plasma TV.
The powering on and switching between channels (as well as menu operations) are a bit slow, but it is the curse of all HDTVs. The remote is OK, but not perfect. The buttons have high effort and could be laid out better.
Out of the box, the TV produced good picture, but (as is always the case) has over-boosted color and sharpness. Using AVIA calibration DVD, I made adjustments to the image. The settings I have are as follows: brightness (white level) 100, contrast (black level) 54, sharpness 34, color 37, color temperature high, noise reduction off, MPEG noise reduction off. There are other settings there as well, including several levels of black enhancement, out of which I use low or medium.
After calibration, the skin tones became normal, the images no longer looked cartoonish and the edges of objects stopped having white lines around them. The off the air programming, especially 1080i sports broadcasts, looks stunning. The TV has a good tuner that can pull in more channels analog and digital) than my previous analog TV could hope, with the same rabbit-ears antenna by Terk.
Update 09/2009: For over a year now, I have been using the Terk HDTVa amplified antenna, which lets me watch more channels than the previous Terk rabit-ears model.
The TV, unlike many plasmas, does not suffer from excessive glare and is no worse in this aspect that a CRT TV. In fact, it is better. The black level suffers however. The black is not pure black but rather dark grey. In this aspect, Panasonic TVs are the best. But despite poor black reproduction, the TV holds details perfectly in both shadows and highlights with brightness all the way up to 100 and contrast at 54.
The viewing angle is also excellent. I can see the images on TV while watching it almost perpendicular to the normal angle of view, which is not something LCD TVs can offer either.
I evaluated image quality with the HD-DVDs of 300 and the Bourne Identity that shipped with the Toshiba HD-A3 HD-DVD player over 1080i HDMI connection. By the way, each input remembers its own settings, so make sure you adjust contrast, etc. for all of them.
The images have superb cinema-like appearance in 1080. The detail level is excellent despite being not quite full 1080 in native resolution. The images have three-dimensional quality to them that DVD or anything standard-def cannot approach. You truly feel like you are there and looking at what is happening on the screen through a piece of glass.
Especially it is apparent in scenes with snow falling in Bourne or ashes flying in 300.
The only issue I see (and have no problem with) is the black level. Aside from it, the 3D-like sharp, detailed and smooth images make me want to never go to the movie theater again.
Standard-def images look good too, although not as detailed or 3D as high-def. The TV has quite a few zoom modes, including 4:3, 4:3 zoom, two 16:9 modes, 16:9 zoom, etc.
The TV has speakers, but I rarely use them. They can provide adequate volume for TV watching and have 2 mute modes (soft mute of 50% volume and full mute). The sound itself is OK for watching talk shows, no more than that.
The TV has an optical digital out that can output digital surround sound (e.g. from off the air broadcasts), which works perfectly with my Panasonic XR57 receiver.
I have had this TV for over 4 years now (12/2011) and it works well (it survived a move and a couple of earthquakes). I use it with the Terk HDTVa amplified antenna and get a lot of digital channels.
Despite a couple of issues (black level, semi-decent remote, slow menus and input switching), the P50H401 is excellent. Its image quality is breathtaking, especially with high-definition sources, where you feel like you are watching the three-dimensional action through the glass and not on the screen. The excellent resolution, detail level in both shadows and highlights and smooth color make me very happy.
I probably would have bought this TV at its full list price if I had a choice of getting it or getting nothing. And that is not something I say often. I highly recommend this TV. Just make sure you calibrate it properly (as described above).