Hitachi 42PD9800TA (42-inch plasma) - Review

Hitachi 42PD9800TA (42-inch plasma) - Review

While full-HD plasma panels are extremely hard to pocket with their sky-high pricing, healthy headway has been made in the 1080p signal handling. First, it was Pioneer with its gen-seven PureVision TVs. Now, we have Hitachi closing in at its fellow compatriot's heels. Announced recently were the Japanese company's latest 9000-series plasma TVs, comprising the flagship 42PD9800TA and 42PD9500TA 42-inchers.

Design of the Hitachi 42PD9800TA (42-inch plasma)

There's an idiom which goes, "if it aren't broken, don't fix it''. And that's exactly the approach taken by Hitachi for the 9800's aesthetics. Bearing a new dash of silver trimming and squarish stand, its styling hasn't deviated much from the company's past flagship models. You still get a thin frame bezel welded with a pair of side speakers, all measuring in at 1,134 x 648 x 109mm. Cost-saving plastics are obviously a no-no here as the sleek chassis is cast almost entirely in metal. Not only does this give the set a darn solid build, its weight has probably benefited one way or another.

Another familiar sight is the series' motorized swivel stand targeted at lazy bones. This offers a two-way 30-degree adjustment at the touch of a button, conveniently located on the bundled remote controller. Apparently, the similarities do not end there. To maintain its customary clutter-free front, the less commonly used accessories are again relinquished to the corners, concealed from prying eyes. On the left of the set are the quick-access A/V inputs, while on the opposite right lie the TV controls together with a standard-sized (type A) USB port and SD/MMC media slot.

There is little to complain about when it comes to the multibrand, multifunction remote controller that's shipped with the TV. On top of the ergonomically arched bottom, there are also eight dedicated input buttons for instantaneous video switching which usually takes less than 2 seconds to complete. Appearance-wise, Hitachi has given the matching dark grey stick a special treatment of clear overlay which makes it stand out among the crowd. This would have been a near-perfect implementation if only the buttons were given some form of illumination ideal for dark environments.

Diving deep into the intuitive graphical user menu reveals a comprehensive suite of video, audio and power settings. Besides the usual spread of basic picture adjustments, there is also a wide selection of advanced configurations to satisfy most tech-savvy videophiles and enthusiasts. In total, we counted no less than 43 settings available at your disposal. Best of all, most are available with three levels of settings for finer customization. Hitachi has also thrown in a well-illustrated 58-page manual, lest you need some extra guidance during setup.

Features of the Hitachi 42PD9800TA (42-inch plasma)

Marketed as the world's highest-resolution 42-inch consumer plasma TV, the 9800 is equipped with the latest- 1080 HD ALiS panel sporting an HD-compatible 1,024 x 1,080-pixel resolution. This boosts a high 10,000:1 dynamic contrast and also outputs a bright 1,400cd/m2 luminance to boot. To complement the panel, Hitachi has also deployed an updated Picture Master HD II video-processing engine. This chip varies primarily from its predecessor by a 1080p signal-handling capability which we will touch on in detail in our discussion on input connectivity.

To deliver a holistic entertainment experience, Hitachi is beefing up the usually lackluster audio reproduction with an impressive ensemble of hardware and software. To kick it off, there are six drivers integrated within its dual speaker array powered by a competent 36W audio amplifier. These are further optimized by a 30-step treble/bass adjustment, SRS WOW and Digital BBE sound enhancement functions. In the event that low-frequency effects fall short of your expectations, there is also a subwoofer output for an external powered boombox hookup.

With the commoditizing of digicams and the advent of high-resolution camera-phones, the 9800 onboard JPEG and MPEG-1/2/4 playback capability is one of the valued-added features commonly sought-after by shutterbugs. This can be conveniently performed via the easily accessible onboard USB port or integrated SD/MMC memory card reader. You can either preview and display the photos and video clips from a 16-window grid or activate a slideshow with customizable transitional effects and background music, among other options.

As many of you are aware, most displays' video performance will only be as good as the quality of the original supplied source. For this matter, Hitachi has outfitted the panel with dual 1080p HDMI terminals compatible with both 50 and 60Hz signals. On the lower end of the connectivity spectrum, there are also two sets of component-video sockets to go with your Xbox 360 and digital video recorders. Rounding it up are the widescreen-friendly PC input and a multitude of composite-A/V and S-video jacks tailored for standard-definition duties.

Performance of the Hitachi 42PD9800TA (42-inch plasma)

On the whole, we found this Hitachi a breeze to set up and calibrate. That said, you will need to exercise ambient lighting control as we found the reflective screen distracting under moderate lighting despite the presence of an anti-reflection coating. After minimizing the Lab's lighting, we got down into the review proper, tuning in to the local MediaCorp off-the-air broadcasts. It had been a while since we are greeted with sharp visuals and minimal dot crawl and, fortunately, the 9800 is one of the rare gems we reviewed which handled this standard-def source extremely well.

The same strong showings were repeated in our mandatory run of Avia synthetic test patterns. The SpyderTV-calibrated panel was spot on with accurate color decoding, while demonstrating its 10,000:1 contrast prowess in grayscale tracking, rendering deep inky blacks. It was equally difficult to fault the Pioneer DV-S969AVi piped DVD playback, characterized by clean images accompanied by natural colors. This was best illustrated in Finding Nemo where the vibrancy of the colorful reef life was faithfully presented without over-saturated hues.

Frankly speaking, we were initially skeptical about the Hitachi's 1080i/p performance due to its resolution deficiency. However, this proved to be unfounded after numerous test runs with the Samsung BD-P1000 and Toshiba HD-E1 hi-def players. Details and depth-of-field of film-based movies were aplenty and came surprisingly close to the levels offered by a full-HD Samsung F7. It was only in the PlayStation 3's rendition of Ridge Racer that the lower pixel count became apparent. While fast motion was fluidly smooth, angled outlines of sizable text were somewhat jagged at times.

If there was a major gripe in this segment, it had to be the less than flattering PC text delivery. Regardless of the resolutions supplied, we were unable to obtain satisfactory text quality out of the set. This ranged from a near horizontal 1:1 pixel 1,024 x 768 pixels to its vertical equivalent at 1,280 x 1,024. As a consolation, we had better luck with the onboard JPEG playback which was fast and relatively sharp. Nonetheless, the experience could have been better if not for the occasional jaggies and a picky MPEG player which worked fine on digicam-shot clips but not anywhere else.

Hitachi's elaborate audio subsystems paid off reasonably well, belting out tunes with a light mid-bass and crystal-clear treble. We were also impressed by its solid stereo imaging and spacious soundstage courtesy of an effective SRS WOW implementation. Priced at S$3,999 (US$2,630.07), the 42PD9800TA represents outstanding value, considering its rich feature set and solid overall picture quality. Looks like Hitachi has itself another winning card again following its award-winning 2006 37LD8800TA LCD TV.